Belief Series: (Part 6) – Heart Belief (Core Belief)
Believing Beyond the Intellect with the Heart
It is impossible for us to understand how the spirit, heart or the mind of man are related, or where one picks up and the other leaves off. For the purposes of this discussion we will leave this debate for a different context and setting. Nevertheless, we function in this world physically, intellectually, and spiritually. In this context of the complexity of how God has designed us to operate, we are discussing what we have defined as Experiential Belief, Intellectual Belief and Heart belief.
We will now turn our attention to the primary form of belief addressed in the context TPM, that happens to be the seat of our emotions, how we interpret life and the basis for our faith; = or Heart Belief.
The Apostle Paul made the distinction between intellectual belief and heart belief when he said, “…to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God” (Eph. 3:19 emphasis is mine). We can intellectually know about the love of Christ and be impressed, amazed and enamored with this knowledge. However, when we KNOW it with our hearts, we will be transformed by it. To KNOW it with the heart will bring about our being “filled up with the fullness of God.” Paul has made it clear that this knowing goes beyond the intellect, thus, superseding knowledge. This leaves only one other faculty we possess through which we can believe something; our hearts.
Heart belief is the outcome of the Spirit persuading us of the truth within our hearts, resulting in us believing it with absolute certainty. Our heart belief is the essence of our faith.
Heart belief is only accomplished when the Spirit Himself persuades us of the truth. It is not something that we initiate or bring about as with intellectual belief. I can choose to open the Bible and read and learn and grow in intellectual knowledge. However, I cannot cause the truths that I read to become heart belief unless the Spirit “opens the eyes of my heart” and illuminates it (Eph. 1:17-18). This is faith —believing with the heart with absolute certainty. It is the Spirit Himself persuading us of the truth.
Believing something with the heart is not a choice we make or an effort we perform. Heart belief is solely accomplished by God. This says much about our salvation since it is “…with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness…” (Rom. 10:10). God 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 Cor 4:6). When God persuades our hearts of the truth we believe. Once we believe it becomes our faith. When we walk in faith we are walking in the truth that we believe in our hearts. Faith is not something that we do, but rather what we possess. God has granted to each of us a “measure of faith…” (Rom. 12:3).
Heart belief is established from the interpretation that we give to our experiential belief (what happened in our life event that is now memory content) and our explanation for why we believe that it happened, which are our assumptions and conclusions. Heart belief is formed or derived from these other two forms of belief. Because of what I remember and believe happened, I drew my assumptions and conclusions and thereby, came to believe what I believe in my heart.
Heart belief differs from all other beliefs in that, all other belief is intellectually established and believed with the mind, whereas, heart-belief it is believed with the heart. There is no question that heart belief is also processed within the mind as all belief is, but it is believed with the heart. I cannot say with any certainty where the mind leaves off and the heart begins, but there is a distinction in how we believe things; intellectually and with the heart. We can believe the exact same information with both our intellect and our heart. However, it is whether we believe it in our heart or not that determines whether it transforms our lives. I believe that the Apostle Paul was making this distinction between intellect and heart belief when he encouraged us to “…be renewed in the spirit of your mind…” (Eph 4:23). He could have just said be renewed in your mind, but he clearly referred to something more deeper when he said “spirit of your mind.”
Belief of the intellect and of the heart have different outcomes. I can believe intellectually that Jesus died on the cross for my sins and still spend eternity separated from God. However, when I believe this same truth in my heart, I am born again, made a new creation, my sins are forgiven, I am made right with God, and I receive the gift of eternal life. Big difference.
We know that pertaining to salvation, righteousness comes when we believe with our hearts as opposed to intellectual assent (Rom. 10:10). We also know that the demons believe intellectually about God and “shudder.” (James 2:19) Before a person comes to Christ and enters into faith, he is dead to God in his spirit man and separated from true life. The Scriptures describe his condition as, “… darkened in their understanding, excluded from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the hardness of their heart…” (Eph. 4:18). His propensity is toward sin and he holds hostility toward God and His truth (Rom. 8:7). Even though his spirit man is alive in the natural earthly world in which he lives, and he can sense things with his natural senses, he cannot know the truth of God in his heart because he is dead to God. The eyes of his heart have not yet been opened so he cannot see the truth.
