Interview with

Founder & Teacher,

Audio Transcript

Happy Monday, and welcome back to the podcast with us. We appreciate that you listen along each week. On this Monday, Pastor John, I want to look at Psalm 111. There we find a great promise for life: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Psalm 111:10). I suspect this is a line that a lot of us know well — we know by heart, likely. A lot of listeners have memorized this verse over the years. Many of us have underlined or highlighted it in our Bibles, tweeted it or shared it online at some point. I’ve seen it on coffee mugs and wall hangings. “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.”

But there’s a Christian Hedonist spin to this text I hadn’t noticed until I saw something you said about it a few years back. You quoted the text and then you said, “As so often in Scripture, what happens in the heart governs what happens in the mind.” So here, fear in the heart leads to wisdom in the mind. We so often approach things the other way around: from our head into our heart, getting things from our head into our heart. Explain how this works in the other direction — how our hearts govern what happens in our minds.

When I say that the heart governs the mind, I don’t mean that when our minds are renewed by the Holy Spirit, they can’t exert good influence upon our heart. I don’t mean to exclude that. They do. Renewed thinking helps renewed feeling. That’s true. All through the Bible, right knowing has the purpose of producing right feeling as well as right acting. We know God in order to love God.

Ten times in 1 Corinthians, Paul says, “Do you not know?” (1 Corinthians 3:16; 5:6; 6:2, 3, 9, 15, 16, 19; 9:13, 24) — with the implication, “If you knew rightly, then you’d think differently, feel differently, act differently about what you’re about to do.” And in 1 Thessalonians 4:5, Paul says to not give yourself over to “the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God,” implying that a right knowledge of God would have a subduing effect upon the passions of our heart. So, I’m not denying that God has given us renewed, Bible-formed reason as one way of shaping the emotions of our heart.

Power of the Heart

Where do I get the idea that it works the other way around as well — namely, that a heart whose desires go after evil will be blinded from seeing the truth about God in his ways and works, and a heart that desires to go after God and what is good will see the truth more easily? In other words, the condition of the heart and its desires have a huge effect on whether or not we will be able to see God and his ways and his works for what they really are.

Let me just give some Bible passages that point to this power of our hearts — our desires over our mind’s thoughts.

Darkened Love

In John 3:19, Jesus says, “This is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light.” They don’t come to the light. They reject the truth. They don’t embrace the truth with their minds. And the reason Jesus gives is not that they don’t have sufficient light or sufficient evidence or knowledge. The reason he gives is this: they love the darkness. Why don’t they see the light? Because they love the dark. It’s a love issue, right? It’s a heart issue. This is what I mean when I say the heart governs the mind. What the heart loves can blind the mind to the light, the truth.

Hardened Heart

Here’s the way Paul gets at the same thing. He describes the Gentiles who reject the gospel like this: “They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart” (Ephesians 4:18). He moves toward the bottom of our problem, passing through four layers. Where does it end? What’s at the bottom of our problem, our darkness?

He says darkened, alienated, ignorant, hard. The bottom of our problem is not ignorance. There’s something beneath ignorance that brings about culpable ignorance and holds us in the dark prison of ignorance — namely, hardness of heart. That’s not primarily an intellectual problem; that’s a desire problem. Hardness of heart is stiff-necked resistance to God because we love our independence from God. We hate the idea of being under absolute authority. We love our autonomy, our self-sufficiency, our self-direction, our self-exaltation. We bristle with hardness, stiffness against any suggestion of absolute dependence on another, especially God.

Paul says that the effect of this hardness of heart is ignorance and alienation and darkness. But the root issue is not intellectual. It’s a love issue. It’s a desire issue.

Bent Will

Or consider this amazing word from Jesus in John 7:17: “If anyone’s will is to do God’s will, he will know whether the teaching is from God or whether I am speaking on my own authority.” This is one of the clearest statements in the Bible that right-willing precedes and enables right-knowing.

“Since proud hardness of heart is the root problem, God-given humility is the remedy.”

I remember hearing that for the first time in a chapel message at Wheaton College. I think it was 1966. I remember thinking, “That’s amazing.” I remember walking out thinking, “That’s amazing that my willing has to be changed in order for me to know the truth.” It’s not just the other way around. My whole mindset was that it’s the other way around. Knowing will change my will. “I’ve got to know. I’ve got to know.” Well, actually, no. Right-willing will enable right-knowing.

It was two years later, Tony — it was two years until my first year in seminary, where all the pieces fell together, and I realized we have to be born again. We have to have a new will, a new heart. Something has to happen to us to change us from the inside so that we can know things the way we ought to know them, which means God is sovereignly in control over rescuing me from my sinful heart, my bent will. I cannot will myself out of willing the wrong thing. It’s not going to work. My will is bent by nature. It’s called original sin. I love the wrong things, and I need God to intervene to change my will so that I can know God rightly.

Gift of Humility

So, the lesson is: apart from God’s Spirit, all of us have sinful hearts that are prone to take our minds captive and make them produce arguments that justify the sinful behaviors that we love. That’s the kind of control I’m talking about. We are all prone to self-justification — all of us. I really, really want to do something that’s sinful, so my desires exert a powerful influence on my mind to create arguments that show me it’s not sinful; it’s okay. That’s the way it works. That’s the way it’s working all through our culture today.

And since proud hardness of heart is the root problem, God-given humility is the remedy. Psalm 25:9 says, “He leads the humble in what is right, and teaches the humble his way.” So, we ask God to break our hardness and replace our pride with humility, and in that way make it possible for us to see God — to see his ways and his works for what they really are. When God changes our hearts, then our hearts serve the mind rather than blinding the mind.