By David Maddox
The longest twelve inches in the universe is the distance between a man or woman’s head and their heart. They are in different worlds spiritually and one of our greatest sins is that we have targeted the brain with an “intellectual gospel” and as a result have missed the hearts of our hearers which is what matters spiritually. We have trained pastors to explain Scripture intellectually – to be sure that the words are correctly defined – that they are presented in context – to teach theology – to use commentaries to get other opinions so that we understand what is said, but unfortunately none of that equates with a relationship with the author of life. We have forgotten that there is one teacher – the Holy Spirit who speaks to the heart (John 14:26) (John 15:13-14) – and only when we let the Holy Spirit speak are hearts changed. The Holy Spirit is evidence of relationship not knowledge.
To put this into context consider a historical figure – George Washington. As a history buff I have read many books on George Washington – I have examined his surviving letters and other writings or speeches he made – I have read “commentaries” which attempt to explain what he said meant – to put it in the context of the time and what the language may have meant then – I have read what friends said about him – I have even been to his home – BUT I don’t know George Washington personally and never will. I have intellectual knowledge and opinions about him which could be wrong, and that obviously is not the same thing as actually knowing him personally. Jesus did not die on the cross so we could learn about Him. He died that we might know Him and be in an intimate relationship with Him. Again it is the difference between head knowledge and the heart.
When we share the Gospel we end with Romans 10:9-10 which clearly says that if we do two things – “you will be saved”. There is no ambiguity or opinion there. God reveals what it takes – and what it takes is the heart not the mind. First you must commit to Jesus as Lord and then “believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead.” It is no accident that the commitments are heart commitments. I often illustrate this if the man or woman is married by asking, “would you rather your spouse love you from their head or their heart?” I have never had anyone answer from their head – and when I ask why they responded from the heart it is because a decision made in the head can be changed, but a decision made in the heart is permanent. So it is with committing to the Lord. It is about relationship not understanding.
Scripture makes it clear that God’s target is the heart not simply an intellectual understanding. When the prophets wrote of the coming new birth – what they expressed that God would do focused on the heart – a new heart. God revealed to Ezekiel, “And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put My Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in My statutes and be careful to obey My rules” (Ezekiel 36:26-27). Jesus would later flesh out the tie between obedience and the heart when He said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15) – and between relationship and the heart as He explained, “Whoever has My commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves Me. And he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and manifest Myself to him” (John 14:21). It is not an understanding of the commandments that matters – it is love that motivates one to obey the commandments that matters – and love originates in the heart not the head.
Our focus has to shift back to the heart if we truly want people to be saved and to be Jesus’ disciple. Scripture makes that very clear. Through the prophet Jeremiah God revealed, “You will seek Me and find Me, when you seek Me with all your heart” (Jeremiah 29:13). When we are away from the Lord the instructions to return are not to make up our mind, but rather “return to me with all your heart” (Joel 2:12). So what must change?
If we are going to get away from the intellectual gospel then all of us – Pastors first – must shift from simply seeking to understand and explain the Word to sharing our relationship with the Lord in the context of the Word. We must get personal and that will require us to invest as much time in our relationship with the Lord as we do in studying His Word – and then to be honest to share about that relationship. One who loves will demonstrate that love and speak of that love which will create a desire in others to experience that same love and will draw people into the Kingdom. The reality is that you cannot share an intimate relationship with the Lord if all you have is an intellectual knowledge of Him – of what He said – and what has been written about Him. People need Jesus. They don’t need to know about Him as I know about George Washington.
About David Maddox – After a legal career in both Texas and Arizona that spanned over 40 years as a civil litigator, God called David to leave his law practice and work full time as Discipleship Director for Time to Revive. That call is really the fruit of decades of prayer for revival and teaching God’s Word, writing discipleship materials and seeking to make disciples. David married Janet Whitehead in 1976 and they minister together from their Phoenix home. God has blessed them with four children and thus far seven grandchildren.