The Essence of True Faith

Where can we look to discern true faith?

Keep Your Heart (1)

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

How can we know?
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?

Many answers have been proffered for this question. Some insist that holding right doctrine is the essence of true faith. Many claim that nothing more than sincerely believing is the fundamental requirement. Others argue that some extraordinary manifestation of the Spirit is the real hallmark of saving faith. Still others want to insist that belonging to the right church or denomination is all that matters.

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

The heart of the matter
By turning to Scripture, of course. 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 our hearts, in the depths of our souls. It is here, in our hearts, where we may discover whether we possess true and saving faith.

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, it seems, 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 hearts are in line with the teaching of Scripture and that we know how to keep or guard our hearts 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).

Religious Affections
To help us in this study 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 hearts are rightly formed with respect to God and His will, when what we desire and love, and what we find to be our source of greatest satisfaction, delight, and fulfillment are just what God commends in His Word.

Edwards understood the soul as being comprised of two primary faculties. 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 bentin our souls, what we incline to, long for, seek after, desire, and, as a result, serve.

Heart and mind work together – with the conscience or will – to shape the soul. In Edwards’ view, 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. We want to look more carefully at what he has to say 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 – Conversation: What does it mean to keep watch over your heart? What will you do today to begin making this a more consistent part of your walk with the Lord?

T. M. Moore

This is part 1 of a multi-part series on Keeping the Heart. To download this week’s study as a free PDF, click here.

The Lord uses your prayers and gifts to help us in this ministry. Add us to your regular prayer list, and seek the Lord concerning whether He would have you share with us. You can contribute to The Fellowship of Ailbe by using the contribute buttonat the website, or send your gift to The Fellowship of Ailbe, 19 Tyler Drive, Essex Junction, VT 05452.

Where does the heart, and all the soul, fit in our Christian worldview? Our free online course,
One in Twelve: Introduction to Christian Worldview, shows you how to understand the workings of your soul in relation to all other aspects of your life in Christ. For more information and to register, click here.

For a deeper study of the spiritual life, register for our course,
Introduction to Spiritual Theology, and discover more of the presence, promise, and power of God’s Kingdom for your life, your church, and the times in which we live. The course is free, and you can learn more or register by clicking here.

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. 

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