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Heart and Mind — An Important Distinction to Know



By David Kowalski

And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength. (Mark 12:30 NASB)

The inward part of man is not so neatly divided into compartments as some Christians suppose. A very thorough study of the concepts of heart, soul, spirit, and mind in the Bible reveals considerable overlap in meaning. Biblically a person can think with their heart (Proverbs 23:7) and love with their mind (Mark 12:30). A word study of the Hebrewnephesh, and the Greek psuche and nous will further reveal the overlap of concepts related to our inner being.

Still, it often helps to make finer distinctions between aspects of our inward self. Though the biblical concept of the heart is not divorced from our thought processes, I think it is legitimate and helpful to make a distinction between heart and mind (as the Bible itself does at times) in discussing what makes us tick.

"Heart" may be used to speak of our innermost being -- the core of who and what we are.

For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed the evil thoughts, fornications, thefts, murders, adulteries, deeds of coveting and wickedness, as well as deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride and foolishness. All these evil things proceed from within and defile the man. (Mark 7: 21-23 NASB)

"Mind" may be used to speak of the reasoning part of our being, and I think in this sense it is proper to say that it is subordinate to our core -- the heart -- from which thoughts ultimately or fundamentally proceed. The implication for us is that people reason in their mind just as their heart tells them to.

As an illustration of what I mean, think of two people engaged in a heated argument. In such cases, neither one is persuaded by the other on the spot. Each party's  heart is inflamed and pride so at stake that they seem only able to think thoughts in favor of their own point.

For a less extreme example, consider academic debates. Though observers are often persuaded to one view or the other, participants never are. I have never heard of a debater who stopped his argumentation to say that the other party had persuaded him or her to change their mind then and there.

This helps us to understand such things as the absurd arguments made by intelligent people who insist that the universe with all of it great expanse and intricate design came into being randomly from no source outside of itself.

The fool has said in his heart, 'There is no God... (Psalm 14:1 NASB)

This explains why we all have a tendency to self-justification. Angry people, for example, often think that they are not sinning. Because their anger does not feel wrong to them, they do not think it is wrong.

The heart is more deceitful than all elseAnd is desperately sick;Who can understand it? -- (Jeremiah 17:9 NASB)

This is one way in which sin can deceive us and harden us in wrong beliefs and practices (Hebrews 3:13). Jonathan Edwards notes this phenomenon:

Sin is of a deceitful nature, because, so far as it prevails, so far it gains the inclination and will, and that sways and biases the judgment....So far as any sin sways the inclination or will, so far that sin seems pleasing and good to the man. And that which is pleasing, the mind is prejudiced to think is right.1

A changed mind starts with a change in heart:

Create in me a clean heart, O God... (Psalm 51:10 NASB)

God's light enters the mind through the heart:

For God, who said, “Light shall shine out of darkness,” is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. (2 Corinthians 4:6 NASB)

We should not conclude from all of the above that understanding truth and changing our ways do not involve our cooperation and choice. The heart can be directed by the will:

Listen, my son, and be wise,And direct your heart in the way. (Proverbs 23:19 NASB)

Knowledge of the truth comes with surrender of the will. – R. A. Torrey2

I have found that seeing how these distinct though interrelated parts of our inner being interact helps me in understanding people -- including myself -- and in helping others see saving and guiding truth.
_______________

Give me your heart, my son,And let your eyes delight in my ways. (Proverbs 23:26 NASB)

© Copyright 2013, David Kowalski. All rights reserved. Links to this post are encouraged. Do not repost or republish without permission.

Written by David Kowalski

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This post was last updated: May. 19, 2013