Before we were saved our heart was hard and cold toward God. We wanted many things, even sinful things, but not God. We felt little affection for Him and had no interest in the things of God.
But God wants to have an affectionate relationship with us. So when we were born again, God not only forgave us and cleansed us of our sins, He also did something in our heart. Ezekiel 36:26 says,
“I will also give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will take away the heart of stone out of your flesh, and I will give you a heart of flesh.”
God renewed our heart of stone and made it soft, “a heart of flesh.” Now our new heart loves God and is inclined toward Him and responsive to Him. With this new heart, God wants us to enjoy all He is in a relationship of love.
Since we all received a new heart when we were saved, why is this loving heart evident in the lives of some but barely detectable in others? How can some of our hearts seem to have become cold and hard, like they were before? How can we keep our heart in its new soft and loving condition?
The need for exercise
Medical science tells us that for our physical heart to be healthy, we need to exercise, even vigorously. But exercise doesn’t come naturally or easily to most of us. Consider what it takes just to put on our athletic shoes and go for a run. Even while we’re running, we have to exert ourselves to keep going and not quit. And exercise isn’t a once for all matter; we have to do it over and over again. But working out regularly isn’t optional if we want a healthy heart.
Similarly, if we want our new heart to be kept in newness, that is, to be kept loving, soft, and responsive toward the Lord, then regular, continued spiritual exercise is needed. This is what makes the difference between whether our new heart remains in newness or goes back to its old condition.
So what is this regular exercise for our new heart? Since our heart is composed of our conscience, mind, emotion, and will, the “workout” our heart needs involves four parts.
1. Exercising our mind to turn our heart back to the Lord
Second Corinthians 3:16 says, “Whenever their heart turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away.” Everything begins with turning our heart to the Lord. When we were saved, we first repented and received Christ to begin our Christian life. To repent means to turn, to have a change of mind and direction. We realized we were sinful, and we turned to God.
But even after we’re saved, we still need to keep turning. Our minds are easily distracted and can cause our hearts to turn away from the Lord. Whatever turns us away from the Lord becomes a “veil” to us, keeping us from seeing Him. Similarly, Matthew 5:8 says,
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.”
To be pure means to be unmixed with anything else. When we’re turned away from the Lord, our heart is impure toward Him. Our focus is split between the Lord and something else. We have two goals in mind, two aims our heart longs after, and we can no longer see clearly. Our future, our career, even our work for the Lord can begin to compete with God in our heart and occupy our mind.
So we need to exercise our heart by praying, “Lord, I turn to you right now.” In fact, in the course of a single day we need to turn repeatedly to the Lord. For instance, we might be thinking about a certain thing and suddenly find we’re away from the Lord, so we need to turn. Later, we might see a billboard that sticks in our head, and we have to turn again. Then we begin to have negative thoughts about someone close to us, and we have to turn yet again.
Again and again, when we realize we’re turned away from the Lord, we need to turn our heart back to Him. It takes regular exercise. When we turn our heart from all other things back to the Lord, we’re made single and pure again, and the veils are taken away. This is a daily workout we all need.
2. Exercising our emotion to love the Lord
For us to have an affectionate relationship with the Lord, we need to exercise the emotions of our heart to love Him. We may not think we’re that capable of loving the Lord, but we can remember, He gave us a new heart specifically to love Him! And according to Romans 5:5, His love has been poured out in our hearts. He even told us in John 15:9, “Abide in My love.” Our heart is ready to love the Lord; we just need to start exercising it.
One way we can daily give our heart a “love workout” is by telling the Lord out loud that we love Him. What an enjoyable workout! Just as a spouses want to hear these words from each other, the Lord wants us to tell Him, “I love You”—the more often, the better. How wonderful it would be if we were to begin and end each day with, “Lord Jesus, I love you!” We can even say it all throughout the day.
Telling the Lord we love Him not only makes Him happy, it also helps to nurture our own love for Him. Exercising our heart this way keeps us in the sweetness of His love and refreshes our love for Him. We enjoy Him and sense His nearness.
We can also exercise our heart to love the Lord by singing to Him. As we sing to Him, our heart warms and we love Him afresh. For example, we can try singing a song like this. (You can hear the tune here.)
Give yourself to love the Lord.
No other way is so prevailing
And no other way, no other way is so safe.
Give yourself to love the Lord.
No other way is so rich,
And so full, oh so full, of enjoyment.
Each morning we must rise up and say to Him,
“Lord Jesus, I love You.”
Give yourself to love the Lord.
Do not care for anything else;
Just love Him! Do not care!
Give yourself to love the Lord!
We are not our own, Lord;
All we have we give to You.
Lord Jesus! Lord Jesus!
Lord Jesus, we love You!
3. Exercising our will to obey the Lord
We also keep our heart new by exercising our will to be obedient and submissive to the Lord. We do this by saying “Yes” and “Amen” to the Lord when He speaks to us in our daily life.
Perhaps the Lord speaks to us, “Don’t go to that place.” If we ignore His speaking and go anyway, we disobey Him. Repeatedly disobeying God hardens our heart toward Him. But if we go along with Him and say, “Yes, Lord, I won’t go there,” we obey Him. This may be difficult, but when we obey Him, our heart is kept soft and submissive. We enjoy Him and He becomes so real to us, not in theory, but in our actual experience.
4. Exercising our conscience by confessing our sins
We exercise our conscience by confessing our sins to the Lord. Confessing isn’t saying, “Lord, I won’t do that again.” It’s saying, “Lord, I agree with you, that was a sin. I sinned. I was wrong. Forgive me.” Confessing is simply agreeing with God when His light shines on something.
We shouldn’t be afraid to confess, nor should we try to hide our sinful selves from the Lord. A strong believer is a confessing believer. We may have years of unconfessed sins on our conscience, clogging our spiritual blood vessels and resulting in poor circulation; we’re “sickly,” that is, spiritually weak and lacking in God’s life. Accumulated sins on our conscience can make us insensitive to our conscience, causing us to lose the proper feeling toward sin. Our heart becomes hardened, callous toward sin and unfeeling toward the Lord.
But confessing clears everything away; God forgives us and the blood of Jesus cleanses us. We’re restored to fellowship and enjoy the flow of God’s life in us again. Because our conscience is clear, our heart is untroubled and peaceful, and we can have unhindered fellowship with the Lord. We desperately need this regular exercise of confessing our offenses to the Lord.
Paying a price to exercise
The thought that we can live any way we like, do whatever we want, and still experience Christ as our life is harmful to our Christian life. The experience of Christ is something precious; it has a price. In Revelation 3:18, the Lord counseled the church in Laodicea, “Buy from Me.”
To buy something means to pay a price for it. It’s a spiritual reality that to gain the precious experiences of Christ, a price must be paid. Our own wishes, desires, and decisions are the price we pay when we exercise our heart to keep it in newness. But by daily exercise, our new heart is kept pure, loving, right, and submissive. When our heart is in this condition, all the riches of Christ are ours to experience. And the more we go on, the more we realize the price we pay is actually a bargain for the unsearchable Christ we enjoy in return!
If you want to learn more about our heart, take a look at these additional posts: What Is the Heart in the Bible? and What Does It Mean to Love God with All Your Heart?