||Spiritual Growth Begins with...
A Change of Heart
by Frank Allnutt
29 pages, 5"x8"
Spiritual Growth Begins with a Change of Heart
"A change of heart"—it's a loosely-used phrase we hear all the time. It can mean an ontological change of heart (that of the new creature in Christ) as well as a functional change of heart. In this booklet, we will focus on the functional change of heart.
To many people, a "change of heart" means "a change of mind." But, a functional change of heart from the biblical perspective signifies a totally new course of living for the believer—from fleshly or half-hearted living to whole-hearted living...from living out of self-sufficiency to experiencing Christ as life and living out of His sufficiency.
Read the complete text of this booklet, beginning here:
We mature in many ways—physically, intellectually, emotionally, and volitionally. But of paramount importance is our spiritual maturation.
Spiritual maturity is the development of Christlike character and behavior. In a word, it is holiness. It is God’s primary desire for those of us who are His children, and He has provided us with everything we need to experience it—“His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness” (2 Peter 1:3). And maturing in Christ-likeness should be the aim of every believer (Ephesians 4:13-15; Colossians 2:6, 7; Hebrews 12:2).
Whole-hearted living in Jesus is the way of developing spiritual maturity. It begins with a change of heart—functionally “putting on” or living out of our new ontological heart (Ezekiel 36:26,27; Colossians 3:12)—and is nurtured through walking in Christ, and will be consummated in its fullness when Christ returns and transforms us into a state of glory like His.
Spiritual maturity is a process in which there may be significant events interspersed within a lifelong process through which Christlike holiness is developed as we walk in Him and He lives His life in us and through us. Paul wrote to the Philippians: “So, then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure” (Philippians 2:12, 13; see also 2 Corinthians 7:1; 13:11; 1 Timothy 6:11).
Figure 1: The Phases of Spiritual Growth
The Bible speaks of four phases of spiritual growth (Figure 1):
1. The Baby Christian Phase;
2. The Little Child Christian Phase;
3. The Young Man Christian Phase;
4. The Father Christian Phase.
The baby phase
We begin our Christian journey as babes in Christ—as spiritually immature believers. Some of us begin right away to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18), but many of us experience slow and marginal growth because of half-heartedness.
Jesus spoke of the “seed which fell among the thorns” who “have heard, and as they go on their way they are choked with worries and pleasures of this life, and bring no fruit to maturity” (Luke 8:14).
Though Jesus was speaking of the plight of the Adamic-hearted, similar response to God’s Word is seen in the Christ-hearted who walk according to the ways of the flesh.
Though physical age, intellectual ability and knowledge are important factors in the process of spiritual growth, for the typical adult believer the most critical factor is the condition of the spiritual heart—which is either functionally “divided” or “whole,” in biblical terms (Figure 2).
Figure 2: The ways of the Half-Hearted Christian, and the ways of the
Though the believer is no longer “in the flesh” (Romans 8:9), he may function in the heart and behave through the body (outer man) as though he were still “in the flesh.” This is a “fleshly,” “flesh-like,” “divided-heart” or “half-hearted” condition in which the soul’s mind, emotion, and will function disharmoniously within the soul and independently of the Holy Spirit. The whole-hearted person, on the other hand, is spiritual—the soul and the spirit function in unity and in harmony with one another and with the indwelling Holy Spirit.
Too many new believers, as well as those who have experienced slow spiritual growth over an extended period of time, walk according to the ways of the flesh and have little experience in walking after the Spirit (Galatians 3:16). To walk in the Spirit is also to walk in Christ (Colossians 2:6). A person who does not walk in Christ does not enjoy close fellowship with Him, and therefore does not significantly grow in relationship with Him. This lack of moment-by-moment fellowship with Christ impedes this believer’s spiritual growth.
