The Difference Between a Hot and Cold Heart
Dear Christian friends,
I am always amazed how children can turn out so differently when they are raised in the same household. As a pastor I have seen it so many times. As a dad I see it in our own family. I am so thankful for our own children. We have never received a phone call from the police department or from one of their teachers telling us that we ought to have concerns. On the other hand, two of our three went away to school for high school. We don’t know what they might have done and they aren’t telling.
Yet our three children have such different personalities from each other. Our first child has great intellectual gifts. Academically, things seemed to go easy…except for those college statistics courses. As a whole she did very well. She used to go asleep at night reading encyclopedias.
Our second is a very hard worker. He is persistent. He is intense. He works hard at weaknesses and makes them strengths. He is a tenacious missionary as a result. He is blessed with his mom’s personality. People see his sincerity and devotion to the Lord. God blesses that.
Our third has a huge heart. She makes friends easily. She loves kids and kids love her. She understands those who struggle. She goes out of the way to be their friend. They respond to her. Same parents, but our children are totally different from each other! You can easily see where I am going with this today. As we continue our theme of great Bible questions, we go back to the brothers Cain and Abel and think about Cain’s question, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” We see “The Difference between a Hot and Cold Heart.”
Cain and Abel were the sons of Adam and Eve. Cain became a farmer while Abel was a shepherd. They inherited the fallen sinful nature of their parents. They fought with each other. The center of the problem was not a toy or whom Mom loved more, the issue was religion. Some way and somehow God made it known that they were to bring sacrifices to him. Cain, the farmer, offered fruit from the harvest; Abel, the shepherd, offered an animal from his flock. The Bible reports, “The Lord looked with favor on Abel and his offering, but on Cain and his offering he did not look with favor. So Cain was very angry, and his face was downcast.”
We don’t know exactly how God communicated with Cain and Abel, but we do know why God found Cain’s sacrifice unacceptable and why Abel’s was acceptable. In the letter to the Hebrews we are given some insight, “By faith Abel offered God a better sacrifice than Cain did. By faith he was commended as a righteous man, when God spoke well of his offerings. And by faith he still speaks, even though he is dead.” Some have said that God didn’t accept Cain’s sacrifice because of the nature of the sacrifice – Cain offered produce while Abel offered an animal from his flock. Later when God gave his law to Moses, the animals were to be sacrificed for sin. Produce was offered as thank offerings. Some conclude that shows that Abel was repentant man and Cain was not. I am not comfortable with that explanation
Abel is called a righteous man, not because of what he did or didn’t do, but because of what he believed. He had saving faith. Saving faith has a very specific object which it trusts. That object is Christ. Abel’s faith was looking ahead to the Savior to come. Abel was looking ahead to the unseen promises of God that would only be seen for thirty three years when Jesus would walked on this earth, but yet was seen thousands of years before he came and a couple of thousand years after he came with the eyes of faith. That’s what Cain was lacking. That’s what he was lacking. He rejected that promise. Only through faith in Jesus is anyone forgiven and declared righteous. To this promise of God, Cain remained cold. His heart was hard. His heart was frozen.
Cold hearts, unmoved by God’s love do awful things. He committed the first recorded murder. He killed his blood brother. The Lord had warned him. “Sin is crouching at your door,” God warned. But sin pounced anyway.
There is a dispute that goes on among Christians. In fact, it divides churches. I don’t understand why. The Bible is very clear about. Experience confirms it. Human reason doesn’t like it. It’s all about the teaching of original sin. What is it? A theologian’s definition goes like this: “The guilt of Adam and Eve’s sin is charged to and the corruption of man’s nature is transmitted to all their children.” Larry Zahn’s definition: We come into the world defective. Sin is part of us. It’s innate. When people say, and lots of people say it, “Nobody is perfect” that’s an admission to original sin.
Martin Luther heard a story about a monk who denied original sin. The monk was frustrated with his own contrariness and impatience. He decided to go and live out in a desert by himself because he believed that people around him made him sin. He wanted to isolate himself and then it would not be a problem. In the desert he thought he could live in peace and holiness because he was alone. One day he went to a spring to get some water. Inadvertently he knocked the container over and spilled it all. In anger he flung the pitcher to the ground and broke it. He realized something; he couldn’t blame his anger on other people. It was inside. It is inside us too.
