It’s a common refrain. It goes something like this:
- “So you understand that you are a sinner before God?”
- “Oh yeah, I’ve screwed up a bunch. I’m a mess.”
- “How, then, can you stand before God? Don’t you see your need for Jesus?”
- “Look, I know there are bad people out there. I know I’ve done bad things. But God knows my heart.”
“God Knows My Heart”
What is this God-Knows-My-Heart rhetoric? It’s a false gospel that sounds really good. Let’s break it down:
God-Knows-My-Heart begins with the idea that God created everyone to be good. Instead of being good, some people have collapsed under the curse of mean-spirited motivations. These wicked people desire harm. These wicked people are the psychopaths—numb to the disaster and pain they cause. They’re less than human. In contrast, God-Knows-My-Heart is good news for “better” people. While haunted by the guilt of their own foul deeds, the good-hearted individual finds redemption in this simple phrase: “God knows my heart.”
“Yes, I mess up,” They say, “Yes, I make mistakes. Maybe my temper gets the best of me. Maybe I make poor choices with drugs or alcohol. Maybe I reluctantly engage in corrupt plans or business. But I don’t mean any harm. God knows my heart.”
As this man studies his own intentions, his motivations seem sincere. Therefore, he concludes that his heart is fundamentally good. According to this false gospel, ultimate restoration means God accepts one based on the purity of his own heart.
I can sympathize with this narrative. Many people are really nice. People can have really good intentions. Sometimes, people don’t even know why they do the bad things they do. Their badness genuinely bothers them. Lying awake at night, they are crushed by the weight of their own guilt. Part of them hates their sin. Yet, another part loves it. I’m well acquainted with these dark paths, the mud of a feeble mind.
You feel as if the bad things you do are not really you.
You know you’re better than this.
God-Knows-My-Heart brings temporal relief to the weary. It separates your failures and actions from who you really want to be. A guilty conscience is soothed by good intentions. Even though your actions are bad, you believe your intentions are good. You believe you have a sincere heart. You believe, therefore, that God accepts you.
The Heart Condemns
The Bible agrees that God knows your heart. God said to Samuel that He sees not as man sees: “man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7).
For the sinner, how is this good news? For the sinner, this is bad news.
You can fool me with this one. You can’t fool God.
Your heart isn’t as cute as you present.
Jeremiah said this of the human heart: “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jer. 17:9) Meaning, even you can’t understand your own heart. The heart is a cavernous and strange abode. It houses your shady desires, passions, and intentions. Your heart doesn’t justify you. It condemns you.
I can hear somebody’s pushback: “You don’t know me. How can you prove my heart is bad?”
I don’t have to prove it. You already know it. Only you know how dark your heart really is. The guilty feelings that wake you up at 2:00 A.M. testify against you. The incessant need to prove and defend yourself testify against you. Your pride testifies against you.
Yet, there is additional evidence: any and all bad actions display a bad heart. Jesus said, “But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person” (Matt. 15:18–20).
So Jesus flips the script on the God-Knows-My-Heart narrative. Jesus is essentially saying: “Your failures are not disconnected from a pure heart. It’s just the opposite. Your actions testify against your heart: It’s desperately sick.
A New Heart
God-Knows-My-Heart is a damning message. Yet I’ll leave you with hope and a remedy. God spoke through the prophet, Ezekiel, as he looked forward to a new day. On this morning, he will cleanse his people: “And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh” (Ezek. 36:26).
The true gospel is not an appeal to my good heart. The true gospel begins with confession of a sinful heart and hope for forgiveness through the blood of Jesus. God regenerates the sinner and replaces the bad heart with a new heart. The desperately sick heart with a healthy one.
In this new life, you “love the Lord your God with all your heart.” Yet, even in our love for God, we are not justified because we love Him. We’re never made right due to a good heart or even a new heart. We’re made right because Jesus died for the sins of our wicked heart. He took my guilt on Calvary.
God-Knows-My-Heart leaves you with zero confidence before God. The true gospel of Jesus Christ invites us to “draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water” (Heb. 10:22).
Author’s Note: This short series is intended to explore the subtle false gospels which pervade the inner city ministry context (and many others). While there are hundreds of additional false gospels, these simple evaluations are intended to inspire ministers and gospel workers to discover, diagnose, and dismantle false gospels in every community.
You can read part one here.