Jesus indicated that all of us begin our walk of faith in Him as beloved little children (Matthew 18:3) whom He desires to nurture in faith and wisdom and guide in His ways. Childlikeness is the simple exercise of the gift of faith with the new heart, which is belief and trust rooted in the love of Christ. God cares for His people as His children (Psalm 103:13), and He desires that we respond to Him as children to parent. Such childlikeness can be seen in trusting Him (Psalms 131:2), obeying Him (1 Peter 1:14), walking in humility before Him (Luke 9:46-48), walking in innocence (Mark 10:13-15), and in imitating Christ by walking in humility and love (Ephesians 5:1, 2).
Scripture also uses “baby” in a disapproving way to describe those who falter in their faith, do not grow in wisdom, and stray from God’s ways. Such believers are said to be immature or childish, which is quite different from being childlike. Childishness is an attitude of self-centeredness that characterizes an immature and divided heart.
Paul characterized the spiritually immature, fleshly and worldly Christians at Corinth as being childish: “And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual men, but as to men of [conditional] flesh, as to babes in Christ” (1 Corinthians 3:1–3).
Such baby Christians think mostly about self. If their desires are not met, they may blame God and rebel against Him. Their minds are opened to lies, deceptions, and fantasies that promise to help them meet their needs and desires. Their emotions are like reeds in the wind that sway to currents of positive and negative circumstances. Guided by fleshly desires and intentions, they are vulnerable to fleshly impulses as well as seduction by old spiritual masters—the flesh, Satan, sin, and the world.
They drink of the milk of Scripture, but cannot digest the meat of God’s Word. Their lives are void of Christ’s true peace and joy. They are unclear about or—flagrantly disregard—God’s will, and therefore do not walk in His ways. They frequently encounter frustration and conflict in their mind, emotion, and will, as well as in their behavior and relationships.
The little child phase
The beginning of spiritual growth
In 1 John 2:12, “little children” are addressed. Some Christians grow out of spiritual infancy and into this “Little Child” phase; yet, all too many remain spiritually immature. Like young children, they might be given over to fantasies and untruthfulness. They can be envious and even cruel. They can be tattle-tails and gossips, and fabricate or exaggerate tales of their behavior and the behavior of others. They have short emotional fuses and glow in prideful self-esteem when flattered They are generally self-seeking and self-serving.
The transition from the Little Child phase of immaturity to the Young Man phase of maturity is a transition from half-heartedness to wholeheartedness that begins with a functional change of heart. This is the love-motivated decision of our will to abandon self-centered living in exchange for Christ-centered living. It can take place at the time of salvation, though this is extremely rare. For most of us it comes some time afterward—quite often after a time of resistance to surrendering fleshly living for spiritual living.
Half-Hearted Christians may experience a raging battle in their heart between their will and the will of God. David experienced this. From the time of his youth, he wanted to be a man of God. But his fleshly, self-centered heart led him into adultery and murder. He was following a path of self-destruction. His life was falling apart, and he found himself fleeing from his enemies for his very life. At long last his stubborn, self-centered will brought him to the depths of brokenness. Having experienced guilt, suffering, and loss, he turned to God with a broken and contrite (remorseful and repentant) heart. Through prayer (Psalm 51)
The “broken spirit” David wrote about is the broken will of the heart that needed to be changed—his sin- and flesh disposition. We commonly call this “self-will.” Through David’s broken and contrite heart, he came to understand that he had to “sacrifice” or surrender his self-will to God. He asked God to give him a “clean heart” and to renew in him a “steadfast spirit” and a “willing spirit.”
- David acknowledged he possessed an inherent sinful nature;
- David accepted personal responsibility for his sins against others, himself, and ultimately against God; and,
- David confessed his sins to God out of a “broken and contrite heart.”
- David then asked God to give him a “clean heart” and a “steadfast spirit.” He had a functional change of heart—a “broken and contrite heart.” This led him to surrender (forsake) his will and to accept the will of His loving Father in Heaven. Toward the end of the prayer he acknowledged that: “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, Thou wilt not despise” (Psalm 51:17).
