Submitting to the truth
“A sound heart is the life of the flesh: but envy the rottenness of the bones.”
The will, the intellect, and the emotions—the very core or heart of man—is fallen. One need not turn very many pages in Scripture to find that truth implicit, but Scripture is repeatedly explicit on the matter as well. A single one of many verses will serve: “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” (Jer. 17:9)
As a consequence of our desperately wicked hearts, we should expect that the natural man will be marked by three distinct problems and that even the mature Christian will continue to occasionally wrestle with the old nature in any (or perhaps all) of the three areas that compose the inner life:
• a corrupted will that stubbornly resists truth
• a clouded intellect that struggles to comprehend truth
• conflicted emotions that encourage distortion of the truth
Our verse in Proverbs 14:30 references a sound heart; and, when it does so, it implies a desirable healthiness or a wholeness of the inner life; a soundness that is evident when the will, the intellect, and the emotions of a person are all in full submission to the revealed will and Word of God. For our prime example of a sound heart and a fully-submitted inner life, we turn to the Lord Jesus Himself.
There is a full submission of His own will in Christ’s words to the disciples in John 4:34: “My meat is to do the will of Him that sent Me, and to finish His work.”
There is full intellectual submission in John 8:28 in Christ’s words to the Jews: “I do nothing on My own initiative, but I speak these things as the Father taught Me.”
There is full emotional submission in Luke 22:42 in Christ’s words to His Father: “Father, if Thou be willing, remove this cup from Me: nevertheless not My will, but Thine, be done.”
In submitting Himself to the Father, Christ had no internal sin nature with which to wrestle; Christ’s will, intellect, and emotions were peerless and uncorrupted. It is striking, then, that His claims do not rely on His own demonstrable internal perfection; that while, unlike us, He could have done so, He made no appeal and no boast of His own flawless inner man. Instead, His claims are the words of a Man whose inner life was in full submission to the Father at all times. If the One who could have relied on His own flawless emotions, intellect, and will consistently refused to do so but instead submitted all to the Father, what excuse remains for us who wrestle daily with the sickness of our own hearts but continually resist the same full submission?
If we should demand more than the example of full submission that the Lord Jesus provides in His life, we can turn to the words of direct instruction on the matter: “Trust in the LORD with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct thy paths.” (Prov. 3:5f)
Note please that partial submission—like its oxymoronic partners partial obedience and partial commitment—is of dubious benefit and worth. We need to acknowledge Him in all our ways and with all our hearts; this is the path of the sound heart. There is no promise of benefit suggested in our passage for those who occasionally or partially acknowledge God in their walk. Despite the clarity of Scripture on the matter, the problems we face in our homes, in our local assemblies, and in our broader fellowship are all too often clearly related to a brother’s or sister’s failure to fully submit some aspect or aspects of his inner life to the will and Word of God.
In the physical realm, there are countless examples of otherwise healthy men and women who died as a result of a tiny and perhaps undetected flaw in a single internal system, leaving an otherwise viable body in the grave. The same idea can be observed at work in the spiritual realm: we’ve likely all seen the Christian who has an admirably fully-formed and appropriate intellectual grasp of a particular doctrine but who has been utterly derailed by a willful or emotional resistance to the practical application of that doctrine in his own life. “I know I should forgive them, but I just can’t” or “I know it’s not great; that’s just how I am”—and other similar phrases—are the words of self. They are the words of a conflicted inner life that is only partially yielded to the will of God. Whatever else they may be, they are most certainly not the words of full-hearted submission. A sound heart—a healthy inner life with all its related benefits and promises—mandates complete submission in the will, the intellect, and the emotions contemporaneously; anything less will not serve.
Of course, we all understand that full health or soundness—physical or spiritual—is usually a relative term, not an absolute. With the notable example of Christ aside, when we describe someone as healthy or sound, we do not intend to suggest they are flawless, but rather that they are free from any major issues of concern and that their general trend over time is in a healthy direction. Just so, the healthy or sound-hearted Christian is not a finished product—especially in his own estimation!—but he is working towards being as much like Christ as he can possibly be. This will necessarily mean an ongoing spirit of submission that is renewed humbly and daily.
In practice, for each of us who are part of the ongoing process of becoming more and more healthy, more sound-hearted, more Christ-like, this will mean three things:
When we find ourselves in the unhappy position of understanding and approving a scriptural doctrine but not having implemented it in our daily walk (and we will certainly find ourselves in that position from time to time), we will repent before the Lord in prayer, submit our stubborn will for correction, and set our guards against such indolence in future. The sound heart is always searching for additional opportunity to break the stubbornness of our self-seeking will.
Secondly, when we encounter scriptural teaching which contradicts that which the world teaches and confounds our intellect, our default position will be acceptance of scriptural teaching over the world’s instruction. This is not to suggest for a moment that the Christian position is anti-intellectual at all; there is a worthwhile and strong intellectual defense to be made of every biblical teaching including such “controversial” subjects as the resurrection, the virgin birth, and the creation record of Genesis. What it simply means is that when we encounter areas about which there is a seeming disagreement between God’s Word and man’s transient beliefs, we will begin humbly with the understanding that God’s Word is correct to the last detail.
Thirdly, when we discover scriptural instruction against which we have a visceral emotional response (and we will most certainly discover such things if we are faithfully reading), we will not wait until our emotions concur with Scripture before implementing God’s instructions. That could hardly be called submission, after all! When the Word of God and our emotions disagree, the true disciple of Christ will suppress an emotional response in favor of the implementation of Scripture. In doing so, we will be cultivating a sound heart and bringing our emotional life into conformity with God’s plan, rather than twisting God’s Word to suit our ephemeral, cultural preferences.
A healthy, sound inner life is God’s will and pleasure for each of us. May we find ourselves eagerly seeking further submission to Christ’s example and leading.