One big idea from author, Gary Thomas, is the importance of a changed heart (i.e., transformed or renewed). He said that most of us already know a lot of the how-to’s, but our problem might be that we have lost the heart-to. That may have brought a couple of questions to your mind, questions that could go in a direction beyond the focus of a marriage study. But I will take some liberties here because I think it is a good time for married and single Christians alike to really focus on a surrendered heart to Christ.
1. When and how does a heart change?
2. How much of a heart change can be credited to God and His Spirit’s miraculous work, and how much is our own doing?
By my own bad strategy, sometimes I like to jump right into a Christian study armed with admonishments from Paul’s epistles like “flee fornication” or “submit/be in subjection” or “love as Christ loved the church and gave himself for it” or “pray without ceasing” or even “DO NOT conform to the patterns of this world, but you must be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” We know that these imperatives are essential for maintaining a healthy and biblical marriage. But what specifically are we to do with the command: “be filled with the Spirit” from Ephesians 5:18?
How do we obey the command to be filled with the Spirit? We can’t just reach up into the air and grab an ethereal presence and pull it down into our inner self. Doesn’t God give us the Spirit at the time of our conversion? You probably have read Acts 5:32. That verse tells us that God has given His Spirit to those who obey Him. If you flip back a few pages in your Bible to Acts 2:38, Peter preached on the day of Pentecost, convicted the audience enough to feel a tugging in their hearts which compelled them to ask the question: “what must we do?” Peter responded, “Repent, and let each one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” Even Luke, the writer of Acts, foretold this event in Luke 24:47: “repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his [in Jesus’] name to all nations, beginning in Jerusalem [Pentecost].” The fulfillment of that prediction began at Pentecost, for we know that those who gladly received Peter’s words were baptized, and thousands of people came to Christ that day. The Holy Spirit has been poured out to all of us as we come to know Jesus Christ as Savior.
But beyond this conversion-faith gifting of the Holy Spirit, we must continue daily to be in step with the Spirit. Galatians 5:16 teaches the importance of the personal spirit (spirit of life within the body) walking in step with the Holy Spirit, so that we will not fulfill or gratify the desires of the flesh. We are temples of that Spirit. The words of the song “I Surrender All” express it well: “Let me feel the Holy Spirit, truly know that Thou art mine.” And we are Thine.
We remember in the 51st Psalm when David with a contrite and deeply repentant heart pleaded with God: “Cast me not away from Your presence; and take not Your Holy Spirit from me. Restore unto me the joy of Your salvation; and uphold me with a willing spirit.” We find there in David a willing and obedient spirit; in his innermost being, there was a desire for restoration with his Heavenly Father. Inside David there was surrender. He was asking for a “clean heart” and a renewed “right spirit.” There was an open and receptive heart for the goodness of God to be poured back into it. Acts 3:19 encourages us with the promise of times of refreshing; this refreshing comes from the Lord when we truly repent.
Finally, I think the fruit of the Spirit must also be considered. A rigid adherence to Bible commandments within our own strength is not what the fruit of the Spirit is all about. I relate that self-directed approach to what I call being a Karate-Kid Christian. However, relying on our own willpower, personal discipline, and human strength will lead to insufficient and ineffective, sometimes frustrated lifestyles. How many times have you heard someone encourage you to work on the fruits of the Spirit? Yet, isn’t it true that the fruits “of” the Spirit come “from” the Spirit? They are outcomes or evidences of the Holy Spirit residing within us—not evidences of our trying really hard.
Our hearts should be compared to the cultivated and prepared soil mentioned in Matthew chapter 13—the soil needs to be ready for the seed to take root. After a period of growth, the plant then produces a crop. The necessary ingredients are related to our spiritual growth: warmth in the right climate, the proper nourishment, and the pure water of the Word of God. We must work to prepare our hearts—with the right spirit—in alignment with God’s Spirit, and then patiently cultivate and expect to harvest the good fruits. Obviously, this is a process as fruits cannot be expected to be ready for harvest immediately—especially if we skip the primary and critical first step of preparing the soil (or, by association here, our hearts).
We must consider that some of the simple step-by-step approaches to marriage presuppose that the heart has already been prepared to put these steps into practice. Is your heart really ready? We should not get the cart before the horse, so to speak. In some ways, e.g., if you need to study some steps to improve communication in marriage, or to improve intimacy, these basic first-steps can help us move toward a loving and a “lifelong obedience [to God] in the same direction.” But the obedience begins first with God’s Spirit and the softening of our hearts to receive. Though it might sound like a painful process, God must refine us with His Holy fire for us to truly be one of his beloved children. God bless you today.