man looks at the outward appearance

“Man looks at the outward appearance, but God looks at the heart.”

I used to take this as a rebuke.

As if man was wrong for looking at the actions, and not at the heart. But that’s not quite right, is it?

Man is never called to judge the heart, as he is incapable of doing so with any degree of accuracy. Rather, Jesus is simply acknowledging how things are (and that God’s way is superior to man’s). Man must judge based on action. We cannot tell by someone’s heart if they are sorry. We have to wait and see positive action that shows they are sorry before we can trust them again (or negative action that causes us not to trust them). Conversely, we cannot discern the condition of someone’s heart or eternal condition (the “judging” forbade by Jesus), but we can see their negative or positive actions that will reflect or indicate their heart.

In other words, God has a direct look at the roots (a man’s heart), while humans have to discern (I really mean “judge” but I’m afraid you’ll take that word the wrong way) by the fruit (actions). “You will know a tree by its fruit.” Man looks at actions. This is just how it has to work in the physical world. God looks at the heart. God forgives you, but man still needs a physical indication of your repentance usually. God may condemn you, but you can hide it from men–until you slip up.

Obviously, there may be occasions when God reveals something non-physical, but that is an exception to the rule. Don’t get me wrong, I believe we, once enlightened by Christ, can see non-physical things in his light. But we are not ever asked by Jesus to attempt to judge people based on something we can’t even see.

So, I suppose what I’m getting at is that we should not be offended when we are not immediately received back into good graces just for saying “I’m sorry,” and meaning it. Nor should we think that simply because man hasn’t condemned us that we are in right standing with God. Man looks at the outward, but God at the inward.