The biblical imagery of the heart is one of the most misunderstood. Many will assume that references to the “thoughts of the heart” mean that what is intended is the rational faculty of the mind. Others will see the heart language in the sentimental terms dictated by the Valentine’s Day greeting card industry – syrup sentimentality disconnected from the big decisions and thoughts of life. But the Bible does not allow us to consider the heart merely another word for the mind, nor a weak appendage of sentimentality.
In the Bible it is evident that the unregenerate heart is absolutely dead toward God, and yet it is frighteningly strong. Dead and strong? Surely that is a paradox. Dead things are weak to the max, aren’t they?
The human heart is powerfully and vehemently pro-self and anti-God. It is deceitful and desperately wicked. As Luther put it, we want to be God and we don’t want God to be God. The human heart is so disaffected toward God that it is not just sickly and weak, it is absolutely cut off from life itself, it is dead. Strongly dead. Stone cold dead. But the heart is not inert and passive, it is vigorous in its self-loving inclination.
Thankfully the Bible offers us hope in the New Covenant. God promises to give us what we so desperately need – not just forgiveness for our great sin, but also a new heart of flesh that beats for Him! A heart with the Law written on it so that we are not resisting every direction from God, but desiring from the depths of our heart to please Him! A new and living heart that is connected to life itself because of the indwelling Spirit of God that pours out God’s love into our hearts.
If you are a Christian please don’t say your heart is deceitful and desperately wicked. It is not. It was. Your flesh and its desires still are. But your heart is new. And now that formerly rebellious strength can be redirected by the compelling alternative of Christ the manifestation of our loving God. Nothing could ever draw us out of the death grip of our self love, nothing and no-one except for Christ Himself.
The paradox is gone – your heart is no longer strong but dead. Now it is alive with Someone to beat for! The tension we feel is between that and the vestiges autonomous rebellion that live on in our flesh. But not forever. One day our flesh will also be transformed and we will be brought out of a fallen world into the heavenly world of God’s love with our hearts, our flesh and our environment in sync – gloriously and freely worshipping God. It will be familiar, but I suspect we won’t know what has hit us: full and free loving response to God’s love . . . finally!