Belief Series: (Part 11) – The “Sense” of the Heart
The “Experience” of Heart Belief
Earlier we discovered that experiential belief is our recorded memory of what we believed to have happened in any given life experience. This belief information is void of emotion or understanding and is merely raw data typically received through one or more of our natural senses. Our experiential belief is static because it is the memory of our experience, and therefore impossible for us to alter or change. We believe what we remember because it is how we remember having experienced it. Even if someone was able to disprove what we believe actually happened, what we remember having happened cannot be changed. It is our memory.
Of course our memory of things can fade and even morph over time. However, these changes are not brought about by willful choice, but rather by other mental processes that occur apart from direct willful involvement.
Heart belief (or core belief, as it is also known in TPM) is intricately dependent upon experience as well. Heart belief is basically the interpretation of experiential belief and the assumptions and conclusions drawn from the life experience. Experiential belief (what we believe about what happened) is primarily acquired through our natural senses and a mental process, whereas heart belief is spiritual, in that it is believed with the heart or as the Apostle Paul referred to as the “spirit of the mind” (Eph. 4:23). We see the positive side of this in the Scriptures where it says, “… with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness…” (Rom. 10:10). This passage reveals that salvation depends upon heart belief, and not merely intellectual agreement with the truth. Even the devil agrees with the truth intellectually, but it avails him nothing (Ja. 2:19).
Heart belief supersedes our natural senses, as well as the logic and reasoning of our intellect. When we know the truth in our hearts, it becomes our “faith,” which enables us to look beyond what our physical eyes see and behold the “things not seen” (Heb. 11:2). Another positive outcome of heart belief is that we may come “…to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that [we] may be filled up to all the fullness of God” (Eph. 3:19).
Knowing the love of Christ with the heart goes beyond the limited intellectual understanding of the mind—it is truth believed with the heart. However, there is a downside to heart belief. In the same way that truth believed with the heart produces a pure faith, lies believed with the heart produces an impure faith. This is why the Scriptures talk about the refining of our faith.
Not All Heart Belief is Lie-based
Lie-based heart belief occurs in the context of experience and is formulated as an outcome of how we understood the experience. Our belief about what happened and why we believe it happened, is the basis for our interpretation, which is our heart belief.
When we were young, we may have had lies instilled into our minds by misguided or even evil people, and our hearts embraced those lies as “truth,” which became our lie-based heart beliefs. But not all of the heart beliefs that we acquired in those early years were lie-based. We may have had loving, spiritual people in our lives who God used to help us come to a true interpretation of our experiences, which resulted in heart beliefs that were based on God’s truth. Helping a child to establish a truth-based faith is the primary role of a godly parent.
In a similar manner, TPM helps us look to God for His truth in interpreting our experiences. When we are believing lies with our hearts, we can choose to identify and expose these lie-based beliefs, and look to Jesus to exchange our lies for His truth. In our encounter with Him, He will graciously give us His perspective and interpretation, replace the lies we believe with His truth, and bring about a lasting transformation in us that cannot ever be altered or changed. Like experiential belief that is static and sure, when the Spirit persuades us of His truth it becomes the “ASSURANCE of things hoped for and the CONVICTION of things not seen…” (Heb. 11:2).
The Source of the Interpretation Makes the Difference
For the most part, lie-based heart belief is established when we ourselves take what we experientially believe (what we believe happened) and couple this belief with our understanding of why we believe it happened (assumptions and conclusions), and then formulate an interpretation based upon the two.
Even when others speak lies into our ears and act in evil ways toward us when we are children, we still acquire and compile our own heart beliefs. Anything that we believe is our own belief even if it was initially given to us from others. To bring in a measure of grace here, in many cases truth is not available to us in the moment. Some children are raised in a lie-infested environment, and have no other option but to believe falsehood. God is aware of this and apparently allows it to happen. He is also readily available to give us His truth, for He is a “… rewarder to those who seek Him…” (Heb. 11:6).
The good news is that when the Holy Spirit grants us His interpretation of the experience we have misinterpreted, it changes our heart belief from lie-based to truth-based.
The Sense of the Heart
Just as we use our natural senses to receive information from the physical world, we are using a spiritual “sense” (of the heart) to perceive that which cannot be seen with our eyes. The Scriptures allude to this heart “sense” where it is written, “… we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” (2 Cor. 4:18 NIV). When God illuminates the truth, what we come to believe is spiritual. This “sense” of the heart is a spiritual discernment, not accomplished with any of the senses of our natural minds. It bypasses the intellect and is only experienced because God grants us the truth Himself.
