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All those who have worked with children or who have children will at some point find themselves acting as referees. Often, when an adult intervenes in a conflict, one child will point to the other and assert, “He made me do it!”

The Blame Game

From an early age, we are quick to blame others for our emotions, our responses, and even our actions. It’s a reaction inexorably linked to our fallen nature, originating with our first parents, who, when God confronted them with their sin, played the first round of the blame game. “The man said, ‘The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate.’ . . . The woman said, ‘The serpent deceived me, and I ate’ ” (Gen. 3:12–13).

As adults, we may not verbalize blame in the same way children do, but we still divert guilt onto others. We are slow to recognize our own sin in our interactions with others. Rather than confess and repent, we prefer to spread the responsibility around: “I know I said the wrong thing, but so did you.” We are quick to notice the speck in another’s eye but fail to recognize the log in our own (Matt. 7:4).

We also place the blame for our emotions on others. When we feel intense emotions such as anger or worry, we look to others as their source. “I wouldn’t feel so angry if he wouldn’t _______.” “I wouldn’t be so worried if my spouse wouldn’t _______.”

As believers, we need to take responsibility for our own hearts in our relationships with others. Rather than play the blame game, we need to guard our own hearts against sin.

The Heart Of Man

Proverbs 4 cautions us, “Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life” (Prov. 4:23). The Bible uses the word “heart” to refer to the center of oneself. It’s the core of who we are. The heart encompasses our desires, thoughts, emotions, personality, and motives. It’s what drives us. That’s why Jesus said, “For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness” (Mark 7:21–22).

It’s not what is outside us that makes us sin; rather, our sinful responses and actions come from within us. They originate with our own desires and longings. As James 4:1 tells us: “What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you?” This means that other people can’t make us feel, say, or do anything. We act according to what is in our hearts.

We have to be vigilant and wary of what is going on in our hearts.

God calls us to love our neighbors as ourselves, but in our fallen nature, instead of seeking our neighbor’s good, we seek our own. We treat others as obstacles to our goals. We expect them to meet our needs. We turn people into idols, expecting them to fill the aching void in our heart that only God can fill.

The good news is that Christ came to fulfill God’s promise in Ezekiel 36 to give us new hearts. He came to live the life we could not live and to die the death we deserved. Through the work of His Spirit, we are given new hearts (Eph. 2). We are new creations, clothed in Christ’s righteousness, and through the Spirit’s work in us we are enabled more and more to love one another.

While we’ve been given new hearts, we still battle remaining sin. This means that while we have new hearts, we have to guard them. We have to be vigilant and wary of what is going on in our hearts. We have to pursue the health of our hearts.

Guarding The Heart In Our Relationships

Heart awareness: The first step in guarding our heart is to have heart awareness. Because every action we take, every word we speak, every response we make comes from the overflow of our heart, we must be aware of what is going on in our hearts. In terms of our relationships, we need to be aware of our thoughts about others. What do we think about the people we are in relationships with? What do we expect from them? We also need to consider our motivations when we interact with others. Is there something we are trying to get from other people that should come from God alone? Heart awareness also includes being aware of our emotional responses to others. Do we fear what others think of us? Do we harbor anger or bitterness toward someone else?

Heart preservation: Christ alone is the Lord and Master of our heart. We must preserve it as His sole residence. We must do whatever it takes to keep it for Christ. This means that when we become aware of sin in our heart, we must root it out. When we realize we have sinned in our responses to others, we have to turn to Christ in repentance and appropriate the truths of the gospel to our sin. This is something we’ll have to do on a regular basis—sometimes moment by moment. As Martin Luther wrote, the Christian life is one of repentance.

Heart health: We have to keep our heart healthy by appropriating the means of grace. We have to develop habits of prayer, reading and meditating on God’s Word, participating in weekly worship, and feasting at the communion table. We must keep our eyes fixed on Christ, the Author and Perfecter of our faith. The more we focus on who Christ is and what He has done, the more our hearts will be shaped to reflect Him. And the more we will in turn honor Him in our relationships with others.

Fear Not, for I am With You

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From the March 2020 Issue
Mar 2020 Issue