In the Bible, the heart is the controlling center of man. Every action–mental, physical and spiritual–can be said to have its origin in the heart. Imagination (Gen. 8:21), consideration (Deut. 4:39), thought (Esther 6:6), speech (Deut. 9:4), the ability to be deceived (Deut. 11:16), sorrows (Lev. 26:16), hatred (Lev. 19:17), love (Deut. 30:2), discouragement (Num. 32:7), stubbornness (Deut. 2:30), gladness (Psalm 16:9) and every other emotion or action starts in the heart of man. Therefore, the heart is very important.
There is a view that has currency in the denominational world that says that man is so totally depraved that in order to be redeemed it takes God’s Spirit working directly on his heart to make the change. But is this what the Bible teaches? The following are a few great statements made in the Bible about the heart of man that also expose this view as erroneous.
First of all, Jeremiah does state that “the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked” (Jeremiah 17:9). However, Jeremiah is not saying that the heart of man is depraved or sinful at birth. The Bible is clear that children are innocent and, thus, their hearts pure (cf. Matt. 18:1-3; Jer. 18:). However, being free moral agents we do seem to have a general tendency to do that which is contrary to God’s will. That is why God destroyed the world in the flood because “the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and every imagination of the thoughts of their heart was only evil continually” (Gen. 6:5).
But that the heart of man is not depraved and in need of a direct operation of the Holy Spirit is seen in the fact that when we obey the gospel we obey from the heart (Rom. 6:17). One could not obey from the heart if the heart was totally depraved. Again, David was a man after God’s own heart (). During the Mosaic dispensation, before the New Covenant, men and women gave freely from the heart (cf. Ex. 35:21,26,29). The heart is not depraved but we do have a propensity toward disobedience.
In the second place, the fool says in his heart there is no God (Psalm 14:1). This is understandable when you consider the fact that “a fool hath no delight in understanding, but that his heart may discover itself” (Proverbs 18:2). The foolish heart cannot see the greater picture, all it sees is its own self. The fool is a fool because he allows his foolish heart to be darkened and thus reject God (Rom. 1:21). However, not everyone is foolish enough to deny God (cf. Psalm 19:1). The implication is that if we do not deny the Lord we are not fools and this means that our hearts can chose to accept the evidence and believe it.
Third, the Lord looks upon the heart of man to judge him (I Sam. 16:7). Again, God could not do this if man’s heart was totally depraved. There would be no need to look on a man’s heart for his heart would already be known to be depraved and wicked. But when God looks at a man, He looks directly into the heart of man and knows just who and what that man is. Every way of man is right in his own eyes, but the Lord considers man’s heart (Prov. 21:2).
Fourth, we are able to control how our hearts work. Paul said, “Take heed, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God” (Hebrews 3:12). If we are able to take heed and avoid this evil heart of unbelief, then it cannot be totally depraved. The wise man said “Keep thy heart with all diligence, for out of it are the issues of life” (Prov. 4:23). Just as our physical hearts are protected by a rib cage, we can protect our moral heart by building up defenses around it.
Finally, Jesus said, “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Matt. 6:21). We are free to choose what we value most in life. We can choose to value spiritual things, heavenly things over material things. This would not be possible if our hearts were depraved and needed a direct operation of the Spirit of God.
The heart of man is not sinful. We chose how we want our hearts to be. “Truly God is good to Israel, even to such as are of a clean heart” (Psalm 73:1). Therefore, “cleanse your hands ye sinners; and purify your hearts, ye double-minded” (James 4:8). Indeed, “The LORD is nigh unto them that are of a broken heart; and saveth such as be of a contrite spirit (Psalm 34:18).
Eric L. Padgett