The Importance of the Heart
The Minister’s Letter (March 2015)
Have had a health check recently? Depending on your age or the condition of your body, you may need a regular check-up. I discovered you can even get an online health check that can tell you your life expectancy and even give you an estimated date of death! I wonder whether we tend to pay more attention to our physical health than we do our spiritual health; are we more concerned about our bodies than we are with our hearts?
The Word of God is clear to highlight the importance of the heart, to expose the true condition of the heart and to show the transforming power of the gospel of Jesus Christ to change our hearts and, therefore, our lives.
The heart has tremendous power, either for good or evil. In the book of Proverbs ‘heart’ appears over 70 times. We are told “Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.” (Proverbs 4:23). This is a word picture to help us understand the power of the heart. It’s like a spring that gushes out water. Literally, ‘life goes out from it.’ Our hearts are like a spring from which our whole life flows. So who we are and what we do is the overflow of our hearts.
When we think of the heart today, we tend to think of emotions and feelings. So someone might say… ‘I love you with all my heart’ or ‘My heart is broken’ or ‘My heart is heavy.’ These are ways of expressing emotion or feeling. But when the Bible speaks about the heart it refers to more than emotions and feelings. It refers to the very centre of our being, the control centre of life. So all our thinking, feeling, speech, desire, behaviour etc comes from our heart. It is the wellspring of life. Our heart is the essence of who we are as a person. Your heart is the real you. What I am, I am in my heart. So what I think, say and do is a reflection of my heart and what I don’t say and what I don’t do reflects my heart: “As water reflects a face, so a man’s heart reflects the man” (Proverbs 27:19).
Therefore, it’s not my genes, or my circumstances, or my background, or my family history, that influences my life most of all; it’s my heart. So if there’s a problem in our lives, we can trace it back to its source, which is our heart. Just think of polluted water in a river. If it’s polluted downstream, you need to go back upstream to find the source of the pollution. Jesus also emphasises the power of the heart for good or evil. “The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks” (Luke 6:45).
The heart also has a terrible problem. It has been said that ‘the heart of the human problem is the problem of the human heart’, so Solomon asks, “Who can say, I have kept my heart pure; I am clean and without sin?” (Proverbs 20:9). The source of sin is in our heart. Jesus makes this clear when he says, “What comes out of a man is what makes him ‘unclean’. For from within, out of men’s hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and make a man ‘unclean’” (Mark 7:20-23).
Jesus says that every sin has its conception in our hearts and he gave plenty examples. If we struggle with lust, we have a heart problem. “But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:28). So you can’t blame the internet for being too accessible or magazines for being too explicit. The heart is the problem. Or if we struggle with money and greed, we have a heart problem. “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:21). So you can’t blame your job for not paying you enough, you can’t say you have too many commitments and you can’t say you need to keep a certain lifestyle. The heart is the problem. Or if we have a problem with what we say, we have a heart problem. “For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks” (Matthew 12:34). So you can’t justify your speech by saying, ‘Other people annoy and anger me’ or ‘I speak before I think’ or ‘I just like to speak my mind’. The heart is the problem. The problem is never simply that person or that set of circumstances.
The reason I am the way I am and I do what I do and I say what I say is because of my heart. But so often we don’t ever get to the root of the problem or just carry on living life pretending there is no problem. Jesus' diagnosis is that we all have a serious life-threatening heart condition. That’s why religion can never change our hearts. Religion is concerned with making you look good, moral and respectable. Yet we know all this can easily be a hypocritical façade. Our behaviour will only ever change if hearts are changed by the gospel of Jesus Christ. Jesus had some of his harshest words for religious people who were all about showing off their good behaviour and deluding themselves into thinking that’s what mattered with God, “Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean.” (Matthew 23:26). That’s why Christianity is not about behavioural modification or a lifestyle preference, it’s far more fundamental than that.
Only the gospel of Jesus Christ can cure our serious heart condition. Jesus came, not only to expose the problem of our hearts, but to be the great physician who can heal and transform them. Jesus tells us to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” (Mark 12:30). No one is able to do this yet Jesus has done this for us. He lived the life we could never live and he died on the cross to forgive our sin and put us right with God. His blood has the power to cleanse and heal any heart, no matter how dark, dirty, wicked and evil.
It’s only when we discover God’s grace towards us through this gospel that our hearts will be any different. We don’t just need this grace to become a Christian, we need it to live as one too. Let the words of David be our prayer…
“Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” (Psalm 139:23-24).
Your minister and friend
Jonathan de GrootView All Letters