A Guide to Spiritual Formation - Lesson 3

Why We Sin When We Know So Much (pt 1)

What is in our heart determines how we act. There is more going on in our heart than what shows on the surface. In our hidden heart, we often have negative beliefs and desires that affect our actions.

John Coe
A Guide to Spiritual Formation
Lesson 3
Watching Now
Why We Sin When We Know So Much (pt 1)

A. Introduction

1. Ephesians 4:22

2. Start notes

3. The Problem

B. The Christian faith is foremost about the heart

1. "Heart" is used for the real or core person.

2. The heart directs our life. What is in the heart determines our whole of life.

3. Principles

C. Why is the heart so impregnable and slow to change?

D. Things to know about a biblical understanding of the hidden heart

1. There is always more going on in the hidden heart than what is on the surface.

2. The degree to which we have a hidden heart of negative beliefs and desires that have not been dealt with is the degree to which we are

not in control of that material and it can control us.

  • We become moralists when we try to do good things in order to please God and relieve our guilt.
  • Parenting by guilt and shame encourages a child to do good to avoid consequences and cover their bad, rather than pursuing a relationship with God in order to let Him change their motives by transforming them from the inside.

  • What is in our heart determines how we act. There is more going on in our heart than what shows on the surface. In our hidden heart, we often have negative beliefs and desires that affect our actions.

  • When we sin, it's often the result of sin in our heart that has deep relational and historical roots. God wants us to pursue Him so he can transform us from the inside.

  • When we choose to become committed followers of Christ, we are one spirit with Him, but we still experience times when God seems distant. Sometimes this is a result of going through a developmental stage in our spiritual growth. God gives us the "bottle" of consolation. At first, we seek God in order to get pleasure. God's goal is to make our heart His home. The next stage is the love of God for love's sake.

  • The point of the dark night is to cure us of wanting God on our terms. It is an intensified movement of the indwelling spirit to fill us, rather than to just give us consoling love. When we experience dry times, God is showing us where our treasure really is and is calling us to a journey of the soul. It will often feel more psychological than spiritual.

  • God wants us to move from the love of God for love's sake to the love of God for God's sake. Our training in virtue and character helps us lead a life that is beneficial to ourselves and others. God wants us to rely on the Spirit, not just patterns of behavior we have learned. God sometimes uses the experience of dark nights to help purge us of our virtues as well as our vices.

  • In a dark night experience, we realize that even though we have good character, we are more filled with ourselves than we are with God. God may be more present to us when he seems absent than when he seems present. It is often helpful to have a mentor to walk with us through dark nights.

  • It is important to do spiritual disciplines from the heart in the Spirit. The Christian life is what you do when you realize you can do nothing. In discussing spiritual disciplines, it is helpful to emphasize the importance of how we hear the commands of God.  It is not in our power to change ourselves, but we can choose to practice spiritual regimens and rhythms that help us open up to what God wants to do. Spiritual intentions are how we respond to the Word of God.

  • How do I listen to God's voice? What do I do when I walk away from reading the Word or hearing a sermon? The prayer of recollection is to remind me of who I am in Christ so when I hear the Word, I am open to Him. It's also to help focus my thoughts by detaching from false identities and attaching to my true identity. Lectio divina brings together the commands to "be filled with the Spirit" and "let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly."

The Christian life is not fundamentally about being a moral person, obeying a set of principles, or doing spiritual disciplines. The Christian life is about opening our heart to a relationship with the living God. As we depend on the indwelling Spirit and experience abiding in Christ, we will learn an obedience that comes without the burden of guilt and shame.


Review from Last Week

You know what I’d like you to do. I’d like you to take your hymnal. Just as a reminder of what we did last week. Turn to hymn 493. I was thinking of this, in light of what I spoke about and I thought I would read this. It’s the hymn, It Is Well with My Soul. I want to read stanza three. And then we’ll sing it. He says, “My sin,” and then a parenthetical thought, “My sin, oh, the bliss of this glorious thought! My sin, not in part, but the whole, is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more, Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul.”

As I read those words, if those words warmed your heart, that’s wonderful. As I read those words, if your heart wasn’t warmed, if you were just, you know, wandering or whatever, you know something? - And this will be next week - that’s cool, too, because that means the Spirit is inviting you to a deep conversation about it. Well, let’s actually sing this together. The third verse and the chorus.

My sin, oh, the bliss of this glorious thought!

My sin, not in part but the whole,

Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more,

Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!

It is well, with my soul,

It is well, it is well, with my soul.

I want to read two statements that were sent actually to Doug this last week and he forwarded to me. One is a quote from Dietrich Bonhoeffer in a book called Spiritual Care. He was a pastor in World War II in Germany, and he said this, “Spiritual care does not want to bring about competence, build character, or produce certain types of persons. Instead, spiritual care uncovers sin and creates hearers of the gospel.” 

That really does get into the heart of it. There is a hyperbole there. There is almost an overstatement. But last week, there was almost an overstatement in what I was saying as well. But that really gives at the heart of what we were talking about last week. That Christianity most fundamentally, not only in evangelism, but once we go on in the faith it is about the capacity to open to the truth of ourselves, the neediness, and open to what Christ has done.  

And then this person sent a quote from Eugene Peterson, he’s a contemporary writer, and he says that, “In the Christian life, our primary task isn’t to avoid sin, which is impossible anyway, but it’s to recognize sin.” And I’m going to be talking about that tonight. I want us to ponder not to waste our life trying to say, “Self, don’t sin. Self, don’t sin. Self, don’t sin.” But rather to be open to what God wants to show us and the truth of our self.

