The story has been told of the Indian chief who sought to obtain salvation by offering first his blanket and then his gun to God. He was told that gifts like these would not purchase divine favor, but that if he wanted to be saved he must give his heart to God.
Now at first this sounds very right and good, and the phrase “give your heart to God” generally passes unchallenged as truth. The writer, however, has met with many who have been driven into doubt and legality by the use of this very phrase. Awakened to a sense of their sinfulness, and impressed with the importance of being right with God, they kneel and earnestly seek to dedicate their hearts to Him. With a sense of relief in having made the “surrender,” they rise from their knees determined to live holier lives.
Before very long, however, they find by bitter experience that their hearts, instead of beating with love to God, are just as bad as ever. Thinking that their surrender has not been wholehearted enough, they kneel down again and with greater earnestness than before, they try to “give their hearts to God,” and beseech Him to take them and keep them. But with what result? Alas! they soon again have to acknowledge their lack of success, and conclude that there is no use in trying any more.
How sad to see souls misled in this way! To speak of “giving one’s heart to God” for salvation is a great mistake, and arises from a wrong estimate of one’s heart, a wrong use of Scripture, and a wrong idea of the Gospel.
The Bible clearly teaches that the human heart—yours and mine—is naturally the incurable, continual, deceitful source of every kind of evil. Now consider the thought “give your heart to God.” What! am I to bring as a present to the holy God a thing which He Himself declares to be the very fount of evil? Will that induce Him, who is of purer eyes than to behold iniquity, to look with favor upon me? Would not such a gift, if actually received, only serve to call forth His holy condemnation and wrath? Let the reader then consider the character of his own heart in the light of Scripture, and accept the true and divine estimate of its utter worthlessness.
Some will say, “But does not the Bible itself say, ‘Give Me thine heart’?” Yes, it does in Proverbs 23:26, but notice the two significant words with which that verse opens: “My son.” These two words show that the one addressed stands in a family relationship with the One who speaks. Can you claim that such a relationship exists between you and God? Are you indeed His child? Is He your Father? It is not everyone that can say “yes” to this question, for though God is the creator of all, He is the Father of only those who have put their trust in Jesus Christ. “As many as received Him, to them gave He power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on His name” (John 1:12). “For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:26).
If you, as a guilty sinner, have trusted in the Saviour, you have received from His blessed hands the forgiveness of your sins, and are indeed a child of God. In that case, by all means lay your renewed heart at His feet! To you the exhortation “Give Me thine heart” applies with full force. You are no longer your own, but His, and constrained by His love, it will be your greatest joy to hold all that you have at His disposal—your possessions, your abilities, your time, your influence, your life, your heart.
Notice, though, that the Gospel does not require us to give anything to God. In fact, it is just the opposite. Whereas the law says, “Thou shalt love God,” the Gospel says “God loves you.” The law demanded love and obedience from man and cursed him because he did not produce it. The Gospel takes for granted that man is unable to meet any just claim, and therefore demands nothing, but brings every blessing with it.
In the Gospel, God is revealed as the great and good Giver, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). “It is more blessed to give than to receive,” were the words of the Lord Jesus, and as a result of His God-glorifying work on the cross, God gets the more blessed place, and we have only to take the place of thankful receivers.