“Since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.” ~ Hebrews 10:21-22
According to the author of the letter to the Hebrews, this is how we must draw near to God: with a “true” heart. Thus translate both the King James Version and the English Standard Version. A “sincere” heart, the New International Version tells us. The Blue Letter Bible Dictionary offers more depth for this word translated “true” and “sincere,” the Greek alēthinos: “that which is opposite to what is fictitious, counterfeit, imaginary, simulated or pretended.”
As easy as it is to hear the accuser’s words in our ears as we read these challenging words—words that challenge us because we know our own hearts all too well to believe that they are constantly true in our pursuit of God—we must remember the context of the book of Hebrews. The author sets before his beleaguered audience (and us) a great High Priest who understands our hearts because He had to be made like His brothers in every respect (Hebrews 2:17). This Great High Priest, Christ Jesus, knows our hearts, yet He encourages us to come boldly to the throne of grace “that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16).
So we come. We do come. However, we come confessing to God, and—if we’re honest enough—to one another, that our hearts are often untrue…that we are too often distracted…that we come with unhungry hearts that are saturated with the world…that we must, in fact, pray with David for God to give us an undivided heart so that we may fear His name (Psalm 86:11).
And God, in His great grace, answers our prayers for a true heart—because our drawing near to Him is His goal for us. Our Great High Priest, ever interceding for His Bride, has prayed for us, that we would know the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom God has sent (John 17:3). This is how we know that God is pleased to continually fashion our hearts into the resemblance of His Son’s heart, the only heart that was and is undivided in its purpose: “Behold, I have come to do your will” (Hebrews 10:9). And, as Kent Hughes so beautifully reminds us, “The life of Christ in us—the same life that said, ‘Behold I have come to do your will, O God’—animates us!”
What amazing grace.
So when we are tempted to despair of our hearts that seem so often to be the opposite of a true heart, we must preach the Gospel to ourselves—and to one another. We must remind ourselves and each other that it is “since we have a great priest over the house of God” that we can “draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith” (Hebrews 10:21-22). Our faith, my friend, is not in our own hearts, but in our Great High Priest over the house of God.
Deitrich Bonhoeffer, a German Lutheran pastor, theologian, and anti-Nazi dissident, wrote several poems from prison shortly before he was executed by the Nazis on April 9, 1945. One of those poems, “Who Am I?,” deals with this issue of a divided heart. As you read his poem, keep in mind the honest evaluation of his own heart that Mr. Bonhoeffer offers. And, more importantly, allow his last line to cause your own heart to sing to the God who beckons you to come.
Who Am I?
by Dietrich Bonhoeffer
Who am I? They often tell me
I stepped from my cell’s confinement
Calmly, cheerfully, firmly,
Like a Squire from his country house.
Who am I? They often tell me
I used to speak to my warders
Freely and friendly and clearly,
As though it were mine to command.
Who am I? They also tell me
I bore the days of misfortune
Equably, smilingly, proudly,
like one accustomed to win.
Am I then really that which other men tell of?
Or am I only what I myself know of myself?
Restless and longing and sick, like a bird in a cage,
Struggling for breath, as though hands were compressing my throat,
Yearning for colors, for flowers, for the voices of birds,
Thirsting for words of kindness, for neighborliness,
Tossing in expectations of great events,
Powerlessly trembling for friends at an infinite distance,
Weary and empty at praying, at thinking, at making,
Faint, and ready to say farewell to it all.
Who am I? This or the Other?
Am I one person today and tomorrow another?
Am I both at once? A hypocrite before others,
And before myself a contemptible woebegone weakling?
Or is something within me still like a beaten army
Fleeing in disorder from victory already achieved?
Who am I? They mock me, these lonely questions of mine.
Whoever I am, Thou knowest, O God, I am thine!