And so, last week what we talked about and that is going to be a kind of foundation tonight, it was that Christ had taken away our guilt, that Christ has pardoned us and that now I’m totally acceptable to him. And so, if that is the case, I just want to declare it with my lips even though my heart might be different at times, but I want to at least declare with my lips: “I don’t want to do for myself what Christ has done for me. I don’t want to do what he’s done. He has taken away my shame. He has taken away my guilt.” 

And so as I said last time, I don’t want to be a good boy in the power of my self. I don’t want to spend my whole life trying to generate being acceptable to you or to others. He already accepts me in the Beloved. I’m already covered with his righteousness. And so as we said last time, I don’t want to spend my life trying to cover myself or hide. I want to come out into the open.

But having said that, I remember reading the children’s book The Velveteen Rabbit, I also want to become real. I want to become a real person and for a believer to become real is, to become actually in my life, in my experience, what I already am in Christ. And so, everything I said last week doesn’t conflict with all the commands of God that we see. The Scriptures are loaded with commands and what those are, those are my Father’s desires for me.

When I see a command it doesn’t come with condemnation. The command is: “My son, this is what I desire for you. I desire you now, my child, on the basis of what my Son did. I desire you to come into the open and enter, begin to enter experientially into all that I am. All that I have become in Christ. And my son, I want you to become like my son Jesus. But you’re going to have to become like Jesus from the inside out. And I want more deeply to abide with you and you with me. 

Now, but there’s something that gets in the way. And this is what we will talk about tonight. There’s something that is a little messy in your heart. The truth is God has made his home in your heart and that is where all the action is, but there’s a little mess inside. We call it sin. Last time, right, I called it crap.

Now, this week I met with Pastor Dale. We had a good time together. Now, why are you laughing at that? And as I was coming to, you know I was sitting in the waiting room and I was coming to the door and the first thing he said, “Hey John, let’s get together and talk about our crap.” And I was like, “Yeah. Yeah. That’s what I’m about.” And then somebody raised an eyebrow in the waiting room, “Wha, Wha,What?” “Oh yeah, this is a new Greek terms we’re going to use.” Yes, it’s Crapology. We, we’re going to make a Greek word out of this. That’s right. Yeah. Something like, ho crapomai. There’s a Greek ending. It’s crapomai, right? 

A. Introduction

What we’re going to see tonight is the flesh residue. I’m in Christ, but there’s this flesh residue. There’s this stuff. That’s the psychologist word: stuff. And it gets in the way. It’s, in fact, what’s to be transformed. And I want to look at that stuff tonight.

I’d like you to turn for a moment - this is just kind of by way of introduction – turn to Ephesians 4. Ephesians 4. We’ll read in verse 22. And as you’re turning there, I want you to bow with me and I want us to talk to the Lord about something.

Father, as we are to hear your Word, we open our heart to you.

What I’d like you to do while you’re bowing your head - I’d like you to ask the Lord to show you two sin habits of your life. I don’t want you to confess them or do anything with them. Just ask the Lord, “Lord, show me two sins that seem to be playing around in my heart and just let me talk with you about them. To see how large they are. To see what they do in my life.” I want you to just take a minute and ask the Lord to raise that. He accepts you. He already knows this.

Father open our hearts as we hear your Word. In the name of the Son. Amen.

Let’s start reading in Ephesians 4:22. We’ll just kind of pick it up right in  the conversation. And he says this, that “in reference to your former manner of life, you lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts [and the word in the Greek literally is desires] with the desires of deceit, and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and put on the new self, which is in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth.” [Ephesians 4:22-24, NASB]

According to Paul, we are now a new creature in Christ Jesus. In our theology there is not two men or two kinds of persons inside of you: the old man and the new man. And they’re wrestling. We don’t have time to kind of go through this, but we are now a new creature in Christ. Something happened at the core in our life. At the very core, the Spirit has now joined himself and I’m a new creature. 

And what Paul is saying in this text is, what I want you to do is on that basis, on the basis of what Christ has done for you, I want you now to put on Christ. Now, that’s what I’m going to talk about the fourth or fifth time. What is it to put on Christ and to do it in such a way that I’m not trying to be a good girl? I’m not going to cover myself or hide. What would that look like?

But he also says here that there is this what we might call the old man residue. It’s this old man residue. It’s the flesh. Paul calls it the flesh. And the flesh is the weakness of humanness apart from the Spirit of God. It’s your former manner of life. It’s your virtues. It’s your vices. And Paul wants to say this – and this is central for tonight - that no amount of putting on the new man. No amount of trying to imitate Christ, to develop good virtues as a Christian, is going to do all the work of transformation, because the truth is - as he says here – he wants us to put off the old self that, in reference to the former manner of life. 

And the former manner of life, I don’t care whether you were converted at six or 36, your former manner of life is all those vices and the life that you lived apart from dependence on the Spirit. So whatever that whole ball is, Paul wants to say that you must put off, because that right now is being corrupted in accordance with the desires of deceit.

So if I think of a diagram here. Let’s say this is the heart and here at the very core, at the very core I am a new creature now. At the very core of myself and what has happened is. And this is true of all us. I’ve been a Christian for 31 years, and this has happened I’m sure to you as well, that you have now developed many new virtues in the Christian life. These are positive places in our life that have been growing. However, Paul wants to say this. Yes, I want you put on Christ. I want you to develop these new places in the heart, places of love and kindness and showing mercy.

