Why the Inside Comes First

Being ready for Jesus to come involves both inward and outward preparation, but what happens in the heart is the most important, and therefore must occur first.

In Psalm 24:3–5 we read: “Who may ascend into the hill of the Lord? Or who may stand in His holy place? He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who has not lifted up his soul to an idol, nor sworn deceitfully. He shall receive blessing from the Lord, and righteousness from the God of his salvation.”

Notice, there are two parts to the preparation for heaven. One is the need to have clean hands. This represents the outside of your body—what you say and do, what other people can see. It is important that your hands be clean, that you have done or said nothing that is contrary to the law of God, but that is not enough. You also must have a pure heart, because how we are on the inside eventually will be manifested on the outside.

Jesus was very particular in Matthew 23:25 about the need to be clean first on the inside, and then on the outside, too. “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you cleanse the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of extortion and self-indulgence.” They realized that they needed to be cleaned up, but Jesus said their problem was that they were only interested in what could be seen, how good they looked on the outside, while inside they were full of wickedness. Then Jesus said in verse 26: “Blind Pharisee, first cleanse the inside of the cup and dish, that the outside of them may be clean also.” Jesus was telling them that if the inside is cleaned first, then the outside will also be clean.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said that those who were clean on the inside would see God. “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” Matthew 5:8. A heart cleansed from all defilement is a pure heart.

What defiles the heart? Jesus has made this very clear: “For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies. These are the things which defile a man, but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile a man.” Matthew 15:19, 20. The heart must be cleansed of all that defiles. There are two parts to this inner cleansing process. The first part is what God does. The second part is what we do. We will look at the second part first.

The Bible clearly states that you and I have something to do so that our hearts will be cleansed and purified. John strongly expressed this when he said: “Everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself, just as He is pure.” 1 John 3:3.

James 4:7–10 outline several things that we are to do: “Therefore submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Lament and mourn and weep! Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up.”

Drawing near to God and resisting the devil are two complementary actions. You cannot resist the devil without drawing near to God first because you cannot resist the devil by yourself. But if you hang onto the things that defile the heart and stay close to the devil, then you will not draw near to God.

Then James says that we are not to be doubled minded. A double-minded person is trying to serve God and the devil at the same time. This is not possible. Remember Matthew 6:24, “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.”

Finally, we see that we are to be sorry and to mourn because of our defiled condition, and then humble ourselves in the sight of the Lord.

The wise man Solomon said in Proverbs 23:7: “For as he thinks in his heart, so is he.” As you think, so you are. Peter said: “Therefore gird up the loins [the waist, as in putting on a girdle to control] of your mind, be sober, and rest your hope fully upon the grace that is to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” 1 Peter 1:13. Paul said, “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.” Romans 12:1, 2. So if we are to be purified, then our thoughts must be controlled.

Our words can affect our thoughts, so we also must be careful how we express ourselves. “[T]hat you put off, concerning your former conduct, the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, and be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and that you put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness. Therefore, putting away lying, ‘Let each one of you speak truth with his neighbor,’ for we are members of one another. ‘Be angry, and do not sin’: do not let the sun go down on your wrath, nor give place to the devil.” Ephesians 4:22–27. We all have the blessings of the great mercy and love of God, and expressing our joy and thankfulness for those blessings will have an effect on our thoughts. The Ministry of Healing, 253 says, “No tongue can express, no finite mind can conceive, the blessing that results from appreciating the goodness and love of God. Even on earth we may have joy as a wellspring, never failing, because fed by the streams that flow from the throne of God.”

We must understand that our thoughts and feelings are not only encouraged, but strengthened by what we say. And since our hearts are defiled by evil thoughts, if we want to gain control of our thoughts, we should be expressing thankfulness and rejoicing to the Lord for His blessings and this will change our thoughts from evil to good.

A Christian life is revealed by Christian thoughts, words, and deportment. If we consecrate ourselves to the Lord every day, choosing to obey His law, then our choice will purify our thoughts. The Signs of the Times, September 1, 1890, tells us, “If your thoughts, your plans, your purposes, are all directed towards the accumulation of things of earth, your anxiety, your study, your interests, will all be centered upon the world. The heavenly attractions will lose their beauty. … Your heart will be with your treasure, … You will have no time to devote to the study of the Scriptures and to earnest prayer that you may escape the snares of Satan … .” If your only purpose is to gain money, property, position, power, fame, or success in this world, the Lord may give you all of those things, but you will become so overburdened with trying to achieve success in the world that you will have no time to devote to the study of the Scriptures and to earnest prayer. And as a consequence, you will not escape the snares of Satan.

