How do I become more like Jesus. This is my quest in 2023. Sure, like you, I can list scripture verses that tell me.
I can walk in love— “And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us. Eph 5:2 ESV
I can be ready for every good work— “Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people.” Titus 3:1-2 ESV
I can look out for others— “Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” Phil 2:3-4 ESV
I can avoid worldly behavior— “Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.” Col 3:5 ESV
I can lay down my life for fellow Christians— “By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers.” 1 John 3:16-17 ESV
But how does this head knowledge become heart knowledge? For example, what does it mean to lay down our life for another? What does it look like when implemented and how does it become a natural part of who we are, something we automatically do rather than something we know we should do? Really my quest is for a better grasp of the transformation that takes place in the spiritual realm. How is this accomplished?
When I learned to ski, I spent one day on the beginner’s hill moving back and forth across the slope trying to master turns. Each time I reached the tree line, I would attempt a turn either to the right or left only to fall. Pushing myself up from the snow I continued to work my way down the run. At the end of the day, exhausted, wet, and cold, I returned to the ski lodge defeated. I could turn right but the left turn eluded me.
The next morning, back on the beginner’s slope I was quite surprised to make a left turn. Soon I would swoosh down the slope without any thought to turns for I had mastered them.
I suppose there is some physical explanation for this victory in learning how to ski. Perhaps muscle memory. But what is the transformation process in the spiritual realm? Often we refer to it as a matter of the heart, therefore I want to lay a foundation by first exploring the concept of “the heart.”
In the Hawker’s Poor Man’s Dictionary, we read: “The heart in all languages is considered as the leading principle of action and of character.”1
I tend to shrink the heart concept to emotional issues, but research shows Biblically it is much more.
According to Fausset’s Bible Dictionary, references to heart Biblically often encompasses the intellect, affections, and will. “Scripture implies that the heart and the head act and react on one another.”2
Holman Bible Dictionary states that “as the center of physical life, the heart came to stand for the person as a whole.”3 Just as the body organ referred to as our heart governs our ability to function physically, the term heart refers to all aspects of humanity. Our modern, secular dictionary recognizes the word heart describes a multitude of human attributes such as personality, disposition, and intellect. Also, the emotional and moral nature of people such as compassion, affection, courage, and enthusiasm.4
But let’s get back to Biblical references. According to the Holman resource the heart is the seat of intelligence (Matt. 13:15) and relates to thinking (Proverbs 23:7). Functions of the mind are frequently linked with the heart in the Bible. For example, Mary treasured up all the things the shepherds relayed about her child, “pondering them in her heart,” which is to consider carefully. (Luke 2:19)
Acts of the will, conscious or deliberate decisions, are often heart issues as well according to the Holman Bible Dictionary. For example, when Ananias lied to God, we read that he contrived the deed in his heart (Acts 5:4).
Of course, emotions spring from the heart as well. These might be negative, such as fear, discouragement, despair, sorrow, and jealousy. But also positive, such as joy and love.
“The heart is spoken of in Scripture as the center of the moral and spiritual life,” writes Gerald Cowen who authored the piece in the Holman Dictionary.
It is not too difficult to assess our spiritual state. It exposes itself in thoughts, words (expressed or held back), and actions.
Matthew 15:18-19: “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.”
This is the fallen condition of our hearts according to Jesus. This condition was passed down to all humans by Adam and Eve when they disobeyed the explicit command of God not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil thus bringing sin into the world.
A short piece on the heart posted on GotQuestions.org states: “The human heart, in its natural condition, is evil, treacherous and deceitful. Jeremiah 17:9 says, “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” In other words, the Fall has affected us at the deepest level; our mind, emotions and desires have been tainted by sin—and we are blind to just how pervasive the problem is.”5
But those of us who have been born again know that when Jesus Christ died on the cross to pay the penalty for the sins we commit we weren’t just saved from God’s wrath. Also, we were freed from the bondage of sin that prevents us from becoming who God created us to be… the image of His Son just as the Son is the image of the Father.
Because the heart is at the root of the problem, this is the place where God does His work in the individual. And transformation is possible for all who are in Christ.
NOTE **First post in a series on the role of the heart in spiritual transformation.
©2023 Susan Cort Johnson *All Rights Reserved
1-Has God ever revealed a heart issue to you? How did this happen?
2-What “how” questions pertaining to the heart have you asked and not yet uncovered the answer?
1-Hawker’s Poor Man’s Dictionary. Biblesoft formatted electronic database. Copyright © 2015 by Biblesoft, Inc.
2- Fausset’s Bible Dictionary. Electronic Database Copyright © 1998, 2003, 2006 by Biblesoft, Inc.
3- Holman Bible Dictionary. Copyright © 1991 by Holman Bible Publishers.