Man Must See The Fruit
"Out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries..." and we must "obey from the heart that form of doctrine..." (Matt. 15:19; Rom. 6:17). Surely every Bible reader is aware that overt action, good or bad, begins in "the seat of thought, emotions, and will or volition." That is why keeping the heart pure, and positively directed to that which is true, honest, just, etc., is the very essence of man's service to God (Phil. 4:8; Rom. 1:9; 2:29). We are assured that God knows our heart (Rom. 8:27; Heb. 4:12-16); and this is both a warning and a comfort.
But do such passages lessen the need for overt obedience? Because God can know man's intentions, and may approve an intent never carried out (as in the case of Abraham, Gen. 22:), may we judge a man God-approved before his obedience is consummated? Or consider the flip side: because we are warned: "whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart" (Matt. 5:28), should we treat one we regard as guilty of lust, in the same way we do overt adultery?
We can correctly judge neither heart, and must operate upon overt actions. Jesus countered the legalism of his day in many ways; but never by ridiculing the doing of things commanded. He reproved those hypocrites who were particular about details but omitted "weightier matters" (Matt. 23: 23-26), but he didn't set one aspect of obedience against another. Rather, he coupled the inner and outer parts, saying, these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone." The inside must first be clean, but the outside must be clean also (v.26).
"By their fruits ye shall know them" (Matt. 7:20). The fact that God knows them before the fruit is apparent to man, is no justification for extending fellowship, or withdrawing it. Freely admitting we have less than perfect knowledge, our responsibility is to act in keeping with what we believe to be God's will. And we must consider those who have not done what God commanded "for remission of sins" to be yet in their sins. By the same token, we must seek to correct those we believe to be in error.