The Heart, Above All Things, Is Deceitful

“I know those scriptures, so what is wrong with me? Why do I still struggle with that same sin?” The answer lies within the heart, which often can only be discerned by the Holy Spirit’s work deep within us. If we are not wholly committed to allowing God to shine the light on our deepest sinful selves, we will continue in self deception and be subject to repeatedly lapsing back into the sins that reside there. Pastors and counselors can help, but it is a deep work of humility in brokenness before the Lord and earnestly desiring his will.

“Of all the psychological terms used for the person in the Bible, perhaps the concept of the “heart” is most central for understanding the person. The heart is used for the core of human personality and is the nexus of human will, affect and intellect(Prov. 27:19, 23:7-8). The heart is what really drives a person and dictates the direction of his life (Pr. 4:23, Ecc. 10:2). With the heart we think, feel, doubt, believe, remember and act. The goal is to love God with the whole heart (Mk. 12:29), to trust in God with all the heart (Pr. 3:5), to love from a pure heart (I Tim. 1:5). In particular, the man of God is to have a clean heart (Ps. 51:6) and a heart of integrity, speaking truth from the heart (Ps. 15:1-2). However, fallen human nature distorts the functions of the heart. The fallen human heart can become hidden to itself, able to so deceive itself that it is no longer fathomable or transparent to itself. It becomes proud (Pr. 16:5) and fat or unresponsive to the Word (Ps. 119:70). As such, the heart can harden itself to God(Zech. 7:12) and become incurably deceived and deceiving (Jer. 17:9-10). This can include both the simple self-deception of repressing painful experiences into the hidden heart as well as the more sinister self-deception of deep motives of sin and hiding from guilt and shame. In the case of the former, we repress those things we know that we no longer want to be aware of continuously (“Even in laughter the heart may be in pain, And the end of joy may be grief. Pr. 14:13). In this case, the development of various levels in the heart is the result of an ability to repress parts of the unwanted memories into the recesses of the heart. However, more serious is the conscious intention since the Fall to not want to experience the truth of one’s own sinfulness and guilt. Though God designed the heart to have a certain integrity in being transparent in truth, He also gave it the unusual capability in the Fall to be able to deceive itself, to become opaque to know the truth o fits own state and other realities that are painful and too revealing. The extent of the self-deception can be so extreme, according to Jeremiah, so that there is part of it that cannot even be known by the self, only by God (Jer. 17:9-10). Even the believer does not always know what is going on in the deep and knows that the Lord can see into the deep motives better than himself (Pr. 16:2). Similarly, the psalmist asks God to “Examine me, O Lord, and try me, test my mind and my heart,” (Ps. 26:3), to search and try the heart (Ps. 139:23-24). This resulting “hidden heart” becomes the repository of a host of scattered false beliefs and sinful desires which become part of the memory and character of a person of which one may be more or less aware.”
Self awareness of one’s sin through the means of the Word, truth, prayer, or counseling, and the panoply of the spiritual disciplines is a required beginning for the transformation of the heart and is part of what it is to “put off the old man” but is insufficient on its own for salvation or sanctification.9. The process of conversion and transformation of the sins of the heart is complex and ultimately requires a power strong enough to penetrate into the heart and resolve the self’s fleshy deep attachment to those sins (deep beliefs and desires) to meet some perceived need. This power can mirrored by the love of the believer in the truth but ultimately can only be met in the ministry of the Holy Spirit loving and speaking His Word into the heart, for this alone is capable of convincing the self that its needs are met in love. This is both for conversion and ongoing transformation of the hidden heart.

Thus, the process of spiritual formation involves the panoply of the spiritual disciplines (such as mediation on the Word, prayer, obedience, receiving counsel etc.) as legitimate means of grace, (a) insufficient on their own but (b) capable of opening the heart to (c) the ministry of the Spirit in truth, who alone is the agent of change in the heart of the believer (I Pet. 1:2, I Thess. 2:13, Gal. 5:22ff., cf. also I Thess. 5:23, Heb. 9:20ff.).”

Professor John Coe offers his paper that covers the main points of his “Why We Sin When We Know So Much” lecture.|By John H Coe