“Then Noah built an altar to the Lord and took some of every clean animal and some of every clean bird and offered burnt offerings on the altar. And when the Lord smelled the pleasing aroma, the Lord said in his heart, ‘I will never again curse the ground because of man, for the intention of man’s heart is evil from his youth. Neither will I ever again strike down every living creature as I have done.’” (Genesis 8:20-21)
The first thing Noah does upon leaving the ark, is to build an altar to the Lord and sacrifice some of the animals he has kept alive for a whole year. This leaves no doubt that his relationship with God is his number one priority. He wants to start this new phase of his life with the Lord.
But God knows that still, “the intention of man’s heart is evil from his youth”, just as it was before the flood (see Genesis 6:5).
Later stories reveal that Noah and his family are not sinless indeed. And yet… God promises that He will never again strike down every living creature. So, although the people have not fundamentally changed, God’s response is different now.
The key to understanding this change may be in the sacrifice. Despite the human inclination to sin, the sacrifice reconciles man with God. The animal sacrifice in itself does not solve the problem of sin, but it points to God’s final solution centuries later: God the Son became human, took the guilt of sin upon Himself, and died in humanity’s place to reconcile people to God.
If we believe in Jesus, God does not judge us on the basis of “the intention of our heart”, but on the basis of our faith in the ultimate Sacrifice of Jesus Christ.