In Ezekiel 22, we read God’s description of how spiritually corroded the nation of Israel had become. And then, in verse 26, He tells us how it happened:
“Her priests have violated My law and profaned My holy things; they have not distinguished between the holy and unholy, nor have they made known the difference between the unclean and the clean.”
When I read these words, they really spoke to my heart. I want to draw your attention to the part of this verse where God says, “They have not distinguished between the holy and the unholy.” This particular verse is interestingly paraphrased in the Living Bible: “Your priests have violated my laws and defiled my Temple and my holiness. To them the things of God are no more important than any daily task” (emphasis mine).
And then we read this sad verse:
“So I sought for a man among them who would make a wall, and stand in the gap before Me on behalf of the land, that I should not destroy it; but I found no one” (Ezekiel 22:30, emphasis mine).
How could that be?! Among these thousands of priests and prophets, God could not find one person who was qualified to stand in the gap—even though every one of them was busy in ministry. What were these people doing? Why could God not use them like He wanted? God essentially says, “They took the ministry lightly and treated My work just like any other secular job. They lost the heart of the whole thing!”
The motive behind an action is what gives the action its value. The motive behind your service, your prayers, your toil—whatever you do—is what the Lord examines and evaluates. Your work may be minimal, or it may be a sleepless, 24-hour job. No matter what it is, the reason you do it is so much more important, in God’s eyes, than what you actually do.
In other words, the question “why” is far more crucial than the question “what.”
We Must Seek to Know God on a Deeper Level
Over the years, even as I have seen the ministry of Gospel for Asia grow and touch the lives of many, still this one burden and longing continues to grow in my own heart: “Lord, create in us a deeper reality. Make us authentic in our hearts, that we will be pure before You.”
You see, authenticity is what it takes to stand in the gap for this hurting world and to do a work for God that will last throughout eternity. Otherwise, we will only end up with a huge pile of wood, hay and stubble that will be burned up into just a pinch of ash on Judgment Day.
Do you remember how strongly and angrily Jesus spoke to the Pharisees and scribes of His day? These people were believed to be righteous and holy, because externally, they did everything perfectly: They fasted, prayed, memorized the law of Moses and taught the Holy Scriptures. In fact, these men were scholars—the equivalent of Ph.D.s in theology. They were employed full-time in the work of God. Everything else in life was secondary. Their total, lifetime commitment was to God and His law, and to the task of teaching and practicing it.
But you know what? Jesus pronounced His worst judgment, not on the prostitutes, drunkards and the most wicked crooks in this society, but on this religious crowd.
His words to them in Matthew 23:27, 33 are extremely strong: “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which indeed appear beautiful outwardly, but inside are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness. . . . Serpents, brood of vipers! How can you escape the condemnation of hell?”
Why did Jesus deal so severely with them? What was their problem? They did everything so correctly and according to all the rules and regulations. But Jesus was not looking at their outside deeds, but at the “why”—the motives of their hearts. What He saw there was the exact same problem as what occurred in the days of Ezekiel: They served God with an external form, but their heart was not in it. And thus they disqualified themselves from being used by God to stand in the gap for the people.
What about us as New Testament believers? What is our track record with the living God? How would we fare as individuals if God would evaluate us by the same criteria He used in Ezekiel’s days? Would we qualify to stand in the gap for those who are in desperate need of His grace?
Jesus had much to say about the heart motives of those who claim to be His followers. In fact, in Matthew 7:22–23, He described a scene from the future, the Day of Judgment: “Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’ ”
This is a very sobering passage of Scripture. Imagine for a moment how sad and terrified these people will feel as they cry out in desperation, “Jesus, You somehow must have made a mistake! Don’t You remember me? I’m the one who saw all those people healed in my ministry. Demons trembled and left people when I commanded them to get out in the name of Jesus. And Lord, how many individuals made decisions when I spoke about You?”
Amazingly, Jesus doesn’t reply, “No, you’re lying. You didn’t do any of these things.” In fact, He makes no comment at all about the subject they used for their defense. His silence about the whole matter of their ministry accomplishments is proof and declaration that they did perform all those miracles and works.
But then Jesus very plainly tells them, without further explanation or qualification: “I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!”
Let me ask you, how did such an incredible amount of spiritual Christian work, which received the applause of the whole world and drew enormous crowds, turn out so differently than expected in the end?
I believe the answer is this: Those workers did all their ministry not for the glory of God, but for their own name, their benefit, man’s approval and man’s honor. Their motivation and reason for serving God were carnal, and in the depth of their heart, their intentions were impure.
Realign Your Heart, If Need Be
My brothers and sisters, I know these are very strong statements. For all of us who desire to serve the Lord and this needy world, my deepest concern is that we have a pure and authentic heart before the Lord. We must never work and serve because of a challenge, money, a title, a position or even because of the great need we see.
It is my prayer and hope that we serve the living God for one reason, and no other: Deep down in our hearts, we love Jesus more than anything else in this life, and His love is our only motivation for action.
Only the things done out of sincere love for Him will last into eternity.