For the last year+ I’ve been working on a new book, A Change of Heart: Understanding Regeneration and Why it Matters. Now that I’ve finally completed my M.Div, I’ve taken this project back up again. I thought I would share the first two chapters in a series of blog posts with our readers. I hope you’re edified by it, and I hope you’ll pray for the completion of this project! Chapter 1 in its entirety is below.
If you’re an average person, you get somewhere around three billion beats. And if you set this book down and wait until tomorrow to pick it back up again, you will have gone through another 100,000 of them. That’s quite a workload for the human heart! In fact, “Every day, the heart creates enough energy to drive a truck 20 miles. In a lifetime, that is equivalent to driving to the moon and back.” The Lord fashioned such an amazing organ in the human heart, didn’t He?
Of course, I doubt you picked this book up to learn cool facts about that fist-sized, 9 to 12-ounce blood pumper, located in the middle of your chest. Good thing. This book can’t help with that other than just to say eat good and exercise!
No, this is a theology book. And the heart we are examining is actually a bit more complicated than your physical ticker. Puritan John Owen (1616-1683) fleshes out a biblical understanding of this heart for us when he writes,
The heart in the Scripture is variously used; sometimes for the mind and understanding, sometimes for the will, sometimes for the affections, sometimes for the conscience, sometimes for the whole soul. Generally, it denotes the whole soul of man and all the faculties of it, not absolutely, but as they are all one principle of moral operations, as they all concur in our doing good or evil. The mind, as it inquireth, discerneth, and judgeth what is to be done, what refused; the will, as it chooseth or refuseth and avoids; the affections, as they like or dislike, cleave to or have an aversation from, that which is proposed to them; the conscience, as it warns and determines,—are all together called the heart.
John Owen has never been accused of being a man of few words! But what this definition shows us is that when we speak of the human heart in this way, we are really talking about the very core of who we are. What we desire, what we want, what we do is all derived from the heart.
The heart we are examining, then, is a bit funny. That’s not a very Owen-esque way of putting it, but what I am communicating here is that the heart’s perplexity confounds the mind. I mean, no one, no mere mortal that is, has ever even seen it. That reality alone reminds us of its mystery.
But this heart is more than just perplexing and mysterious. Philip Graham Ryken writes, “The human heart cannot be trusted, cannot be healed, cannot be understood. It is devious, incurable, and inscrutable.” Really, then, it’s also a convolution of corruption. An intricacy of iniquity. On one hand, it possesses enough of the image of God that it truly desires to love and be loved. On the other hand, it is in such a state of sin and misery that what it consistently desires is actually most detrimental to our very existence.
Jesus said, “[O]ut of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, [and] slander” (Matthew 15:19). The human heart is in such a state of corruption that it yearns for the wrong things. It often finds itself in a perpetual state of dissatisfaction because it cannot ever fully achieve that for which it fervently aches, namely the glory of self. The heart – sometimes secretly, and sometimes rather openly – constantly pushes self-promotion, self-preservation, self-entitlement, self-ad nauseum.
If only the whole world, God Himself, and the host of heaven above would bow down and worship self, then the heart might be satisfied. But even then, not really since the heart was made only to worship the Infinite. Even the self-glory the heart seeks will not lastingly gratify! Are you beginning to get a better picture of the bedlam that lies at the core of human existence?
See, when someone says, “just follow your heart” what they are really communicating is “just do what will most please yourself.” And this is bad advice. Abhorrent really. Left to itself, the human heart is dastardly deceitful and desperately disordered (cf. Jeremiah 17:9). It may or may not acknowledge its Maker, but its chief desire is to exalt itself above all else. And if it could actually enforce others to worship it, it would do it – in a heartbeat. Certain despots throughout history have proven as such.
And as the old preacher once said, “What’s down in the well comes out in the bucket.” We see this in our culture daily. People’s lives are consistently ordered around their heart’s object of affection. Since the heart’s treasure is self, we constantly see sins like greed, lust, lies, and murder before our eyes. Jesus said, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:21). The road rager, porn addict, and single mom living vicariously through her daughter are really just treasuring, i.e., worshiping, self.
The human heart, along with its treasure, is foundational to understanding Christianity. At its core, Christianity centers on the gospel of Jesus Christ – His immutability, eternality, incarnation, obedience, propitiatory substitution, death, burial, resurrection, exaltation, and return. The only proper response to this message is for one to forsake all else, and treasure Christ alone as his only suitable and all sufficient Savior. Fundamentally, this is what constitutes a Christian.
Sadly, many in our day, some who even profess to follow Jesus, cannot accurately define what a Christian is. At the heart of the definition is treasure. To be a Christian is to cherish Christ as one’s supreme treasure (cf. Matthew 13:44).
A person with Christ as the treasure of his heart lives, thinks, and acts differently. A person who treasures Christ denies self and follows Jesus. He or she has a hope beyond this life only (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:19). The Christian’s ultimate longing is for the city that is to come more than the successes and accolades of this passing world (cf. Hebrews 11:10).
In sum, to be a Christian is to have had a change of heart – a heart that moves from adoring self, to treasuring Christ. But I’m getting a bit ahead of myself. We need to back up and reflect on our current evangelical predicament. This we will do in the following chapter and it will be here that we offer a more formal definition of what it means to be a Christian.
More posts from Allen’s book, A Change of Heart:• Christianity is Supernatural
• A Change of Heart, ch. 1 — Heart Matters
• A Change of Heart — Chapter 2: Mere Christianity (Part 1)