The Natural Heart
Perhaps now you see why it is that your heart clings to its present loves with so much strength, and why you may feel powerless to overcome whatever sinful desire the world is currently holding out to you. Your heart will never cooperate with you if you hold out to it only the prospect of a lonely denial. It will not consent to be desolate; it will not welcome emptiness. As we have been saying, a new and greater love is required to dislodge the old one. The neon attractions of the world will not be overshadowed by retreat into darkness; they must be overwhelmed by something even brighter.
It is not enough to argue against the world’s foolishness.
It is not enough to point out the world’s lies.
It is not enough to even threaten violence.
All these the heart will resist to the bitter end.
Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.
1 John 2:15 is perhaps the most direct charge in the entire Bible against the desires of our sinful nature. To say to someone who has never been born again, “do not love the world or the things in the world,” is to ask him to give up every love he knows. Prior to grace, the world is his all in all. He has neither taste nor desire for anything beyond the narrow horizons of this visible world. He loves nothing above it and cares for nothing beyond it; and so to ask him to remove these loves is to ask him to remove his very heart itself and cast it away.
We might as well ask him to throw away his life savings and burn down his house. He might do this if he saw that his life somehow depended on it, but only with great sorrow and reluctance- for although his life would be saved it would be greatly reduced in comfort. But even this he would do willingly if only he saw that from those ashes would instantly emerge wealth of ten thousand times greater value than that which he burned, and all this from the very scene of his previous loss. In this second case there is a new and greater desire to displace the old one and make what was once a treasure seem an easy thing to burn. But to the man with no such hope, there can be no good reason to burn down what he now loves.
If falling out of love with the world is truly essential to the Christian life, then we begin to see why it is necessary to describe the experience of salvation with words of stark and extreme distinction. It is true that by grace we are “born again,” but we also “crucify” our old selves. The new spark of Christianity is both the dawn of a new life and the dusk of an old one. Something is born; and something dies.
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come (2 Cor. 5:17).
By this time you should well understand how powerless it is no simply demonstrate the insignificance of this world. This by itself can actually (if it does anything) cause harm. You have experienced for yourself the way that the heart so easily returns to that which it wept over and railed against yesterday. One day you may have a clear sense of how short your time on earth will be and be very encouraged to use your days well. You may be very sobered by the consideration of the realities of heaven and hell, and the fleeting nature of human life, and may make promises and resolutions regarding your remaining days. But tomorrow comes, and the world is all around, and your heart springs back to familiar loves of both desire and possession. You jump back in to dead-end foolishness with a renewed and tragic joy. It is as though the convictions of yesterday were some sort of dream, and even the church itself, which was on Sunday the scene of your resolution, becomes on Monday a joke to you with no power to pull down the strongholds to which you are bound.
Our hearts have thrones. That is to say, something will always sit there as king in the seat of supreme love. Think again of 2 Cor. 5:17. Simply throwing out the old king is like only claiming the first half of that verse- old things have passed away. It is true that the removal of the old king is essential, but thrones never remain unoccupied for long. A new king must reign, and if he does not, the old one will return with a renewed power and a firmer grip. It is not enough that old things pass away, it is necessary also that the new come and claim the throne. Only then will you begin to see the very nature of your heart- the magnet within you that is always yearning and reaching for something- harnessed and redirected in such a manner that it is your friend and not your enemy. It is only then that real change can begin to occur.
The Born Again Heart
Now we can begin to grasp the true importance and beauty of the Spirit-empowered preaching of the gospel. The love of God and the love of the world are not merely rivals; they are enemies. They are polar opposites. They are so opposed to one another that they cannot both exist within us. We have already affirmed how impossible it is for the heart to cast out the world by its own power, leaving nothing but a barren wilderness within.
Your heart isn’t made that way; and the only way to dislodge it of a worthless love is through the expulsive power of a new one.
This expulsive power can be illustrated by a deep well with garbage littering its floor. Your heart is the well and the garbage is the love of the world within you. If the well is far to deep for you to reach down and remove the filth by hand, how is this trash to be expelled? You may stretch and reach for years but your arm will never be long enough to clean it out. But imagine you attempted a new method- not brute strength but the careful application of wisdom. Imagine you directed a steady stream of clean water into the well itself. The force of this torrent is of such power that it causes the trash littering the deep to swirl about and be lifted with the rising flow. Eventually the old trash is raised to the top of the well and is forced out onto the ground. What has happened? The trash has been removed, not by direct action against it, but rather through the expulsive power of a newly introduced element.
When the well is full, the trash is forced out. So it is with the expulsive power of a new affection.
There is nothing on earth that exceeds the magnitude of change we are discussing. We must never underestimate the radical and revolutionary command before us. When the New Testament tells us to not love the world or the things in the world, this command comes to the natural heart as a call to absolute self-annihilation.
Yet the very source that commands us toward such a radical act of obedience places within our reach just as radical a means of obedience. God’s Word gives both the command and the only possible power that can lead us into faithfulness. It brings to the very door of our hearts a new love to sit upon the throne within, one that will either master all others or drive them out completely.
Our old love is the world; but He who made the world is greater beyond comparison.
In the gospel we behold God Himself; that we might love him more than we ever loved the cheap thrills of the world.
This may at first seem strange, that beholding God would have such a positive effect upon us. If we can be Biblically honest about anything it is this: God is holy and we are not. How can beholding the God who stands in righteous judgment over our sins inspire anything but terror and dread in us? The answer lies in the free grace of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
It is only in the gospel that we see God Himself as our salvation and are not frozen in fear by our guilt, for we come to him through Jesus the Mediator. Jesus was sent by His Father to redeem lost sinners and gather them into His kingdom. His perfect life stands in place of our failures; His death stands in the place of our guilt; his resurrection stands in the place of death’s claims against our soul. All these things are His to give us; and we receive them by faith alone. It is the bringing in of this new and better hope that draws our hearts to God.
If we live without this gospel hope, we will never love God; and if we don’t love God, we will always love the world.
It is God alone, beheld by us in Christ, who can kick the old king off his throne. Beholding God “in Christ” means we look with gospel eyes and listen with gospel ears. Gospel eyes see God no longer as the offended and wrathful judge, but by faith (which is itself the gift of this very God!) are awestruck by his glorious grace displayed in Jesus Christ. Gospel ears hear not the thundering voice of condemnation, but the sweet offer of reunion, pardon, and acceptance. It is then that a love greater than all prior loves is stirred. It is then that love for the world begins to be expelled from the born again heart.
It is when we taste the sweet liberty from a previous bondage, when we know the delight of being a redeemed child of God through faith in Jesus Christ, when we are adopted as a son or daughter of the King that our hearts are delivered from the tyranny that once held them tight. Where bondage reigns, love withers and grows cold. Within this new and greater love there is a greater and more glorious Master. And our faith in Christ alone, which is the sole means of our salvation from sin, is also the sole means of all moral and spiritual progress. It is not that our faith itself is mighty, nor is the process effortless on our part, but it is the target of our faith that is the source of all real power to change. Natural hearts are bound to love only the world, born again hearts are free to love their Savior more, and experience the expulsive power of this new affection.
(By: Thomas Chalmers and Nicolas Alford)