Nevertheless, he can believe some things with his heart. He just cannot receive the light of Christ with his heart so he remains “darkened in his understanding…”. He can believe some things with his heart such as lies about himself (self-identity) and about his condition (state of being.) This he will do as he walks through life. So even though he is dead to God and unable to know the truth in his heart, he can still use his heart to believe. Since this is so, heart belief can be truth or it can be a lie. Heart belief is our faith and much of our faith/heart belief needs to be refined and made pure. This is the work that God is doing in every believer. However, much of our lie-based heart belief was established before our salvation and not based upon the truth.
For example: John’s mother left him at his grandparents’ house for weeks at a time and only visited occasionally with little to no affection expressed toward him (experiential belief—what happened). He believed that she did not love him and that she saw him as more trouble than he was worth (assumption and conclusion). Therefore, because of this, John believed he was worthless (heart belief). John used his natural senses to experience his mother’s behavior. He used his intellectual belief and reasoning to conclude that she did what she did because she did not love him and that he was a bother, However, it was with his heart that he interpreted all of the above as a statement of his self-identity—“I am worthless.”
From the vantage point of our hearts, we come to believe something about ourselves self-identity belief (how we view ourselves) or our state of being (how we view God). This becomes our heart belief. Once we establish a heart belief it becomes fixed and permanent, much like our experiential belief. From its inception forward, it is the lens through which we interpret each new event that is in some way similar. It appears that around the age of twelve we cease formulating new heart belief (except for rare occasions) and simply use what we hold, as the frame of reference for each new life experience. Apart from God’s intervention, our heart belief will remain relatively unchanged throughout life.
If I am rejected by my school mates and not allowed to play with them (experiential belief), I may conclude that they hate me and think that I am a loser (assumption/conclusion). Therefore, my interpretation of this is that I am somehow defective and there is something wrong with me (heart-belief). Because of my heart belief, I feel alone, rejected and deeply saddened. Twenty-five years later I am passed over for a promotion at my workplace. When this occurs I feel rejected and that I am a loser. I feel all alone and deeply saddened. My original heart belief is the lens through which I interpret my current situation.
We do not interpret or ascribe meaning to everything that happens throughout our lives. Some of it is just the facts—that is, what we believe are facts—of what happened. We don’t have assumptions and conclusions or heart beliefs associated with all the life experiences in our memory. More often than not, we simply remember what we perceived to have happened and typically ascribe little or no meaning to it. We may go to the store and buy some bread and cheese, and while we may remember making the purchase, probably will not ascribe any meaning to the event.
“I believe it because I was there!”
For example, I experientially believe (remember) that I was physically abused at the hands of a misguided teacher at the Granbury elementary school in 1963. You might ask, “Why would you believe that?” First, I would tell you what I remember about what happened, which is the first component of establishing a belief.
I could tell you that when I was in the fifth grade, I was accused by a teacher of doing something that I did not do. I was manhandled down to the school office where a school official proceeded to administer a very severe beating. I remember the accusing teacher looking on with approval and what appeared to be satisfaction as I was beaten. I remember not being allowed to plead my case or give any defense. I remember being forced to hold my ankles, enduring being struck five times and feeling intense, overwhelming pain. I remember begging him to stop and believing that it would never end. I remember looking in the mirror later that night, seeing the deep purple bruising, and passing blood in my urine for several days afterwards. What I remember happening is the memory content of that experience, or what I believe happened. This belief is experiential because it is what I remember being my experience.
I also remember what I believed about why it all happened and why I felt the way I did. These beliefs were my assumptions and conclusions. I remember thinking, “they are deliberately mistreating me because they do not like me. They think I am a bad kid and they are not interested in what the truth is.” This thinking was my assumptions and conclusions as to why the teacher accused me and why the school official hurt me as he did.
