The “heart” biblically is the same thing as your “spirit,” or your “will.”
Welcome to “Inside The Cup Podcast” with Mike and Holly Walsh
Season 1: “How to Love Your Neighbor as Yourself”
Episode 7: “The Human Heart”
What is the human “heart” biblically? From the Bible and the teachings of Jesus, the “heart” plays a fundamental role in our lives, particularly in our ability to change for the good. Yet what the heart is exactly is often not clear to us as Christians.
Mike and Holly discuss Dallas Willard’s analysis of the human heart, where the “heart” refers to the same thing as the “spirit,” and the “will,” and they explain the differences between the terms.
Mike and Holly also discuss the role that the heart plays in changing our actions or behavior. And specifically, how we must take things down to the level of the heart in order to follow the teachings of Jesus.
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The Human Heart | Episode 7, (06/02/22)
Season 1: How to Love Your Neighbor as Yourself
Mike: Welcome back to Inside The Cup Podcast. Today we change gears a little bit and we move back to this process of the inner transformation that needs to take place, inside of us, if we’re going to become a good or a loving person. And we start today by talking about the heart.
Holly: The heart. I feel like we’re going to get a little nerdy. I’m “pushing up my glasses here,” because we’re talking about the heart. And…so, what is the heart? Is it the little doodles…are we talking about that, that we draw on pieces of paper? Or is it the the muscle in your chest? No, that’s not what we’re talking about here. We’re talking about the heart biblically. The heart is the deepest part of our inner being. We’re talking about this because we need to clean the “inside of our cup,” and that’s our heart, and we need to start there.
Mike: If the goal is to change into a different kind of person, to change our actions and behaviors, then the way that we go about changing is by changing the heart first. So, that’s why we have to start here talking about the heart, is: this is the starting place, if we’re going to change. If we’re going to clean the inside of the cup, change what’s inside of us, the first thing we have to address is our heart.
Holly: So, let’s talk about that. What is the heart? Let’s start there.
Mike: Yeah, what is the heart biblically? Because that’s what we’re after here is this notion of the human heart from the description of the Bible. And I’d say right off the bat, sometimes it’s not all that clear. I mean, there’s some ambiguity in the way that the language is used. Sometimes you get confused because, you know, a term that you use to refer to the “mind” could also refer to the “soul,” and then, “well what is the soul?” And, “How is that different from the heart?” So, for me personally, the most coherent and helpful description or analysis of the human person I’ve come across is through the work of Dallas Willard. And we hinted at this in an earlier episode on “Spiritual Formation,” that we’re going to be using or taking Dallas Willard’s analysis of the human person for our podcast here and talking about how to go about actually changing.
Holly: Yeah, Dallas Willard did a great job of defining terms. And that’s a beautiful thing because a lot of things like the heart, when you read about it biblically, what…what is the heart?
Mike: I mean, the way you hear the word “heart” used in a religious sense, or in church, or that…you hear things like: you know, “Accept Jesus into your heart,” you know, “What’s in your heart?” And you even hear this in secular language: “Just follow your heart,” or “Obey your heart,” or, “Be true to your heart.”
Holly: Or “They have a hardened heart,” or I also hear the thing of like “Taking it from your mind down to your heart.”
Mike: Yeah, “From your head to your heart.” But what are we talking about when we talk about the human heart? That’s what we’re going to be jumping into today.
Holly: So, the heart refers to the same thing as spirit, or your will.
Mike: Yeah, so this is Dallas’s teaching, which is…was a very new teaching for me, and probably is for a lot of folks. Dallas suggests that those three terms are actually synonymous. So, the heart, the spirit, and the will, are actually all referring to the same thing.
Holly: Mike, can you give like a little practical example? Because like, what do you mean that the heart refers to the same thing as spirit, and will?
Mike: A helpful analogy for this if, you know, I come from Colorado mostly. And if you were to say the “Capital City of Colorado,” “The home of the Denver Broncos,” and “The Mile High City.” All three of those statements are referring to the same place, they’re referring to Denver, CO, the City of Denver, CO. But each one of those statements are referring to a different aspect about Denver. It’s the Capital City, or the the sports team is from there, or that it happens to be a mile-high in elevation? Those are three different aspects, but they’re all talking about the same thing, Denver, CO. In that same way, Dallas Willard is suggesting that the spirit, and the will, and the heart, are all referring to the same reality in the human person. But they’re describing different aspects of that same dimension of the person.
Holly: OK, so just like that analogy, explain what the heart, what the spirit, what the will…what does that mean?
Mike: Yeah, let’s take these one by one. So, let’s start with “heart.” So, an easy way to think about the heart is the position or where it is in the human person. So, it’s at the center or core of our being. It’s the innermost part of the non-physical, or spiritual aspect of the human person. So, the heart is where it is in the person, it’s right at our center, right at our core. The “spirit,” you can kind of think of, “what it is.” You know, what it’s made up of. The spirit in one sense is just, it’s spiritual, it’s not physical. But that doesn’t necessarily tell us what it is. Dallas goes on to explain in some more detail, he calls spirit: “unbodily personal power.” And in a way you can think of God in terms of this, God is spirit, God is purely Spirit, he’s absolute “unbodily personal power.” And then the “will,” you can think of the will as, “what it does,” or “how it works.” This is the function of the heart. Your will, your ability to choose or make decisions, to say yes or to say no to something, that’s your will.
Holly: It makes a lot more sense to me to hear it put in that way. We need to start at the heart first if we’re going to transform who we are, the “inside of our cup.”