But he says also that there are other pockets in our hearts. Some big, some not so big. These are the former manner of life. The FML. These are the sin habit structures. For some these might be worry. They might be excess fear, excess anger, envy, jealousy. These are little pockets. In fact, if I was to follow each of you around for about a week and a half I would discover. In fact, all you have to do if you’re married is ask. Just ask your spouse. They’ll let you know. No problem. But if I was to follow you around we would discover these little pockets. 

And Paul would call these the former manner of life or the flesh. In this context he also calls it the old man. The old man, this is not, again, a whole self in there fighting with another self. But this is residue from the former manner of life and Paul wants to say this: No amount of putting on the new will deal with those pockets of the former manner of life. That unless I join myself with the Holy Spirit they are not, and look at this, they will not go away. They do not go away on their own. 

In fact, Paul tell us that we have to intentionally put them off because right now, right while you’re sitting there, they are still being corrupted in accordance to the desires of deceit. And so no matter how much I begin to do in my life to put on, these things are going to continue to hound my life. And don’t we find this exactly true?

I’ve been married to my wife. We’re actually, next Wednesday, we will have been married 31 years. Now Greta has seen John changed a fair amount in these 31 years. But all you’ve got to do is ask Greta, “Greta, can you tell me about John’s sin life?” She is an expert on my sin life. And, of course, I can return the favor. I’m an expert on her sin life. I have seen the same sins. And you might have found in your own life that, although change has occurred, since I came to the Lord at 19, I have seen for these 33 years. I have seen some of the same old sins with different little faces continuing to pop up, continuing to pop up. 

At some times in my life, “God, why doesn’t that go away? What is going on?” And then we might even find ourselves sometimes hiding from him. You know, you maybe have a person at work that you are jealous of or envious of. And how many of us like to say, “Oh. There’s envy. Good. Let’s think about envy all day.” We see the person walking by. Envy comes out. We stuff it back. Then we talk to somebody else. Then that person walks by again. Right back in. It’s not going anywhere. 

In fact, here’s what sin does, Paul says in the Christian life. Sin has to do with these desires of deceit. Our tendency is to deceive ourselves and others about the sin. And Paul wants to say, unless you’re going to do something rather aggressively, rather intentionally, it’s not going away. It’s going to get bigger. It’s going to get bigger because right now, he says, these old sins in our lives are still being corrupted by the desires of deceit.

So I want to talk about what does this process look like? This putting off. The last weeks I’ll talk about putting on. But what does this putting off look like and why isn’t it easy? So now I’m in the notes, so if you want to, you can - You can look at your notes. And so, I’ll just read.

Why is spiritual change sometimes so difficult and so slow? How is it that a believer can know so much truth and desire the good, and yet so deeply struggle with sin, with being loving, with being obedient? 

Why doesn’t the former manner of life just go away? Why don’t we change more quickly? You know, wouldn’t it be cool – those of you who especially work in counseling or teaching - somebody comes to you and says, “You know, Pastor Doug, I am really struggling with my prayer life. I don’t now what’s wrong.” Wouldn’t it be cool if could just, you know, get out, you know, 1 Thessalonians, “Well, brother, the Scriptures say pray without ceasing.” “Oh my gosh. Whoa. I want to pray without ceasing now. That’s it. I’m changed.” 

Or, wouldn’t it be cool if you’re sitting in a counseling session. Person across from you says, “You know, I just don’t - I’m really have struggles loving my wife as Christ loved the church. And I say, “Well, you know, gosh the Scriptures say, you know, you’re to love your wife as Christ loved the church.” “Oh wow. That’s it. Whoa. I’m changed.” That would be amazing.

You know what I find interesting about my own life and the people I’m around? It’s that most people that I am around do not intend to sin. Now just think about that. Now, I’m not talking about someone who has just walked away from the Lord. I’m talking about people right here, dedicated folk, people that I work with at Talbot, Biola. Most of them do not walk around saying, “You know something?” They don’t get up in the morning saying, “I’m going to sin today. I’m going to sin big. You know, last night, my wife, she bugged me to no end. I’m going to have a quiet time today of how I can return that favor with anger.” 

Most of you don’t wake up in the morning and say, “You know, today I’m – I’m going to be jealous all day. Today I want to be envious. Today I want to have excess anger.” I don’t know of any. Now if you do, the Bible Counseling Center, that’s a real … there’s something there. 

But, what I’m interested is that most of your sins are not ones that you’ve premeditated, thought to do. You do not intend to do them, and yet we sin. Well, the ancient theologians and even philosophers, pagans, thought about this question. They thought about how could it be that somebody knows what is the good thing to do and then can’t do it? 

And so, from Aristotle, Plato, these pagans, to Augustine, Calvin, Luther, they all thought of this issue because they thought it plagued the Christian life. And so they developed. It started with Aristotle, even a pagan. He said there are three kinds of ways that he saw generally good people relate to what they know to be good. Now he’s not referring to someone who’s just pursing what is bad.

Well, I’m not thinking about that person. I’m thinking about those of us who know the good. And this is, first, the incontinent person. I actually kind of listed it there for you. This is just kind of an introduction to open up. Here’s what an incontinent person is – and tell me if you relate to this at all – an incontinent person or, or incontinence in a certain area, kind of moral bladder problems here – is somebody who knows the good, desires the good, chooses the good, I’m going to do the good, and then fails to do them. 

