This past Tuesday was my “spiritual birthday” and over the last several days, I have spent a fair amount of time pondering all that the Lord has done in my life and through my life over the past 36 years. But more than that, I have been pondering my “story” – from my beliefs as a small boy, to the place where I received Christ as my saviour on August 25th 1979.
To say it another way, I have been musing over the difference between believing in God in my heart, and believing with my heart.
Let me see if I can explain. I was born into an Irish-Catholic family in the early 1950’s. My parents were likely not known as being “religious” people – but they were devout, church going people; people dedicated to God and determined to raise their children (I was the third of twelve) in the Christian faith and as Roman Catholics. Consequently, from the time I was a young child there was never a question in my mind of God’s existence or of my responsibility to acknowledge Him and relate to Him accordingly (ie. through keeping the 10 commandments, adhering to the teachings of the RC church, receiving the sacraments, etc). Here’s the bottom line: Where essential, orthodox belief and doctrine were concerned, I had always believed ‘all of the right things, about all of the right things’. There has never been a time in my memory where I have not believed in God; nor have I ever doubted His existence, the veracity of the Bible, or the essential Gospel message centered around the person and the work of God incarnate – Jesus, the Christ: the belief in my heart (not my intellect, but in a place down deep inside of me – a place that I would now refer to as the core of my being) that He was supernaturally conceived and born of a virgin named Mary, that He lived a sinless life, that He died a vicarious death, was buried, rose again from the dead three days later and forty days afterward ascended to Heaven and was/is presently seated at the right hand of God the Father. I was not always sure what He was doing there (at the right hand of the Father) but I believed He would remain there until the precise moment He would return to the earth “to judge the living and the dead…” – just as the Apostles Creed had taught me.
These are the things that I have believed about God – not merely with my intellect, but in my heart – without doubt or wavering. I was not always ‘right’ with Him (where my understanding of what constituted ‘right’ was concerned) nor did I live for Him. In fact, I lived a life that was contrary to His teaching & example. Nevertheless, I always believed the above stated in my heart.
All of that changed on an evening in late August of 1979 when I came face to face with God, my sin, my need for a Saviour and the realization that I could not produce the “righteousness” required to stand justified in the presence of a Holy God – even by offering to Him my very best “self” for the sum total of all the self-sacrifice and benevolent deeds I could produce over the course of the remainder of my earthly life. So what did I do? I began to believe the things I had always believed in my heart, with my heart. In other words, I opened my heart to Christ and accepted His salvation – and I did so according to all the conditions He had given: to repent of my sin and to take hold of the finished work of redemption – the finished work of the cross of Calvary – by faith, alone.
I cannot tell you how I understood it, but in a mere moment of time I seemed to understand that to believe with the heart was to put my entire being into communication and relationship with Christ. And that is what I did. As a person who (prior to that moment) accepted and believed intellectually, I was not able to conform myself in any way to the pattern and the practice of God’s word or His will. But when I opened my heart to Christ, He entered in, and by a work of the Holy Spirit, He took away my old heart replaced it with a new heart; a heart that He now occupies; a heart that He continually transforms and conforms into the image and likeness of His heart.
Among other things, this is what it is to believe with the heart.
“If you acknowledge and confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and with your heart believe that God [the Father] raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart a person believes (adheres to, trusts in, and relies on Christ) and so is justified, declared righteous and made acceptable to God, and with the mouth he confesses [declares openly and speaks out freely his faith] and affirms his salvation.” (Romans 10:9-10, amplified bible)