Understanding The Heart’s Worst Disease
The heart is the most important member of the inner man.
Did you know that there are more than 700 references to the heart in the Bible, and that only two of them, 2 Samuel 18:14 and 2 Kings 9:24, actually refer to the physical heart?
In the Scriptures, the word “heart” has various meanings. Sometimes it is a synonym for the mind and understanding. Sometimes it indicates the affections, sometimes the will, and sometimes the conscience. Actually in Scripture the “heart” includes the various functions of the inner man.
The heart is the center of man’s moral nature, the inward spring from which proceed “the issues of life” (Prov. 4:23 KJV). It signifies the whole soul, and is the fountain from which issue all our thoughts, desires, passions, affections, emotions, motives, impulses, reflexes, and instincts. That the heart is the very center of our inner or secret life is clearly seen from how Peter designates it: “the hidden man of the heart.”
The Lord’s teaching is in harmony with the entire Bible. Man is judged according to his heart’s condition: “A good man out of the good treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is evil” (Lk. 6:45).
Many Scriptures indicate that the heart performs mental functions. Thus the heart thinks (Prov. 23:7), has imaginations (Gen. 6:5; 8:21), and is the seat of thoughts and intentions (Heb. 4:12). The Lord Himself, the only diagnostician of man’s disease, affirms that evil thoughts proceed from the corrupt heart of sinners (Mk. 7:21). Other intellectual functions ascribed to the heart are: reasoning (Mk. 2:8), conceiving ideas (Acts 5:4), understanding (Prov. 8:5; Jn. 12:40), and hiding God’s Word (Ps. 119:11).
We ordinarily think of the heart as the emotional part of man. And the heart is used in Scripture to express affection: “My heart rejoices in the Lord” (1 Sam. 2:1); “My heart is inditing (bubbling over with) a good matter” (Ps. 45:1); “Let not your heart be troubled” (Jn. 14:1).
Sometimes the Bible uses the word “heart” to indicate the conscience (1 Sam. 24:5; 2 Sam. 24:10). Hebrews 10:22 implies that the conscience in man is, in fact, a component of his heart: “having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience.”
The heart is doubtless the most important member of the inner man. This is made evident by the more than 700 references to it in Scripture, the way God views it and exhorts us concerning it, the fact that Satan aims his attacks at it, the close relationship it has with all other parts of the soul, and the vital role it plays in both the sinner’s and saint’s life.
God And The Heart
The supreme place of the heart in the Bible is proven by how God regards it. The Bible presents several divine attitudes toward the human heart.
First, the Lord looks at the heart: “Man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart” (1 Sam. 16:7). The eyes of God are principally fixed on that inward spring from which come the issues of life. He alone is fully conversant with that great center of our moral being. He sees its thoughts and intents, beholds its motives and impulses, observes its dispositions, and knows its desires and passions.
Second, the Lord ponders the heart (Prov. 21:2; 24:12). This is not said of any other member of our inward being except the spirit (Prov. 16:2). Proverbs 24:12 describes God as “He that pondereth the heart” and the Judge of all earth who will “render to every man according to his works.” Our righteous God deals with us according to the condition of our hearts since all our words, works, and walks can be traced back to that fountain.
Third, the Lord turns the heart: “The king’s heart is in the hand of the Lord … He turneth it whithersoever He will” (Prov. 21:1). Earlier we saw that the “heart” in Scripture signified the whole soul; by turning the heart the Most High is able to influence the whole man.
Fourth, the Lord knows the heart (Acts 15:8). He alone is well acquainted with that secret fountain of life and personality. None of us can fully discern the secret motives and hidden recesses of our heart. The apostasy of man has resulted in his knowing “good and evil” (Gen. 3:22), but not knowing his own heart (Jer. 17:9).
Fifth, the Lord searches the heart (Jer. 17:10). This is not said of any other faculty of the soul except the mind. Thus we read that God sees, searches and tries the heart and mind (Ps. 7:9; Jer. 20:12; Rev. 2:23). Together, the heart and mind represent “the inward parts … the hidden part” (Ps. 51:6). God requires truth – that is, reality and not hypocrisy – in these hidden parts. It is not enough that the truth be on the mouth; it must reach and permeate the inward parts – the heart and mind.
