“Transgression speaks to the ungodly within his heart; there is no fear of God before his eyes.”
Consider the heart in Scripture and its relation to sin and righteousness.
Genesis 8:21 – “The intent of man’s heart is evil from his youth.” Sin springs from the fallen nature of man, not from his circumstances or his environment. The claim that a person is compelled to sin because of his circumstances is simply false. Note, thereby, that his salvation cannot come from circumstances, either; as sin comes from within, from the heart, so also must repentance, reconciliation, and righteousness be first in the heart, and only afterward proceed into action and life.
Psalm 14:1 – The fool has said in his heart, “There is no God.” They are corrupt, they have committed abominable deeds; there is no one who does good. The ungodly man has no fear of God before his eyes, and he denies the existence or presence or relevance of God. Just as sin rises from the heart, so also does foolishness, beginning with the rejection of the testimony of Christ (compare with John 5:30 and following).
Psalm 19:14 – Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in Your sight, O LORD, my rock and my Redeemer. Note the connection between the heart and the tongue. This comes up again in other passages, but realize that righteousness begins here, in the heart, and proceeding through the tongue (compare with James chapter 3).
Psalm 51 – Note especially verse 10 (Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me) and verse 17 (The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, You will not despise). A clean heart, a contrite heart. A contrite heart repents and seeks forgiveness. Forgiveness opens the door to righteousness, but the process is here incomplete. Seek a clean heart, a pure heart, not in forgiveness only, but in all things, that you might become righteous.
Psalm 119:9-10 – How can a young man keep his way pure? By keeping it according to Your word. With all my heart I have sought You; do not let me wander from Your commandments. Here again we see that what is in the heart is carried out through action. Seek the LORD with your whole heart, that He may lead you by the pure way, according to His word, and prevent you from wandering or deviating.
Proverbs 12:20 – Deceit is in the heart of those who devise evil, but counselors of peace have joy. Note that deceit is tied to sin. One leads to the other, just as lies themselves are sins and sin itself is self-deceit (compare especially to John 8:42-47). Keep in mind that counselors of peace, the opposite of those with evil plans and deceitful hearts, have joy in life.
Ecclesiastes 7:7 – For oppression makes a wise man mad, and a bribe corrupts the heart. This verse seems to stand out from the rest of Ecclesiastes chapter 7; on the surface, especially in English, it does not seem to fit into the narrative that Solomon has established with these poetic verses. But let us examine these words more closely, beginning with the second part of the verse. A bribe corrupts the heart, it says. The word here for a bribe is the same as for a sacrificial offering, but here it is in a negative connotation. Basically, this is a “tit for tat” exchange, receiving one thing as payment for another. The bribe refers to a benefit for yourself in return for a small favor; it might seem harmless at the time, but it leads to ruin. The word for oppression can also mean fraud, deceitful gain, or extortion.
Looking back at the beginning of this chapter, we see that a focus on mortality, an awareness of inevitability, and a preference for solemnity provide a sound basis for life. You should live with the knowledge that tomorrow will come, that you will die, and that you will be judged. Living in the moment is contrasted here – you accept an emotional or spiritual bribe from the offerings of the devil, accepting temporary happiness or perceived peace. In this way, you take from the LORD what you do not own, but could receive simply for the asking through prayer (joy and true peace). This kind of living may lead to laughter, but this laughter is short-lived (Ecclesiastes 7:6) and will corrupt your heart (which we know leads you into sin). It also makes the wise man mad; literally, the word here for “make mad” means to shine. Because of this meaning, it later came to mean making a show, especially of oneself, or boasting. Boasting is the hallmark of a fool, and so this word came to mean making oneself a fool, or making oneself mad. So this laughter leads to folly and selfishness; recall again Psalm 14:1, the story of the foolish son in Luke 15, and that the foolishness of man is the wisdom of God, and vice versa (I Corinthians chapters 1, 2, and 3).