Jeremiah wrote, “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” People are capable of horrifically wicked things – genocide, concentration camps, entertainment that delights in blood and gore, illicit sex, fantasy and lust, coveting and envy, foul and four-letter words, hate and lovelessness. That evil unchecked heart drove Cain to do his brother in. That kind of heart is capable of driving you to some awful things too.
Trying to stop sin is like trying to stop an avalanche? One leads to another. Look at Cain. He rejected God’s loving appeal to him. While he offered God a sacrifice, he was only going through the motions. Jealousy and envy took over. There was resentment. He hated. He shut his ears to God’s clear warning – “sin is crouching at your door.” He was going to do what he was going to do. He plotted. He schemed. He killed. The pressure built up inside and emotions grew stronger. He blew up like an uncontrollable steam engine.
But it wasn’t done. Then came the cover-up – literally. He buried the evidence. Out of sight no one could know. “Where is your brother?” God asked. I don’t know! Lies and deceit. Fakery and phoniness. Finally “Am I my brother’s keeper?” God, surely you don’t expect me to keep an eye on him. Surely you don’t expect me to guard him. I have my own life to lead.
How many sins did I mention? I’m sure I missed a few. Try counting the sins you do every day and how they are all connected. How many do you miss?
Think of all the peripheral damage done. Adam and Eve lost their son. His other family brothers and sisters would never meet him. How is Cain remembered? How could he be so callous? How could he be so cold? “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” That same cold and calloused and frozen heart is what we inherited too.
Don’t rationalize it! Don’t minimize it? Face it! Admit it! Repent of it! Seek God’s forgiveness for it! Not only does God forgive, God gave him his Spirit to acknowledge his sin and believe he was forgiven. God changed that heart within.
The Scripture uses so much illustration to help us understand that. He replaces those hard hearts through spiritual surgery. He defrosts that cold and frozen heart. Talking about God’s people Ezekiel says, “I will give them a heart to know me, that I am the Lord. They will be my people, and I will be their God, for they will return to me with all their heart.” God says similarly through Jeremiah, “I will give them a heart to know me, that I am the Lord. They will be my people, and I will be their God, for they will return to me with all their heart.” The Holy Spirit is the surgeon. The operating room is the Baptismal fount or anywhere the Law and Gospel are shared.
Paul illustrates when he says that God warms the heart. He told Timothy that he and we have an ever present need for the Spirit to “fan the flames of faith.” In other words, Holy Spirit, set my heart on fire. Use your Word and Sacraments to fuel the fire. And DON’T turn away from the Spirit like Cain did. Don’t refuse the means as Cain did.
Changed hearts don’t say, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” I am responsible for you. You are responsible for me. We are responsible for anyone each other and all the people that we have contact with in this world. God made it our responsibility because he made it evident that he was responsible. He sent his Son to die for everyone. “God so loved the world.” A pastor friend of mine teaches this point in a most vivid way. He bought himself a dollar pair of sunglasses and then covered the lenses with red paper. In the middle of the lenses he cut out a cross and then puts the glasses on. His point is that we need to look at everyone through the cross of Christ. There isn’t a single person on the face of this earth that Jesus didn’t die for. No one excluded. We owe it to Jesus to reach as many as we can.
When a crippled man was at the temple begging, Peter and John had nothing to give to him. “Yet they said Silver or gold I do not have, but what I have I give to you.” Peter healed him. Yeah he could walk, but his soul was warmed by knowing the love of Christ.
Brother keeping begins there. That’s our priority. But don’t think that it should stop there. If they need help then be ready to give help, even sacrifice for them.
God spoke through Isaiah and reminds he people what true faith also entails. “Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter— when you see the naked, to clothe him, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood? The book of James says it like this, “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” In other words religion is not just of the heart but of the hands too.
Our God has even given us a pecking order as far as priorities, “If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for his immediate family, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” Start with the members of the family. Our nation could do that a lot better rather than expecting the government to do it. I watched parts of the convention this week. The theme of strong families came up all the time. Your family is special blessing that you were born into. Be a blessing to that family. Lots of our nation’s problems could be handled if we just helped our relatives and immediate families.
The Scripture also says, “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers. While that passage gives us the directive to do good to all people, start with your fellow believers. That makes sense, doesn’t it? Family and then the family of faith.
But it also says, “Let us do good unto all men.” While we can’t go to all seven billion people in this world, we can do something here. He is speaking to his church, his redeemed people. He is speaking to people to whom he has given a new heart, a heart that isn’t cold and frozen but a heart that is soft and compassionate, a heart that is on fire to let the world know that Jesus had compassion on all and his people have compassion for all.