In the Old Testament, the hearts of the Israelites were often in conflict; their hearts being divided between idolatry and their allegiance to YHWH. [For the sake of this article, I will define idolatry as anything that we build an altar to in our heart, or that sits on the throne of our heart.] And through careful study, it has become clear to me that God will speak to us according to what sits on that throne.
Just take a look at what God says to the idolatrous elders of Israel [through the prophet Ezekiel]: "these men have set up [and honored] their idols in their hearts and have put right before their faces the [vile] stumbling block of their wickedness and guilt; should I [permit Myself to] be consulted by them at all? Therefore speak to them and say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord God, “Any man of the house of Israel who takes his idols [of rebellion] into his heart, and puts the [vile] stumbling block of his wickedness and guilt [images of silver and gold] before his face, and yet comes to the prophet [to ask of him], I the Lord will answer him, [but I will answer him] in accordance with the number of his idols in order that I may take hold of the heart (mind) of the house of Israel who are all estranged from Me because of their idols" (Ezekiel 14:3-5).
In other words, men may seek guidance from pastors or prophets in the Church about their circumstances, while secretly holding worldly idols in their heart, expecting to get an answer from God. But this scripture in Ezekiel shows us that the Lord knows our hearts and He will answer the person according to what those idols are! So, it is clear to me that God may not always speak His Truth to us, if our hearts aren't right with Him, but will speak according to what we are idolizing in our heart. Therefore, we have a responsibility to safeguard our hearts from any form of idolatry.
Furthermore, God warns against receiving a false prophetic word in verses 9-11: "But if the prophet [who speaks without My authority] is enticed to speak a word [of his own], it is I the Lord who have caused that prophet [to speak falsely to please the inquirer, thus allowing himself to be a party to the inquirer’s sin], and I will stretch out My hand against him and destroy him from among My people Israel. They [both] will bear the punishment of their wickedness; the sin of the [counterfeit] prophet will be the same as the sin of the [hypocritical] inquirer, so that the house of Israel may no longer drift away from Me and no longer defile themselves with all their transgressions, but they will be My people, and I will be their God,”’ says the Lord God.”
[NOTE: I hope it is clear to you that it is always God's desire that people recognize their sin, and return to Him. And because God is the same today as He was in Ezekiel's time, my spirit is sensitive to warning the Body of Christ to correctly discern a hypocritical inquirer/seeker and a counterfeit prophet. Neither benefit the Kingdom of God].
Further evidence that God will speak according to what sits on the throne of our heart is found in 1 Kings 22. This is the account of King Ahab and the false prophets. Ahab's heart had turned from God to wickedness and he idolized all that his status as king had provided him. When he seeks an answer from his prophets as to whether he should go to battle against the Syrians, God gives permission to a lying spirit to speak to the prophets of Jezebel to deceive Ahab because God knows the king will receive their prophecy according to the idolatrous state of his heart.
Just as Ahab found out, [because God has given free will to mankind], there are consequences to having an idolatrous heart! And those consequences don't apply just in the Old Testament. We New Testament Believers are just as susceptible to idolatry [in our hearts] and its consequences. If our hearts aren't right with God, the word we think we are receiving may not be right, either. It is imperative that our hearts be pure and that we submit to the righteous Word of God, and then we will hear and receive His truth! That should give all of us pause ... are we hearing from a heart that is pure and righteous?
In addition, it is vitally important that we guard our hearts against all idolatry, because Proverbs 4:23 tells us everything we do flows from the heart. And sometimes I think we Christians get careless about idolatry in our hearts. We tend to think it is the obvious things of the world, like wealth or power or material things that can become idols in our heart. We think as long as we are Saved, there is no one but Jesus that occupies the throne of our heart.
But Jesus came preaching the Gospel of the Kingdom, not just the Gospel of Salvation. He says that is why He was sent (Luke 4:43). And that Good News of the Kingdom of God didn't sit very well with the religious leaders of Israel, the very people He came to deliver. Why? Because Religion always responds according to the idolatry of the heart. Even today, in the 21st Century, try to speak to some Christians about the rule and reign of God's Kingdom government on earth, and what it looks like, and you will meet the same kind of opposition Jesus did.
Religion idolizes its own traditions, rituals, denominational teachings, movements, and self-righteousness. They can all influence our heart. Kingdom is what Jesus did... setting people free; impacting everything and everyone on earth with the power and authority and love of God until it becomes "as it is in heaven". Just because we know the grace of God in our Salvation, it does not mean our hearts are pure and free of idolatry. It does not mean that we have received the Gospel of the Kingdom that Jesus stressed throughout His ministry, nor that He alone sits on the throne of our heart.
