Scripture makes it clear that our hearts are intrinsically deceitful and require constant examination to ensure our motives and actions are in line with what God requires of us. This is plainly stated in Jeremiah 17:9:
9 "The heart is deceitful above all things, And desperately wicked; Who can know it? NKJV
Nevertheless, even though we have been warned of our natural tendency toward a deceitful heart, many ignore this warning and proceed as though there is no need to be constantly aware of this shortcoming. But this warning was given for a specific purpose and our failure to take heed does not diminish our need to be constantly strive and seek God to renew and purify our hearts so that we are living in accordance with His Will. Although itís not our natural inclination to have a pure heart, Matthew 5:8 makes it clear that maintaining a pure heart should be our constant goal:
8 Blessed are the pure in heart, For they shall see God. NKJV
How then do we achieve this goal of maintaining a pure heart? First of all, God would not require that we have a pure heart unless it was possible to do so. We need to constantly examine our motives and be on guard continuously to determine if whatever we are engaged in is based on the right motives. Considering that most of our activities are ego-related or ego-centered, this means that we are often striving to achieve goals that would help to elevate us in self-esteem, or the attention or opinions of others. Since even the elevation of the opinions of others helps our own self-esteem, this means we are often engaged in the ministry of our own self-esteem.
But, while not to minimize the importance of self-esteem, this should not be the motive for our engagement in Godís work. Consider Jeremiah 48:10:
10 Cursed is he who does the work of the LORD deceitfullyÖ NKJV
This Scripture addresses the issue of our doing Godís work deceitfully, many interpreting this as regarding our doing so in relation to corruption of some sort. But this also addresses the deceitful use of Godís work essentially to raise our own self-esteem. Consider the extent to which success in ministry can bring significant attention and praise by others, in addition to the monetary rewards from engagements, increased memberships and followings. Also consider the extent to which this may be the primary motivation for intensified efforts to succeed in Godís work, instead of the proper motivation for achieving what should be the primary goal or emphasis for the ministry.
Then, in addition to the many reasons for being attracted to engaging in particular ministries, there are those who admit to being attracted for the wrong reasons, although they may not recognize the inconsistency with Godís Word. Some pastors secretly admit that they never felt a particular calling to that ministry, but were attracted because of the potential for success and recognition. While this may not represent a deceitful heart because of their admittance, it does represent deceitfulness, as most church members want to believe their pastors have a pure heart for the ministry of that church. Despite their personal successes in achieving large memberships and evangelical outreach, as well as their recognition in the ministerial circles, that should not be the prime motivation for their involvement in ministry.
Then in response to those who believe that the worldly influences prevent them from maintaining a pure heart, consider Mark7:15:
15 There is nothing that enters a man from outside which can defile him; but the things which come out of him, those are the things that defile a man. NKJV
Itís easy to attribute our deceitful hearts to the conditions under which we live. After all, we are constantly faced with deceit, corruption and many other negative influences in our daily lives. The times have passed when we could expect others to represent themselves without deception. This is not only true in our own communities, but is becoming increasingly true in our own governments. But in spite of this trend, this Scripture makes it clear that these influences cannot serve as an excuse for our own failure to adhere to Godís Word. As shown, our failure to maintain a pure heart cannot be attributed to the circumstances in which we live. Nothing that enters from outside can defile us. Whatever defilement we have comes from within an impure heart.
First of all, Christians must be careful about what they feed into their hearts, minds and spirits. In other words, Guard your Minds! Much of the deceitfulness we harbor begins in our minds. These thoughts should be filtered through Godís Word. Of course, this requires that we constantly strive to learn and understand Godís Word, which means regularly reading and studying Godís Word. Otherwise, we wonít be able to use Godís Word as a filter.
Then as we entertain these impure thoughts, they begin to mature and eventually they develop into self-serving deceitfulness. So, although the thoughts may be introduced from the outside, by internalizing them they incubate and create the deceitfulness within our hearts.
Our constant prayer should be as found in Psalm 51:10:
10 Create in me a clean heart, O God, And renew a steadfast spirit within me. NKJV
We must prayerfully engage Godís help in guarding against deceit within our hearts. Since it is His desire that our hearts are purified, He is anxious to help us to examine our hearts on an ongoing basis. Actually, the Holy Spirit is eager to bring to our attention any entertainment of thoughts that would lead to deceit within our hearts, if we will invite Him to do so and are attentive to His nudging within our spirits. But as we ignore the nudging of the Holy Spirit, He becomes less intrusive toward our failures. As we ignore His help, He waits for us to become open to His guidance in this area of our lives.
God is ever mindful of our need for a pure heart and He is eager to purify our hearts if only we will open our hearts to Him and prayerfully seek His Will.