What is the heart, according to the Bible?

This article is concerned with answering the question "what is the heart" from a biblical perspective. The heart, according to the Bible, is part of man's spiritual makeup. It is the place where emotions and desires begin; it is that which drives the will of man towards action. The physical heart is an organ that pumps blood. Poets also have a lot to say about the heart. However, the heart of man as described in the Bible is primarily a spiritual organ that drives man's behavior.

We know that the heart is the starting place for spiritual life because of what the Bible says about God's actions toward the human heart. In order to get people to desire what He desires, God must "remove the heart of stone" and replace it with "a heart of flesh" (Ezekiel 36:26). This is a humbling reality, and very difficult for many of us to accept. We want to believe that people, in their hearts, are essentially good and that they must be coerced or victimized or provoked into bad behavior. However, Jesus said the opposite: that sins like evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and foolishness, actually originate in the heart of man (Mark 7:21-23). Humanity has a heart problem, and needs a heart transplant.

There is some residual pain following this heart transplant. When God spoke through Ezekiel, He said that after the heart of stone had been replaced by the heart of flesh, His people would look back on the evil things they did and be ashamed and sickened by what they had done (Ezekiel 36:31). But repentance is only possible through this change of heart. A person must come into the light in order to see what was hidden, and sometimes the hidden things are hard to look at. But God is faithful to forgive us and cleanse us from everything that our new hearts are not proud of. If we don't come into the light, and admit that we have sinned, there is no possible healing (1 John 1:5-10).

Spiritual life begins in the heart, and it begins with God. God also has a heart (Acts 13:22) and has emotions and desires which drive His behavior toward His creatures. For example, He "desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth" (1 Timothy 2:4). There are a vast number of things about God we do not understand, but this verse is quite clear: God is a Savior at heart. He wants people to be saved and to delight in knowing the truth, and in knowing Him. When our hearts are afraid of condemnation, we can be comforted by the fact that "God is greater than our heart, and he knows everything" (1 John 3:20). And when things do not make sense to our hearts, "trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding" (Proverbs 3:5).

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