On Sunday, we saw that our hearts are the wells from which our words are drawn. The things that we speak come from that which fills our hearts. In the case of the Pharisees, they spoke blasphemous words because they had blasphemous hearts. Many of us tend to minimize the significance of the words we speak, but the Lord taught us in Matt 12:33-37 that our words are the surest indicators of the condition of our hearts.
Think about what your speech says about your heart. If your speech is characterized by criticism, what does it say about your heart? You have a critical heart. If my speech is characterized by complaining or murmuring or grumbling, what does that say about my heart? I have a heart of ingratitude. What if your speech is characterized by boasting? What about the subtler form of boasting – talking about yourself all the time? What does that say about your heart? Your heart is filled with pride.
Asking ourselves questions about our own speech can be a helpful diagnostic tool, but as with any other habitual sin, sinful speech can become so routine that we do not even notice it in ourselves. For that reason, it is wise to ask someone who is close to you help you see if you have a habit of ungodly speech. Invite them to be honest with you. Do I have a tendency toward critical speech? Do I have a tendency toward complaining or gossip or boasting?
But what do we do about it if we find that our hearts are filled with these things? Our inclination will be to just deal with how it is manifested in our speech. If we are given to critical speech, we try to stop saying critical things. If we are given to complaining and grumbling, we try to stop that and start expressing thanks. If we are given to boastful speech, we stop talking about ourselves and talk about other things instead.
But does that really fix the problem? No, because the problem is the heart. We can’t make an apple tree into an orange tree by cutting off all the apples and stapling oranges on instead. Eventually, the apples are going to grow back. The same is true of our speech. If we try to merely deal with the outward manifestation, we will not see lasting change. Our hearts need to be transformed.
Fundamentally, that happens when we are regenerated. We are given a new heart, but we are not completely sanctified, that is, we are not completely like Christ in our character and conduct. Yet in that act of regeneration we are given the tools necessary to be sanctified. We are given the Holy Spirit. We are given the desire to change. We are given the ability to understand and use God’s Word.
Once we have been regenerated, how do we appropriate those God-given tools to become like Christ? How do we kill pride? How do we kill ingratitude? How do we kill a critical disposition? First, we need to pray. We need to pray for the Lord’s help, for a desire to obey and change, and for the ability to obey and change. We need to do that because we must recognize that in ourselves we cannot do it. Our sanctification is empowered by the Holy Spirit. Daily prayers of dependence upon the Spirit are necessary in our fight against sin.
Second, we need to be growing in our worship of Christ. Any heart problem is a worship problem – there is something that I am desiring so much that I am willing to sin to get it. A key to overcoming sinful desires is to grow in our desire for the Savior. The epistles motivate us to walk in obedience by first teaching us the gospel – what God has done in Christ to save us from sin. It follows that in our fight against sin we should keep this gospel before us daily. This could include feeding our minds with gospel-rich passages of Scripture, listening to gospel-rich music, or reading gospel-rich books. (Click here for some specific recommended resources.)
Next time, we’ll continue with other steps in the process of dealing with sinful speech and the heart problems that cause it. In the mean time: (1) ask a friend to help you evaluate your speech; (2) pray for the Lord’s power to help you deal with any issues you find; and (3) begin meditating on Christ’s work in the gospel that freed you from sin’s penalty.
Posted by Greg Birdwell