Our Ultimate Intention Is What Counts

I don’t suppose anyone knows, even with the aid of mod- ern computers, the number of choices made during the course of an average lifetime. The answer, if it were ever published, would probably stagger our imagination.

All of the choices we make in our lives can be classified into three categories according to their relative importance. Once they are categorized, we begin to notice that in spite of the as- tronomical number of choices we make, life is actually pretty simple!

Supreme Choice

May only be made for the highest good of God and your fellow man or for the gratification of self.

Subordinate Choice

The means and choices to secure our ultimate choice.

Simple Choice

The actual carrying out of our subordinate choices, which are essentially a furthering of our supreme choice.

Question: Which level of choice do you think God looks at to determine what is virtuous and what is sinful?

Before we answer our own question, let’s examine a brief scriptural commentary on the subject.

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside they are full of robbery and self-indulgence. You blind Pharisee, first clean the inside of the cup and of the dish, so that the outside of it may become clean also. Woe to you scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which on the outside appear beautiful, but inside they are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness. Even so you too outwardly appear righteous to men, but inwardly you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness. Matthew 23:25–28 (NASB)

Therefore do not go on passing judgment before the time, but wait until the Lord comes who will both bring to light the things hidden in the darkness and disclose the motives of men’s hearts and then each man’s praise will come to him from God. 1 Corinthians 4:5 (NASB)

And He said to them, “Are you too so uncomprehending? Do you not see that whatever goes into the man from outside cannot defile him; because it does not go into his heart, but into his stomach, and is eliminated? … And He was saying, ‘That which proceeds out of the man, that is what defiles the man. For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed the evil thoughts and fornications, thefts, murders, adulteries …. All these evil things proceed from within and defile the man.” Mark 7:18–21, 23 (NASB)

Keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life. Proverbs 4:23

These are just a few of the many scriptures in the Bible which make it abundantly clear that it is our ultimate intention or supreme choice in life that is the source of all our choices—major and minor, good or evil.

Robert Ringer in his smash best seller Looking out for #1 (over one year on the N.Y. Times best seller list) describes this process in the pursuit of self-gratification.

When you boil it all down … everyone’s main objective in life is to feel good … we sometimes lose sight of the fact that our primary objective is really to be as happy as possible and that all our other objectives, great and small, are only a means to that end. [1]Robert J. Ringer, Looking Out for #1, Fawcett Crest, p. 12.

To further emphasize the point, let’s look at the lives of two young men going into the ministry.


God tells us that man has a tendency to look on the out- ward appearance (1 Sam. 16:7). That being the case, what would most people determine about the life of the second man in our diagram? No doubt that he was a dedicated Christian with a genuine desire to serve God. However, if the truth of the matter were known, God considered this young man’s training to be an abomination in His sight.

The reason? This young man loved to please himself more than anything else in the world. He craved attention and felt it
could be secured through an evangelistic platform ministry. He spent time imagining all those faces looking at him and waiting for him to stretch forth his hand of power in their direction. This was intensely gratifying to his ego. Yet some preparation for this great task was needed, so he attended seminary. No matter though, all that knowledge he would obtain in seminary would just be all the more prestigious.

So although the actions and choices of these two young men were nearly identical, one of them produced evil, corrupt fruit while the other, whose ultimate intention of heart was to live for God supremely, produced good fruit.

The Bible teaches us that unless our ultimate or supreme choice is right, no deed or decision at a lower level is worthy of anything on Judgment Day.

A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. Matthew 7:18–19

When we use the terms supreme choice or ultimate intention we use them as synonyms for “heart,” or purpose in life. When we ask Jesus into our hearts, it is important that we make no mistake about the fact that we are asking him to take over our purpose in life.

Holiness and moral character can only be determined by observing the intention. Actions will rarely give us a true picture.

What is most confusing and distressing to many Christians is that, while they discern their intentions and motives to be right, they often make errors in conduct. The notion that holiness is a state which can never literally be realized proceeds from the erroneous linkage of holiness with conduct rather than motive. This is why most Christians will cling to the idea that holiness is something only obtained in heaven. Others adhere to an abstract idea of living in Christ’s holiness, even though their lifestyle does not reflect it.

Holiness isn’t something you can borrow—you either have it or you don’t. The theological doctrine of “imputed righteousness” has been grossly distorted in our day. We are told that God looks at us through the blood of Christ and sees us as righteous, regardless of our actual state.

Let’s stop kidding ourselves. God sees us exactly the way we are. If we are living in obedience, He sees it. If we are living selfish, unholy lives, we can be sure He sees that too.

The Lord has rewarded me according to my righteousness; according to the cleanness of my hands He has recompensed me. For I have kept the ways of the Lord, and have not wickedly departed from my God … I was also blameless with Him, and I kept myself from my iniquity. Therefore, the Lord has recompensed me according to my righteousness; according to the clean- ness of my hands in His eyes. Psalm 18:20–21, 23–24 (NASB)

Now, whose righteousness is David talking about here— Christ’s? NO! David has “kept the ways of the Lord,” and God is obviously pleased with him. Please don’t misunderstand what I’m saying. The Bible does indeed teach that Christ’s righteousness is imputed to us. This righteousness, however, cannot be imputed as a technicality. It can only come to us through relationship. In other words, as I spend time with God, watching Him, listening to Him and emulating Him, I will begin to take on His characteristics and likeness. Do you know how David came to the place where he was able to speak about his righteousness as he did? Here’s a little secret from his memoirs:

My soul longeth, yea, even fainteth for the courts of the Lord: my heart and my flesh crieth out for the
living God. Psalm 84:2

O God, thou art my God; early will I seek thee: my soul thirsteth for thee, my flesh longeth for thee … my soul followeth hard after thee … Psalm 63:1,8

As the hart panteth after the water brooks, so panteth my soul after thee, 0 God. Psalm 42:1

The righteousness of Christ is imputed to us as a reality—something that is literally manifest in our lives. It only comes, however, through the interaction of a relationship. There is no “technical” righteousness. There is no righteousness apart from relationship. The righteousness of Christ is never imputed un- less it is imparted.

A pupil is not above his teacher; but everyone, after he has been fully trained, will be like his teacher. Luke 6:40 (NASB)

Footnotes   [ + ]

1. Robert J. Ringer, Looking Out for #1, Fawcett Crest, p. 12.