Two things are required to make an action right. One is that it be lawful in itself. The other is that it be done with a right motive. If the thing done is itself wrong, no motives can make it right. On the other hand, the thing done may be right in itself, but the motive which governs us may be wrong, and so the act may be sinful because the motive is sinful. Bad motives in good actions are like dead flies in sweet ointments. They corrupt the whole. The motive of the heart is everything!
Most unbelievers do many things which are very proper,but not out of love to God. The unregenerate man never does anything with holy motives. His life is better than his heart. Indeed his heart is the worst part of him! It is all wrong. It is hard, and proud, and selfish, and unbelieving, and without any love to God. So far from pleasing God, all the unregenerate are continually offending him. Their very best works are but splendid sins! They do some things which God requires, and abstain from some things which God forbids–not because they love God or His law, but because it promotes their health, or wealth, or honor to do so.
Ploughing is itself a lawful act. If there is no ploughing, there can be no bread. Yet God says: “The ploughing of the wicked is sin!” Yes, he puts it down with other sins which greatly offend him. The whole verse reads thus: “A high look, and a proud heart, and the ploughing of the wicked,is sin.” Proverbs 21:4. If God had intended to teach that everything done by wicked men–even the most common and necessary thing was sinful–could He have chosen more fit words?
Here is a passage which shows that all the religious services of the unconverted, are defiled with sin. “The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination to the Lord.” Proverbs 15:8.–William S. Plumer