Keep Your Heart (5)
… put off, concerning your former conduct, the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, and be renewed in the spirit of your mind… Ephesians 4.22, 23
All this focus on affections might lead some to believe that right thinking doesn’t have much of a part in the life of faith. As long as we’re feeling the right way, toward the right objects, and with the right degree of intensity, then all must be well in our walk with the Lord. No need to bother with all that doctrine, those sticky ethical issues, or any strenuous thinking about anything. Just go with what you feel. Right?
We have the mind of Christ (1 Cor. 2.16), and having the mind of Christ, and being continuously renewed in the mind of Christ, is crucial to getting our affections right. The heart must engage with the mind if affections are to perform their proper work. As Jonathan Edwards put it, “Holy affections are not heat without light; but evermore arise from some information of the understanding, some spiritual instruction that the mind receives, some light of actual knowledge.”
Keeping the heart and renewing the mind go hand in hand in helping us to grow strong and mature in our soul. For unless we engage our mind to understand affections and many other matters, our heart – which of its own is deceitful and desperately wicked (Jer. 17.9) – will run us around into all kinds of distractions, and we will not develop the strong souls that lead to fruitful Christian lives.
Key to the heart
Edwards further wrote, “Knowledge is the key that first opens the heart, enlarges the affections, and opens the way for men into the kingdom of heaven…” So it’s important, if our heart is to function properly, for us to have the right kind of knowledge in place as well. Of what does this knowledge consist, and where shall we go to obtain this knowledge? Since right knowledge is the key to having a right heart, we need to be as diligent in developing our mind as in nurturing and guarding our heart. But we need to know where to look and what to look for.
Edwards nicely summarized the kind of knowledge we must seek: “therefore the kind of understanding or knowledge, which is the proper foundation of true religion, must be the knowledge of the loveliness of divine things.” Only when the things of God appear to our minds to be lovelier and, hence, more desirable than the things of the world and the flesh, only then will our affections go out to those things with the kind of vigor they deserve.
We need to read and study about divine things, pondering and weighing them carefully to discern their inherent beauty and desirability. At the same time, we must study to increase in knowledge about affections and how our beautiful God intends them to work.
It will not surprise us that the place to begin such studies, of course, is in the Word of God. In Scripture God has given us ample expression of His character and will, and in a wide range of literary genre and forms, so that we may obtain a clear look at His loveliness through constant resort to His Word.
As with the renewing of our mind, this means we must be willing to invest the time required for reading, study, and meditation in the Bible, paying attention to whatever the Scriptures teach about affections and their proper function – much like what we are doing in this brief study on keeping the heart. It is hard work acquiring such knowledge of divine things as is necessary for the right shaping of our affections. If we’re not willing to take the time to do this, or if we find reading and study of God’s Word tedious, then we will not be able to develop our affections to the degree of vigor and fervency that indicates true and saving faith. And thus, rather than strengthening our soul, we will leave it weak and vulnerable to a wide range of temptations.
Put another way, if we’re not willing to spend time in Scripture – regularly, deeply, and reflectively; that is, knowing there is a Source where we may discover and learn the beautiful things of God and His will, and the way He intends our soul to function, yet we are too busy or lazy or undisciplined to go there, then we’re not likely to make any progress in renewing our mind or keeping our heart.
Because all this would mean is that our affections – especially such affections as desire, love, anticipation, longing, and joy – are lodged somewhere other than in the pursuit of God and divine things. We prefer to sleep, or watch TV, or work, or read the papers, or consort with friends, or play video games, or listen to music, rather than to set aside time to discover the beauty of God.
Certainly, there’s a place for such interests and diversions, but they must be kept in their proper place, subservient to our calling to the Kingdom and glory of God (1 Thess. 2.12), and not taking the place thereof.
Anyone for whom this is the case will never learn how beautiful God is, and will never overcome the love of other things so that they love God with all the heart. If we will not devote the time and effort to seeking the beautiful things of God in His Word – reading and studying to learn how we can be more like Him in our thinking and affections – we show that our greatest love goes out to other things, we do not love God as we ought, and, consequently, we have good reason to doubt the reality of our faith in Him.
Vigorous affections and true and lively faith begin in knowledge – the knowledge of God and His loveliness. Only a clear and growing vision of God can help us gain the perspective on our own hearts that will allow affections to do their proper work in our lives. And only discipline and diligence will keep us at the task of mining such knowledge from the rich quarries of God’s Word.
We must pursue such knowledge daily and diligently, to keep and nurture our hearts in line with God’s good and perfect plan for strengthening our soul.
1. The mind and heart must work together to get our affections right. Explain.
2. Meditate on Psalm 27.1-5. What do you see when you think of the beauty of the Lord?
3. How would you explain the beauty of the Lord to a new believer? Why is it so important to nurture a clear, expansive, and compelling vision of the Lord’s beauty?
Next steps – Preparation: Is your time in God’s Word sufficient to open your heart to love Him above all else? Today, take specific time in prayer to wait on the Lord as He searches your heart and prepares you for the day ahead.
T. M. Moore
Your soul in the Kingdom of God
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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.