What I remember having happened and the assumptions and conclusions that I came to, provided the content for my interpretation which became my heart belief. In this context, I came to embrace and believe several lie-based heart beliefs. I came to believe that I was powerless, trapped, and out of control; that there was something innately wrong with me; and that I was bad and unlovable. Once these beliefs were established in my heart, they became the lenses through which I interpreted many different life events that followed.
A similar example occurred in Jim’s ministry session where he remembered a time when he was a small child and his drunken father, in a fit of rage, threw him down a flight of stairs, almost killing him. He also recalled how his father berated him in that moment, calling him stupid, a bother and a worthless piece of trash. Jim came to the conclusion that the reason his father did this to him was because his father hated him and nothing that he did for his father was ever good enough (assumption and conclusion).
The assumptions and conclusions Jim came to believe are not his lie-based heart belief. They are intellectual beliefs that explain why he believes that the event happened and why he feels what he feels. When Jim remembers these things he feels painful emotion, but not because of his memories nor his assumptions and conclusions. The bad feelings are flowing from the heart belief that Jim embraced at the time of the experience, which became his current lie-based heart belief. Jim feels today what he believes today. His feelings are not flowing from his memory, but from his current heart belief: “Dad threw me down the stairs (experiential belief) because he thought I was worthless (assumption or conclusion), therefore this means that I am worthless (heart belief).” His heart belief “I am worthless” is the root of his pain.
Heart belief supersedes and overrides intellectual belief.
“…to know the love of Christ that supersedes knowledge…”
We use what we believe intellectually to navigate through life, but we interpret life through our heart belief. I can use my intellectual belief to get me to the coffee shop, read the menu, place my order and calculate the tip. However, as I am making decisions all day long based upon the intellectual beliefs I possess, my heart belief can and will override my intellectual belief when an interpretation is needed in any given moment.
Even when my heart belief is completely contrary to the logical and rational intellectual belief that is clearly better suited for the situation at hand, my heart belief will almost always win out. On the rare occasions where we are able to resist the emotional pull and demand of our heart belief and are able to choose to do what is logical and rational, our doing so will not be without much struggle and resistance.
Whatever we believe as heart belief will win out, at least emotionally. I can experientially be taught by my teacher that the Bible says that God loves me. The outcome of this teaching may be that I can quote John 3:16, “For God so loved the world…” This Bible verse becomes a part of my intellectual belief. However, if I harbor lie-based core beliefs that say, “I am not lovable, I am worthless, I am defective,” then these lie-based heart beliefs will feel true, even when I intellectually know better. I may be able to push through the bad feelings and do the right thing, but this is not what God desires for me. There is a better way.
Unfortunately, this describes the struggle many of us deal with each day in trying to live the Christian life. We know what we want to do, but we keep finding ourselves doing the opposite. Our lie-based heart belief is at the heart of the struggle that we often experience. We blame our struggle on the flesh, our life circumstance, or even suffering for Jesus, but our heart belief is still at the root of all we do.
We access our heart belief over and over again every day, even though for the most part it goes unacknowledged. Other than feeling a twinge of anxiety, stress, worry, fear, discontent, shame, fatigue, being out of control, bored, or feeling purposeless, etc., we rarely take pause to identify it or address it. When these feelings stir up we typically do not think of “heart belief” and opportunity for mind renewal, but rather automatically look for a way to escape what we feel or make an excuse for it. Or we default to the usual excuse by saying, “I’m just having a bad day.” What was described as a “bad day” was actually an opportunity missed that we could have participated in what God was doing to refine our faith, renew our minds, and transform our lives.
The influence upon us of the lies we believe in our hearts is not affected by suppressing our feelings or distracting ourselves from what we feel. We may suppress our feelings, but our lies will continue to have an impact on us. When we become attentive and take ownership of what we feel, we take the first step toward freedom.
Ride the Elevator or Take the Stairs
A man standing in front of an elevator uses his intellectual belief to press the button and wait for the green light. Because he knows with his intellect how the elevator works, he anticipates the door will open shortly. When the doors open, and he suddenly feels anxious and fearful, he will probably hesitate. This is due to the fact that his lie-based heart belief is overriding his intellectual belief. Intellectually he knows that the elevator is probably safe; others have been riding it all day and it is a reliable and practical way to get to the 15th floor. However, the subtle underlying anxiety or “unexplainable” fear that stirs inside him causes him to reconsider taking the ride. Without further introspection, he decides to take the stairs. Then without any conscious effort, his intellectual belief provides him with an explanation for his irrational decision not to go into the elevator: “I need the exercise. I think I will take the stairs.”
