Deep Diagnosis: Preaching to the Heart (Part 2)

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The outward sins we do all begin with Sin hidden in our hearts. But we cannot see that, it has to be revealed to us by a spiritual scan, an MRI from above.

Jesus makes clear the need for divine “justification and regeneration” to eliminate any idea that we can achieve a change of the heart through behavior modification. That which is natural cannot correct the heart (Jeremiah 13:23), but only the super-natural (John 3:3; 6:44). Humanity, all of mankind since the rebellion of our first parents, are conceived devoid of the Holy Spirit and the sensibilities that come with the Spirit, leaving us blind, deaf, and insensible to the true things of God, ourselves, and the world (Romans 3:10-20). Without the Spirit of God, we are inordinately curved in on ourselves. Such self-referentialism characterizes a heart of sin or, simply, a sin nature. Theologians call it “original sin.” Left to our fallen nature, we possess an inescapable and unavoidable human disposition that always chooses what we adjudicate as best for ourselves in any given situation. This choosing, by default of our fallen nature, always precludes God as our highest good and His will as the best way to love ourselves and our neighbor as ourselves. That is the biblical depiction of the human heart: Sin. Here is why in Confession we admit to not only sins of deeds, but also thought and words, all springing from the heart (Matthew 12:34-37). Preachers, then, preach far beyond identifying sins of deeds. Preachers of Christ follow His lead, like interns in tow behind a specialist, and preach the Law to the heart. We do so, not to make people feel bad about themselves, but to bring them to the Savior who also transforms the heart and its loves by His love.

The Pharisees always seem disproportionately concerned with outward actions. How do you act toward others? Do you follow the rules? If you are living a generally decent life, then you can imagine you are doing well, basically “symptom free.” But it is “acting.” This is what Jesus exposes as well, our collective social contract to live by the “act.” We “act” like all is well. Everyone starts off “acting” as if we basically have good hearts. It is part of our disposition to self-justify. There are many avenues to laudatory civil obedience, like Stoicism and mindfulness, benefaction, and volunteering, which give the impression we are symptom free. But being symptom free, be it never so much an act, does not mean you do not have the disease. It just means you are not exhibiting the symptoms which say there is a deeper problem. Anyone who has experienced the early stages of cancer will tell you the same: No symptoms, but the disease lurks underneath doing its damage. Preachers must do the same. Go beyond the symptoms and biopsy the disease. It is a deep diagnosis.

In preaching the Law like Jesus, homilists move their listeners to looks at their heart from God’s perspective. They will then see from the inside all sorts of things which should shock. They are items Jesus identifies during the Sermon on the Mount, such as murder, lies, theft, adultery, immorality, hatred, envy, prejudice, and pride. It is all lurking down there in our hearts where the disease of Sin festers.

In preaching the Law like Jesus, homilists move their listeners to looks at their heart from God’s perspective.

A preaching device might help doubters. Imagine an apparatus called a Mind-Scanner. With this scanner, the images and thoughts in a person’s mind can be “screen-shared” by projecting them for everyone to see. What kind of mental jpegs would there be? What thoughts about a friend’s good-looking spouse? What ideas about what one would like to do to that person who double-crossed them? What kind of audio would there be as we listened to your mind’s voice, while watching your mind’s eye? If there is only the natural person, only the carnal creature outside of Christ, if only the unbaptized, the unregenerate, then we would be getting the “R” and “X” rated version of you. Your sin nature always bears the ample fruit of sins in thought, word, and deed. The outward sins we do all begin with Sin hidden in our hearts. But we cannot see that, it has to be revealed to us by a spiritual scan, an MRI from above.

To push the analogy further, you know that even if you have an X-ray or MRI at which to look, unless you are an experienced reader of such things, then you probably would not recognize much. Trained CAT scan and MRI technicians will tell you how lots of patients ask about the images on the screen before they are sent to the radiologist. While it is not for them to explain or diagnose, it is not lost on them either that most people have little idea what part of the body is being displayed, much less the interior realities of the images. So, they all asked the same initial question: “Is that me?”

Likewise, an inner look through the Law is not enough for those whose eyes have been rendered blind by sin. Therefore, even when we are staring the Law in the face, we are prone to not recognize how it exposes the condition of our own hearts. That is why we need the Word of Jesus here. This is why we need the abiding presence of Jesus and the illumination of the Holy Spirit. An encounter with divine light exposes our shadows. Over and again, Jesus delivers the diagnosis on the basis of His divine knowledge and authority as the Creator of all things, with the Father, and the Holy Spirit: “But I say to you...” Jesus has no need to consult another doctor, no need to refer you to a specialist. He is the specialist, and His specialty is death and life, sin and mercy, nature, and grace. Jesus knows Sin when He sees it, and He points it out in the depths of your own heart with His penetrating words, “You have heard it said..., but I say to you...”