Transformation! The Heart of the Matter

Robert L. Saucy: "The heart, above all, is designed to seek wisdom and knowledge by hearing God’s Word."

Excerpted from Minding the Heart: The Way of Spiritual Transformation
By Robert L. Saucy (Kregel)


Daily Dynamics of Our Heart

Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life.
(Prov. 4:23 NLT)

Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.
(Matt. 12:34 NKJV)

… Meditation here
May think down hours to moments. Here the heart
May give a useful lesson to the head,
And learning wiser grow without his books.
(William Cowper)

The theology of the heart is the theology of love, the theology of the person and that of the Holy Spirit.
(Paul L. Peeters)


“If all good people were colored blue, and all bad people were colored orange, what color would you be?” In honesty, we must all answer with the little girl in the Sunday school class, “I’d be streaky.”

As we have seen our “streaky” hearts—a mixture of good and evil—account for the turmoil and confusion that we still experience in life. But this does not fully explain heart living. Life is not merely a struggle; it is a perplexing struggle.

We all resonate at times with Paul’s words, “What I am doing, I do not understand; for I am not practicing what I would like to do” (Rom. 7:15). We don’t understand what is going on inside of us—why we feel the way we do, why we do things that we wished we didn’t or why we even say things that we do not mean.

The Heart: The Place of Personal Activities

The heart, as the deep center of our person, is the seat of all of the activities that we commonly associate with personality—self-conscious thought, emotion and will. These personality functions are also at times related to our soul or spirit. But most often Scripture portrays them as functions of the heart. As one biblical scholar noted, “Virtually every immaterial function of man” is attributed in Scripture to the heart.

Most importantly for understanding biblical life, these functions of personality all coalesce in the depth of the heart into an inseparable unity. True living from our heart is living with our mind, emotions, and will in what might be termed a triune unity of function.

Thinking From the Heart

In contrast to our common association of heart with emotion, in Scripture the heart is most frequently related to intellectual activities. Thought, memory, understanding, attention, wisdom and other similar cognitive activities all take place in the heart.

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In his valuable work, The Anthropology of the Old Testament, Old Testament scholar Hans Walter Wolff titled his chapter on the heart, “Reasonable Man,” declaring that “in by far the greatest number of cases, it is intellectual, rational functions that are ascribed to the heart—i.e., precisely what we ascribe to the head and, more exactly to the brain.” Some scriptural examples will help us see this intellectual function of the heart. In Deuteronomy, Moses declared to the people of Israel: “Yet to this day the Lord has not given you a heart to know, nor eyes to see, nor ears to hear” (Deut. 29:4). Even as eyes are for seeing and ears for hearing, the heart is for knowing (Prov. 23:12: “Apply your heart to instruction and your ears to words of knowledge,” NIV). In the future day of Israel’s salvation, God promises to give his people “a heart to know me” (Jer. 24:7).

Declaring to his would-be friends that he is not inferior to them in understanding, Job literally says, “I have heart as well as you” (translated in the NASB, “I have intelligence as well as you,” 12:3; cf. 8:10). The “man of understanding” is literally “the man of heart” (Job 34:10, 34). Thoughts are in the heart (Judg. 16:17; Ps. 14:1; 15:2).

Insanity is therefore a problem of the heart (Eccl. 9:3), and to lack reason is to have the “heart” of a beast (Dan. 5:21; cf. Ps. 73:21-22). The lack of “sense” or “judgment” is to be without “heart” (Prov. 6:32; Hos. 4:11).

The crucial business of the heart is stated in Proverbs 15:14: “The mind [lit. heart] of the intelligent seeks knowledge.” Significantly the word for “heart” occurs most frequently in what is known as the Wisdom Literature (e.g., Job, Proverbs and Ecclesiastes). It is also prominent in the book of Deuteronomy where teaching and instruction are emphasized. These portions of Scripture instruct us in the ways of God so that we can come to know and understand them with our hearts (e.g., Prov. 2:2; 14:33; 16:21, 23) and gain the invaluable goal of “a heart of wisdom” (Ps. 90:12).

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The heart as the place of mental function also continues in the New Testament. It is with the “eyes of the heart” that we come to “know” the riches of our salvation (Eph. 1:18). We “perceive” or “understand” with the heart (John 12:40; Matt. 13:15) and it is the place of our thoughts (Matt. 9:45; Luke 2:35; Rom. 10:6; Heb. 4:12). God’s Word judges the “thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Heb. 4:12).

The New Testament does use, in addition to heart, some Greek terms that specifically denote mind and the related concepts of thought and reason (e.g., nous). These are very limited, however, and used primarily by the apostle Paul in his ministry in the Hellenistic environment where these terms were well known. The mind in Greek philosophy and religion was thought to be the rational capacity of the human, which was a separate superior part of the inner life. The perspective of the New Testament writers, however, remained in harmony with the Old Testament understanding of the intellect as an aspect of the whole personal life.

The New Testament writers’ terms for “mind” and related intellectual concepts therefore do not carry the same meaning that they had in Greek philosophy and religion, but rather a meaning similar to intellectual use of “heart” in the Old Testament. They were used, as John Laidlaw says, “to represent the contents or products of the inner life, what the Old Testament calls the ‘imagination of the thoughts of the heart.’” The mind was simply the thinking aspect of the heart.

In sum, Scripture attributes all mental activities—including belief, meditation, memory and concern or worry—to the heart.