Many have allowed their minds to dwell upon earthly things for a long time, and now they realize that if the current of their thoughts is not changed, they will be conformed to this world; there will be no transformation to ready the mind for Jesus to come. “When the mind has been long permitted to dwell only on earthly things, it is a difficult matter to change the habits of thought.” Lift Him Up, 144. Dwelling most of one’s life on earthly things will make it difficult to exclude the things of the world and think only of divine things.

It too frequently occurs that Christians gather together on Sabbath and talk about anything but spiritual things, because their minds have so long dwelt upon the things of this earth—how to make a living, a business, a job, investments, property, and other things having to do with the world. Mrs. White tells us that as long as we are in this world we will have to conduct worldly business, so these things are not evil in and of themselves. But if that is all you are thinking about and talking about, then your mind is being conformed to this world and you will not be ready for Jesus to come.

“That which the eye sees and the ear hears too often attracts the attention and absorbs the interest. But if we would enter the city of God, and look upon Jesus in His glory, we must become accustomed to beholding Him with the eye of faith here.” Ibid.

Are we filling our minds and hearts with Jesus? Are we allowing the things of this world to preoccupy our minds and thoughts so that we will not be ready to go to heaven? Are we conformed to this world?

“If we would enter the city of God,” here is how we are to do it: “The words and the character of Christ should be often the subject of our thoughts and of our conversation; and each day some time should be especially devoted to prayerful meditation upon these sacred themes.” Ibid.

If our minds are to be transformed, then we must daily spend time in meditation upon the words and character of Jesus Christ, or we will be caught up with the evil thoughts that will defile the heart and mind.

Do we spend as much time, or more, thinking and talking about Jesus Christ as we do in thinking and talking about worldly things? When a person loves someone, that someone is all they can talk about. They tell everyone about this wonderful person that they love. But here is the biggest problem for most people: though they say they love Jesus, they do not spend time in His word, nor meditate upon His character, nor talk about Him to their family and friends.

Many professed Christians are troubled because they have struggled for a long time with low and debasing thoughts. But friend, this is something you can talk about with Jesus. If you don’t want to be a victim of worldly, evil thoughts, if you want to be cleansed on the inside and be made pure, then Jesus is the only One to talk to. Only He, through the power of the Holy Spirit in the life, can change a heart so that the thoughts will reflect the purity of the soul. But Satan doesn’t want you to know this.

“… Satan has his evil angels around us; and though they cannot read men’s thoughts, they closely watch their words and actions. Satan takes advantage of the weakness and defects of character that are thus revealed, and presses his temptations where there is least power of resistance. He makes evil suggestions, and inspires worldly thoughts, knowing that he can thus bring the soul into condemnation and bondage. To those who are selfish, worldly, avaricious, proud, fault-finding, or given to detraction—to all who are cherishing errors and defects of character—Satan presents the indulgence of self, and leads the soul off upon a track that the Bible condemns, but which he makes appear attractive.

“For every class of temptations there is a remedy.” Gospel Workers, 417, 418. Praise God, there is a remedy for every temptation. “We are not left to ourselves to fight the battle against self and our sinful natures in our own finite strength. Jesus is a mighty helper, a never-failing support.” Ibid., 418.

Are you in trouble because of your thoughts and helpless to do anything about it? You need only to go to Jesus in prayer. When tempted, take your struggles to Him, for He is a mighty helper.

“The mind must be restrained, and not allowed to wander.” Ibid.

The mind is not an empty void. It must be occupied. Saying that we will no longer think about something is not the way to gain the victory in the struggle for pure and holy thoughts. The devil and his angels cannot read our minds, but they can put thoughts into our imagination. Concentrating on what we should not think about will not help us to have pure thoughts.

“The mind … should be trained to dwell upon the Scriptures, and upon noble, elevating themes.” Our High Calling, 88.

“Portions of Scripture, even whole chapters, may be committed to memory, to be repeated when Satan comes in with his temptations. …

“When Satan would lead the mind to dwell upon earthly and sensual things, he is most effectually resisted with ‘It is written.’ ” Ibid.

We must fight the battle to discipline our thoughts, to keep our minds restrained, preventing the imagination from wandering.

If our thoughts are disciplined, our words will be right. “ ‘Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or else make the tree bad and its fruit bad; for a tree is known by its fruit. Brood of vipers! How can you, being evil, speak good things? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good things, and an evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth evil things.’ ” Matthew 12:33–35

“Many thoughts make up the unwritten history of a single day; and these thoughts have much to do with the formation of character. Our thoughts are to be strictly guarded; for one impure thought makes a deep impression on the soul. An evil thought leaves an evil impress on the mind. If the thoughts are pure and holy, the man is better for having cherished them. By them the spiritual pulse is quickened, and the power for doing good is increased. And as one drop of rain prepares the way for another in moistening the earth, so one good thought prepares the way for another.” The Faith I Live By, 222