Well, let’s read the continent person and then we’ll talk about this. This is the person who’s got a little more moral bladder control. They know the good. They desire the good. They choose to do the good. Yes, I’m going to do the good. But they do the good with no joy.

Now, I was in a context where I really came to see this. When I was in a Talbot Seminary, this was back in ’79, I worked at a place called the Schick Center. I don’t know if anybody even remembers the Schick Center. It was for the control of weight and smoking. Anybody, anybody ever go there? Anyways, I worked in Encino for about six years. I became the supervisor actually for about 20 weight therapists and smoking therapists. And I remember sitting across individuals in weight therapy and I saw this incontinence really play. I mean somebody would say, and they would say it with tears, “John, I am not going to eat the cake.” And when they said cake, they meant the cake. They did not mean a slice. And now my wife says I need to go back to Schick. I’m getting a little robust here. But this was a very expensive program and it cost about $800, actually, to go through. 

And the person in tears, “John, I’m not. I don’t want to eat the cake. It’s not good for me. I’m not going to. I desire not to. I’m not going to.” And sure enough next week. I mean in tears, “John, I ate the cake.” And they would say to me, “John, I don’t even remember doing it. When I looked in the mirror I saw the crumbs on my face and there was no cake in there.” 

That was quite an experience. I saw many who felt really overwhelmed and depressed, because of the incontinence in their life or the continence, because even in the continence, you know, “I’m not going to eat the cake. I’m not going to eat the cake. I’m not going to eat the cake. I’m not going to eat the cake. I’m not going to eat the cake. I’m not going to eat the cake.” They’re really having fun doing this. But then, I just go into our own life. I mean, how many of us have been convicted at times of, you know, I should pray more. That’s it. God, I want to pray. This is good. I choose to pray more. I’m going to. And then the next morning … we just don’t get up or we get up and it’s dry.

You know what Aristotle said? And again he was a pagan. He said that generally if there is no pleasure reinforcement with the behavior, you will typically move from continence back to incontinence because there is no pay off.  And I saw that with my dieters over and over again. 

Or I think of a Christian who, a father who is trying to work on patience. And so he’s memorizing a text, he might be going to counseling with it, and he’s thinking through this in his life, and I can just imagine him he’s focused on being patient. And so I can imagine him coming home from work, you know, he’s been thinking about the text and he’s putting on Christian music and, “Well, okay, we’re cool. I’m patient. Everything’s fine and good.” He comes home. Opens the door. The wife says, “Honey, take the kids. There’s about to be a homicide in the house.” 

And so the father, the mother, you know, just goes in the bedroom.  Dad’s taking care. The kids are running around and all of a sudden the dad, “Stop it!” And you know what he’s going to feel right there. You know what is the emotion that is the sign of incontinence? It’s regret. It’s regret and frustration. Because we did what Luther called, the way he entitled this, weakness of the will or acting against the will, acting against our better intentions. Wow! What’s wrong?

And so, from Aristotle to Plato to Augustine to Aquinas to Calvin, they thought hard about this problem. What is it? Because most of our struggles seem to be on the level of continence and incontinence. Because virtue, as it says here, and they all accepted this definition: is someone who knows the good, desires the good, chooses the good, meaning I, I’m saying it in my will. I’m going to do it. And then I do the good with joy. 

Oh, wouldn’t that be cool if all the good things you knew took with joy? Well, that will for sure be the kingdom. But I’m going to be interested in this life. And so they begin to ask, “What is going on in this?” And what they began to kind of come to was, and this is where we’re going to go, there must be something else going on in the heart of a person than what’s going on in the surface. That is, there must be, up here, some desire to do the good. That’s what I want to do. That’s my intention. That’s the thing that I’m focused on. But there must be something else lurking in there. And these things, whatever that stuff is, it must at times usurp my better intentions. There must be an internal warfare going on. And so, that’s what I want to talk about. I want to talk tonight about the heart.

And so I title this Why We Sin When We Know So Much. I know an awful lot and I sin an awful lot. Why We Sin When We Know So Much: Healing the Hidden Heart by the Spirit. So I’m going to give you, now what I normally do, and tonight, this would normally take about five to six weeks, probably about 15 to 17 hours in a class, so I’m just going to kind of distill something here, to give a taste about this problem and what it is we maybe can start doing to open up to the putting off. So parts of it I’m going to go faster and others I’ll slow down.  So let’s just start with the beginning, with B.

B. The Christian Faith is Foremost about the Heart

And you all know this. I don’t need to reiterate this much. The Christian faith is foremost about the heart. 

You shall love the Lord your God with your whole heart. (Mk. 12:29)

Trust the Lord with all your heart. (Prov. 3:5)

 In the new covenant, in Jeremiah 31:31 we talked about that briefly last time, all the action is going on in the heart. God says I’m going to put my Spirit in your heart and I’m going to write my law, my will, right on your heart. I’m going to begin to work. He’s going to begin to do stuff. Now, I’m going to ask next week how is he going to do that? How does he write Torah on the heart? But all the action is going on in the heart. This is what the Pharisees missed.

1. “Heart” is used for the real or core person: Nexus of Will, Affect, and Intellect

And so, just number 1. The heart in the Scriptures is used for the real or core person. The heart in the Scriptures is the core of the person. It’s where their will, and their affect, and their intellect come together. It’s the core of us. Proverbs 27:19, “As water reflects face,” the word reflects isn’t even there in Hebrew – it’s just, “as in water face, face” same thing, “so the heart of man, man.” You want to know what you are? It’s your heart. That’s who you are at the core. The Pharisees looked good on the outside but God knows the heart. That’s the core person.

