Spiritual Formation Part 2: Loving From the Heart

This is the second post in our series on Spiritual Formation. We invite you to be part of this class on Wednesday nights at 6:30pm at Westside Church of Christ.

2. The Heart is a Center of a Person’s True Identity.

“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.”

-Rich Villodas, The Deeply Formed Life


The second major principle of spiritual formation is that the Bible uses the language of “the heart” to describe the invisible center of a person’s life.

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.

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, I am 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.

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.” 

Who we are is one of the central questions in the realm of Spiritual Formation.