Please know that I do not write from a sense that I have a heart that is exceptionally pure and free of any form of idolatry. I do not hold myself up as the standard-bearer. Only Jesus meets that criteria. But as I grow and mature in my faith, I am becoming aware that I can't ignore idolatry when it tries to take root in my heart. The Holy Spirit is making it impossible for me to ignore the temptation of making anything or anyone an idol, and I find myself in a state of unrest [with no peace], until I discover what is trying to grow in rebellion to God.
The New Testament tells us in Ephesians 3:14-19, that through the power of the Holy Spirit in us, Christ can dwell in your heart. Furthermore, as the Word, Jesus is living and active, discerning the thoughts and intentions of our heart (Hebrews 4:12). Other translations say He "exposes and judges the very intentions and thoughts of our heart", or that He "interprets and reveals the true thoughts and secret motives of our hearts". In other words the hidden aspects of our hearts are known by Him and any idolatry is uncovered.
We can see a picture of this concept in Jesus's exchange with Nicodemus, a Pharisee and member of the Sanhedrin, the council of religious rulers in Israel. In John 2:23-3:5, Nicodemus comes to Jesus by night. He has seen the signs of the Kingdom of God that Jesus has performed, but his religious heart is still skeptical. But notice what Scripture says just before Nicodemus speaks. ... Many people identified with Jesus because they had seen the miracles, but Jesus didn't trust them because He knew how fickle human hearts can be, and because He knew what was in each man's heart -- exactly what Hebrews 4:12 says.
But also notice this ... when Nicodemus says to Jesus, "Rabbi, we know that You are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with Him", Scripture says, "Jesus answered him, 'I assure you and most solemnly say to you, unless a person is born again [reborn from above—spiritually transformed, renewed, sanctified], he cannot [ever] see and experience the kingdom of God.'" Wait a minute! Nicodemus didn't ask a question, yet Jesus answered him according to what was in his heart and what he needed! You see, Nicodemus is seeking truth but he is still steeped in religion as a member of the Sanhedrin, so he doesn't even know what to ask. The same holds true today -- Religion doesn't know the question nor the answer! But Jesus answers Nicodemus according to what Nicodemus needs -- the Kingdom Gospel! And the Kingdom will always answer the questions of your heart according to your need and not your idolatry.
Think about it -- Jesus never offered a Sinner's prayer to anyone -- that's Religion! He offered all who came to Him what they needed ... physical healing, spiritual healing through casting out of demons, and the hope of transformation and rebirth into a heavenly system; not a man-made system of religion. And it's important that we recognize that Jesus did not pray, heal, or cast out demons for everyone -- only those who were drawn to Him. He knew who wanted Kingdom because He could discern the state of their heart and the presence of idolatry, if it was there. And those who wanted what He offered couldn't resist Him!
Jesus's ministry of the Kingdom on earth began as a small mustard seed in the backwaters of the Roman Empire, but it was planned and designed [from Heaven] to expand across the earth. And whether a person's heart is free of the idolatry of wealth, status, power -- and yes, even religion -- and is ready to receive the Kingdom is exemplified in the Parable of the Sower ... "When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart".
I can tell you that my husband and I have often seen this in our ministry. I have to be careful to discern who really wants Kingdom and who wants Religion, because the Kingdom message does not mix with any other belief system, nor will it compromise. Those who try to divide the throne of their heart between Kingdom and Religion will find themselves indecisive, unstable in their thoughts, and wavering between different opinions and actions. To truly experience the Kingdom of God that Jesus came to establish, the Kingdom must occupy the throne of one's heart, along with one possessing a desire to align one's life with the government of God on earth -- a Kingdom where there is no sickness and no poverty; where one is ready to consider God's perspective in all we say and do; to "Kingdom-ize" everything!!!
So, I want to make it clear that I did not write this post to condemn anyone or to question anyone's faith. My only objective was to point out that the Word of God shows us the dangers of idolatry in our heart, and how it can distort our own discernment. And as the parable of the Sower indicates ... if, as followers of Christ, we are not preaching "the word of the Kingdom", we are not providing good seed to be sown in the hearts of men. It's one thing to not understand it; it's another to never have heard it. May we all purge our hearts of idolatry of every kind and share what Jesus preached -- the Gospel of the Kingdom!
Hebrews 4:13 And not a creature exists that is concealed from His sight, but all things are open and exposed, and revealed to the eyes of Him with whom we have to give account.