A Heart that is far from God

by Austin Thompson

It is every believer’s desire to one day hear the Lord Jesus Christ say, “Well done, good and faithful servant” (cf. Matt 25:21). However, our sin nature fights against the Spirit and tempts us to stray from the living God (Gal 5:17). The composer of the great hymn, Come Thou Fount Of Every Blessing, captures this reality well. “Prone to wander, Lord I feel it—Prone to leave the God I love.” Thankfully, Scripture provides us with helpful instruction so that we can stay diligent in our love and affection for God and detect when our heart is being hardened by the deceitfulness of sin (Heb 3:12-13).

King Saul is a prominent Old Testament character. He was tall, handsome, and anointed by Samuel as the first king over God’s covenant people Israel. Unfortunately, Saul will forever be remembered as a man whose heart was far from the living God. First Samuel 15 highlights nine signs that Saul’s heart was far from God.

A heart that is far from God does not carry out His instructions (15:1-11) — Instead of following God’s instruction to completely annihilate the Amalekites, Saul preserved the life of their King and allowed his troops to salvage the choice livestock. Saul’s failure grieved the Lord, who regretted that He had made Saul king over His people. Believers must be diligent to carry out the Lord’s commands in their entirety, submitting to His authority with an obedient heart.

A heart that is far from God exalts itself (15:12) — Samuel could not immediately confront Saul about his sin because he was returning from a celebratory tour to Carmel where he paraded the spoils of victory and established a monument in honor of himself. Believers must strenuously pursue humility, understanding that God opposes the proud but exalts the humble (see James 4:6).

A heart that is far from God has a warped view of reality (15:13,16-20)When confronted by Samuel, Saul twice professes his faithful obedience to the Lord. The hardness of Saul’s heart prevented him from viewing reality correctly and understanding the fullness of his failure. Believers must recognize that reality is properly interpreted in light of God’s Word and that to stray from His truth causes spiritual blindness and vulnerability.

A heart that is far from God believes it knows better than God (15:14-15, 21) — In Saul’s estimation, God would receive more glory if he spared the best of the livestock from destruction and set them aside for mass sacrifice. In actuality, Saul’s prideful thinking robbed the Lord of glory because he did not revere God’s commands in the presence of the soldiers. Believers must seek out and destroy every root of the sin of pride because a failure to do so will have devastating consequences.

A heart that is far from God does not understand the Lord’s ways (15:22-23) — Immediately following Saul’s sinful justification of his failure to fully carry out the Lord’s instructions, Samuel must step in and teach Saul about the Lord. Saul wrongfully assumed that sacrifice was preeminent in the worship of the true and living God, but in reality, it is a heart of obedience that finds favor in His sight. Believers must regularly renew their minds with the truth of God’s Word so that they will be best positioned to present their bodies as living sacrifices (Rom 12:1-2).

A heart that is far from God fears and obeys men rather than God (15:24) — After Samuel’s firm rebuke, Saul’s true motivation for disobeying the Lord is revealed: he was afraid of the people. Had Saul feared God instead of the people, he would have possessed the necessary strength to exercise faith in the face of sinful opposition. Believers must cultivate the fear of the Lord in their daily lives to avoid the pitfalls of people-pleasing and compromise.

A heart that is far from God does not practice true repentance (15:25-31) — Instead of humbly approaching the Lord, Saul looked to Samuel’s intercessory work for forgiveness, grabbed at his robe in denial, and sought to be honored before all Israel. Perhaps even more revealing of the state of Saul’s distance from God is his statement to Samuel, “Come back with me so I can bow in worship to the LORD your God” (15:30). Believers must not only recognize their sin before God, but must turn from it with a contrite spirit.

A heart that is far from God does not live before God (15:32-33) — The truth of God’s omnipresence and omniscience ensures that every human action has a Triune witness. While this truth was far from Saul’s mind as he sought to perform out his mission, Samuel knew exactly how their present situation needed to be resolved. He hacked the Amalekite king to pieces before the Lord at Gilgal. Believers must constantly live in light of the reality that they must one day give an account to the Lord (cf. Rom 14:12; 2 Cor 5:10).

A heart that is far from God does not understand the gravity of sin (15:34-34) — At the end of the chapter, the author gives no indication that Saul was remorseful over the events that had occurred in Israel while both Samuel and the Lord were rightly grieved over the evil that had been committed. Believers must prayerfully grow in their ability to see the wickedness of sin and its impact on the lives of those it touches.

May we encourage one another to walk by the Spirit and continually draw near to the throne of grace so that we can guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus (Gal 5:16).

Photo by Rafael Barquero on Unsplash

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