What we look at and what we listen to all have an effect on our thoughts. These are the channels by which the mind is fed. The Bible is full of instruction on this point. “I will set nothing wicked before my eyes.” Psalm 101:3, first part. David understood this all too well. Keeping before ourselves violence, immoral sexuality, swearing, and drinking is evil, and what is evil is sin, and sin is breaking God’s law. It doesn’t matter how you come into contact with evil, if you are participating in evil, you are sinning. The law of the mind is that by beholding we become changed, and the more we behold evil, regardless of its form, that is what we will be like. And in the end, we will not be ready for heaven, but rather hellfire. “In that day they will roar against them like the roaring of the sea. And if one looks to the land, behold, darkness and sorrow; and the light is darkened by the clouds.” Isaiah 5:30. “Then they will look to the earth, and see trouble and darkness, gloom of anguish; and they will be driven into darkness.” Isaiah 8:22.

We are free moral agents with a responsibility over what our eyes see, what our ears hear, over everything we subject ourselves and our senses to. Satan is trying to paralyze our senses so that we will be insensitive to the warnings and reproofs sent from God. He does not want us to heed them, lest they are received in the heart and reform the life.

“My brethren, God calls upon you as His followers to walk in the light. You need to be alarmed. Sin is among us, and it is not seen to be exceedingly sinful. The senses of many are benumbed by the indulgence of appetite and by familiarity with sin.” The Adventist Home, 401

“Sin means dishonor and disaster to every soul that indulges in it; but it is blinding and deceiving in its nature … [W]e should close every avenue by which the tempter may find access to us.” Ibid., 402, 403.

We are living in a cesspool, a morally-defiled world filled with wickedness, and our only safety is to be shielded by the grace of God every moment. We must cooperate with the heavenly agencies and not be presumptuous, walking right into temptation.

We must continually be on guard, watching every avenue of the soul by which Satan may gain access. We need to avoid reading, seeing, or hearing anything that would lead to impure thoughts. We need to place ourselves and our families where we cannot watch the evil and iniquity practiced all over the world. We must guard what we look at and listen to so that the terrible things going on around us do not become the subjects of our meditation and cause us to be defiled.

Radio, television, movies, music, social media, there are hundreds of avenues by which we today can become defiled. “The lust of the eye and corrupt passions are aroused by beholding and by reading. The heart is corrupted through the imagination.” Ibid., 408. How is it with your soul? Are you being conformed to this world by the music of this world, the sights and the sounds of this world, or are you being transformed by the renewing of your mind, by beholding Christ through His word?

Clean hands and a pure heart, the two requirements to be ready for heaven. We need to be memorizing the Scriptures and studying and meditating upon the character of Christ and His words every day. We must be in control of what we look at and listen to. This is what we must do. But everything that we do will be absolutely hopeless and useless unless God does something. “In describing to His disciples the office work of the Holy Spirit, Jesus sought to inspire them with the joy and hope that inspired His own heart. He rejoiced because of the abundant help He had provided for His church. The Holy Spirit was the highest of all gifts that He could solicit from His Father for the exaltation of His people. The Spirit was to be given as a regenerating agent, and without this the sacrifice of Christ would have been of no avail. The power of evil had been strengthening for centuries, and the submission of men to this satanic captivity was amazing. Sin could be resisted and overcome only through the mighty agency of the Third Person of the Godhead, who would come with no modified energy, but in the fullness of divine power. It is the Spirit that makes effectual what has been wrought out by the world’s Redeemer. It is by the Spirit that the heart is made pure.” The Desire of Ages, 671

The heart is made pure by the inworking of the Holy Spirit. Unless you receive the Holy Spirit into your life, you will be unable to resist sin and overcome it. So we must be praying day by day that we might receive the Holy Spirit. Without this, the sacrifice of Jesus upon the cross of Calvary would be of no avail. “Through the Spirit the believer becomes a partaker of the divine nature. Christ has given His Spirit as a divine power to overcome all hereditary and cultivated tendencies to evil, and to impress His own character upon His church.” Ibid.

Human power is not enough, so Christ has given His Spirit as a divine power to overcome all hereditary and cultivated tendencies to evil, and to impress His own character upon His church.

Friend, it is important that we cooperate with the divine agencies, but what God does is vital. We can never be made pure, we can never be made ready for heaven unless the Holy Spirit works a miraculous work of re-creation in our hearts. He does not modify our old life. Instead, He makes a completely new creature. “If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.” 2 Corinthians 5:17.

It doesn’t matter what your past has been. If you are willing to fall on your knees before the Lord and say, Lord, I want to be born again, I want this change, help me to cooperate with the agencies of heaven, this miracle will happen in your heart and soul.

Pastor John J. Grosboll is Director of Steps to Life and pastors the Prairie Meadows Church in Wichita, Kansas. He may be contacted by email at: historic@stepstolife.org, or by telephone at: 316-788-5559.