Spiritual Formation Part 2: The Heart
This is the second post in our series on Spiritual Formation. We invite you to join us for our Sunday morning message series "The Heart of the Matter" that explores these themes in more detail.
Are You Shallowly Shaped or Deeply Formed?
In our first post on Spiritual Formation, the main point was that what we do in a visible way flows from who we are on the inside. The second major principle (which we will explore in this post) is that the Bible uses the language of “the heart” to describe who we are on the inside.
In his book The Deeply Formed Life, author and pastor Rich Villodas talks about how important it is to love God from the heart and let God transform us all the way down to the depths of our being. The following quote asks an especially poignant questions for all of us. What is the point of changing who we are on the outside if we're not willing to let God transform us on the inside?
“Paul had one solitary focus: that Christ be formed in them [Galatians 4:19]. What use are the superficial changes we make if we neglect the deep work God wants to do inside us? Although Paul was writing to a church two thousand years ago, this issue they were facing is the very same in our day. Instead of being deeply formed, we settle for being shallowly shaped.”
The Heart is the Center of a Person's True Identity
In our day and age, the heart is a symbol of a person’s emotions. Walk down the aisles of your favorite stores around Valentine’s Day and you’ll see hearts everywhere you look, because companies know that when we see a heart, we think about romance, love, and affection. But as it turns out, that wasn’t always the case.
The writers of the Bible used the word “heart” differently. In their culture, the heart represented the invisible center of a person’s identity—who we really are on the inside. One dictionary of New Testament words calls the heart the “center and source of the whole inner life, with its thinking, feeling, and volition,” (BDAG, 508). A dictionary of Old Testament words defines heart as “the inner man in contrast with the outer” and “the inner, middle, or central part,” (BDB).
The reason the God places such a high priority on the condition of our hearts is because our hearts stand at the center of our existence. The heart represents the most honest and authentic portrayal of who we are. That's why God places such a high emphasis on loving him from the heart.
Loving God with All Our Heart
When Jesus commands us to love God with all our heart (Matthew 22:37), he’s not talking about loving God emotionally, although that could certainly be part of it. Reading it that way superimposes a modern understanding of heart over top of what Jesus and the authors of the Bible meant when they used that word thousands of years ago. When we do that, we misinterpret and misapply the words of Jesus.
Jesus is actually talking about loving God from the depths or center of our being. The opposite of loving God will all your heart might be going through the motions of the Christian religion or practicing the Gospel of behavior modification. This is all about external change—the outside of the cup.
To love God with all our heart is to love him from the very center of who we are. There, in the inner workings of our hearts, there is no room for deception or even the self-deception of going through the motion of religion. The heart is the place of total sincerity, so to love him from the heart removes any possibility of duplicity.
And on that point, we are reminded of what God told Samuel when it was time to anoint a new king over Israel: “The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” 1 Samuel 16:7.
What We Do Matters. Who We Are Matters More.
Religion can quickly become fixated on outward appearances, but Scripture calls us to have a renewed focus on the inner world of our hearts. Peter Scazzero writes, “What we do matters—to a point… But who you are is more important than what you do.”
And who we are on the inside is one of the central questions in the realm of Spiritual Formation.
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