As human beings we, of course, have a physical heart. But we’re all aware that we also have something within us we recognize as an intangible heart.
But what exactly is this intangible heart? We’ve heard the word heart used since we were young, in everyday language, in literature, in music, and in other contexts. And most of us probably have a general definition of the heart, thinking of it as something inside us that feels emotions like love, affection, compassion, or sorrow.
The definition of the heart in the Bible isn’t given in one verse; it’s spread throughout many verses and can be easy to miss. Since the Bible refers to the heart hundreds of times, it must be significant to God and to us. So what does the Word of God say about our heart? And what is its importance to God and to us?
The importance of knowing about our heart
If you search online for heart you’ll find details on the physical heart, with photos and diagrams explaining its function and the way it works. You’ll also find a lot of information on caring for it so you can live longer. A poor diet, lack of exercise, and other factors can have dire consequences.
But what about the condition of our intangible heart? If neglecting our physical heart affects our life negatively, then surely neglecting our nonphysical heart is also detrimental. But how can we care for our heart if we don’t know what it is?
So let’s discuss what our heart is, not according to our common understanding, but according to the Bible. This will help us to properly care for our heart in our life with the Lord.
What does the Bible say our heart is?
In previous posts we discussed how God created humans as a three-part being with a spirit, a soul, and a body. Our heart isn’t a fourth, separate part of our being. Instead, as we’ll see in the verses below, our “heart” in the Bible is a composition of all the components of our soul—our mind, emotion, and will—plus the most important part of our spirit—our conscience.
- Matthew 9:4
“And Jesus, knowing their thoughts, said, Why are you thinking evil things in your hearts?”
Thinking is something of the mind, but the Lord Jesus asked the scribes why they were thinking in their hearts. This shows that our mind is part of our heart.
- Acts 11:23
“Who, when he arrived and saw the grace of God, rejoiced and encouraged them all to remain with the Lord with purpose of heart.”
To purpose means to decide strongly to do something, to use our will, so this verse shows that our will is part of our heart.
- John 16:22
“Therefore you also now have sorrow; but I will see you again and your heart will rejoice, and no one takes your joy away from you.”
We rejoice with our emotions, and here we see that our heart rejoices. As we might expect, this shows us that our emotion is part of our heart.
- Hebrews 10:22
“Let us come forward to the Holy of Holies with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water.”
As this verse shows, our conscience is part of our heart. This is further confirmed by the phrase “if our heart blames us” in 1 John 3:20. Since our conscience is what blames or condemns us when we’re wrong, this verse makes it abundantly clear that our conscience is part of our heart.
So according to the Bible, our heart is not simply something we feel emotion with. Because it’s composed of our mind, our will, our emotion, and our conscience, it does much more; our heart also thinks, decides, and senses right from wrong.
The functions of our heart
To understand what the function of our heart is, we first need to realize that God’s desire is to have a warm, loving, and affectionate relationship with us in which we and He share the same life—His divine life. For this, God created us with a heart.
The Lord tells us in Mark 12:30, “And you shall love the Lord your God from your whole heart.” So as we might expect, our intangible heart is our loving organ. If we didn’t have our heart, we couldn’t sense love, know love, or love in return.
Additionally, though, our heart has another important role. The two excerpts below from The Economy of God by Witness Lee help explain:
“Our relationship with the Lord is always begun and maintained by the heart. Of course, to contact the Lord is a matter of the spirit, but this must be initiated and maintained by the heart, for our heart is the gateway of our whole being.” (p. 75)
Our heart is the gateway, the portal, of our entire being. So whether we open or close the doors of our heart determines what we let into our inner being:
“In other words, the heart becomes both the entrance and the exit of our being. Whatever enters into us must enter through the heart. Whatever comes out from us must proceed through the heart.” (p. 75)
We can see that our heart functions as both the loving organ and the gateway of our being if we recall our salvation experience. When we heard the gospel of how the Lord Jesus died on the cross for our sins, our hearts were touched. We sensed the depth and the sweetness of His love for us and responded to His love. We couldn’t help but love Him in return for all He did for us. So we opened the doors of our heart to believe in Him and we received Him. We received Him into our spirit and were born again of the Spirit in our spirit, but it was our heart that first had to open to let Him in.
Our heart and our relationship with the Lord
We were created by God in such a marvelous way with a spirit to contact, receive, and contain Him as life, and with a heart to love Him! He wants to be our life and He wants us to love Him, even with our whole heart. This is the relationship the Lord wants to have with us—in life and in love.
As we read in the first excerpt, our relationship with the Lord is both begun by our heart and maintained by our heart. This is why the condition of our heart is very important. In fact, many problems in our Christian life are really “heart problems.”
In future posts, we’ll get into some particulars on properly caring for our heart in order to maintain our relationship with the Lord in the best way.