Culture’s view today regarding the heart can be summed up in one common phrase that we know well – follow your heart. This phrase communicates the heart as a guide, as the path to truth or good in life. If you are facing a difficult decision regarding a new job, a new relationship, or even what to eat for dinner, your friends may quickly recite the phrase to you or something similar to it. “What is your heart telling you?” or “What feels like the best option?” Even believers can “Christianize” this mindset by asking, “What do you feel like the Lord is telling you to do?” or by saying, “I feel like the Spirit is leading me to ___.”
The Lord certainly does lead his people in their day to day life. If you’ll notice by the language of those last two phrases, though, feelings are at the center of the decision – not absolute truth or wisdom found in Scripture. I have been guilty of having this Christianized mindset as well. The heart is often seen as the center of emotions in a person’s life, and these emotions have been elevated to a place of unhealthy authority in today’s world. Feelings and emotions are determining more than just one’s attitude. They are also determining one’s identity as well. However, if we take a deeper look into Scripture to see what the Lord has to say about the heart, we quickly learn that our hearts are much more than our emotions, and they do not deserve the place of authority that we often give.
The Heart Defined
The Hebrew word used in Scripture for heart is לבב (pronounced ley-vahv) or לב (pronounced leyv). A few definitions of this Hebrew word are “inner part,” “midst,” “mind, knowledge, thinking, reflection, memory,” “inclination, resolution, determination (of will),” and “heart (of moral character).”1 It’s easy to see that according to the biblical authors, the heart refers to much more than emotions. It includes the mind and the will as well! Other commonly used definitions of לבב include the “seat of appetites,” the “seat of emotions and passions,” the “seat of courage.”2 To summarize, the heart, according to Scripture, refers to the inner man, the center of one’s desires, thoughts, and will.
Blinded By The Heart
Jesus is clear that left to its own, the heart is utterly evil. He says, “But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person.” (Matthew 15:18-20) These are strong words, but they are nonetheless true. Our hearts apart from Christ are full of sin and corruption, and this is the cause of all of the evil that proceeds from man. Our hearts desire selfish gain, immoral living, and evil pleasures, leading us to view ourselves as god and to rebel against the one true God.
Apart from God’s grace, man is unable to rightly see or understand his own heart. The prophet Jeremiah is clear that the heart is deceitful. We daily deceive ourselves into thinking we are justified in our sin. This can look like deciding we are right to desire what we want because it seems good to us, such as overeating good foods, indulging in alcoholic drinks, or idolizing certain relationships. Our hearts even deceive us into thinking that the Lord is providing certain people or things for us to enjoy, despite those things or people being a direct influence towards sinful behavior. Understanding the reality of the deceitfulness of our hearts can be discouraging, but we are not left without hope.
Renewed By The Spirit
The hope we have is clear: it is by God’s grace alone through the power of the blood of Christ that we are given the Spirit to open our eyes to truth. When we are without Christ, we are as Paul describes in 1 Corinthians 2:14, “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are as folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.” It is only through Christ by his Spirit that we can see our hearts laid bare, that we can understand the deceit flowing from within, and that we can embrace our true need for God. Following verse 14, Paul encourages the believers in this hope by simply saying, “But we have the mind of Christ” (1 Corinthians 2:16).
To have the mind of Christ means that we have the Spirit dwelling within us to open our eyes to truth, transform our hearts to holiness, and mold us to look more like Christ each day. We can come to see the depths of our hearts, but only by Christ alone. To do so, we must take the posture of the psalmist and call upon the Lord to “search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts!” (Psalm 139:23). The purpose of this mini series is just that — to encourage you to take a step of faith and ask God to show you the depths of your heart. The next few parts of this series will dive deeper into what Scripture says about each aspect of the heart: the desires, the mind, and the will. We will wrap up this series with how we are to live in light of the biblical truth about the heart. I hope you’ll join me and take time on your own to pray the prayer of the psalmist in Psalm 139. God has promised to give us a new heart and a new spirit, and he is faithful to follow through on all he promises (Ezekiel 11:19-20, Jeremiah 32:39-41).
1Brown-Drive-Briggs. Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament, abridged by Larry Pierce. Sourced from Tyndale House, Cambridge.