What just happened here was an example of a lie-based heart belief overriding an intellectual belief. In that moment he will probably not consciously remember the time his mother punished him by putting him in a small dark closet all day. He probably will not remember how he believed that he was going to die in that tight space from the lack of fresh air. Standing in front of the elevator, these deeper thoughts are resisted and suppressed, but their emotionally influential power is engaged. His intellectual belief about the safeness of elevators will probably not be enough to override the fear he feels about walking through the door. If he were to succeed in pushing through the fear and getting on the elevator, he may have a panic attack. The irrational yet experiential heart belief that says something like, “If you go into that small space you will die,” overrides all intellectual logic and reason. In order to obey the fear and anxiety there is a need for an intelligent rationale, thus, “I need the exercise. I think I will take the stairs.”
So taking the stairs and getting some exercise provides a logical explanation for the irrational decision he has made. Taking the stairs is his solution to his lie-based heart belief, “If I go in there I will die.” His intellectual belief rescues him from having to make any sense out of the decision he made because of the fear he feels in the moment. Later we will discover how this was an example of a solution belief.
We all have “elevator” experiences everyday.
We will soon discover that each of us have these “elevator” experiences everyday. We are probably not conscious of this deeper thinking, but nonetheless, it is present and dictating much of what we do all day long. However, we may be conscious of how some things make us feel even though we are unaware of the belief producing the emotions. For example, we may not like how we feel when sitting in the middle of the room and prefer the chair near the door. Or, we may not feel comfortable meeting new people or being in some social settings. We may not like the way we feel when people get in our “space” or our spouse approaches us for sexual intimacy. The possibilities are limitless and prevalent with all of us.
We will later learn about what we refer to as “triggers” and how to become more self aware and introspective so that we might be more cooperative with what God is doing in exposing our lie-based heart beliefs and with Him renewing the spirit of our minds.
Truth-based Heart Belief is Pure Faith that Transforms Us
Lie-based heart belief is always established in the context of life experience. The experience itself (what actually happened in the life experience) is not what impacts my life emotionally, but rather the interpretation I ascribed to what I believed happened (experiential belief/memory content) and why I believe it happened (assumptions and conclusions). It is not what happened to me that changes me, but rather my understanding and interpretation of it, how I interpreted what occurred as well as what I believe to be the reason the event happened. My interpretation of all of this is the source of my lie-based heart belief.
We know that experiential belief (what we remember having occurred) typically enters into our natural minds through our five senses. Our lie-based heart belief is established after we receive this information and form assumptions/conclusions about why we believe it happened.
As we are able to identify the lies we believe and offer them up to the Lord for His perspective, He will in turn persuades us of His truth replacing our lie-based heart belief with His truth. This is in essence a spiritual “sense” or seeing with the “eyes of our heart.” Once I am persuaded, this truth becomes fixed and steadfast; “the assurance of things hoped for and the conviction of things not seen” (Heb. 11:1) As He renews the “spirit of our mind” with His truth we will be transformed by it. This is what the Apostle Paul was saying when he wrote, “…be transformed by the renewing of your mind…” (Rom. 12:2)
All experiential belief is sure and steadfast and not easily moved. I know without any doubt (with “assurance and conviction”) that I had coffee and donuts this morning. When I believe the truth of God with this level of assurance, it becomes my faith. When I know the truth that God gives within my heart it becomes the “assurance of things hoped for and the conviction of things not seen…” (Heb. 11:1)
Once I believe the truth with my heart, walking in it is easy and without struggle. In the same way that I do not have to continually remind myself of the fact that I had coffee at the coffee shop this morning (because it was my experience), I need not remind myself of God’s truth when I know it experientially in my heart. A pure faith is acquired by the truth entering my heart through the illumination of the Holy Spirit.