Remember Proverbs 23? This is about the flatterer. Remember it says the person flatters you with his words but his heart is not with you. For as a man thinks in his heart – you see he’s acting one way on the outside, but you know the flatterer, his heart is not with you – “For as a man thinks in his heart, so he is.”

Now in the Scripture, this is the most used psychological term of all the terms, like soul, of spirit. Heart is the most used, and it’s used for everything we do. It’s not just the emotions. With the heat we think, we feel, we remember, we obey, we love, we hate. The heart is everything we do. If you want to know what your heart is, it’s what really drives you. What are your core concerns? Where really are you at? 

When I think about my daughters, it’s very easy to get at their hearts. With my daughters when I say, “Okay, it’s time to go to church.” Here are my daughters, “Hmm.” And they move so slow. And their heart is barely beating. Their pulse is just, I think that maybe they are dying. All I have to do is say this, “Hey, I tell you what. Forget church. Let’s go to Disneyland.” “Yeah. Wooh.” They’d be running around. “Wooh. Right on, Krista.” Back there. Why? Because Disneyland is in their heart. That’s their heart. 

Jesus says, “Where your treasure is, that’s your heart.” So one way to kind of know your heart is what you do. That’s why, with the incontinent person, I want to do the good. I want to choose the good. I’m going to do it and you don’t do it. You know, there is some other core concern on the heart. You know every time you sin, you know there is something else going on in the heart.

2. The heart directs our life: What is in the heart determines our whole of life.

But now number 2, and this is where I’m a little more concerned with. The heart directs our life. The heart directs the whole of our life. What is in the heart determines the whole of our life. This is Proverbs 4:23. “Guard over your heart with all diligence for from it flow all the springs of life.” Everything that’s going to come out of your life is coming out of your heart. 

This is a piece of wisdom literature in the Old Testament. And the Old Testament writer, the Old Testament sage, this is really the parenting literature: the Old Testament. And the sage wants to tell parents this, that whatever you do with your children, whatever you teach them, reading, writing, whatever you do - that’s great. But the most important thing to teach your children is to guard over their heart. That is the most important skill in life because for your children and even for yourself. Everything that is going to ever usher out of your life, it’s all coming out of the heart. So how do we guard over it? So I just kind of want to put forth just a brief thing.

a. Externally

Two ways to guard over the heart: externally and internally. The first one’s a little easier. We guard over the heart externally where we treat the heart a bit like a fortress. This is what I do with my heart. This is what I do with my children’s heart. I treat it like a fortress and I don’t want the bad to come in. I want the good to come in. And so as like a fortress I kind of open and close the gate, according to the good and the bad. 

Now, my daughters, they don’t always believe that their heart is that delicate a thing. In fact, I remember my daughters when they were like three, two and a half. I can’t remember. They were just - they were little midgets down here. And they kept trying to talk me into watching a movie called Snow White. “Oh Dad, can we watch Snow White?” And I said, “You now, daughters, I think for right now Winnie the Pooh is good. You know there is a lady in Snow White. She’s not very nice. I don’t think you’ll like her.” “Oh Daddy, can’t we watch it? Can we watch it?” “Okay.” So I succumbed to their wisdom. Their sagacity, and sure enough at midnight I’m laying in my bed, two little munchkins climb in and one had her nose right next to mine and the other said, “You speak.” And she said, “Daddy, why did you let us watch that movie?” “That bad lady is in the closet.” 

You know what we don’t know growing up because we’re fools? Is we don’t know how delicate the heart is. We think a little bit like how our culture thinks. We think the heart or the person is like a billiard ball.  And we can take anything and let it bang around on us. And we can kind of mess around with it and throw out the bad and keep the good. You know, the heart doesn’t work that way. The heart is more like a soft receptacle and whatever comes into the heart it leaves its imprint. You can’t just push it out. I mean, I thank God for mine but it’s already made its imprint. And so now, I’m really interested in my life, at 50, you know I just don’t want to take certain stuff anymore. I just don’t want that. I really want to open to the good, and same with my daughters.

Now generally, I think we do pretty well with this even in the evangelical church and a lot of non-Christian parents. Although, this is a problem. But it’s the next one that’s the real issue.  It’s internally. How do guard the heart internally.

b. Internally

This is Proverbs 22:15 and I’ll just give you the text. Proverbs 22:15 is the Proverbs equivalent to original sin. It’s the Proverbs equivalent to original sin and it says this that, “Folly is bound up in the heart of a child. Folly is bound up in the heart of a child.” If anyone has children you know exactly what that means. Children are little folly machines. They’re folly generators. I don’t care if they were raised by Jesus and the Spirit. Folly is already bound up here. I mean my kids are, I mean I love them to death, but can’t they drive you crazy. They’re in the back seat, “Don’t sit on my half. No, don’t touch my half. No, that’s your half. No that’s my half. No. No. Stop it!” And then, “Oh. That’s my half. No. That’s my half.” 