Some of us must experience traumatic loss, suffering, and pain before we reach that condition of having a broken and contrite heart. Only then do we humbly realize how dark is the darkness and how light is God’s light, and how insufficient is our self-sufficiency. Only then are we ready to experience a functional change of heart—a change from self-centered, prideful, fleshly, and worldly living for a new way of holy living centered in Christ, in His love, in His Kingdom, and in His grace. Only then can we truly begin to journey down a new path of more deeply discovering and experiencing Jesus as our Lord, Savior, Life, and total sufficiency.
Paul alluded to the change of heart in his second letter to the Corinthians:
I now rejoice, not that you were made sorrowful, but that you were made sorrowful to the point of repentance; for you were made sorrowful according to the will of God, in order that you might not suffer loss in anything through us. For the sorrow that is according to the will of God produces a repentance without regret, leading to salvation; but the sorrow of the world produces death (2 Corinthians 7:9-10).
For God, who said, “Light shall shine out of darkness,” is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ (2 Corinthians 4:6).
Many among us have not experienced a functional change of heart. A smaller number have experienced a change of heart and have just begun a whole-hearted journey in Christ. Fewer still are well along the way.
The young man and father phases
The “young man” and “father” phases of spiritual growth mentioned in 1 John 2, refer to the more spiritually mature believers—Whole-Hearted Christians—who walk the path of holiness.
Jesus characterized whole-hearted believers as “the seed in the good soil...the ones who have heard the word in an honest and good heart, and hold it fast, and bear fruit with perseverance [or steadfastness]” (Luke 8:15).
Paul wrote of Whole-Hearted Christians: “for we are the true circumcision [of the heart], who worship in the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh [fleshliness]” (Philippians 3:3).
Those who walk wholeheartedly have passed the milestones marking the “baby” and the “child” phases of spiritual maturity, and have undergone a change of heart from prideful self-centeredness to humble Christ-centeredness. Some are progressing through the young man phase, and a few have entered the father phase. Some may possess more biblical knowledge than others and may have more experience in walking with Christ. While those are important contributing factors in growing spiritually, the hallmark of wholeheartedness is neither knowledge nor experience, but love—yes, even childlike love, faith, and hope that bring us to the point of humbly surrendering our will to the will of God.
In Ephesians 4, Paul emphasizes that spiritual maturity—Christ-likeness—is the goal of all believers, and that we should build up one another with this as our goal: “...until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ. As a result, we are no longer to be children tossed here and there by waves, and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming; but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him, who is the head, even Christ, from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by that which every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love” (Ephesians 4:13-16).
As the believer matures in Christ, the following traits are among those that become more dominant and more evident in his deportment:
A New Heart
- Christlike “new spirit”—predominantly characterized by love. This can be seen in the believer who has a deepening love for God, others, and self. The more a believer is motivated by sin, the more he walks according to the flesh. The more a believer is motivated by love, the more he walks in the Spirit, and his “new spirit” of love will be manifested in many ways in him and through him (Ezekiel 36:26, 27; Ephesians 3:16-19; 2 Timothy 1:7).
- Christlike intellect—spiritual understanding (Colossians 2:2; Romans 15:14; 1 Corinthians 2:6; 14:20; Ephesians 1:17, 18; Hebrews 5:12-6:1).
- Christlike emotion—stability of feelings through the peace and joy of Christ (Matthew 25:21; John 14:27, 15:11; Galatians 6:23; Ephesians 4:14; Colossians 4;12; 2 Peter 3:17, 18).
- Christlike volition—discernment of, and obedience to, God’s will, coupled with changed attitude, desires, intentions, and behavior (Colossians 1:9,10; Romans 12:2; 1 Corinthians 3:1-3; Galatians 5:22, 23; Ephesians 4:22, 23; Philippians 1:9-11; 2 Thessalonians 1:3).
All of us who, in the beginning, were chosen in Christ for salvation are new-hearted new creatures through the “new man’s” crucifixion and resurrection with Christ Jesus. We are the fulfillment of God’s promise to us, as recorded in Ezekiel 36:26, 27: “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statues, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances” (Ezekiel 36:26, 27).
