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Growing Is Based on Knowing (Gospel Motivations)

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Have you ever heard someone complain that we need more “heart knowledge,” not “head knowledge”? And the solution to that problem is for preachers to quit appealing to the intellect and do more appealing to the heart.

I have four responses to that complaint.

First, I’m not quite sure what that distinction means. For example, I’m married. But do I know that in my head or my heart? How can I tell the difference? Part of the problem is how English uses head and heart differently. We can use the head to refer to thinking: “Use your head!” We use the heart to refer to compassion (“He has a big heart”), sincerity (“I mean it from the bottom of my heart”), or emotions like sadness (“He has a heavy heart.”). But it can also refer to knowledge, as in, “I know it by heart.” So, it’s unclear what the distinction between head and heart is supposed to be.

Second, as far as Scripture is concerned, Paul uses words like faith, knowledge, comprehension, and heart fluidly:

I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened so that you may know what is the hope of his calling, what is the wealth of his glorious inheritance in the saints (Eph 1:18).

I pray that he may grant you, according to the riches of his glory, to be strengthened with power in your inner being through his Spirit, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. I pray that you, being rooted and firmly established in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the length and width, height and depth of God’s love, and to know Christ’s love that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God (Eph 3:16).

The apostle didn’t make a sharp distinction between head knowledge and heart knowledge. I doubt that we should.

Third, knowledge is essential to Christian growth. For example, how did Paul urge the Romans to live consistently with the gospel in Romans 6? By appealing to what they already knew: “Or are you unaware” (v 3); “For we know” (v 6); “we believe” (v 8); “because we know” (v 9); “consider yourselves” (v 11); “Don’t you know” (v 16). For Paul, knowing is crucial to growing.

With that said, let me switch gears and try to say something supporting the complaint. Maybe it is pointing to a genuine problem. I think some people draw the distinction between head and heart to mean we want people to actually put their faith into action. If so, I agree. The question is, how?

That brings me to the fourth point: while all Scripture is inspired, not all Scripture does the same thing to its hearers. Did you know that God’s Word was meant to do different things to you? For example, God designed the law to condemn you, kill you, and reveal your sin (cf. Rom 3:20; 2 Cor 3:6-7). Meanwhile, He empowered the gospel to save you, make you righteous, and give you hope (cf. Rom 1:16-17; 2 Cor 3:9; Col 1:23). Both messages are equally inspired, but they have very different functions. What do you think will happen when a preacher focuses on one subject to the exclusion of the other?

If the preacher spends most of his time exploring and teaching about the ins and outs of the law, then Sunday after Sunday, people will experience death and condemnation. They’ll try to live up to the law and fail. Or they’ll think they’re succeeding and learn to be judgmental and legalistic towards others. That kind of attitude will dry up your spiritual life.

But if a preacher focuses on the gospel—on all that Christ has done for believers—then the people can have a heart-enlarging, life-transforming experience week after week because that’s what the gospel does. Your best chance of learning to love Jesus more is to have a bigger vision of what He’s done for you. That’s why I’ve been exploring so-called “gospel motivations” in this series. We’ve seen, and we’ll continue to see, how the New Testament writers often use gospel truths to motivate people to live for Christ. We should serve Him willingly because of what He has done for us freely.

Do we need more “heart knowledge” over “head knowledge”? I think it’s safer to say we need more gospel knowledge.

Send your questions or comments to Shawn.

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One comment on “Growing Is Based on Knowing (Gospel Motivations)”

  1. I LOVE this!! Thank you so much. And I must say, it means a lot to me that everything you teach is from, and includes scripture.

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