Mike: This comes as a teaching from Jesus, that we have to start with the heart if we’re going to deal with changing human behavior. So, if the goal is to change, to become a different kind of person and act differently, or change the way that we act or behave, we have to take things down to the level of the heart. So, at the beginning of The Sermon on the Mount, Jesus’s most famous grouping of teachings, he makes the statement that: “Unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven,” (Matthew 5:20).
Holly: OK, so let’s go back. “Surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law,” can we just kind of explain who those were?
Mike: Yeah, the Pharisees and the scribes, or the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, were the religious experts in Jesus’s day. And what Jesus was addressing here is not coming down hard on them for a lack of effort or zeal. I mean, these were the most devout religious people around in Jesus’s time. What Jesus was addressing here is their approach was off, or their approach was wrong in how they were going about trying to obey the law, or trying to control their actions or behavior.
Holly: Doing all the right things and not actually changing who they were.
Mike: On the inside, that’s…that was Jesus’s point is: we have to change on the inside if we’re actually going to act differently. So, the righteousness of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, is to obey the law by trying hard to obey the law. Which we’ve talked about in previous episodes, doesn’t work. That ends up in a trap where we have inconsistent actions, and then we feel guilty or uncomfortable about that and we end up in hypocrisy and legalism. That’s the righteousness of the Pharisees and teachers of law. And Jesus is telling us we need to go beyond that. Not do more of what they were doing, or do what they were doing better, or more earnestly, but to take an entirely different approach.
Holly: Interacting now with the reality of the kingdom of heavens now, in our life now. Not just when we get to heaven and become this new person.
Mike: Yeah, that’s the other part of this verse: “You will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.” He’s not talking about ‘you won’t go to heaven after you die.’ He’s addressing, ‘you won’t interact with the kingdom of the heavens right now, in your current life,’ which is a reality all around you, and has the power to change you into a good or loving person. If you don’t take things down to the level of the heart, you’ll miss out on that interaction with the kingdom of God in this life right now.
Holly: And that’s exciting.
Mike: That’s the good news!
Holly: That’s exciting that we get to interact, you know, becoming a different kind of person on the inside. It actually changes our whole reality in which we live.
Mike: Yeah, eternal life, or eternal living. So then after Jesus gives this intro statement, he goes into his teachings on Christian living, and he follows this same pattern. He gives an example of a legalistic way to try to follow the law like the Pharisees were doing, and then he challenges that by saying, ‘you must go beyond that.’ Taking things down to the level of the heart, and actually addressing the heart, if you really want to change that behavior.
Holly: OK, so like, let’s take a teaching from Matthew 5,6, and 7, and run with it. What does that mean?
Mike: Yeah, let’s take the example of adultery. Jesus addresses the issue of adultery in Matthew Chapter 5, and he says “You have heard that it was said ‘you shall not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart,” (Matthew 5:27-28).
Holly: So, looking at a woman with a purpose of lusting upon her, he’s putting in the same category as adultery.
Mike: The heart is engaged in his example. So, if the heart is our ability to choose or make a decision, in this example, a man is looking at a woman for the purposes of lusting after her. He has decided in his heart that he is going to use or objectify a woman in this way, and treat her in this way.
Holly: To satisfy some kind of desire, lustful desire. You’ve already chosen…already gone about it in your heart.
Mike: Spiritually. Yeah, in your heart. And that’s important because you could end up going through your life and not committing adultery, like the Pharisees were doing in this example, and say, “See, I didn’t commit adultery, I didn’t do it.” But what Jesus is getting at here is there’s a deeper issue than just not doing the bad behavior. There’s an issue in the heart where if you’ve decided in your heart that you would commit adultery, if the conditions were right, and if you could get away with it, that’s adultery in the heart. You’ve engaged your will, and you’ve consented to it, if the conditions were right.
Holly: This makes sense. I think this applies to everyone, and different things, not just adultery. But like lying or stealing, if the conditions were right, and if your heart is there, it’s not about whether you actually do it or not. But if you know you’re going to get away with it, and you’ve already chosen that in your heart, then…so, it’s just a matter of time before you actually do commit it.
Mike: This shows how the heart is very closely attached to our actions, our behavior, and our character. So, if you’re somebody that struggles with lying, or not telling the truth, what’s underneath all of that is deciding that you’re willing to tell a lie if necessary. So, for example, if you’re worried about how somebody views you, or how you appear before others, and you’ve already decided in your heart that you’re willing to tell a lie, you might be in a situation talking with somebody and you’re worried about what they’ll think of you. So, you end up telling a lie, or bending the truth, or exaggerating, to adjust or manipulate the way that they view you or see you. Using a lie, because you’ve decided ahead of time in your heart, you’re willing to do that if need be.
Holly: I’ve already chosen that in my heart. That I would rather appear a certain way than to just be honest.
Mike: If we want to change our actions, we need to take things down to the level of our heart, and deal with things at that level. If we don’t do that, we’ll end up in the exact same trap that the Pharisees found themselves in. And it’s not specific to the Pharisees, I mean, different religious groups over time, have struggled with this exact same trap that the Pharisees fell into. Legalism and hypocrisy, and a failure to change, all stem back to what Jesus is addressing here, failing to take things down to the level of the heart. If we don’t do that, we won’t really change. To put it clearly, our actions come from our heart. So, if the goal is to change our actions, we have to change our heart.
Music: Vlad Gluschenko — Travelling
License: Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/deed.en