On the other hand, self-awareness and an acknowledgement of your fate and judgment will allow you to have a joyous heart (Ecclesiastes 7:3) through renewed dedication to God instead of to the world (recall, too, that all is vanity under the sun – Ecclesiastes 1:14).
Ezekiel 18:30-32 – “Therefore I will judge you, O house of Israel, each according to his conduct,” declares the Lord GOD. “Repent and turn away from all your transgressions, so that iniquity may not become a stumbling block to you. Cast away from you all your transgressions which you have committed and make yourselves a new heart and a new spirit! For why will you die, O house of Israel? For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone who dies,” declares the Lord GOD. “Therefore, repent and live.” The heart as the source of either sin or righteousness is here confirmed again. Cast away your transgressions (step one) and make a new heart and spirit for yourself (step two). In this way, do not die, nor live in death, but live in Christ. Repent (step one) and live (step two). Compare to Ephesians chapter 2.
Matthew 5:8 – “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” The pure in heart shall see God, shall enter into His presence and look upon His glorious face, Which neither Moses nor any man could behold and live (compare with Exodus 33:20-23). Note that no man is thus capable (compare with Genesis 8 again), but the pure in heart, who have been changed within, in their very nature, will do so by the word of Christ Himself.
Matthew 5:21-30 – Note especially verses 28 and 29 (“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery’; but I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart”). To commit a sin in the heart is to be guilty of it, even if no other action is taken. The heart is the source, the cause, and the ultimate place of sin, and in that place, war must be waged against sin, not in actions only. Compare with I Samuel 16 and Hebrews 4:12.
Matthew 15:8-11 – “‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far away from me. But in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the precepts of men.'” After Jesus called the crowd to Him, He said to them, “Hear and understand. It is not what enters into the mouth that defiles the man, but what proceeds out of the mouth, this defiles the man.” Outward action may be deceitful. The heart is the source of sin or righteousness, and the tongue is its agent. Compare to Matthew 12:33-37.
Acts 2:37 – Now when they heard this, they were pierced to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brethren, what shall we do?” Here we see that Peter’s sermon pierced the crowd to their heart; by the power of God, Peter’s words were able to change their hearts, thus changing their natures and bringing them closer to God. Again, change must begin within.
Acts 15:8-9 – And God, who knows the heart, testified to them giving them the Holy Spirit, just as He also did to us; and He made no distinction between us and them, cleansing their hearts by faith. Through faith and trust in the LORD are hearts and lives changed and cleansed. This makes all the difference, not some outward imposition of the law (in this case, circumcision of the flesh); compare this to the following verses, Acts 15:10-11, which indicate that the outward, circumstantial imposition has never succeeded in salvation, but only the grace of God is so powerful. Remember, though, that it is nevertheless necessary that what begins in the heart be carried through to completion in righteous behavior (that is, a person must be changed throughout, and cannot claim to have a pure heart but live willingly in sin); compare with Philippians 1:6.
II Corinthians 3:1-3 – Are we beginning to commend ourselves again? Or do we need, as some, letters of commendation to you or from you? You are our letter, written in our hearts, known and read by all men; being manifested that you are a letter of Christ, cared for by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts. Changed hearts, which are manifest to all (because of the overflowing righteousness entering into their words and actions), are letters of commendation to evangelists, proof to the agents of God that He is in your midst.
James 1:26-27 – If anyone thinks himself to be religious, and yet does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this man’s religion is worthless. Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world. If you have a loose tongue, you deceive your own heart, and you are not religious. But an honest and religious heart does righteous and merciful deeds. Recall again Psalm 19, James 3, and Matthew 12.
So we see what the psalmist means here: The ungodly is revealed, in his heart and in his actions, by his transgressions; he has no fear of God, which is folly and destructive, but he lives for himself and is careless in speech and in deed. Pray earnestly for forgiveness, but pray also for righteousness, that you will be changed within, in order that you may be changed without.