Each of us is an ontological new creature in Christ and a new temple of God. His Spirit resides in the spirit chamber-part of our heart, and imparts His eternal life and holy nature to us. And if we are to experience the dynamics of Christ’s love and His living His life in us and through us, we need a conditional and functional change of heart—from a half-hearted or soulish condition and manner of living in self-centeredness, to a wholehearted condition and manner of living in Christ. Only then will our hearts be enabled to experience the abundant life, which is the dynamic of Christ living His life in us and through us, and our living our lives in and through Him.
Paul expresses this with awesome simplicity in his prayer that God
...would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man; so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; and that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God” (Ephesians 3:14-19).
Because Paul was writing to Christians, the “indwelling” in the above passage is not salvific indwelling but the filling of the Holy Spirit in the soul of the whole heart (in which the soul and spirit are conditionally and functionally united by love). In the very simplest of terms, sin functionally divides the soul from the spirit, and love functionally unites the soul with the spirit, and this facilitates Christ’s entry into and ministry within the soul. But there are many details surrounding this that we should consider.
A loving heart
God, out of His love for us, chose us to be His children. Jeremiah writes that God has made an “everlasting covenant” to give us a new heart and put loving reverence for Him in our heart so that we will never turn away from Him, but will abide in Him and in His ways. Because we are His children and He is our Father, He promised to rejoice over us and do us good. He “signed” this covenant “with all My heart and with all My soul” (see Jeremiah 32:41).
God has said, “I have loved you with an everlasting love” (Jeremiah 31:3b). He gave His heart to us, and all He wants in return is for us to love Him and to give our hearts to Him.
Jesus said: “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself’” (Mark 12:30, 31).
The Greatest Commandments are also promises by God of what will become reality—to the extent we choose in this life, but in total perfection in the age to come.
What did Jesus mean when He said we shall love God with all our heart? With all our soul? With all our mind? And with all our strength? The biblical record carries no direct explanation within the context of Christ’s statement; however, this does not necessarily leave us in the dark. For when we understand what the spiritual heart is and how is functions, we are given insight into what Jesus meant.
Paul commended the Roman Christians who “wholeheartedly obeyed” God (Romans 6:17, NIV). And God wants no less than wholehearted obedience from each of us. Such obedience is born out of the “new spirit” or motivational principle of love. God promised to give us this new spirit of love (Ezekiel 36:26), the New Testament assures us that He has kept His promise, and we experience the reality of the fulfillment of the promise when we choose to be motivated by our new love nature to be obedient. For God has said, “Give Me your heart, My son, and let your eyes delight in My ways” (Proverbs 23:26).
When God’s love is dynamic in us, our soul is functionally united with our spirit-part and the indwelling Spirit of Christ, and we are motivated to obey Him out of love. This is “wholeheartedness”; this is a heart’s soul and spirit “knit together in love.” which allows the hearts of many to be “knit together in love” (Colossians 2:2). Our obedience, then, is a two-part dynamic—a joint venture between ourselves and the Spirit of Christ. For our part, we are to express and demonstrate the love of Christ within us. Paul writes:
...the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us (Romans 5:5).
And may the Lord direct your hearts into the love of God and into the steadfastness of Christ (2 Thessalonians 3:5).
And so, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; being with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you. And beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body; and be thankful. Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God (Colossians 3:12-16).
For the love of Christ controls us (2 Corinthians 5:14).
Jesus indicated that our obedience to Him demonstrates our love for Him: “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments” (John 14:15), and, “By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35).
A whole heart is a loving heart, and a loving heart is a changing heart. Since God is perfect in His divine nature, everything He says and does is rooted in His perfect motivation and power of love. Since we believers are partakers of the divine nature (2 Peter 1:4), we have “the spirit of life in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:2)—His love and life—to motivate and empower us to be loving in all that we say and do.
