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Do you have to have "heart faith" to be saved?

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How many inches is it from my head to my heart? Well, It depends. If you count my upper aorta as part of my heart and the lowest part of my chin, then from my head to my heart is only about five inches. By my calculation, a person with an 18 inches distant from head to heart would have to be about 21 feet tall. So don't worry, this enigmatic cliché, it seems, only applies to the super tall. Nonetheless, I bet you've heard it before:

Many people miss heaven by 18 inches, the distance from the head to the heart. Head faith can't save; only heart faith can. 

I’ve heard this statement so many times. There was never a time in my life that it didn’t feel like an obscurity. It’s worth knowing that the Bible never uses the term head faith. In fact, the Bible never even associates the word head with faith. The Bible never says a head faith can’t save. The distinction between head faith and heart faith is not in the Bible. I could stop this chapter right there because that should be enough proof that this is an obliquity. Let's dig deeper. 

What is the supposed difference between head faith and heart faith? Some would say, heart faith has to do with involving your emotions and your will, while head faith has to do with simply believing a set of facts. Though we have to remember, that this definition for head faith is not drawn from the Bible since the term does not appear within. Oh, did I mention that already? Oops. I'm just rubbing it in. 

Ok, so they say heart faith involves emotion and will, while head faith does not. That's funny. My emotions take place in my mind not in the right ventricle at the center of my chest? My will occurs in my mind, not the left atrium? If you're not an extraterrestrial, I'm guessing that's true of you too. Obviously, we know that our thoughts, emotions, and will do not literally reside in the heart. So what is this heart thing all about. 

Heart is a metaphor for mind. Let me repeat that. Heart and mind are synonyms, both in the modern world and in the Bible. Think real hard for a second. Where did that thought just take place? In your mind, right? Now drum up some emotion, maybe think back on your long lost love, or a favorite pet now deceased. Where is that emotion taking place? It's your mind, right? Think about some vital decision you need to make. Where is that act of will power occurring? It's in the mind. Your thoughts, emotions, and will happen in your mind. These are all part of the mind. Sometimes the emotional part of your mind gets called the heart, but that part of the mind is not literally the heart. 

So what about how the Bible uses the word heart? The writer of Hebrews uses the word mind and heart interchangeably. 

I will put My laws in their mind and write them on their hearts; (Heb 8:10)

I will put My laws into their hearts, and in their minds, I will write them," (Heb 10:16)

The only way that he could do this is if they mean the same thing. This isn’t the only place we see the similarity. In Luke 1:51 Jesus used a phrase that gets translated “in the imagination of their hearts." Though literally, the phrase means, "in the mind of their hearts.” There are even cases where manuscripts have variations that suggest how similar ancient people viewed these word. In Ephesians 1:18 some manuscripts read the eyes of your heart while other manuscripts read the eyes of your mind.

Today, we are more likely to say that we have thoughts in our mind, rather than thoughts in our heart. However, people in Jesus’ day were more likely to say that they had thoughts in their heart as Jesus and Paul both said often. Jesus and the Apostles used heart as a synonym for the modern word mind on a number of occasions. Here is a big fat list of examples. Each of these, show that the heart is a good synonym for mind.    

In all of these, the word mind could be substituted for heart, and there would be no substantial change in meaning. This is because for the authors of the Bible the heart was the place where thoughts, understanding, reason, imagination, pondering, memory, emotion, belief, and even skepticism and unbelief take place. 

The scientific study of the mind has honed our vocabulary concerning the location of our cognitive processes. In the ancient world, the vocabulary was not nearly so precise. When an ancient writer used the word heart, they were referring to what we now call the mind. Even now, when a modern poet uses the term heart, they too are referring to what happens in the mind. 

This may take you a second to swallow, but it's important. Faith happens in the mind. Don't worry; I also acknowledge that faith takes place in the heart (metaphorically). Though, what I'm saying is that since heart and mind are synonyms, it takes place as equally in the heart as it does in the mind because there is no biblical distinction between the two. That's why in one place the Bible says:

it is with your heart that you believe and are justified (Romans 10:10)

And in another place the Bible says:

Satan, who is the god of this world, has blinded the minds of those who don’t believe. (2 Corinthians 4:4)

Clearly Romans explains that the heart is where one believes, and clearly 2 Corinthians shows that the mind is where someone believes. They are synonyms. So, if someone believes in their heart, they have believed in their mind. If someone has believed in their mind, they have believed in their heart. Belief is belief, regardless of whether you associate it with the heart or the mind. Did I mention that the Bible does not make the distinction between head faith and heart faith? Oh, I did already. Oh, ok. Just making sure. 

