Helen Keller once said, “The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched—they must be felt with the heart.” We certainly live in a culture and day where the heart has been elevated to preeminence. How many times have we heard someone give the advice, “Just follow your heart!”? That’s the wisdom of the age, but it’s not just isolated to secular communities. You very well might just as easily hear that from folks who claim to follow Jesus Christ.
As we turn to Scripture, the heart does indeed play a huge role. In fact, the word “heart” is used in the Bible more than the words “law,” “grace,” and “gospel” combined (1,038 to a combined 897 in the New American Standard 1995 translation). Therefore, the heart is a central topic in the Word of God.
But, what exactly is it? When the Bible uses the term “heart,” it’s not aiming at that blood-pumping organ in your chest that years of fried chicken and mashed potatoes covered in gravy attack. (Why does everything that tastes good have to be bad for you?!!) No, the heart is a metaphor in Scripture, representing the unseen seat of emotions, desires, and will of our inner person.
There is so much that could be said about the heart from the pages of Scripture, but the following truths are central to a biblical understanding of the heart of man:
1. The heart is to be fully employed in loving God.
Jesus himself stated that the greatest commandment is to love the Lord Your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, (Matthew 22:37-38), which is just a quote of Deuteronomy 6:5. Here we see that your entire being, including your heart, is to be engaged in loving God. You are to emote positively toward God. You are to desire God. You are to will to know God, please God, and glorify God, and the heart is central to this end. It is the very purpose for which you were given a heart by God.
But, as we well know, what God made good and functional unto holiness became wicked and dysfunctional when our federal head, Adam, sinned in the garden, which leads us to the second central truth from the Bible concerning the heart.
2. The heart is now sin-ridden and sin-producing.
Sin ravaged the heart of man. Indeed, every facet of our being has been touched by sin, leaving us totally depraved. Our heart, which was given to us by God to facilitate love for God, has been wrecked by sin such that rebellion is the product instead.
Less than ten generations after our first father and mother inaugurated human sin, God declares that the hearts of men are consumed with sin, “Now it came about, when men began to multiply on the face of the land… the LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually,” (Genesis 6:1, 5). This degeneracy grieved God, and He soon responded by destroying all human life except for the family of Noah through a world-wide flood. While this action certainly ridded the earth of much evil, the source of evil, the heart of man, was left intact. This fact is demonstrated soon after the water subsided when we find Noah drunk and naked (Genesis 9:21) and is still true to this day. Our hearts are still naturally consumed with sin. They are sin-ridden.
Because our hearts are sin-ridden, they are also sin-producing. Jesus clearly tells us that whatever is in our hearts will flow out (Luke 6:43-45). It’s simply a spiritual law. So, since our hearts are naturally consumed with sin, sin flows out as Jesus said in Mark 7:21-23, “For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed the evil thoughts, fornications, thefts, murders, adulteries,deeds of coveting and wickedness, as well as deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride and foolishness. All these evil things proceed from within and defile the man.” What else can a depraved heart produce but depravity?
It’s for this reason that God goes on to describe the fallen heart in this way, “The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9). Perhaps “just follow your heart” isn’t such good advice after all!
3. The heart is naturally hard to God and the things of God but can be made harder.
Sin naturally makes our hearts hard to God and the things of God, but they can be made harder. There are places in the Scripture when God is said to harden the hearts of men for various purposes. We see this hardening with Pharaoh and Egypt in Exodus (Exodus 4:21; 7:3; 9:12; 10:1, 20, 27; 11:10; 14:4, 8, 17). We see it again with the Gentiles living in the Promised Land in the days of Joshua (Joshua 11:20). God even hardened the hearts of the Jewish people as discipline (Isaiah 6:8-10; 63:17). In fact, a partial hardening of the hearts of Jews is still in effect unto this day (Romans 11:25). God in His sovereign justice may harden whomever He wants (Romans 9:18).