A changing heart is one that, through love, is progressively being conformed to the conditional and functional likeness of Christ. And that conformation requires the presence and ministry of the Spirit of Christ in the soul of the heart. At the time of your salvation, God gave you a new heart and placed His Spirit within your spirit part, which is your life center. What all of us need is for the Spirit of Christ to also have access to our soul’s mind, emotion, and will.
Changing the heart is a lifelong process that occurs in three stages:
1. A change of heart
2. A changing heart
3. A changed heart
A Change of Heart
Now, let’s take a closer look at these three stages.
To begin experiencing Christ as life is a choice. Regardless of what it is called or how it is described, it begins with a functional change of heart, and is evidenced by love and obedience. God said: “And I will give them a heart to know Me, for I am the Lord; and they will be My people, and I will be their God, for they will return to Me with their whole heart [a heart united by love for God] (Jeremiah 24:7).
The next passage is almost identical to the new heart promise in Ezekiel 36:26, 27: “And I shall give them one heart, and shall put a new spirit [of love] within them. And I shall take the heart of stone out of their flesh and give them a heart of flesh, that they may walk in My statues and keep My ordinances, and do them. Then they will be My people, and I shall be their God” (Ezekiel 11:19, 20).
The promised new heart is the eschatological and ontological new heart that is exchanged for the old heart. But the children of God must make a willful choice—have a love-motivated, conditional and functional change of heart—to “walk in My statues and keep My ordinances, and do them.”
A change of heart, in this sense, is a change of mind, feelings, desires, and intentions on the part of the believer that results in contriteness, which in turn leads to true repentance, confession, cleansing, consecration, reconciliation of fellowship, healing, renewal, and spiritual growth. The responsibility of a change of heart is that of the believer. However, he is not alone in carrying out that responsibility, for a change of heart also involves the Holy Spirit, for:
The Holy Spirit provides the impetus for change in the form of love working through faith and conviction in the believer to center his life in God and to walk in His ways. The believer who responds positively to the Holy Spirit, in this way, is motivated out of love for God to be obedient to Him.
The love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us” (Romans 5:5). And may the Lord direct your hearts into the love of God and into the steadfastness of Christ (2 Thessalonians 3:5). And so, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you. And beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body; and be thankful. Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God (Colossians 3:12-16). For the love of Christ controls us (2 Corinthians 5:14).
Each of us must undergo a change of heart in making the following critical choices:
- A choice between walking in the ways of the “old man” or walking in the ways of the “new man.” To choose the ways of the new self recognizes that the old self was crucified with Christ, and requires the believer to functionally “put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth” (Ephesians 4:24).
- A choice between walking in the ways of the flesh or walking in the ways of the Spirit. To choose the ways of the Spirit requires repenting of fleshly ways and yielding to the Spirit of Christ—changing from self-centeredness and sufficiency. to Christ-centeredness and His sufficiency.
- A choice between walking in the ways of Satan’s prideful, lying ways, or walking in the Christlike ways of humility and truth. To choose the ways of humility and truth requires repudiation of Satan’s pride and lies, repenting of self’s prideful and lying ways.
- A choice between walking in the ways of sin or walking in the ways of love. To choose the ways of love requires the rejection of motivations to commit actual sins, repenting of sinful ways, and to love God with all the heart, soul, mind, and strength; and, to love others as we are to love ourselves.
- A choice between walking in the ways of the world or walking in the ways of God’s Kingdom. To choose the ways of the Kingdom requires repudiation of the ways of the world, repenting of worldly ways, and walking in the ways of an heir, a citizen of God’s Kingdom, and as an ambassador of the Lord Jesus Christ.
- A choice between walking in the ways of one under law or walking in the ways of one under grace. To choose the ways of grace requires the repudiation and repentance of wrongful responses to God’s law (legalism, antinomianism, and libertinism), and to functionally and behaviorally experience His grace in us and through us out of love and loving obedience, which is the “grace of life” (1 Peter 3:7), or, as I refer to it, the GraceLife.