Now, let’s dig down a little deeper because there is something pretty sinister below these seemingly innocuous terms. What is someone really getting at when they say that head faith is not enough to save a person? They are driving at two possible points. The first is this:

If you really believed, you’d feel some emotion about it. 

You've seen this tactic before, right? Some red-faced preacher calls into question your entire spiritual life simply because you're not feeling particularly warm and fuzzy. I've heard preachers say, "If you can't feel the presence of God in this sanctuary, you ought to take your spiritual pulse." They are claiming that you have to feel some emotion in order for your faith to be real. The primary problem with this approach is, it's not biblical. 

If having an emotional experience was a requirement for being saved, the Gospel of John would have said so. In many of the stories in the Gospel of John, no emotion is mentioned at all concerning those who believed. If emotion was a legitimate way to verify whether faith had taken place, it would say that somewhere in the Bible wouldn't it? Think of what Jesus asks Martha after revealing who He was. He said, "Do you believe this?" (John 11:27) She responds, not with proof that she was feeling emotional, but by agreeing that she believed His claim, which was a set of facts. 

He didn't say, "Prove you believe by showing that you feel something?" How ridiculous would that be? He was asking if she intellectually agreed with the facts he had just presented. If she did, then she believed. Think of Nathanael's expression of faith. He said, "Rabbi, You are the Son of God…" Then Jesus responds by saying, "You believe…" (John 1:49-50) It was not on the basis of emotion that Nathanael believed. It was based on the content of the facts which he agreed with. He believed that Jesus was the Son of God. 

Now in each of these cases, the believers may or may not have felt some strong emotion. Though, it is a secondary matter. Emotion may be a natural response to a new belief, but emotion and belief are two distinct aspects of the human mind. In the hierarchy of the mind, beliefs are the foundation on which emotion is built. Therefore, emotion does not prove belief, nor does belief necessarily produce emotion. 

There is a second even more sinister purpose for claiming the difference between head faith and heart faith. There are many teachers that use heart faith as a dividing line between a faith which is accompanied by good works and one that is not. What they are really getting at when they cite this idea is this: 

If you really believed, you’d obey Jesus. 

No doubt you’ve heard this approach as well. There are those who try to slip good works in the back door. They will often claim, as John Calvin did, “We’re saved by faith alone, but a faith that saves is never alone.” Ultimately what people who say this are proposing is that:

Head faith = Agreeing with a list of facts. 

Heart faith = Beliefs that produce good works. 

Here's how they say it works. A person can know and believe things about Jesus (supposedly head faith), but until that knowledge produces life change, it's not heart faith. By the way, the term life change is code for good works. If you’re not doing good works, they claim, you haven’t experienced life change. 

Don’t miss this. By this definition, If someone needs to move from head faith to heart faith in order to have salvation, that means that someone has to do good works to be saved. This is why it’s such a sneaky, back-door, drug-deal-style transaction. Ultimately heart faith makes good works a postrequisite, an after-the-fact requirement, for salvation. However, Paul said:

Now to him who works, the wages are not counted as grace but as debt. But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness. (Romans 4:4-5)

The bottom line is, head faith and heart faith is not a distinction that the Bible makes. We should avoid trying to define belief and faith by these terms. If you have faith, it happens in your “head” and your “heart” at the same time.  

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2 comments on “Do you have to have "heart faith" to be saved?”

  1. We are saved by his grace alone and are enabled to live a life that’s pleasing to him by him alone It’s his power over sin that we struggle against .But if we have no desire to overcome sin that Rains in our life do we really believe in him .To know Christ is to love him.so believing comes first then knowing him then loving him then a desire to please him.Then you know he has saved you .

  2. Lucas, thanks for your article. These are important distinctions to consider.

    A few passages came to mind as I read your article. I'm curious about your thoughts on them as they relate to the discussion of "faith of the mind" vs. "faith of the heart"

    James 2:19 - Demons believe. If there is no difference between heart faith and head faith, is the demons' faith of the same kind as that which is unto salvation? Atonement was never made on their behalf, so they cannot be restored. However, is their "belief" the same kind of belief as Paul's? As any Christian's faith? The context in James 2 seems to be speaking against mere mental assent. The faith of demons is paralleled with a faith without works. The demons even seem to have emotion paired with their faith - they "shudder". So it isn't the presence of emotion versus the lack of emotion, but rather a genuine love for Christ. Demons declare Christ to be the Son of God, but continue to rebel.

    Lk. 10:27; Mt. 22:37; Mk. 12:30 - Are heart and mind synonymous? If they are, then certainly soul and strength should be considered the same thing as heart and mind. But that seems unreasonable to conclude in this passage and the way "soul" is referenced throughout Scripture.

    In Christ,
    Jon

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