If you have been a Christian for any length of time you have likely heard this verse quoted.
9 “The heart is deceitful above all things, And desperately wicked; Who can know it?” Jeremiah 17:9 (NKJV)
Tragically, this verse is rather popular in evangelical circles. I say tragically because we misapply it. Recently a Christian leader used this verse in a blog post to talk about how we could not trust our hearts. I commented on his post, thanked him for the other aspects, and suggested he rethink his understanding of heart based on what the New Testament (NT) teaches. I also provided support from scripture.
I say that because Jeremiah was writing and speaking to unregenerate individuals. To understand our hearts let’s look at the NT perspective instead.
8 So God, who knows the heart, acknowledged them by giving them the Holy Spirit, just as He did to us, 9 and made no distinction between us and them, purifying their hearts by faith. Acts 15:8-9 (NKJV)
5 For we do not preach ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord, and ourselves your bondservants for Jesus’ sake. 6 For it is the God who commanded light to shine out of darkness, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. 2 Corinthians 4:5-6 (NKJV)
33 “Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or else make the tree bad and its fruit bad; for a tree is known by its fruit. 34 Brood of vipers! How can you, being evil, speak good things? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. 35 A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good things, and an evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth evil things.” Matthew 12:33-35 (NKJV)
So, we can see in the NT that when we come to Jesus our hearts are purified. We also see that the place we are called to encounter Jesus is in our hearts. That is where we experience, “the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” Lastly we are to fellowship with Jesus in our hearts and bring forth from our heart good things, “A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good things.” That seems to be what Jesus modeled. He fellowshipped with His Father in His heart then released what came out of those encounters. You know, simple things like the Sermon on the Mount.
The important part in this is understanding how to encounter Jesus in our hearts. I am a big fan of reading the scriptures. It has been my daily practice for decades. However, that will not in and of itself lead me to encounter Jesus in an intimate way. In fact what if I don’t have or know the scriptures and am seeking intimacy with Jesus.
Imagine I am a Gentile living in AD 40. I don’t know the Hebrew Scriptures and I was converted under the preaching of Phillip while getting something for my master in the market, I am a slave after all. Now I need to develop an intimate relationship with Jesus. I can’t read my bible because I don’t have one, secondly, like most of the population I am illiterate. Oops, I can’t apply the 20th or 21st Century models of ‘pray and read your bible’ to get to know Jesus. I think that is why Paul told Timothy to pay attention to the public reading of scripture, it was the only way most Christians were going to hear any (1 Tim. 4:13).
There must be another way and there is. Jesus is dwelling in my heart and I can access His voice and presence there. I heard Phillip talk about Proverbs 14:33 (wisdom rests in the heart of him who has understanding). Not that Phillip provided chapter and verse, after all the scriptures didn’t have chapters and verses then. I also heard one of my fellow believers mention that Jesus had been made unto us wisdom (1 Cor. 1:30).
At my conversion I learned that He now lives in me so knowing that and these two ideas from scripture I begin to thank Jesus that He lives in my heart. When I awake I seek to get still and quiet and ask Him to speak to my heart. While working in the garden I seek to pay attention to His presence. I can’t weigh everything I sense on my own but I can practice corporate discernment with my fellow believers when I meet them in the market ((1 Cor. 14:26-33, 1 Thess. 5:19-21). Given I am a slave I don’t get a day off to attend a home fellowship so I have to embrace it where I find it. Over time I find myself becoming more conscious of Jesus in me and find myself exercising greater wisdom throughout the day (Rom. 8:14).
While the scenario I have painted is strange if we look at it from the perspective of our modern culture, I believe it was common in the first century AD. So here is my encouragement, reflect on this scenario, imagine yourself in it and practice encountering Jesus in your heart. Get quiet, focus on Him and see what happens to your intimacy with Him.
Next week back to 2 Peter 1 and looking at how we partake of Jesus.
NOTE – My point is not to minimize the importance of scripture. Down through the centuries many believers laid down their lives to preserve them. Rather I want to highlight that the scriptures are a means to intimacy with Jesus, not a substitute, and that down through the centuries many had to find a way to encounter Jesus without access to the scriptures in any meaningful way.