They are folly machines and the point here is no matter how much external guarding of their heart you do, you will never guard their heart thoroughly by just doing that because they are generating folly. There’s all kinds of stuff going on in the child. There’s all kinds of vicious - And as they get older – I see my 11 year olds get older – they’re thinking of more stuff and it’s questions. “Well, I know dad says that, but I want do to what I want to do.” Some of your children, when they hit 15, they’re thinking, “I know I shouldn’t engage in fornication, but what do I want to do? I wonder what it’s like. I heard people talking about it. I know I shouldn’t take drugs, but what’s it like? I don’t know. What’s going on?”

All this stuff is going in the heart of the child. I often think of what is going on in Sunday school. I can just imagine a little boy, you know, Jimmy, standing in line and getting water and some big guy moves, and little Jimmy just – Boom. “Yeah, that felt good.” And now he comes back to Sunday school and the teacher says, “Now children, Jesus says we’re to love one another and be kind to one another. And this little guy, “Yeah, but what happens when this guys butts in line and that hitting him felt so good.” There’s stuff going on in the hearts of our children and we are going to have to parent them internally.

The point here is somebody is going to have to go inside of the heart, because so much more is going on inside the heart than possibly could even come in. And so, as I’m around people in my Christian community, I think we do a pretty good job parenting externally. Making sure good goes in, making sure not too much bad goes in, and parent their body. We seek to control them. We seek to guide them into good behavior. This is all good, and yet if that is all that goes on, I guarantee this: In that community you have little time bombs going off.

I remember I used to lead a Bible study at a very conservative church. And these parents were doing, in many ways, a very good job with the children. But I was always concerned, who is going into the heart of the children. Who is helping penetrate what’s going on inside? And so we would pray for the children before we’d send them off. We had a Bible study of about 50 and this went on for about 14 years. I saw them being raised. 

I always joked with the parents – we didn’t have children at the time – I’d always joked afterwards. I’d say, “You know what I was hearing when we were praying for them?” “Tick. Tick. Tick. Tick. Tick.” Little potential time bombs, because as we’re parenting the body, and we’re parenting so that no bad comes in only the good, there’s all kinds of stuff being generated inside. All kinds of questions, all kinds of thoughts, all kinds of desires. And it’s just like - it’s like a pressure cooker building, building, building. And sure enough, we saw one of the 16 year olds explode. Left the faith. Left her, left her parents. Just felt the rigidity.

Now, it can be on the other side, too. I’m around a lot of psychologists and I bless them. And psychologists are a weird crew. I’ve been around them for 17 years. I’ve learned so much. But if there’s one thing I’ve seen on the psychologist’s side to err on, if we evangelicals err on parenting the body, they err on parenting only the heart and they don’t constrain the body enough. 

And I remember one of these psychologists had come over for dinner. He was sitting across. He was a fellow faculty at another Christian university. His child was sitting on his lap. And the child, same age as my daughters so they were about four then, the child was sitting on the lap went, bam, in the dad’s face. I mean, not good. I was like, “Whoa. This is going to be interesting.” 

And he said, I knew his form of parenting and so I knew that he would not inhibit this with either corporal discipline or any kind of restraint. And he said, “No, Sally don’t.” BAM. “No, Sally, you know” BAM And I was like this is interesting. And I wanted to see my daughters so I look down the table and here were my girls. Then they looked at me, because my daughters would know there’d be a homicide in the home if that ever happened. We need to – as I think of parenting – somebody is going to have to go into the heart of the child to deal with the mess or we have little time bombs going off.

How many of you were parented that way? I bless my parents. My dad died, again, a few years ago in his 90s. My mom’s still alive. And I blessed them, and we became very close. But until my conversion at 19 – You know, the truth of it was? I don’t think I ever had a paragraph conversation with my dad. You know what a paragraph is? It’s a string of completed ideas, right? It was more, “No. I have plenty of room.” And then it could even be more of an elliptic state. “Plenty of room.” I knew what that meant. And then it could just be, “Room.” And I knew what that meant. 

You know, my parents never asked me, “John, what is going on in your heart? What’s taking place?” That was just not a question for them. And again, I bless them. And I think the truth is, it’s because they didn’t know. They didn’t want to know what was going on in their heart. That’s just the way it was. As long as the kids, you know, three brothers. We acted okay. Everything went fine. We just didn’t do that kind of heart exploration. And so stuff was just building and carrying on in my little heart. 

You know, the way that we handled emotions we – I lived in a Norwegian family so we didn’t really talk about any of that stuff. I hardly ever saw my parents fight. I remember one time we were driving somewhere. It was on New Year’s Day and I saw them fighting. I hardly ever saw them fighting. And they were really going at it and then we pulled up to the house. My mom turned around and in a kind of divine fiat said, “There is no problem going on between your dad and I.” And the brothers looked at one another and said, “This is great. This is incredible.” 

Now I guess I’m glad I had parents cause you know I have some people who bring their stuff right into the house, you know, and that can get a little messy. But you know, it would’ve been good had – could my parents truth talked about that. “You know, John, Bob, and Norm, there’s stuff going on and dad and I have to deal with it. And you don’t need to worry.” And then later on, we dealt with this. But that just wasn’t the stuff. This internal world. And the principle here is that no amount of being good, no amount of building virtues in Christ, are going to put off the stuff that is already started to develop in your heart.

Now this is going to be true of parenting. As a parent, I cannot just parent the body of my child. I have to parent their heart. I have to now begin to engage inside with my daughters – to begin to let them experience what’s really going on. It’s going to be the same in the Christian life.  The Christian life is not about living from the body and keeping the bad out and bringing the good in. Something is going to have to enter into my heart. Something is going to have to go into these places to begin to deal with this heart or it won’t be dealt with.

