Keep Your Heart (7)
“It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing. The words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life.” John 6.63
The vital principle of our souls
The holy affections that make for a strong soul and animate a vigorous and lively Christian faith rise from our hearts as we apply ourselves to the task of identifying, understanding, engaging, focusing, and nurturing them. The more we pay attention to this, the more our soul will grow strong in the Lord, our faith will increase, and the more we will know that the faith we confess is true faith in Jesus Christ, and not merely some shallow affirmation of a few theological ideas.
Ultimately, only the Holy Spirit can bring forth godly affections in us. Jonathan Edwards wrote that the Holy Spirit, “dwelling as a vital principle in the souls, produces those effects wherein he exerts and communicates himself in his own proper nature.” He hastens to add, “Holiness is the nature of the Spirit of God…”
The Spirit of God within the believer is the Holy Spirit, and He alone, working with the Word of God, can bring true life to light within us. The life which He causes to grow in us will be the light of holiness, so that “not only the persons are called spiritual, as having the Spirit of God dwelling in them; but those qualifications, affections, and experiences that are wrought in them by the Spirit, are also spiritual.”
That is, as the Holy Spirit is both spiritual and holy, so, as He works to nurture our heart, may we expect to grow as spiritual and holy persons in Jesus Christ.
Growing in God’s Spirit
How can we make sure that the Spirit of God has ample opportunity to do His work in us, that of bringing forth those godly affections that are true religion and lively faith? Let me suggest some components of a vital, growing relationship with the Holy Spirit.
First, make sure you understand and have embraced the destination toward which the Holy Spirit is working to take you (2 Cor. 3.12-18). His goal is to transform you into the image of Jesus Christ. The better you know Jesus, the more you contemplate Him and set your mind on Him (Col. 3.1-3), the more you will want the Spirit’s destination to be yours as well. Keeping in step with and being filled by the Spirit means focusing on the same horizon and making daily progress toward it. And that horizon is Jesus, exalted in glory.
Second, cleanse your life of everything that is contrary to holiness and the Spirit of God. You cannot hold on to sin; you cannot continue to squander time that should be devoted to seeking the Lord; you cannot not devote yourself to growing in Christ and expect that the Spirit of God is going to cooperate with you one whit. He will not. Sin, spiritual lethargy or indifference, sluggishness of soul – all these can quench and grieve the Spirit, so that He does not produce in us the holy affections that make us more like Jesus. Take time to let Him search and cleanse you daily (Ps. 139.23, 24).
The Spirit works in believers whose spirits are willing to be shaped and formed by Him. He does not work in those who simply want to put Him up in some back room of their soul for the sake of showing Him off to impress others from time to time. He wants – He demands – our whole lives, the whole house of our being, and He will not share it with unsavory or frivolous elements.
Third, understand what the Spirit is trying to do in your life, and make sure you’re pulling your oars in the same direction as He. The Spirit wants to bring forth spiritual fruit in you (Gal. 5.22, 23); to equip and deploy you with spiritual gifts in service to others (1 Cor. 12.7-11); to use you in making disciples of others (Matt. 28.18-20); and to embolden you for witness to Jesus Christ in the everyday situations of your life (Acts 1.8). He wants to conform your thoughts, feelings, priorities, and daily practices to what Jesus would feel, think, and do were He in your place (2 Cor. 3.12-18).
He wants you to become like Jesus, loving God and others, denying yourself, taking up your cross each day, and following Him along the path of revival, renewal, and awakening. When this is the guiding affection of our soul, the Spirit will work powerfully within us to will and do of God’s good pleasure (Phil. 2.12, 13).
Fourth, the Spirit searches our hearts and minds that He may convict us of sin, righteousness, and judgment as is necessary (Jn. 16.8-11). We must be willing for this to be an ongoing part of our daily walk with the Spirit. We must give ourselves to listening for His cues, promptings, and guidance throughout the day, so that He may purge us of our sins, draw forth from us praise and thanksgiving, instruct us in the way we should go, instill in us fear and dread of offending our heavenly Father, and fill us with Himself (Eph. 5.18-21).
Hard – but necessary – work
Only the Spirit of God can strengthen your soul, beginning with the affections that rule in your heart. We are commanded to walk in Him, be filled with Him, and rest in His Presence and power (Gal. 5.16; Eph. 5.18; Acts 1.8). But we’ll have to work at this diligently, attentively, and continuously if we expect to keep our heart with all diligence and grow stronger in our soul.
This is hard work, daily work, and if we’re not willing to take it up then we’re simply admitting that we’re not willing to be and have what God intends for us.
But, oh, the joy, the power, the beauty, the increase of righteousness and fruitfulness that await those who devote themselves to nurturing godly affections in their souls! The opportunity for you to keep your heart with all diligence is before you every day. Do so with vigor and joy, knowing that God will bless and enrich you for it.
1. How would you describe the work of the Holy Spirit in keeping and shaping our hearts?
2. Why do some Christians find it so difficult to devote the time and effort necessary for keeping their heart with all diligence?
3. How would you expect to know when your affections – your heart – were becoming more like the heart of God?
Next steps – Transformation: Spend some focused time in prayer, asking the Lord how you can give yourself more completely to the Spirit’s work in your heart. Try to identify one or two things you can do more consistently that will help you grow in holy affections.
T. M. Moore
Your soul in the Kingdom of God
All the installments in this “Strong Souls” series are available in PDF by clicking here.
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.
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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.