I have heard it said that the distance between the head and the heart can be an eternity (though it is approximately 18 inches). Often times discipleship is measured by intellectual facts that have been learned. As we discussed in part one of this series, it is important that there be an intellectual aspect of discipleship. By definition a disciple is a learner. Yet it is crucial that the information we learn about being a disciple transfers from our head to our heart. The gospel must not only captivate our minds, it must capture our affections.
As followers of Jesus Christ we must move from an intellectual ascent of knowledge to heartfelt belief in the gospel. What we think about the gospel with our mind must move to hearts and transform who we are and what we believe. When we place our faith in Jesus our minds are transformed and we receive a new heart. Before that point, we could know many facts about God, but still not know God. The transformation of mind and heart, lie at the center of what it means to be a follower of Jesus. This is what Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758) discussed in his book The Religious Affections, and by extension was the focus of John Piper’s seminal work Desiring God. Both Edwards and Piper emphasize the importance of having affection for the Lord as a mark of Christian discipleship.
Simply having an emotional experience, however, is not what Edwards and Piper mean when they discuss having affection for the Lord. A person can have a “mountain-top” experience, but have no life transformation and are easily “tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes” (Ephesians 4:14, ESV). This type of experience is akin to sappy love songs and cheesy Valentine cards. What Edwards and Piper mean by having affection for the Lord is deep connection and love for the One who has given His life for our salvation.
This type of affection for the Lord is the fountain of our joy. Despite what may be happening in our personal lives or in the world around us, we have joy in the Lord. In Psalm 16 David puts it this way, “You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore” (v. 11, ESV). Jesus said that he was the way, the truth, and the life (John 14:6), but warns that the gate is narrow, and the way is difficult that leads to eternal life (Matthew 7:14). Yet the promise of Psalm 16 is that when we follow the Lord, we are guaranteed joy and pleasure in Him.
The Christian life is often referenced as a marathon, and not a sprint. Suffering, sorrow, complacency, and temptation can cause us to drift away from the Lord. For this reason, followers of Jesus are called to persevere and fix our eyes on Jesus (Hebrews 12:1-2). The joy and pleasure we find in a relationship with Jesus is what keeps us going in seasons of doubt, pain, and temptation. Nothing in this world can satisfy our soul. Jesus alone is the sure and steady anchor for our soul, and we hold fast to him (Hebrews 6:18-19).
Yet the Christian life does not stop when the gospel moves from our heads to our heart. The gospel must also transform the way we live our lives. When asked what the greatest of all the commandments was, Jesus said “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” (Matthew 22:37, ESV). He then added a second commandment to the list unsolicited, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (v. 39). Our love for the Lord will drive us to love and serve others.
This leads us to the third aspect of discipleship (hands), which will discuss in the next post in this series.
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