You know what the Reformers called this? This is an aside. This is what they call the double knowledge. Calvin – He starts his Institutes For the Christian Religion – he says there are two pieces of wisdom. In fact, I think I said that in the very front. Yeah. If you look at the top of the first page. This is the first lines of the Institutes on the Christian Religion: Nearly all the wisdom we possess, that is to say true in sound wisdom, consists of two parts: The knowledge of God and ourselves. 

Augustine writes in Soliloquies, I desire to know God in the soul. Nothing more. Nothing whatsoever. 

The Reformers said this. In our preaching, and in our teaching, and in our lives, the knowledge of self and the knowledge of God have got to wed and kiss. They must come together. If they don’t come together something wrong is going to happen to our life. And here’s what they said. If you have just the knowledge of God without the knowledge of self, it will usually result in theological arrogance. You will usually measure yourself by what you know of the Scriptures and will also result in superficiality of growth, because you won’t know what’s going on inside here.

But on the other hand, the knowledge of the soul without the knowledge of God results in a kind of self-absorption, of narcissism. And now I’ve been at the School of Psychology and the Divinity School. And I’ve seen the extremes of both. At the Divinity School, the focus is the knowledge of God. Not much of the self. And so the preacher who stands up, who has that kind of training alone, he knows the text but he doesn’t know what’s going on up here and he can’t help others articulate that. 

It’s so cool. I was with Pastor Dale and he was telling me what Howard Hendricks, one of his mentors had said. That Hendricks had said something like this. “None of you here, talking to preachers, are called to teach the Bible.” And he waited and said, “In fact, no one in the history of the church has ever been called to teach the Bible.” And then he was waiting for a crucifixion to occur at Dallas Seminary. And then he said, “The only call I know is that we are called to teach people the Bible.” That’s so cool. That is so cool. 

The preacher, the teacher, our self, if we’re going to grow. Do you know what we have to be students of? We’re going to have to be students of the text. But then, we’re going to have to be students of the heart. We’re going to have to be a student of what is going on in the heart. What is driving this heart, and especially if we are going to do anything about putting off this stuff in the heart. And again, at the School of Psychology, if they err on any side, it’s the self-absorption with the self. Apart from a deep understanding of the Scriptures or apart from a deep understanding of the ministry of the Spirit in the heart.


And so I say here in general principles. In general, what comes out of one’s life is not by accident, but it’s already in the heart. And the degree to which one is surprised by what comes out of one is the degree to which one does not know his heart. Have you ever been surprised or shocked of what comes out? Or have you ever had great regrets or frustration because of stuff coming out? Excess anger, impatience? You know why? Because you don’t know what’s in your heart. I was not parented from the inside out. By the time I became a Christian at 19 I didn’t have a disposition to know what was going on. In fact, my motives were quite opaque.

C. Why is the heart so impregnable (as a fortress) and slow to change?

Well now, C, and this is the most important part. Why is the heart so impregnable? Why is the heart, like a fortress, so slow to change? Why can’t we just speak good right into the heart? If I have a problem with impatience why can’t I say, “Impatience, be gone!” Wouldn’t it be cool? “Anger, excess anger, be gone. Exercise you from me!” It doesn’t work that way. What is going on here?

This is what we call the biblical doctrine of the hidden heart. This is the closest to what psychologists call the unconscious, but what we mean by hidden heart is the material that’s in the recesses of the heart.

So here are some texts. You all know this text. Jeremiah 17:9-10: “The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick.” The heart, the core of me. The thing that really drives me. That is more deceitful than anything else. “Who can understand it? I, the LORD.” I’m in the business of searching the heart. You know, that is the business of God. And as we’re going to see later He’s asking us to participate with him in this to search the heart.

Proverbs 16:2. We think we’re clean. God knows in ways the inner person. And then, interestingly, Proverbs 14, “Even in laughter – [let’s think about this one]– “Even in laughter the heart may be in pain, and the end of joy may be grief.” “Even in laughter the heart may be in pain, and the end of joy may be grief.” What he’s saying there in that principle is this: That you may be experiencing something here on the surface. You may be experiencing laughter. You may be experiencing joy. But he says, “Even in laughter the heart may be in pain, and the end of joy be grief.” And you know the picture there? The picture is that you’re experiencing joy at one moment and something happens and boom. All of a sudden, grief. 

You see, the truth is, as we start now thinking about this hidden heart, there is always more going on in your heart than what’s on the surface.

I think of a little boy. I can imagine a little boy named Timmy and this boy was around 9. He didn’t know his mother ever. His dad was a drug dealer. He never knew the dad. And this little boy, you know what he does not want to think about? Dad. He doesn’t want to think about Mom. Because just to think about those things, all kinds of stuff is going on inside his head. And I talked to this little boy. And you say the word, “dad” and his eyes went glaze. 

Well, I can imagine this little guy. Swinging on a playground. Having a great old time. “Oh. This is great. All this swinging.” And then all of a sudden, his friend says, “Hey, Timmy, why don’t you and your dad go to the Dodgers game tonight? My dad and I are going.” What’s going to happen to little Timmy? In just in one second. In one second.