God gave man the law, not out of wrath, but out of Grace. And we should respond to His will with loving obedience from the heart. For when we are motivated to obey God out of our love for Him, we will produce “fruit for God”—reap for Him honor and praise, which magnifies His glory.
A Changing Heart
A changing heart is one that is being functionally conformed by the Holy Spirit to the image or character of Christ. With the Whole-Hearted Christian, the heart is in a perpetual state of functional change—is being perfected in love, is maturing spiritually, and is growing in grace. All of that is to say this believer is being conformed to the conditional and functional likeness of Christ. His changing heart is evident in his way of life—day-by-day, moment-by-moment, choice-by-choice functioning of a whole heart, with love for God, that is consistently being yielded to God, cleansed, and renewed.
Yielding one’s heart to God
Yielding one’s heart to God through prayer, promises, or purposing shows good intention, and has its place in the initial phase of a change of heart. A sincere change of heart becomes a functionally changing heart. Paul writes: “I urge you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present you bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:1, 2).
Paul’s use of the word “bodies” in Romans 12:1 involves more than our physical bodies. It is difficult to reason that presenting our physical bodies alone to God could facilitate nonconformance with the world and the renewing of our minds. By presenting our “bodies a living and holy sacrifice,” we can understand Paul to mean that every aspect of our new self is to be presented to God as our “spiritual service of worship” and for the functional “renewing of your mind, that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.”
Paul is giving us an object lesson here, and we must be willing to learn that lesson and apply it with regard to God’s will in our everyday living.
The Process of Changing the Heart
2. Pray for a change of heart. While prayer, in general, will not be covered here, it is crucial to recognize that prayer is integral to changing the heart.
A change of heart is a process in the Christian that begins with, in Paul’s words, putting on the new self, the new heart, and the new spirit of love (Colossians 3).
In so many words, Paul tells us to live up to who we are in Christ!
1. Search your heart. Start by searching the Bible; it will reveal to you those things which make you half-hearted—functionally divide your soul from your spirit: "For the word of God is living and active, and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of the soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12).
Ask God to reveal to you what His search of your heart has revealed.
We are to pray, and there are times when we should ask others to pray with us and for us. Our prayers should include requests for understanding and wisdom in discerning God’s will for us, and also for steadfastness and empowerment in our soul to do His will. Paul wrote of this to the Colossians:
We have not ceased to pray for you and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so that you may walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, to please Him in all aspects, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; strengthened with all power, according to His glorious might, for the attaining of all steadfastness and patience; joyously giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints in light (Colossians 1:9-12).
When we pray to know and to do God’s will, we can know with all confidence that He hears us and will grant our requests (1 John 5:14, 15), for God “is at work in you, both [for you] to will and to work for His good pleasure” (Philippians 2:13).
3. Repent. To repent is to turn away from, forsake, and quit sinful functioning within the inner man and sinful behavior through the outer man. Jesus said, “Remember therefore from where you have fallen, and repent and do the deeds you did at first” (Revelation 2:5).
Our Lord’s admonition applies to us all in dealing with known sinfulness in our lives.
A regenerate but unrepentant heart is a heart whose soul is ladened with sin debt, such as guilt, fear, anxiety, depression, which causes it to be functionally divided from the spirit and separated from fellowship with the indwelling Spirit of Christ. A changing heart is a loving, repentant heart. Both love and repentance contribute to the conditional and functional unity of the soul and spirit, and in turn enable personhood to function whole-heartedly with the Holy Spirit, and to behave in accord with God’s will.
4. Confess known sins. To confess is to admit our wrongdoings to those we sin against. This should also be accompanied by asking their forgiveness for the sake of restoration of fellowship. All sin is ultimately against God, and all sins of believers have been forgiven, whether confessed or not. However, we are to confess our sins to Him for the sake of a clear conscience and fellowship. By not confessing known sins to God, the debt or consequences of sins may hinder the proper functioning of the soul, and strain or interrupt our fellowship with God and others.
