God sees beyond our behavior to our heart. God wasn’t opposed to a census—He had even ordered one when the Israelites were in the wilderness. The sin was not in counting the Israelites, but in David’s motivation. He ordered a count of his soldiers.
There are a couple of motivations that might have been behind this census. First, it may have been to take pride in the size of his army. But the size of his army had nothing to do with their victories—God had given them victory. So boasting in the size of his army would be stealing God’s praise and glory. A second motivation may have been to plan for future battles, knowing the strength of his standing army. Again, this places his faith in his army, rather than in the God who had given them victory.
God is always more concerned with the state of our heart, than with our behavior. But our behavior often reveals the state of our heart. We can be outwardly obedient, fooling everyone around us with a great “church lady” image, but God knows the pride, judgmental spirit, and disdain for others that darkens our hearts. On the other hand, if our outward behavior is sinful and rebellious, God also knows that behavior flows from a heart that is not fully devoted to Him.
Our campus pastor related this same concept to Jesus’ restoration of Peter after His resurrection, when He asked Peter three times, “Do you love me?” Jesus was trying to get beyond the behavior of Peter in denying Christ, to the heart of that denial, which was a lack of total devotion to the Lord. He was gently helping Peter see that in order to lead the early church and to face the future martyrdom that lie in his future, he would have to have a heart that was completely devoted to God.
We’re faced with the same question, though we may not have been tasked with leading the worldwide church and may not risk our lives to follow Christ (although we might), every believer must be wholeheartedly devoted to Christ. There is no such thing as a half-hearted follower of Christ—there are followers and there are those who have placed something in their lives above following Christ.
If Christ asked me, “Do you love Me?” What would my answer be?