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 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 hearts will grow strong in the Lord, our faith will grow, 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 writes 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 does cause 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 hearts, 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 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, 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.
The Spirit works in men and women whose spirits are willing to be shaped and formed by Him, and not those who simply want to put Him up in some back room of their souls 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 guests.
Second, 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); 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 such aspiration is the guiding affection of our souls, the Spirit will work powerfully within us to will and do of God’s good pleasure (Phil. 2.12, 13).
Third, the Spirit searches our hearts and minds that He may convict us of sin, righteousness, and judgment as is necessary (Ps. 139.23, 24; Jn. 16.8-11). We must be willing for this to be a part of our daily walk with the Spirit, so that He may purge us of our sins, instruct us in the way we should go, instill in us fear and dread of offending our heavenly Father, and fill us with Himself.
Hard – but necessary – work
If we’re going to grow in our faith, it will only be to the extent that we keep our hearts with all diligence, understanding, engaging, focusing, and nurturing those affections which incline us to love the Lord with all our hearts and our neighbors as ourselves. 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 vigilance 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 – was becoming more like the heart of God?
Next steps – Conversation: Share this article with a Christian friend, then meet to discuss it. How can you help and encourage one another to “get in step” with the Spirit and what He’s trying to do in your life?
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.
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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.
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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.