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The Essence of True Faith

The heart is the heart of the matter in strong souls.

Keep Your Heart (1)

Keep your heart with all diligence,
For out of it
spring the issues of life. Proverbs 4.23

Begin here
What is the essence of true Christian faith? That is, how can someone know when he is in possession of the kind of faith that issues in salvation, now and forever more?

The strength and health of the soul depends on how we answer this question. To strengthen our soul, and the soul of our fellow believers, we must begin where Scripture does. Only then will our focus and priorities be what they should be. But where do we begin in the working to nurture strong souls?

Many answers have been proffered for this question. Some insist that holding right doctrine is the essence of true faith. You’ll never know full and abundant life, these folks contend, until you embrace the full and glorious teaching of the great doctrines of the faith.

Others claim that nothing more than sincerely believing is the fundamental requirement. If you believe in Jesus, and you sincerely want to follow Him, then you’re on solid footing for a fruitful journey with the Lord.

Still others argue that some extraordinary manifestation of the Spirit is the real hallmark of saving faith, though they limit this to just a few special manifestations, which they claim to have experienced for themselves.

And for some, identifying true believers is much easier: All  true believers belong to the right church or denomination. Typically, mine.

Doctrine matters, of course, as does sincerity of faith and the evidence of spiritual life which the Spirit produces. Being in one denomination or church as opposed to another can also help. But do these, or any combination of them, constitute the essence of true faith?

With so many different voices making their case for true faith, how shall we decide between them?

The heart of the matter
By turning to Scripture, of course. Scripture alone is capable of fitting us for every good work (2 Tim. 3.15-17). So if we want strong souls and to be sure that we are operating out of true faith, we’ll need to look to Scripture.

And when we do, Scripture counsels us that nurturing and sustaining a strong soul begins in the heart.

Solomon advised his son to “keep” his heart “with all diligence, for out of it spring the issues of life.” All the great issues and concerns of our temporal and eternal existence are determined within us, in the heart, that spiritual entity which serves as the driving force of the soul. It is here, in the heart, where we nurture true faith and focus the work of strengthening the soul.

To this the Lord Jesus Christ agrees. He has indicated this in many ways, by commanding us to love God with all our heart (Matt. 22.37); by teaching that the heart determines what we will treasure the most (Matt. 6.21); by noting that whatever is in the heart commands the words of our mouths (Matt. 12.34); and by promising that the blessing of God comes to those who are pure in heart (Matt. 5.8).

The heart is the heart of the matter when it comes to every aspect of life, including whether we truly believe in Jesus Christ for salvation. We need to understand the heart, and the affections it harbors, and to make sure that our heart is in line with the teaching of Scripture, and that we know how to keep or guard our heart with the kind of diligence necessary to ensure that what springs from our lives will be from the living waters of God’s Spirit (Jn. 7.37-39).

Keeping a close watch on the heart is the essence of true faith and the focal point for nurturing a strong soul.

Religious Affections
To help us in considering this matter, we turn to one of the great soul physicians of Church history, Jonathan Edwards. In his book, A Treatise Concerning Religious Affections, published in 1746, the great Puritan preacher and theologian leads us on a valuable tour de force of the heart and its role in the life of faith.

Edwards insists, “True religion, in great part, consists in holy affections.” By this he means that we may have assurance that the faith we possess is true and saving when our heart is rightly formed and strengthened according to God and His will, when what we desire and love, and what we find to be the source of our greatest satisfaction, delight, and fulfillment is just what God commends in His Word.

While in this study we are considering the nature of the soul according to three components – heart, mind, and conscience – Edwards understood the soul as being comprised of two primary faculties only. First is what he referred to as “perception”. This encompasses all the activities of what we think of as the mind. As we shall see, the mind is in continuous communication with the heart and has a powerful influence on the kinds of affections – holy or profane – that characterize us.

The other faculty is what Edwards called “inclination”. Here he refers to what the Scriptures mean by the term, “heart”. The heart affects the ways we are bent in our souls, what we incline to, long for, seek after, desire, and, as a result, pursue and serve.

Heart and mind work together – with the conscience or will – to shape the soul and direct the life. In Edwards’ view, following Solomon and Jesus, the heart is most important in making us the kind of people we are, and in determining the nature of our faith, whether it be true and sincere or shallow, false, and misleading.

Keeping the heart is thus the primary activity we engage to nurture and strengthen our soul. In this part of our study of strong souls, we will look more carefully at what Jonathan Edwards wrote concerning how to “keep” our hearts with all vigilance.

For reflection:
1.  What do you understand by “the heart”? How does the heart affect the way we live?

2.  Affections can also be thought of as feelings. What do you consider to be the most important feelings for living a full and abundant Christian life?

3.  Do you think it’s possible for people to change or improve their affections? Explain.

Next steps – Preparation: What does it mean to keep watch over your heart? What will you do today to make this a more consistent part of your walk with the Lord?

T. M. Moore

Your soul in the Kingdom of God
Jesus has conveyed us into the Kingdom of God. It is in the context of seeking the Kingdom that we can grow strong souls. Our book, The Kingdom Turn, can help you understand and begin making yourself more at home in the Kingdom of God. Order your free copy by clicking here.

Thanks for your prayers and support
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Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

T.M. Moore

T. M. Moore is principal of The Fellowship of Ailbe, a spiritual fellowship in the Celtic Christian tradition. He and his wife, Susie, make their home in Essex Junction, VT.
Books by T. M. Moore

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