Guard Duty

Keep your heart with all diligence, For out of it spring the issues of life.” Proverbs 4:23 (NKJV)

In Scripture, the heart is considered to be the control center of our lives. Where our culture sees the heart as the seat of the emotions, the Biblical world saw the heart as the seat of the will. Biblically, the surest way to know what our hearts are like is to see what our lives are like. Jesus taught that what comes out of the mouth is merely the overflow of our hearts (Matthew 12:35). At the same time, the actions of our lives demonstrate what is in our hearts (Mark 7:20-23). Your words, attitudes and actions day in and day out reveal what is in your heart.

These are the issues of life that Solomon talks about in Proverbs 4:23. Since all of these issues of life spring out of our hearts, we must keep our hearts with all diligence. The word keep means to guard or to protect. Today I’m going to show you some of the issues of life that spring from our hearts to see how important it is to guard our hearts and then give some practical ways we can guard our hearts.

Salvation Is An Issue Of The Heart. Salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone in Christ alone. We are very familiar with the idea that everything about salvation rises and falls on our faith in Jesus. Evangelical Christians have rightly emphasized the fundamental truth of the necessity of repentance and faith in Jesus Christ. What we haven’t been as clear on is the truth that faith is more than mere intellectual assent but a life changing truth that’s embraced in the heart of man.

that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.” Romans 10:9-10 (NKJV)

When we think of faith as mere intellectual assent and not as coming from the heart it allows us to say, I affirm that Jesus died for my sins therefore I have faith in Jesus. This mere mental assent to the truth has no real power to change our lives. The more I study the Bible the less convinced I am that this is right. In fact every day I am becoming more and more convinced this is completely wrong. I am convinced that Biblical faith is faith that comes from your heart and like Biblical repentance it changes the way we live.

Sin And Sanctification Are Matters Of The Heart. Conservative Christianity has often been very good about preaching and railing on sin and the need for holiness and growth in sanctification. What we haven’t been so good at is explain is that both of these are matters of the heart.

And He said, “What comes out of a man, that defiles a man. 21 For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, 22 thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lewdness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness. 23 All these evil things come from within and defile a man.” Mark 7:20-23 (NKJV)

That is quit a list of sins that Jesus gives and few can read it without feeling stung on a few points. What if I told you that the sin itself wasn’t the real problem? What if I told you that even if you had committed every sin on this list before breakfast, the sin wasn’t the main problem?

Usually we focus on the sin itself. We are told what the sins mean and then told to stop it. Or we study out what the sins mean and then we vow to stop it. Yet this doesn’t fix the problem. It doesn’t fix the problem because the sins themselves are not the problem. That is the point that Jesus is making here. According to the first of verse 21, these sins come from our heart. The sins, regardless of which sins we are talking about, aren’t the main problem. They are only symptoms of the real problem. The real problem is that these sins are only an overflow of what is in our hearts. When we focus on the actions of sin while failing to deal with the cause of the sin, we fail to truly deal with the problem.

It’s like the pain you feel if you have a broken leg. The pain is merely a symptom of the real problem. The real problem is that our leg is broken. Imagine taking pain meds but ignoring the break in the leg. Not only would this not fix the problem, but over time, it would also make the problem worse.  That is the same thing that happens when we focus on the actions of sin but ignore the problem.  Just focusing on the actions doesn’t fix the problem. It may numb the pain but it doesn’t fix the problem. At some point, we have to quit numbing the pain of the symptoms and take care of the problem.


So what can we do to diligently guard our hearts? Let me quickly give you three things

Pray For A Clean Heart. You and I are unable to purify our hearts. Only God can. This means that in a very big way, the condition of our hearts is largely dependent on what God is doing in our hearts. Because of this  we need to make it a regular habit to pray as David did.

Create in me a clean heart, O God, And renew a steadfast spirit within me.” Psalm 51:10 (NKJV)

Having a clean heart is critical for guarding our heart.

Immediately Repent Of Sin. I can’t help but think that a clean heart will be a tender heart. By tender heart I mean a heart that is easily convicted of sin. Look at these words from a song by Charles Wesley.

Ah! give me, Lord, the tender heart

 That trembles at the approach of sin;

 A godly fear of sin impart,

Implant, and root it deep within,

 That I may dread Thy gracious power,

And never dare to offend Thee more.”

I’m pretty convinced that a heart that desires this sort of tenderness is a heart that has been cleansed by God. One of the ways we guard our hearts to keep it tender is to immediately repent of our sin.

Be Careful What You Let In Your Mind. One interesting thing I discovered studying for this verse is that guarding your heart means more that being careful about what you put in it. While guarding your heart is to keep bad stuff out, this is only half of the meaning. In Proverbs wise people guard their heart not only by keeping bad stuff out, but by putting good stuff in.