Nevertheless, we also see various examples of people hardening their own hearts toward God. Pharaoh is said to have hardened his own heart, even as God declared He would harden Pharaoh’s heart (Exodus 8:15, 32; 9:34). Speaking about the Israelites, God said, “But they refused to pay attention and turned a stubborn shoulder and stopped their ears from hearing. They made their hearts like flint so that they could not hear the law and the words which the LORD of hosts had sent by His Spirit through the former prophets; therefore great wrath came from the LORD of hosts,” (Zechariah 7:11-12).
All of this further heart hardening is truly a fearful thought, but Scripture clearly admonishes us to not harden our hearts, “Do not harden your hearts, as at Meribah, as in the day of Massah in the wilderness,” (Psalm 95:8). The book of Hebrews picks up on this command, quoting this verse three different times (3:8, 15; 4:7). We must be vigilant against a hardening of our hearts toward God.
4. While the heart is hidden from other people, it is not hidden from God.
One can live 24/7 with another person and not know the actual contents of their heart. My wife often asks me, “What’s on your heart?” and my response is usually, “Oh, it’s nothing.” But, what I often want to say is, “Trust me. You REALLY don’t want to know.” Indeed, she can’t know unless I tell her. We can so easily hide our hearts from others.
However, while we can cover our hearts with people, before God our hearts are laid bare. God searches us and knows us—not just our outward self but even our inward man such that He knows the word on our tongue before it’s ever spoken (Psalm 139:1-4). He is the God who searches the heart and tests the mind (Jeremiah 17:10).
Undoubtedly, God knows the very nature and content of our heart. The glory of this fact is twofold. One, as Chris Tomlin beautifully put it in his song “Indescribable,” “You see the depths of my heart and You love me the same; You are amazing God.” Despite seeing the true mess that we are, God is still mercifully for His people. And two, God knows the perfect remedy for His people, namely a new heart.
5. We need a new heart, and God promises to graciously deliver it.
Anne Frank is said to have once said, “Despite everything, I believe that people are really good at heart.” Undoubtedly this Jewish woman who suffered and died in the Holocaust was more prone to optimism than realism because the Bible clearly says the opposite. We are not really good at heart. In fact, our natural hearts are beyond repair. We need a new heart, and praise be to God, He graciously delivers!
God says in Jeremiah 24:7 of Israel, of which all who are connected to Jesus Christ by faith are a part, “I will give them a heart to know Me, for I am the LORD; and they will be My people, and I will be their God, for they will return to Me with their whole heart.” He later equates this giving of a heart to a heart transplant, “Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh,” (Ezekiel 36:26). This new heart will have the Law of God written on it and will know God (Jeremiah 31:33-34). All of this new heart reality is connected with the New Covenant, which was instituted through Jesus Christ (Jeremiah 31:31). God knows what we need and graciously delivers!
So, when does this heart transplant happen? It happens at regeneration, our new birth. In fact, this is what regeneration is—having a spiritual heart transplant. It’s this gracious work of God that then enables us to come to Christ and believe.
6. It is with the new heart that we believe on Jesus and are saved.
Romans 10:8-13 makes this truth abundantly clear, “But what does it say? ‘THE WORD IS NEAR YOU, IN YOUR MOUTH AND IN YOUR HEART’—that is, the word of faith which we are preaching,that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved; for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation. For the Scripture says, ‘WHOEVER BELIEVES IN HIM WILL NOT BE DISAPPOINTED.’ For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, abounding in riches for all who call on Him; for ‘WHOEVER WILL CALL ON THE NAME OF THE LORD WILL BE SAVED.’”
Our heart that once hated God and rebelled against God is replaced with a heart that loves God and desires fellowship with God, leading one to volitionally call on the name of the Lord for salvation and then experience that salvation.
7. Christ dwells in our new hearts.
In our old hearts, Christ would never feel at home, but in our new hearts, He gladly takes up residence. Paul puts it this way in Ephesians 3:14-19, “For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name, that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; and that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God.”
When we repent of our sin and believe on Jesus, Jesus enters into our hearts. That part of us that once was consumed with sin is now consumed with Christ. What a glorious reclamation!