Reviving the Christian meaning of heart-centered living.
Somewhere in the accumulated centuries of theological justifications, the role of the heart in the quest to love God and to follow Christ has been lost. Today’s debate about the difference between the divine Love of Christ Jesus and the physical “love” of human intimacy would not exist in any church if theologians had not relegated the heart to a subordinate role decades ago.
Without cultivating a pure heart devoted to loving God, one does not follow the teachings of Christ. Christian theologians are the Pharisees of our current era. Jesus addressed the intellectual superiority of the Pharisees by quoting Isaiah 29:13 in Matthew 15:8–9:
“’This people honors me with their lips,
but their heart is far from me,
and they worship me in vain,
teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’”
To correct this mistake and to place the heart in the leading role driving Christian life, one needs to reconsider the words of Jesus. The Bible is saturated in references to the heart. Christians should start by examining the accounts in the four Gospels for clarity. Christ makes multiple points regarding the heart and its primacy in Christian life. First, the heart is the human origin of both good and evil. Second, the heart is the home of the spiritual discernment (not the mind or intellect). Third, to correct the ravages of sin, one must change the heart. Fourth, to evaluate the quality of the heart observe external environment. Fifth, the heart (as divine Love) reigns supreme in creation. Sixth, follow the example of Christ’s heart. Seventh, the heart reigns creation because it harbors a concentration of the sole substance, the Love of God, from which all creatures, plants and things have been created.
Each of the following categories will be explored in greater detail in separate posts. The concepts are being introduced below.
FIRST: Jesus makes numerous references to the fact that all behaviors originate in the heart. A representative verse is Matthew 12:34 “For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.” Other references to the heart as origin of all things include Matthew 5:28; Matthew 15:19, Mark 7:18–20, Mark 7:21, Luke 6:45.
As the origin of good and evil actions, the heart is the battle ground where the disciple succeeds or fails in the Christian life. Thinking and intellectual arguments can influence one’s approach to the heart, but mental battles are insignificant to spiritual living. Like behaviors, the intellect is subordinate to the heart. While Judas rationalized his betrayal of Jesus, the battle was lost in his heart.
During supper, when the devil had already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray him, — John 13:2
SECOND: Jesus tells the apostles to validate their experience against their hearts, not through intellectual consideration of scripture or past experience. When confronted with what seems to be impossible or unbelievable, only the heart can perceive God’s reality.
When Jesus walks across the water to approach his disciples who are being tossed in a storm, he sees that they fear him. But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.” — Matthew 14:27
In another instance, Christ mocks the intellectual Pharisees because spiritual discernment and wisdom comes from the heart, not the mind. He reminds the Pharisees of their misplaced rationalizations and human justifications by noting where their questions can be answered correctly.
When Jesus perceived their thoughts, he answered them, “Why do you question in your hearts?” — Luke 5:21
In the expanded commentary, additional nuances will be considered from Luke 2:18–19, Luke 2:49–51, Luke 3:15, Luke 18:1, Luke 21:34, Luke 24:25, Luke 24:32, Luke 24:38, John 14:1, and John 16:22.
THIRD: Christ is not simply offering words of comfort but affirming the spiritual law when tells the paralytic who was just healed to “Take heart, my son; your sins are forgiven.” — Matthew 9:2
See also Matthew 9:22, Matthew 19:8, Mark 3:5, Mark 6:51–52, Mark 8:17, Mark 10:5, Mark 10:45, Mark 11:23, Mark 16:14, and Luke 1:51.
While the words “take heart” are the same as Jesus’ admonition to the Apostles who feared it was a ghost that approached them in the storm (see the Second point above), the meaning is slightly different in this usage. The Apostles were told to “take heart” to validate reality, while those who had been healed were told to “take heart” not only to validate the reality of their healing but also to remain in a sinless state that would prevent the return of their ailment or injury.
“He has blinded their eyes and hardened their heart, lest they see with their eyes, and understand with their heart, and turn, and I would heal them.” — John 12:40
FOURTH: A follower of Jesus can and should look at their external experiences and environments as indicators of the quality of their own heart. If one feels like they are not aware of their heart, or if one doesn’t understand the subtle nature of the heart as the origin of all experiences, Jesus says to observe the external responsibilities, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Matthew 6:21, Luke 12:34
The expanded commentary will also include nuances from Matthew 13:19, Matthew 18:35, and Luke 16:14–15.
FIFTH: Human existence requires the illusion of individuality, where the heart reigns supreme. Most may argue that the soul is eternal but only God’s Love from which the soul has been crafted continues past the end of creation. Matthew, Mark, and Luke, all three found it important to document the primacy of the heart by quoting Jesus:
And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” — Matthew 22:37, Mark 12:30, and Luke 10:27
While the mind, which should be defined as the universal mind which is greater than the individual intellect, is mentioned, it is placed last. The soul has also been subjected to the rule of the heart in this order.
See also Mark 12:33.
Simeon, the righteous man who waited to see the Messiah before his death, indicated the supremacy of the heart when he saw Jesus with his parents in the temple by declaring:
And Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, “Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.” — Luke 2:34–35
SIXTH: Foster a heart like Jesus.
“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” — Matthew 11:28–30
Love is not self-serving and when it is manifested through the heart it is gentle and lowly. In other words, the heart of Christ is the heart of a loving and obedient servant.
See also Luke 9:47–48.
SEVENTH: The heart appears as an inanimate substance that represents love as the only material that constitutes all the variations in creation.
“For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.” — Matthew 12:40
When Jesus refers to being “in the heart of the earth”, he is noting that he will be resting in the Love of God which is the substance of creation. Creation has been conceived from Love, by Love and for Love. Love is highest wisdom within creation and the heart is the primary instrument and manifestation of Divine Love.
There are additional references to this role of the heart in Luke 8:12, Luke 8:15, John 7:38, John 14:27, John 16:5–7, John 16:32–33
Each of these seven observations will be explored further in this series on the “Lost Heart of Christ”. I am making this series free to all in the hope that more people will contemplate Divine Love and the role of the heart in human experience. Please share this and the related articles as they are posted. Please comment on the articles.
While it may be ironic that I am confronting a major theological mistake with theological arguments, the discussion must begin where the departure occurred. Christ Jesus noted that the Pharisees of his day had similarly departed from understanding the role of the heart.
Indeed, in their case the prophecy of Isaiah (Isaiah 6:9–10) is fulfilled that says:
“‘“You will indeed hear but never understand,
and you will indeed see but never perceive.”
For this people’s heart has grown dull, and with their ears they can barely hear, and their eyes they have closed, lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their heart and turn, and I would heal them.’” — Matthew 13:14–15, Mark 7:6
Scripture quotations are from the ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Be sure to buy my book. “Sin No More: A Pragmatic Approach to Loving Christ” by Ed Sharrow on Amazon.