God’s Exhortation About The Heart
The great importance of the heart is also seen in the many divine exhortations concerning it. In His Word, God bids us to: “circumcise … the foreskin of your heart” (Dt. 10:16; Jer. 4:4); “wash thine heart from wickedness” (Jer. 4:14); “rend your heart, and not your garments, and turn unto the Lord your God” (Joel 2:13); “believe with all thine heart” (Acts 8:37; Rom. 10:9); and “purify your hearts” (Jas. 4:8). In the Bible the heart is the very center of human accountability. Let’s look more closely at two additional injunctions from Proverbs.
First, we are told, “Keep thy heart with all diligence, for out of it are the issues of life” (Prov. 4:23). This is the touchstone of true religion, the most essential task the Lord has assigned to each of us. But how sadly it is neglected! Most of us keep our bodies, investments, reputations and positions with great vigilance. But our heart is not guarded, and is left an easy prey for Satan to enter and fill it.
Second, God says to every person, “Give Me thine heart” (Prov. 23:26). God insists that the heart, representing the whole inner man, be unreservedly given to Him. If we give God only the head (theoretical non-saving knowledge such as described in 2 Pet. 2:20), the lips (mouth religion), the hands (work religion), or the feet (false-walk religion), He will not accept them. Neither will He accept an unstable, divided heart. He will not share the human heart with any other idol (Ex. 20:3; 1 Jn. 5:21).
Satan And The Heart
In tempting man, Satan always sends his evil darts to the heart. In doing so, he reveals his knowledge of the anatomy of our inward being as well as human psychology. With 6,000 years experience seducing man, he knows that if he can enter a man’s heart, he will have full sway of the whole man.
Jesus affirms that Satan’s work is focused on the heart. In all three accounts of the parable of the sower and seed, our Lord declares that the prince of darkness snatches the Word of God out of the “hearts” of the “wayside” hearers (Mt. 13:19; Mk. 4:15; Lk. 8:12). In addition to taking God’s Word out of men’s hearts “lest they should believe and be saved” (Lk. 8:12), he is also able to put vile thoughts into the heart, as he did when he put the idea “into the heart of Judas” to betray Jesus (Jn. 13:2).
Scripture outlines three stages of Satan’s work within the human heart. First, he whispers wicked suggestions into the heart (Jn. 13:2). It is our responsibility to immediately repel evil thoughts and not dwell on them. The unguarded heart – that does not comply with Proverbs 4:23, “Keep thy heart,” – is easy prey for the wicked one. Second, Satan actually enters the heart (Lk. 22:3), turning it into a channel for his wicked purpose. When we feed on his imaginations we encourage him to enter our heart. Third, to ensure that his evil is carried out, Satan fills the heart by strengthening the sinner’s resolve to perform the wicked act. This is illustrated in Peter’s reproach of Ananias: “Why hath Satan filled thine heart to lie to the Holy Ghost?” (Acts 5:3). Peter’s question clearly suggests that Ananias was to blame for yielding to the temptation.
A very important reason why we are exhorted to “keep our heart with all diligence” (Prov. 4:23) is that there is a strong enemy who “as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour” (1 Pet. 5:8). He has an ally within us, our corrupt nature, the “flesh” as the Bible calls it.
The Sinner And The Heart
In our fallen condition, no member of our inward being is so horribly depicted in the Bible as the heart. It is seen as wholly evil, desperately wicked, congenitally foolish, intrinsically mad, and exceedingly deceitful (Gen. 6:5, 8:21; Prov. 22:15; Eccl. 8:11, 9:3; Jer. 17:9).
This humbling description of the fountain of all vital actions puts the noses of the best humans in the dust before God. Those who brag about the nobility of human nature should familiarize themselves with what our Creator – who knows the havoc sin has wrought in us – says about us.
Scripture clearly teaches that the seat of indwelling sin is the heart. Sin is a loathsome heart disease. That is why it is termed “the plague of his own heart” (1 Ki. 8:38). Sin is “foolishness … bound in the heart of a child” (Prov. 22:15). Solomon affirms that indwelling evil resides in the heart: “The heart of the sons of men is full of evil” and “is fully set in them to do evil” (Eccl. 9:3, 8:11). The words “full” and “fully” imply the totality and horribleness of indwelling corruption.
Sin is the plague of every heart. How lamentably we are unaware and altogether blind to the presence of this mortal enemy! Its presence may be veiled under a thin covering of politeness and good manners, the garb of religion, or a refined exterior of culture and education. But it lies deep in the heart. And, worst of all, we neither know nor feel it. We are at peace with it. We don’t hate it, mourn over it, or long to be free from it.
