How would you answer the question, what is heart change?
Perhaps you might say having a change of heart about something. You might say, I used to feel this way about this or that, but now I feel this way. In a feelings-oriented culture, you might connect the word heart with emotion.
We are encouraged to “follow our hearts,” which means to “follow our feelings” as if emotions are the best way to make a decision. One of the most common ways a biblical marriage counselor hears this is when a spouse says something like, “I feel God wants me to be happy” or “I feel I should get a divorce.”
The Bible does not use the word heart as contemporary American culture does- and, I might add, the evangelical church.
The Bible’s Definition of Heart
So how does the Bible use the word heart?
Nelson’s New Bible Illustrated Dictionary puts it like this:
HEART — the inner self that thinks, feels, and decides. In the Bible, the word “heart” has a much broader meaning than it does to the modern mind. The heart is that which is central to a person. Nearly all the references to the heart in the Bible refer to some aspect of human personality. 1
Notice that the inner self emotions are included in the word heart. It is significant that the inner self aspects of the heart also include thinking and deciding. The heart is the biblical word used to describe the inner man. The heart is a person’s immaterial (non-flesh) part that includes our thoughts, beliefs, desires, mind, feelings, intentions, and emotions. It’s often referred to as the control center of our being.
Following Our Hearts is a Bad Plan
Scripture warns us about the notion of following our hearts.
9 The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it? 2
The NET Bible puts the passage this way:
9 The human mind is more deceitful than anything else. It is incurably bad. Who can understand it? 3
Substituting the word “mind” for “heart” makes sense. The context of the passage refers to unbelievers.
Their hearts\minds are full of deceit, and no medical cure is available.
The apostle Paul would make a similar statement:
17 Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. 18 They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart (Eph. 4:17-18)
Jesus will emphasize the problem with our unredeemed hard hearts.
43 “For no good tree bears bad fruit, nor again does a bad tree bear good fruit, 44 for each tree is known by its own fruit. For figs are not gathered from thornbushes, nor are grapes picked from a bramble bush.
45 The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks. (Luke 6:43-45)
Unbelievers have hard hearts by definition. They are chronically self-centered, following their hearts-a path that leads to damnation.
As believers, we still struggle with sin. We are still capable of bearing bad fruit. When we do, it says something about our hearts, desires, wants, perceived needs, thoughts, and beliefs. But because we are new creatures in Christ, we have a new capability we did not have before:
Hope for Real Change
17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. (2 Cor. 5:17, ESV)
The passage means we now live for Christ and others. We do not have to be chronically self-centered
like we once were. (See Matt.22:37-39)
Put Off, Put On
We can change to be more like Christ. How?
22 to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, 23 and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, 24 and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. (Eph. 4:22-24)
Heart Change sticks because the heart changes from the inside out. One of the problems is we do not think of heart change as the progressive sanctification that it is. Too often, we have been taught to follow a pop psychological method of change that is feelings-oriented rather than heart\mind oriented method of change.
The Bible promises to give us all the spiritual resources necessary to change from the inside out, no matter the problem.
His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. (2 Peter 1:3-4, ESV)
The Process of Biblical Change by Julie Ganschow
The Process of Biblical Heart Change by Julie Ganschow and Bruce Roeder. (This is a workbook and a more extensive treatment of the above.)
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- Ronald F. Youngblood, F. F. Bruce, and R. K. Harrison, Thomas Nelson Publishers, eds., Nelson’s
New Illustrated Bible Dictionary (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, Inc., 1995). ↩︎
- The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Je 17:9. ↩︎
- Biblical Studies Press, The NET Bible, Second Edition. (Denmark: Thomas Nelson, 2019), Je
Pastor Bruce Roeder
Biblical Counselor, Training Program Instructor
Bruce is an Elder/Pastor at the Vine Community Church in South Milwaukee, WI. He has an M.A. in
Biblical Counseling and is certified with the ACBC (Level 2) and IABC. He is married to his wife, Elizabeth,
of 49 years. They have one son, a wonderful daughter-in-law, and three great-grandkids.