5. Forgiveness. This occurs in two phases. Judicial or salvific forgiveness is granted to all who were chosen in Christ for salvation in the beginning (Ephesians 1:4; 2 Thessalonians 2:13). Filial or parental forgiveness has to do with the maintenance or restoration of fellowship among believers, as well as between the believer and God, and is applied to the believer upon every incident of actual sin, even if the believer is unaware of such sin and does not confess it. This appears to be indicated in 1 John 1:7: “If we walk in the light as He Himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin.” However, Scripture is clear that we are to confess known sin and to repent for the sake of fellowship, and for cleansing and healing by the Holy Spirit:
If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9). How much more will the blood of Christ...cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God? (Hebrews 9:14). Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all defilement of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God (2 Corinthians 7:1).
In addition, we are to forgive others who have wronged us, and ask forgiveness of those we have wronged. Jesus said, “For if you forgive men for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions” (Matthew 6:14, 15).
Please understand that Jesus was not talking about salvific forgiveness here, but rather in terms of fellowship and the condition of one’s heart. You see, all of us share with the Holy Spirit the responsibility of cleansing our heart. Paul wrote, “let us cleanse ourselves” (2 Corinthians 7:1). If we do not do what we are commanded to do, the Holy Spirit cannot do it for us and furthermore is impeded from exercising His responsibilities in the cleansing process. When we forgive others, we conditionally cleanse our heart, which removes certain sin debt which causes “death”—separation of fellowship, one person from another—and clears the way for restoration of fellowship.
But if we do not forgive others, we retain sin debt in our soul, dividing the heart and quenching the Spirit, which shuts Him out of the process of cleansing the heart.
We must also forgive ourselves. True forgiveness is an act of loving humility. That is why forgiveness of self, as well as others, is so difficult for those who are unloving and prideful.
6. Cleansing of the heart of the new creature in Christ is functional cleansing, for ontological cleansing took place through the cross. Such cleansing follows repentance and confession of actual sins. This is a joint process on the part of the believer and the Holy Spirit. The believer repents and confesses known sin, and the Holy Spirit responds by administering love and forgiveness—forgiveness in the sense of cleansing the soul of sin debt, purifying the heart, and clearing the conscience (1 Timothy 1:5).
It might be instantaneous cleansing, or it may be a process of some duration, depending upon the nature of the sin debt and the progress of the believer’s spiritual growth. The ultimate evidence of such cleansing, is a pure heart, a clear conscience, and Godly love manifested in peace and joy, and other traits of the divine nature, of which all believers are partakers (2 Peter 1:4).
7. Unification of soul and spirit prepares the believer for wholehearted living. There are three aspects of this. The first deals with repentance, confession, and cleansing. The second deals with a steadfast constitution rooted in the motivational principle of love. The third deals with restoration of the believer’s fellowship with the indwelling Spirit, which, among other things, facilitates the filling of the soul, the renewing of the mind, the healing of the emotion, and the cleansing of the conscience.
8. Filling is to experience the entry, presence, ministry, and gifts of the Spirit within the soul. The Holy Spirit permanently indwells the spirit of the believer, while His filling of the soul is conditional on the believer’s soul being cleansed by, and united with, his spirit by love.
9. Healing applies to the soul of the heart, and is necessary because of sin debt (Psalm 41:4), faithlessness (Jeremiah 3:22), and spiritual sickness (Isaiah 6:10). Scripture assures us that God heals the brokenhearted (Proverbs 147:3).
10. Renewing specifically deals with the mind, but also with the emotion and will. Basically, it is the joint process of the believer and the indwelling Spirit of Christ to exchange lies in the soul of the believer for the truth. This is more than simply exchanging false information for true information. God’s truth is reality: When His truth is in you, the reality of that truth is in you; when you act upon that truth, its reality becomes experiential in your life.
A changing heart is a changing way of life
As we progress through the process of functionally changing our hearts, God mentors us through everyday living through His Spirit and by His grace.
