We, being human, are attracted to physical beauty, superior intellectual, athletic skill, and to the external religious activities of generosity and self-sacrifice. We think, "If I could only be like that."
But what about the heart? The only thing that really counts is that the heart is in the right place. The person with physical beauty may be "using" that beauty to get what he or she wants. The person with superior intellect or athletic skill might be using that skill to put others down in a mocking way. The religious person might only be doing acts of generosity and sacrifice to win him or herself a place in heaven. We are all guilty of this!
The Lord looks at the heart, sees our every motivation. This is why he cares not for our externals, but only the heart. "So rend your heart, and not your garments!" he tells us. Nothing else matters if the heart is not repentant.
On March 1st we celebrate Ash Wednesday. It is the beginning of the church season of Lent. Lent is a season of repentance. It refocuses us on the importance of repentance, that we rend our hearts by the power of God's Law. God's Law, the Ten Commandments, makes us conscious of our sin, so that we do not rely our externals to get to heaven. Rather, we confess our sins, give up on our own efforts, and plead to God to save us! And He does save!
The season of Lent teaches this too! God sent his Son Jesus Christ to live an upright and holy life to save us from our sins. Jesus offered himself as the holy sacrifice to purify us from sin by his blood! It is the message of Jesus, the Gospel, that brings us to faith in Him! God will not turn away anyone who cries out for mercy in Jesus' name! He is gracious and merciful and kind, straight from His heart!
"So rend your heart, and not your garments; Return to the Lord your God, for He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness; and He relents from doing harm." Joel 2:13
From the ELS Board for Evangelism: March Newsletter Article