“The LORD does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” —1 Samuel 16:7
Quite a long time ago, an aunt of mine told me about a man she ministered to who was very interested in the Gospel. She asked him one day if he would like to come to her church. He responded by saying, “I’d like to, but I can’t afford a jacket.” How tragic that his public perception of being a Christian was external and not internal.
Sometimes we learn patterns of what we call “Christian behavior” that do not have much basis in Scripture. Regardless, they become a part of a “to do” list we create and we begin to derive our spiritual security from outward conformity. People may judge us by the clothes we wear and the car we drive, but if we are striving to meet their standards, our motivation is fueled by what others think rather than what God thinks.
Jesus spoke as much, if not more, about religious conformity as He did about conformity to the world. To the Pharisees and teachers of the law He said, “You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean” (Matthew 23:25 & 27). Jesus called the Pharisees and teachers of the law hypocrites, because they claimed to be all about God, but were more concerned with being all about the rules.
The Pharisees were preoccupied with the externals and ignored the internal, which is God’s primary concern. As the strict fundamentalists of their day, they were renowned for their discipline and zeal in adhering to the laws of Moses. They were careful about the clothes they wore, the food they ate and who they associated with. All their confidence, in a profound effort to please God, was placed in themselves, so at the end of the day, they only had themselves to pat on the back for any success.
To a large extent, our culture is still the same. We can saturate ourselves with outward conformity to our heart’s content, but that will not win favour with God. What clothes we wear or how we look is irrelevant. We come as we are. Whether it is Christian or worldly, we cannot allow others to squeeze us into a mold of their choosing. God looks upon the heart, and if we are seeking Him, He is seeking us. Whatever conforming needs to be done, God will do, and it begins on the inside with the disposition of our hearts.