Christ accurately diagnoses man’s fatal disease attributing all sin to “the evil treasure of his heart” (Lk. 6:45). He says, “For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies” (Mt. 15:19). The fact that sin has its residence in the heart explains at least five aspects of human conduct.
First, in all our sinning, our appetites and affections override reason and judgment. Once the battle rages between our unlawful desires and our reason, it is already lost because desires are stronger than reason.
Second, the fact that man listens to his heart and not his mind explains why men do what they know is wrong. In their minds, human beings know that drinking, drugs, gambling, smoking and sexual promiscuity will damage their physical, emotional, financial and social life – yet millions indulge in these vices. The link between cigarette smoking and lung cancer has been clearly established, yet multitudes continue in this deadly habit.
Third, all attempts to better human nature by changing the mind are in vain. Since all sin originates in the heart, no amount of education, religious instruction, threatening, punishment, or any other human effort can repress human wickedness. This also explains why all kinds of social reform, environmental improvement and other humanitarian efforts have failed to produce any radical betterment in human nature and conduct.
Fourth, because sin is seated in man’s heart, all resolutions against sin are doomed to fail. Resolutions are made by the mind and will, both of which are controlled by a wicked and deceitful heart.
Fifth, because sin gains mastery over us through our affections, the battle against sin can only be waged successfully if directed at the heart. All the divine exhortations against sin are focused on the heart: “Keep thy heart with all diligence” (Prov. 4:23); “Circumcise … your heart” (Jer. 4:4); “Wash thine heart from wickedness” (Jer. 4:14); “Purify your hearts ye double-minded” (Jas. 4:8). In this verse, note the emphasis on the heart and not the mind. The double-minded need to purify their hearts.
The above practical principles must be used to fight sin. Never allow the desires of the corrupt nature to come in contact with outward temptation. Never allow the struggle between desire and reason to burn, for desire is almost always the winner. You know your weak zones. Never enter them.
If suddenly you find yourself face to face with temptation, the only safety is in fleeing. Joseph heeded these rules and triumphed. David, confronting the same temptation, lingered and fell into sin. The result was devastating. The man “after God’s own heart” failed miserably and committed the double sin of adultery and murder.
The Saint And The Heart
There is but one way to change man’s heart – from the inside out. And only God can effect such a change: “A new heart also will I give you” (Ezek. 36:26). This is His gracious promise.
While the heart is the worst part of unregenerate man, it becomes the best part after regeneration. New birth results in a glorious, thorough, and radical change of heart. It is a supernatural change that can only be wrought by the Holy Spirit who takes away “the heart of stone” and gives “a heart of flesh” (Ezek. 11:19). Such strong figurative language indicates a revolutionary heart change – that is neither superficial nor transient.
At the moment of regeneration God honors man’s heart by residing in it through His Spirit (2 Cor. 1:22) and His Son (Eph. 3:17). No depraved member of the fallen race will dwell forever with God in eternity unless God has first dwelt in his heart on this side of eternity.
For several years I have wondered how the infinitely holy God can dwell in man’s heart despite the presence of sin. It is true that at new birth we are saved from the penalty, power, love and guilt of sin, but not from its presence. So how can the One who is so holy that He cannot behold iniquity (Hab. 1:13) accept living within the believer’s heart?
God never dwells in the unregenerate heart, which is ruled by sin. It is only after sin is dethroned by new birth that He condescends to live in our hearts. It is not until “the body of sin might be destroyed” (Rom. 6:6) that God resides in the heart. The word “destroyed” in this verse does not mean “annihilated” but “made inoperative,” its reigning power over man being removed. Either God or sin occupies the throne of the human heart.
The fact that God dwells in the regenerate heart, even though dethroned – sin that could be activated at any moment – is still present, is an act of infinite grace. The heart which was previously wed to sin now becomes wed to holiness. And what is more blessed than the infinite and majestic God making our hearts His home?
In the lost sinner the heart is the source of all trouble. But in the penitent and believing sinner, the heart is the center of Christian living. At the moment of regeneration, “the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us” (Rom. 5:5). This miracle of grace takes place within us because God “hath shined in our hearts (not our minds), to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Cor. 4:6).
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Maurice Bassali, MD is a retired specialist in diagnostic radiology. This article is from his book, Medicine For The Soul, available from Believers Bookshelf, Box 261, Sunbury, PA, 17801, USA.
With permission to publish by: Sam Hadley, Grace & Truth, 210 Chestnut St., Danville, IL., USA.