Again, the Bible reveals the distinction between heart belief and intellectual knowledge when it says, “to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God …” (Eph. 3:19). Knowing the love of Christ, as described here, surpasses the natural mind and encounters the divine. Also notice that this is a prerequisite for being “… filled up to all the fullness of God.” I am not sure anyone knows exactly what this means (other than Paul), but it was something that Paul wanted his readers to experience, and I believe it is God’s desire for us as well.
When we come to believe a truth with the heart, we are using a spiritual “sense” to understand it. When I know the truth through my spiritual sense, it becomes my core belief and finds permanent residence in me. Similar to the experiential beliefs (that which we believe to be true in memory), we acquired through our natural senses, what we believe with the heart is also fixed and steadfast and impossible to change. The only exception to this is where there is supplied an intervention from someone whom we trust and who holds an authority of knowledge that is greater than our own —the Spirit Himself. Once we believe something with the heart we cannot ourselves ever “unbelieve” it.
This spiritual sense is sometimes understood as discernment, or spiritual illumination of the truth. A.W. Tozer referenced this reality when he said, “The teaching of the New Testament is that God and spiritual things can be known finally only by a direct work of God within the soul…pure understanding of God must be by personal spiritual awareness. The Holy Spirit is indispensable” (from “That Incredible Christian,” an essay of A.W. Tozer).
When we try to understand spiritual things with our natural mind, we will always come up short. Truth-based heart belief is totally a work of God’s Spirit granting us the truth as He opens the “eyes of our hearts” to see what our natural eyes cannot see. The necessity of God doing this is stressed in the prayer that the Apostle Paul prayed: ” [may the] God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory,… give to you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of Him. I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you will know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints…” (Eph. 1:17-18). Unless God grants us these things, we cannot believe them with our hearts.
It takes “real eyes” to ever realize
The Scripture alludes to this “sense” of the heart in the passage that says, “a natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Cor. 2:14 ESV).
The reason that the “natural person” described in this passage views the things of the spirit as “folly” is because he is attempting to comprehend them using his natural eyes and mind. The “eyes of his heart” are closed and he is (Eph. 2:1) “… being darkened in [his] understanding, excluded from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in [him], because of the hardness of [his] heart…” (Eph. 4:18). For the natural man, his natural eyes will always see and come up with a lie-based conclusion. Unless God opens the eyes of his heart, he will not know the truth beyond his intellect.
This is described in another passage where it says, “… while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal.” (2 Cor. 4:18) What are being “seen” in this passage are not things beheld with our physical eyes but, nonetheless, still perceived, known and experienced. So then, what we come to believe with the heart is experiential, and as fixed and certain as that which we perceive through our natural senses. The natural man is trying to look at what is “real” or eternal, with natural eyes that are not designed to see what is “real.” Natural eyes can only see that which is temporal.
So then, in similar fashion as experiential belief that came through our five natural senses, is fixed and established, so to, what we believe with the heart “sense” is experiential and as fixed and certain. Just as no one can talk us out of what we experientially believe, no one can talk us out of what we believe with our hearts. Only God can open the eyes of our heart and shine His light of truth and displace the lies we believe.
There is a well known praise song based upon the Apostle Paul’s words titled, “Open the Eyes of my Heart.” In similar fashion that our natural eyes take in light that is interpreted with our mind to be sight, we need the light of Christ to shine in through the eyes of our heart so that we may know the truth. As the Scriptures declare, “[God] made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ.” (2 Cor. 4:6)
We may try to open our own eyes, but we will not succeed. The light itself as well as the opening of our eyes are both a work of God. In a sense we need our “real eyes” of the heart opened before we can realize the truth.
In other articles we will explore how heart-belief and faith are the same. When we know something in our hearts, it becomes our faith; we know it with absolute certainty. A pure faith comes about when God persuades us of the truth within our hearts. It was through heart belief that we initially believed, resulting in our salvation (Rom. 10:10). What we come to believe in our hearts cannot ever be moved or changed apart from God’s intervention. The good news is this: when we know the truth with our hearts, it becomes the “… assurance of things hoped for and the conviction of things not seen” (Heb. 1:2), which is our faith.