When discussing some religious topic, sometimes one can be heard to say, “It’s all about the heart” in an attempt to explain who is right with the Lord. Is it “all about the heart?” Let’s explore what may be meant by that phrase.
If “it’s all about the heart” means that as long as one means well and has a good attitude then he is right with the Lord, then no, it’s not “all about the heart.” Jesus did say, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” (Matthew 5:8), and purity of heart involves intention and attitude. But the heart involves more than just one’s intentions. “Many will say to me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’” (Matthew 7:22-23). These people seemingly had good intentions, but they did not do according to the will of the Lord. They were not right with the Lord.
If “it’s all about the heart” means that as long as one is zealous toward God then he is right with the Lord, then no, it’s not “all about the heart.” For sure, Christians must be zealous: “…who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works” (Titus 2:14). But consider the apostle Paul’s kinsmen in the flesh: “Brethren, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for Israel is that they may be saved. For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. For they being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and seeking to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted to the righteousness of God” (Romans 10:1-3). They were zealous, but not according to knowledge. They were not right with the Lord.
If “it’s all about the heart” means that as long as one lives in good conscience then he is right with the Lord, then no, it’s not “all about the heart.” To be sure, we must “strive to have a conscience without offense toward God and men” (Acts 24:16). But the apostle Paul is an example of one who “lived in all good conscience before God” (Acts 23:1) even while he was a blasphemer, a persecutor, and a violently arrogant man. Looking back to that time, he considered himself “chief” (1 Timothy 1:15) of sinners. He lived in good conscience while persecuting the Lord. He was not right with the Lord at that time.
If “it’s all about the heart” means that if you are loving and doing good toward your fellow man then you are right with the Lord, then no, it’s not “all about the heart.” For sure, let us love others in word and in deed: “Owe no one anything except to love one another, for he who loves another has fulfilled the law” (Romans 13:8). But this is not all there is to pleasing the Lord. Cornelius was a “devout man and one who feared God with all his household, who gave alms generously to the people, and prayed to God always” (Acts 10:2). But he wasn’t saved! He was told he needed to hear “word by which you and all your household will be saved” (Acts 11:14). Cornelius shows us that a man who loves his neighbor but who has not obeyed the gospel of Jesus Christ is still not right with the Lord.
We need to accept all the Bible says about the heart and being right with the Lord. Being right with the Lord involves all of our heart, and that includes our intellect, our emotions, our conscience, and our will, and it involves obedient response.
Consider initial obedience to the gospel of Christ. Getting right with the Lord involves the intellect within man’s heart. Once the gospel is known and understood, “with the heart one believes to righteousness” (Romans 10:10). Belief occurs within the intellect of man’s heart.
Emotions such as sorrow spring within the heart (Romans 9:2), and getting right with the Lord involves godly sorrow that leads one to repentance: “For godly sorrow produces repentance to salvation” (2 Cor.7:10).
Getting right with the Lord involves the will within man’s heart, and his will must respond in obedience: “But God be thanked that though you were slaves of sin, yet you obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine to which you were delivered” (Romans 6:17). The “form of doctrine” about which Paul speaks in this chapter is baptism from which one is raised to walk in newness of life. It is at this time that one’s conscience, within his heart, is cleansed: “Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water” (Hebrews 10:22).
Having been justified by faith, then the emotions within one’s heart are changed to joy: “Having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and rejoice in the hope of the glory of God” (Romans 5:1-2).
The way the religious world uses the phrase “it’s all about the heart” often conveys the idea that having good intentions, a zeal for God, a good conscience, and/or good will and works toward others makes one right with the Lord. And all the while, the very basis for those things which are “in the heart” and “from the heart” activities – knowledge of and belief in the truth, as well as obedience to the truth – are given little or no attention. Without these – knowledge of, belief in, and obedience to the truth – one’s heart is not right with the Lord. That’s what the Bible teaches.
And the gospel must continue to affect the Christian’s intellect, emotions, conscience, and will. For example, when we sin, based on knowledge and belief in the truth, we are convicted in our conscience of sin against God, resulting in godly sorrow and the decision to repent and pray for forgiveness, and then we follow through with obedience. The knowledge of the truth, belief in the truth, and obedience to the truth continue to be the way to be right with the Lord. These things encompass good intentions, zeal, a good conscience, and doing good toward others. Hear Paul’s exhortation to the saints in Colosse: “As you therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him, rooted and built up in Him and established in the faith, as you have been taught, abounding in it with thanksgiving” (Colossians 2:6-7). This instruction goes to the heart of the matter: knowledge of and belief in the truth – “established in the faith, as you have been taught,” and obedience to the truth – “so walk in him.”
“It’s all about the heart” is not a Bible phrase. And many who use it aren’t thinking of knowledge of, belief in, and obedience to the truth. Its use is best avoided.
- Larry Jones