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People of God - Lesson 6

A Study by Robert F. Turner

The Heart of People of God

The word “heart” is used nearly one thousand times in the Bible, where it predominantly refers figuratively to the seat of thought, emotion, and will. Note such expressions as “the thoughts of your heart,” “love God with all your heart,” and “obey from the heart.” Vine’s Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words says “it came to stand for man’s entire mental and moral activity . . . used figuratively for the hidden springs of the personal life.” Peter sees it as the “hidden person” (1 Peter 3:4), the real person, hence what one “really is”; and this may signify either a good or bad character.

The Carnal Mind vs. the Spiritual Mind

When God sought a “people” among the Israelites, He looked for those who would “circumcise . . . [their] heart, and be stiff-necked no longer” (Deuteronomy 10:16). Paul expands this to the Romans as he wrote: “He is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, not in the letter . . . “ (Romans 2:29). He is not saying “letter” obedience is unimportant, but when it is “letter only” — and not from an honest heart, thus not truly representing our innermost feelings — then it is hypocritical, and may be “stiff-necked” rebellion against God. Little wonder that Jesus said the first and great commandment is to “love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all you mind” (Matthew 22:37,38). While heart, soul, and mind do have meanings independent of one another, Jesus pools them here to say our love must be genuine, from the very depths of our being, trimmed of subterfuge.

Again, in both Romans 2:29 and 7:18-25 the “inward man,” his “will,” or “mind,” are ways of identifying the “spirit” that is in him. Paul acknowledges two “laws” in himself: (1) the urge to satisfy the flesh; versus (2) this “spirit”: his mind, will, or inward man, that desires to do the will of God. Through the mercies of Jesus Christ he can say: “I serve God — with my spirit — in the gospel” (Romans 1:9), and “I serve the law of God — with my mind — through Jesus Christ” (Romans 7:25). Paul understood that “to be carnally minded” (yielding to the flesh) meant spiritual death, but he thanked God through Jesus Christ that “to be spiritually minded” (in the inward man) is “life and peace” (Romans 8:6).

Paul did not claim to be sin-free. He acknowledged sin in his life, saying “I am carnal, sold under sin. For what I am doing, I do not understand. For what I will to do, that I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do” (Romans 7:14,15). But “I do not understand [allow not – KJV]” and “I hate” tell us he struggled against sin. He did not have a “carnal” mind, will, or spirit that reveled in sin; and his desire to do right tells us that he went humbly to God for forgiveness when sin occurred. In fact, such a “spirit” or attitude is essential for access to the throne of mercy.

The Need for a Truly Changed Heart

We have stressed the importance of worship and service coming “from the heart” — by which we mean it must be sincere — evidence of a heart given to God. But Isaiah warned of mouth and lips which “draw near” and “honor” God, “but have removed their hearts far from [God], and their fear toward [God] is taught by the commandment of men,” i.e., even the fear is a doctrine of men, “reverence” no deeper than human traditions (Isaiah 29:13; Matthew 15:7-9). Our actions may demonstrate a heart given to lust (Matthew 5:28); and Jesus said, “Out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies” (Matthew 15:19). Regardless of how we seek to hide our innermost “spirit” — even cover it with outward acts of goodness — God sees our heart, and judges us accordingly. “Do not be deceived, God is not mocked: for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap” (Galatians 6:7).

Many Scriptures teach that conversion to Christ is basically a change of heart. We are taught, we hear, learn, and come to Christ (John 6:45); all of which involve intellect, emotion, and will. “With the heart one believes unto righteousness” (Romans 10:10). The Greek metanoeo (repent) means “to change one’s mind” — a change of heart. And baptism, to be more than an external washing, must be “the answer of a good conscience toward God” (1 Peter 3:21). God seeks a people whose innermost being is turned toward Him — who give Him their all. David expressed it: “Bless the Lord, O my soul; and all that is within me” (Psalm 103:1).

Such dedication in intent and purpose must accompany our coming to Christ. Change must be intended, and evidence of that intent will be seen in a changed life style. But there will be failures and the need for further forgiveness. Here again the “heart” is of great importance. Simon’s heart was “not right in the sight of God,” and he was told to repent and pray that “the thought of your heart may be forgiven you” (Acts 8:21,22). His heart was yet unstable, he was a “babe” in Christ, but God’s ears are open to the prayers of His people who will truly repent and come humbly to the throne of grace for mercy. This indicates that the development of a spiritual heart is not a miraculous, once-for-all-time occurrence (as some teach), but a continuing process of learning, believing, and growing “in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:17,18).

Becoming One of God’s People

The above, and many other “heart” Scriptures, lead to the conclusion that the condition of one’s heart depends upon that individual. The means of forgiveness is of God — through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ; and the message which we must hear, believe, and obey, is also of God. But each individual must, through faith, accept and use the means and message to change the heart and become one of God’s people. God does the inviting, but man must do the coming and the being faithful. Each accountable being is a free moral agent, capable of selecting and following the narrow path that leads to life eternal. God does not ask the impossible of man, but this is not to say the journey is an easy one.

The “message of the cross” (1 Corinthians 1:18) on God’s part is the sacrifice of Christ on the cross. But Jesus said, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me” (Matthew 16:24). Sacrifice is also demanded on the part of man. Denying self, and taking up our cross, means putting Christ before our former life style — and it may well mean before mortal life itself (Matthew 16:25).

The “vain traditions” received from those who have gone before (1 Peter 1:18) have colored the world in which man lives, and programmed much of his thinking (his heart). Man’s own selfish inclinations make him an inviting target for Satan, and can make self-sacrifice a difficult choice. To be merely “religious” is not demanding, for there seems to be something for every taste. And a “church member,” as the world sees it, simply pays his dues and occupies a pew now and then. These may benefit society and help to shape social morals, but God is seeking far more than this, as we have already seen. From Adam and Eve, from the early inhabitants of the earth, from Judaism, and even from among those who were first “called out” on Pentecost following Christ’s resurrection, God has sought “a people for [His] own possession,” whose “heart” is truly given to Him.

Nothing short of full, wholehearted dedication will satisfy. Self is sacrificed on the altar of humble service. Love, for God and for our fellow man, takes on meaning completely beyond an “eye for an eye” and love-the-lovely (Matthew 5:38-48). The pursuit of such a standard will challenge mankind throughout his life, for its principles come from heaven above. In this life, they are unattainable in their fullness, but God seeks a people who will wholeheartedly strive for them. They will affect life on this earth, and are essential for life eternal with the God and Father of us all.

Study Questions

1. What is the meaning of “heart” in the expression “obey from the heart”?

2. How are the “heart,” “spirit,” and “mind” of man associated?

3. May one obey in fear of God, without obeying from the heart?

4. Does a changed heart guarantee one will not sin?

5. What are the means by which God seeks to change one’s heart?

6. Does a change of heart come before or after baptism?

7. What is the first and great commandment?

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