A wise person is hungry for knowledge, while the fool feeds on trash.” Proverbs 15:14 (NLT)

I like what the Life Application Study Bible says about this verse. It says, “What we feed our mind is just as important as what we feed our body. The kinds of books we read, the people we talk with, the music we listen to, and the films we watch are all part of our mental diet. Be discerning because what you feed your mind influences your total health and well-being. Thus, a strong desire to discover knowledge is a mark of wisdom.”

If you think about this like a mental diet, then it makes sense that you have to do more than take out the bad. When you try to lose weight you certainly take out the bad, but if you don’t replace it with the good you really aren’t any better off than before. Starvation diets are just as unhealthy as eating too much fatty food. In fact they can be worse. When you starve yourself you become so hungry that you often give in and eat a ton of bad food and are worse off than before. Just taking away bad food leaves you weak, malnourished, and prone to temptation.

Our mental diet is the same way. As important as it is to keep the bad stuff out of our minds and hearts, it is just as important to replace it with good stuff. If we just keep bad stuff out we will be spiritually weak, spiritually malnourished, and prone to temptation. We must replace the bad stuff with good stuff. How do we determine what is good stuff?

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” Philippians 4:8 (ESV)

The reason it’s important to be careful about what we let in our mind is because of the connection between our mind, our heart and our actions.  What we let in our mind will often go down into our hearts and then come out in our lives. We must be careful not to let things that stir up temptations into our minds. We must also be careful to put into our minds things that stir up our faith and devotion to Christ. This is one main ways we guard our hearts.

Prudent Or Simple?

A prudent person foresees danger and takes precautions. The simpleton goes blindly on and suffers the consequences.” Proverbs 27:12 (NLT)

The idea is that the wise are able to evaluate the path they are on, see the end result and take precautions to protect themselves from harm. The fool on the other hand, may see the danger ahead but foolishly assumes they will be the exception to the rule, presses on and suffers the consequences.

Think about it like this. You’re driving 60mph in your car. Suddenly you realize that you are driving straight toward a brick wall. What do you do? The wise person realizes that driving into a brick wall at 60mph is dangerous and potentially deadly. So they take precautions by turning out of the way to ensure that they don’t hit the wall and so protects himself from harm. The fool on the other hand sees the wall but think to himself that somehow or another the wall will move before he gets there and so he keeps going and suffers the consequences. Think about some different ways this would work.

Relationships-Let’s say a girl dates a guy that is verbally abusive and borderline physically abusive. The wise girl recognizes that this is a serious problem that won’t get better and protects herself by ending the relationship. The foolish girl on the other hand assumes that this will get better as time goes on, continues with the relationship, perhaps even to the point of marriage and suffers the consequences.

Let’s say a guy dates a girl that is very flirtatious and borderline unfaithful. The wise guy recognizes that this is a serious problem that isn’t going to get better and protects himself by ending the relationship. The foolish guy on the other hand, assumes that this will get better as time goes on, continues with the relationship, perhaps to the point of marriage and suffers the consequences.

Financially-The wise person recognizes that they are spending more than they are making so they take precautions to cut spending and so protect themselves. The fool on the other hand recognizes that they are spending more than they are making and figures they can spend their way out of the hole they are in and suffer the consequences.

Materialism-The wise person recognizes that money and stuff are temporary so they can’t provide ultimate satisfaction and so they look for something eternal to find fulfillment in. The fool on the other hand decides that while a new car didn’t provide fulfillment perhaps a new house will and continues throughout their life looking for fulfillment in the temporary stuff of this world and suffers the consequences.

Relationship with God -The wise person recognizes that sin always hinders his relationship with God and so he fights with all his might against the sinful temptations that assail him. The fool on the other hand determines that they are the exception to the rule and can live in rebellion against God and in a close relationship with God at the same time and so he suffers the consequences.

There are any number of ways you could apply this but you get the idea. So here’s what we all need to do.

Look at the direction our life choices are taking us. Our daily choices have each of us going in one direction or another. What is that direction?

See where this path is, and will, take us. The path we are on has a destination. The destination isn’t determined by our desire, but by the direction we are choosing through our daily life decisions.

Decide if this is the destination we want to arrive at. Once we’ve identified the destination of our direction, we have to decide if this is the destination we want to arrive at.

Be prudent or simple. If the direction we are going is taking us to a destination we don’t want to arrive at, we will choose to either be prudent (wise) or simple (foolish). The prudent will realize that direction, not desire, determines destination and will make the necessary changes. The simple will keep going the same direction under the false assumption that it will just work out in the end, and will suffer the consequences.


Are we prudent or simple?