God brings us into relationship with Himself through grace (salvific grace), desires to fellowship with us through grace (abiding grace), and wants to work with us to enable us to grow in grace (manifest grace).
God has endowed us with power, through the indwelling Spirit of Christ, to functionally “put on the new self”—to function and live out of a Christlike heart. Only when we do this can we live in grace—through love in action, or living out of loving “obedience from the heart” (Colossians 3:10-16; Romans 6:17). Through God’s grace we are automatically empowered to do this and in other ways to be obedient; however, the choice whether to obey or to disobey is rooted in whichever motivational principle we allow to control us—either love or sin.
Facing trials, tribulation,and suffering
The Whole-Hearted Christian anticipates trials, tribulation, and suffering in life—some of which is in the form of persecution because he is a Christian. He realizes that faith and holy living, while helping him avoid suffering from sinfulness, will not exempt him from suffering that which is common to all mortals or that which comes as persecution by the world. Rather, his faith, walk with Christ, and confidence in Christ in him gives him the strength, love, and self-discipline to face suffering. His faith overcomes fear because he understands trials, tribulation, and suffering from God’s perspective: They actually contribute to the development of Christlike character (see James 1), equip him for greater service, deepen his fellowship with Christ and other believers, and help prepare him for life in the next age.
Walking in the Spirit
Though the Whole-Hearted Christian might occasionally stumble, he quickly recovers by setting his heart right with God, resuming his walk in the Spirit, and demonstrating loving obedience from his heart.
This reunification and restoration process is a part of our spiritual growth. We set our hearts right with God when we functionally and behaviorally:
- put on the Lord Jesus Christ (Romans 13:14);
- set our heart and mind on things above (Colossians 3:1, 2, NIV);
- lay aside the old self and put on the new self (Ephesians 4:22-24);
- put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience (Colossians 3:12);
- act out of our love for Him, others, and ourselves
- repent of our sins and confess them to Him (Figure 4).
Figure 3: Loving God, our neighbors, and ourselves
Figure 4: Repenting and confessing our sins to God
Figure 5: Spirit-activated love
When the heart is united, the Holy Spirit can then minister the dynamics of God’s love in and through our soul (Figure 5) by:
- filling our soul with His gifts of truth and love (in their many forms of expression) (Romans 5:5; 1 Corinthians 13);
- cleansing our soul of certain sin-debt (1 John 1:8, 9);
- renewing our mind through truth (Romans 12:2);
- healing our damaged emotions through the above, coupled with His peace (John 14:27; Galatians 5:22), joy (John 15:11; Galatians 5:22), and other emotional traits;
- directing the will of our hearts into the steadfast (resolute) likeness of Christ (2 Thessalonians 3:5); and,
- bearing fruit for God. Jesus said: “By this is My Father glorified, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be My disciples. Just as the Father has loved Me, I have also loved you; abide in My love. If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love; just as I have kept My Father’s commandments, and abide in His love” (John 15:8-10).
In this way, our souls are constantly being “restored” (Psalm 23:3), and we experience the love-based fellowship that Jesus speaks of in the above passage of Scripture. This is whole-hearted living, and when we live this way, we experience the reality of Christ living His life in us and through us, and our living in Him and in His sufficiency. And this will prove that the commandments and promises of Jesus are fulfilled through our wholeheartedness: “‘And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these” (Mark 12:30,31).
A Changed Heart
A changed heart (along with a “new body”) is the consummation of our new creation which will be realized when Christ returns for us and transforms us into glory.
At that nearing time, sin will be no more, because Christ’s love will be perfected in us. And where there is absolute love, there is absolutely no sin.
I pray that this brief study will help you to:
- deepen your knowing Jesus and His love for you;
- deepen your love for Jesus by loving Him wholeheartedly—with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength;
- deepen your love for others; and,
- deepen your love for yourself.
You might also be interested in reading booklet No. 2 in Frank Allnutt's The Christian's New Heart Series, "The Whole-Hearted Christian."
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