“I am the infallible interpreter of my intentions.”
This was said on a popular Christian podcast, as the host defended their actions from someone accusing them of error. It is not our goal to wade into that controversy’s details, nor to ascertain or suggest who is right and wrong on that specific claim. Our concern is the theology expressed in that statement, “I am the infallible interpreter of my intentions.”
The statement was not followed with any clarification, punchline or a “just kidding.”
More than a few listeners contacted Pulpit & Pen with disbelief that someone would say such a thing, and to do so with what appeared to be complete seriousness. While it is certainly true that no one is the infallible interpreter of another’s intentions, it is flatly untrue Biblically that any person “infallibly” interprets their own intentions. There’s the little doctrine called “depravity” that Calvinists know about, which tells us that we are unable to accurately judge or know our hearts or intentions.
The Psalmist writes that it is God alone who knows our heart’s true intentions and faults that – although may be hidden even to ourselves – it is not hidden from God, “Who can discern his errors? Declare me innocent from hidden faults” (Psalm 19:12).
The Psalmist again writes in a Messianic Psalm that God alone can search the heart and know “grievous ways” that lay beneath the surface of our behavior. Jesus alone could look to the Father and say, “Search my heart” and expect to come away with pure, sinless motivations. Psalm 139:23-24 says, “Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!”
It’s here that someone might argue, “Only I know why I did [x, y or z], and this is why!” And that person needs a more Biblical anthropology.
Job 31:6 says that it is God that weighs our hearts on his scales, revealing things hidden to even us. The Psalmist says that it is God who judges our hearts (Psalm 7:9). The prophet, Jeremiah, preaches this in Jeremiah 11:20 and 17:10.
Paul tells the church of Thessalonica that even though the Apostles were chosen and approved by God, it is God who must continually search their hearts (1 Thessalonians 2:4). After all, the heart is deceitful and wicked and can’t be fully understood by man (Jeremiah 17:9).
It is the Reformed Baptist, John Bunyan, who said, “The best prayer I ever prayed had enough sin to damn the whole world to hell.”
First, without solid evidence to the contrary – a confessing Christian whose profession we believe to be genuine – should receive the benefit of the doubt concerning what their stated intentions are. Christians should be afforded this charity. But on the other hand, claiming that you are “the infallible interpreter of [your] own intentions” is profoundly flawed theology. It especially flawed theology for a Calvinist, who ought to understand that even our best intentions may be stained with sin and veiled with a cloak of self-righteousness, bleeding out evidence of our pride like blood coursing through our veins.
It is time for a serious gut-check.
When we begin to think that our actions, intentions and motives are unassailable or that we alone are the infallible judge of them, we will end up in a very, very dark spiritual place of unconquerable pride and self-righteousness. The simple fact is, no one is above correction. No one is above someone asking them to introspect their heart’s desires or motivations (in the same way that no one should act like they can infallibly presume someone else’s motives). And absolutely no one should think that they infallibly survey their own heart.
The London Baptist Confession of 1689 says, “The corruption of nature, during this life, does remain in those that are regenerated; and although it be through Christ pardoned and mortified, yet both itself, and the first motions thereof, are truly and properly sin” (Chapter 7, Paragraph 5). This means that even after regeneration, we can not be certain that the stain of sinful desire doesn’t rest somewhere deep within our soul – in fact, we can be certain that until glorification, it still does.
Good things done from bad motivations are still sin. Bad things done from good motivations are still sin. Until we reach that state of glorification, let us be very cautious about considering ourselves infallible in any way, let alone in the knowledge of the deep recesses of our heart that God alone can search.