Honestly Evaluating My Faith

For I say, through the grace given to me, to everyone who is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think soberly, as God has dealt to each one a measure of faith.” Romans 12:3 (NKJV)

There is a very real tendency in our world for people to think more highly of themselves than they should. Pride lurks in the heart of all people. If not dealt with, this pride will cause us to become puffed up about ourselves. Then we will put ourselves on a pedestal over and above others. The issues that can cause us to think higher of ourselves than we ought to are numerous. We could be puffed up with our own sense of importance. We could be puffed up because of our looks. We could be puffed up because of our education. We could be puffed up because of our position or title. We could be puffed up because of our family name. We could be puffed up because of our financial status. We could be puffed up because of the possessions we own. There are any number of things that could cause us to become puffed up about ourselves.

Instead of being puffed up in our estimation of ourselves, we are to “think soberly” about ourselves. The idea of thinking soberly about ourselves is that of having a balanced view of ourselves. While we shouldn’t think too highly of ourselves, neither should we think too lowly of ourselves. Biblical humility doesn’t require us to say things about ourselves that aren’t true. Instead, we are to be balanced in our evaluation of ourselves. We are to be aware and honest about our strengths. We are also to be aware and honest about our weakness and flaws. To think soberly about ourselves is to look at ourselves and honestly acknowledge the good and bad that we see.

This evaluation is to be based off the measure of faith that we’ve been given. There are two questions we need to answer from this. First, what is meant by a measure of faith? Second, how do we evaluate ourselves in light of this measure of faith?

There were several ideas about what the measure of faith meant. There were three that were the most common. Measure of faith refers to our confidence in God. Measure of faith refers to our understanding of God. Measure of faith refers to our devotion to God. There were several commentators that made good cases for the different positions. As I studied, I couldn’t see a good reason why it didn’t refer to all three. Let me explain my reasoning for this. Our confidence in God will always flow from our knowledge of God. This will naturally lead us to be devoted to God.

Knowledge of God develops confidence in God that produces devotion to God.

I don’t see how these things can possibly be separated. The way we evaluate ourselves according to the measure of faith is by looking at our lives and seeing what is produced because of our faith. One of the ways people often misunderstand faith is to narrowly define it as what we affirm to be true. Doing this allows us to affirm faith in Christ without this so-called faith ever moving us to demonstrate this faith through devotion. This would completely miss the point Paul is making in this passage.

Believers do not evaluate themselves according to worldly standards of wealth, position, possessions, looks or education. Instead, believers are to evaluate themselves according to their faith and what their faith produces in their lives. Sadly, many believers in our day don’t see the need to demonstrate their faith and devotion to Christ They do this in part because they misunderstand the active nature of faith. Biblical faith is not merely a set of truths that we affirm to be true without it affecting the way we live our lives. Instead, faith is confidence in God based on the character and nature of God that produces devotion to God. Our faith is demonstrated as we live for Christ. Faith is active and not passive. Let me show you two great examples of this from Scripture.

The first comes from Hebrews 11. Hebrews 11 is the famous chapter about the heroes of faith. Hebrews 11:2 tells us that everyone listed in that chapter received God’s approval because of their faith. Hebrews 11:6 says that it’s impossible to please God without faith. After explaining the importance of faith, the author of Hebrews gives us some examples of people with faith.

By faith Noah, being divinely warned of things not yet seen, moved with godly fear, prepared an ark for the saving of his household, by which he condemned the world and became heir of the righteousness which is according to faith.” Hebrews 11:7 (NKJV)

Noah was warned that a flood was coming that would destroy the world. His understanding of the character and nature of God gave him confidence that God would do what He said he would do. What did Noah do next? Did he passively set back and do nothing while affirming that he believed in God? No he didn’t. Noah’s understanding of the character and nature of God gave him confidence that God would do what He said He would do. Noah’s faith in God produced devotion to God and Noah did what God told him to do. We could look at every person listed in Hebrews 11 and see the exact same thing. Their faith, which was a Biblical faith, was active and not passive. Knowledge of God develops confidence in God that produces devotion to God. This is always the way Biblical faith works.

One of the most common arguments against genuine faith producing devotion is that this makes salvation a work and we are saved by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. That’s why I like this second example.

For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.” Ephesians 2:8-9 (NKJV)

These two verses very clearly teach us that we are saved by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. Our salvation is not at all based on works because this would give us a reason to boast before God. Salvation is entirely based upon what Christ has done. We only experience this salvation because we believe in what Christ has done. What people often forget is that every text has a context, including Ephesians 2:8-9. The context of Ephesians 2:8-9 includes verse 10.

For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.” Ephesians 2:10 (NKJV)

Why were we saved when we believed? Were we saved so that we could live exactly the same way we did before we were saved, except that now we believe a new set of doctrines? Or were we saved so that we could serve Christ by doing the things He planned for us to do? Each and every person that is saved is saved by faith. Each and every person is saved by faith so that they can serve Christ. We are saved to serve. A genuine saving faith always produces devotion to Christ that is visible through service to Christ.

As you look at your life, what is your faith producing? What do you do in life simply because you believe in Jesus?

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