And so we think of this. Here’s his little heart. He’s having joy. The last thing he wants to think about is anything that will bring him pain. But you know something? You can bet, you can bet that inside where little Timmy’s eye is – somewhere in that heart – he’s got a whole set of beliefs and desires about dad. As I would talk to him, you know, “I don’t know why the social workers won’t let me see my dad. You know, but when I did it was painful. I don’t like it. I want to see him, but yet I know he’s angry with me. The social. It’s just a mess.” And what nine year old can sit there and say, “You know, it’s good for me to experience this mess and pain. It’s what the Apostle Paul says, “When I’m weak, I’m strong.” So this is good. I just want to think about this.” That’s not what he’s going to do. 

And so what he’s doing to do is – is he has a little roadblock up here that says, “Don’t go in here. Don’t go in because inside there - there are going to be what Dr. Saucy and I at the seminary we call deep beliefs about dad and deep desires about dad. And that’s painful stuff. That’s a mess. And all that has to happen in the environment is we just need a little stimulus. All someone has to do is say, dad. And all of a sudden, you know what happens in a moment? He thought he had the hatches buttoned down on that stuff. By the way this is the crap. He thought he had the hatches buttoned down. All someone has to do is say, dad. It’s out. He is conscientiously aware of it. And you know what he’s going to do? He’s going to try to stuff it right back in.

In psychology we call this defenses. You know what a defense is? Here’s what a defense is, just in case you’re interested. A defense is anything that you do to avoid painful self-awareness. It’s very simple, very simple. A defense in life is anything you do to avoid painful self-awareness. You know what one defense is? Defending yourself against criticism. Right? My wife comes and tells me something rather interesting about myself. “Oh, I don’t think so.” There it is. A defense. I will do anything I can to avoid painful self-awareness. Well this defense is one that we’ve used very much in our lives as children, it’s called repression. Just stuff it back in.

You know, I thank God for that in the Fall. Can you imagine what it would be like if you had to think and to dwell on everything that everyone has ever said to you or done to you? I mean, just go to a grammar school, right? That is the playground of all the pathology and sin in the world. Remember grammar school? “Hey, fatty. Hey, four eyes. Hey, stupid. Hey, you can’t play with us. You’re dumb. You can’t be with us.” Incredible. It’s incredible even that anyone survives. Well, it’s amazing we have this ability in the Fall. We can stuff all that. But here’s the thing about defenses. With every defense there’s a price tag. Every defense has a price tag because what’s in the heart, if it’s not dealt with, it can control us at any moment.

D. Things to Know about a Biblical Understanding of the Hidden Heart 

So here I want you to know some things about the hidden heart. So I have a list there. Now, I’m going to go through this list. These are things that I think you and I need to know about the hidden heart if we’re ever going to put off that stuff in the hidden heart. 

The first is this: There is always more that’s going on in the hidden heart than what is on the surface. In little Timmy’s heart there are all kinds of stuff about dad. There’s all kinds of stuff about mom. All kinds of stuff. And what psychologists tell us is that it’s usually the negative things we don’t want to be aware of. And so you know what that stuff is also? It’s not just the stuff of pain. This is stuff of pain, but this is also going to be our vices, our sins. The stuff in the heart. This is going to be worry. This is going to be envy. This is going to be jealousy. This is going to be excess anger. This is going to be the stuff that I don’t necessarily want to walk around. 

When I was 15, 16, 17, I didn’t want to walk around saying, “You know, let me look at my bad stuff.” And now I find even as a believer, I don’t want to walk around looking at that stuff all day. And this stuff becomes part of the hidden heart. There is a lot of stuff going on in here. And there may be little signs that we’ve said, “Don’t go in.” Because when you go in there, you feel guilty. You feel ashamed. You feel frustrated. So don’t ponder the bad. Don’t meditate upon your bad. I thank God, I guess, I don’t have think about it all the time. It’s not always in my face.

But here’s the second point: This is the rub. The degree to which you have a hidden heart, a degree to which there is stuff in that heart, whether pains or vices, sins of the heart, the degree to which you have a hidden heart of negative beliefs and feelings around these things that we have not dealt with is the degree to which we’re not in control of that material and it can control you. It controls you at a moment.

Now back to Timmy. Timmy – I don’t know now. I have not seen Timmy in a long time. I don’t know what’s going on here. But I do know this back then, if he hasn’t dealt with this, every time he hears the word dad, stuff’s coming out. He’s not in control of it. Do you know when kids have these kinds of experiences? When they go to movies and they see movies about a dad or a mom, you can imagine what a purgative experience this is for them. All kinds of stuff.

But now here’s the point for us. I want to say it’s going to be the same thing with all of what we might call the sins of the heart. It’s going to be the same thing with all the sins that we commit that have become now habits of our heart.

Here’s a picture. Here’s now I am this new creature with the Holy Spirit. But I can imagine a sin that I might have, and this is called worry. Not that I have that sin, of course, but it could be for you excess anger. Envy. Jealousy. Depression. You know what depression is? It’s anger turned inward. Now you’re just beating yourself up rather than somebody else. Whatever these vices are – I can imagine I might be teaching class. And all of a sudden at the end of the class I’m feeling fine. I’m singing songs to myself. I go home and Greta meets me at the door and Greta says, “John, something terrible has happened. You need to sit down.” Okay. Something’s going on in my heart now. There’s rumblings taking place. Now, when Greta was a little crazier than she is now, here’s what she might have said to me, “John, can you sit down?” And we begin to pray. And then she would start praying, “Oh Lord, help John be patient with me right now. This is going to be hard on him.” Oh boy. Oh God, just help John slow down and not be too angry. This is bad.” I’m ready to come out of my seat.

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