“Keep your heart with all diligence, For out of it spring the issues of life.” Proverbs 4:23 (NKJV)
In Scripture, the heart is considered to be the control center of our lives. Where our culture sees the heart as the seat of the emotions, the Biblical world saw the heart as the seat of the will. Biblically, the surest way to know what our hearts are like is to see what our lives are like. Jesus taught that what comes out of the mouth is merely the overflow of our hearts (Matthew 12:35). At the same time, the actions of our lives demonstrate what is in our hearts (Mark 7:20-23). Your words, attitudes and actions day in and day out reveal what is in your heart.
These are the issues of life that Solomon talks about in Proverbs 4:23. Since all of these issues of life spring out of our hearts, we must keep our hearts with all diligence. The word keep means to guard or to protect. Today I’m going to show you some of the issues of life that spring from our hearts to see how important it is to guard our hearts and then give some practical ways we can guard our hearts.
Salvation Is An Issue Of The Heart. Salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone in Christ alone. We are very familiar with the idea that everything about salvation rises and falls on our faith in Jesus. Evangelical Christians have rightly emphasized the fundamental truth of the necessity of repentance and faith in Jesus Christ. What we haven’t been as clear on is the truth that faith is more than mere intellectual assent but a life changing truth that’s embraced in the heart of man.
“that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.” Romans 10:9-10 (NKJV)
When we think of faith as mere intellectual assent and not as coming from the heart it allows us to say, I affirm that Jesus died for my sins therefore I have faith in Jesus. This mere mental assent to the truth has no real power to change our lives. The more I study the Bible the less convinced I am that this is right. In fact every day I am becoming more and more convinced this is completely wrong. I am convinced that Biblical faith is faith that comes from your heart and like Biblical repentance it changes the way we live.
Sin And Sanctification Are Matters Of The Heart. Conservative Christianity has often been very good about preaching and railing on sin and the need for holiness and growth in sanctification. What we haven’t been so good at is explain is that both of these are matters of the heart.
“And He said, “What comes out of a man, that defiles a man. 21 For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, 22 thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lewdness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness. 23 All these evil things come from within and defile a man.” Mark 7:20-23 (NKJV)
That is quit a list of sins that Jesus gives and few can read it without feeling stung on a few points. What if I told you that the sin itself wasn’t the real problem? What if I told you that even if you had committed every sin on this list before breakfast, the sin wasn’t the main problem?
Usually we focus on the sin itself. We are told what the sins mean and then told to stop it. Or we study out what the sins mean and then we vow to stop it. Yet this doesn’t fix the problem. It doesn’t fix the problem because the sins themselves are not the problem. That is the point that Jesus is making here. According to the first of verse 21, these sins come from our heart. The sins, regardless of which sins we are talking about, aren’t the main problem. They are only symptoms of the real problem. The real problem is that these sins are only an overflow of what is in our hearts. When we focus on the actions of sin while failing to deal with the cause of the sin, we fail to truly deal with the problem.
It’s like the pain you feel if you have a broken leg. The pain is merely a symptom of the real problem. The real problem is that our leg is broken. Imagine taking pain meds but ignoring the break in the leg. Not only would this not fix the problem, but over time, it would also make the problem worse. That is the same thing that happens when we focus on the actions of sin but ignore the problem. Just focusing on the actions doesn’t fix the problem. It may numb the pain but it doesn’t fix the problem. At some point, we have to quit numbing the pain of the symptoms and take care of the problem.
So what can we do to diligently guard our hearts? Let me quickly give you three things
Pray For A Clean Heart. You and I are unable to purify our hearts. Only God can. This means that in a very big way, the condition of our hearts is largely dependent on what God is doing in our hearts. Because of this we need to make it a regular habit to pray as David did.
“Create in me a clean heart, O God, And renew a steadfast spirit within me.” Psalm 51:10 (NKJV)
Having a clean heart is critical for guarding our heart.
Immediately Repent Of Sin. I can’t help but think that a clean heart will be a tender heart. By tender heart I mean a heart that is easily convicted of sin. Look at these words from a song by Charles Wesley.
“Ah! give me, Lord, the tender heart
That trembles at the approach of sin;
A godly fear of sin impart,
Implant, and root it deep within,
That I may dread Thy gracious power,
And never dare to offend Thee more.”
I’m pretty convinced that a heart that desires this sort of tenderness is a heart that has been cleansed by God. One of the ways we guard our hearts to keep it tender is to immediately repent of our sin.
Be Careful What You Let In Your Mind. One interesting thing I discovered studying for this verse is that guarding your heart means more that being careful about what you put in it. While guarding your heart is to keep bad stuff out, this is only half of the meaning. In Proverbs wise people guard their heart not only by keeping bad stuff out, but by putting good stuff in.
“A wise person is hungry for knowledge, while the fool feeds on trash.” Proverbs 15:14 (NLT)
I like what the Life Application Study Bible says about this verse. It says, “What we feed our mind is just as important as what we feed our body. The kinds of books we read, the people we talk with, the music we listen to, and the films we watch are all part of our mental diet. Be discerning because what you feed your mind influences your total health and well-being. Thus, a strong desire to discover knowledge is a mark of wisdom.”
If you think about this like a mental diet, then it makes sense that you have to do more than take out the bad. When you try to lose weight you certainly take out the bad, but if you don’t replace it with the good you really aren’t any better off than before. Starvation diets are just as unhealthy as eating too much fatty food. In fact they can be worse. When you starve yourself you become so hungry that you often give in and eat a ton of bad food and are worse off than before. Just taking away bad food leaves you weak, malnourished, and prone to temptation.
Our mental diet is the same way. As important as it is to keep the bad stuff out of our minds and hearts, it is just as important to replace it with good stuff. If we just keep bad stuff out we will be spiritually weak, spiritually malnourished, and prone to temptation. We must replace the bad stuff with good stuff. How do we determine what is good stuff?
“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” Philippians 4:8 (ESV)
The reason it’s important to be careful about what we let in our mind is because of the connection between our mind, our heart and our actions. What we let in our mind will often go down into our hearts and then come out in our lives. We must be careful not to let things that stir up temptations into our minds. We must also be careful to put into our minds things that stir up our faith and devotion to Christ. This is one main ways we guard our hearts.