Renowned theologian and seminary professor Wayne Grudem spoke as a guest speaker at Mars Hill Church in Seattle, Wash., for their "Best Sermon Ever" series, highlighting the importance of guarding one's hearts as Christians, based on Proverbs 4:23.
"Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life," Grudem began by reading the verse, and explained that it talks about protecting, guarding, caring for your heart.
Biblical reference to the heart "includes all of your deepest moral and spiritual convictions, along with your feelings and emotions, especially your deepest moral and spiritual convictions in relationship to God," said Grudem, the general editor of the ESV Study Bible, on Aug. 25.
In this verse, "God is saying basically that the inward spiritual and moral life that you have will determine the course of your life and ministry, whether it will be a life that knows God's favor and blessing or not," added Grudem, the author of Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine.
Grudem shared three things in his sermon: what it is to keep your heart, why you should keep your heart, and how you keep your heart.
The Hebrew text for "with all vigilance" means, "more than all vigilance, more than all guarding, more than all protecting, keep your heart – more than your job, your health, everything," he explained.
"Have we been making the condition of our hearts more important than any other concern?" he asked.
Grudem then expanded on the words, "keep it." "If you are to keep something, it implies that there's a goodness to it, that there's a goodness that is to be protected and guarded."
At the same time, the Bible also says in Jeremiah 17:9 that the heart is deceitful, he acknowledged. But "that's not the whole truth."
Several New Testament verses speak in a positive way about the condition of our hearts. "If we've been born again and trusted in Jesus as our Savior, there's a goodness to them that has to be protected."
Grudem quoted Romans 5:5, "God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us."
Our hearts aren't perfect, but there is a goodness in them still by Jesus' work within us that needs to be protected and guarded, he explained.
A puritan writer, John Flavel, said our hearts are like a musical instrument. "You tune it, and you've got it just right, and then you hang it on the wall for a few days and it goes out of tune. Or you tune it, and then something bumps it and it's out of tune again," Grudem shared.
Sharing from a personal experience he once had, Grudem said, "Results of missing personal Bible-reading and prayer time: pride, talking about myself a lot, often inwardly hoping people will praise me, lack of love for friends, irritability, relationships with friends just stall or put on hold, general inward feeling of unease, unsettledness, hard to concentrate on Scripture and prayer, self-reliance, no peace."
Now, why should you keep your heart? "For from it flow the springs of life," Grudem said.
According to the Hebrew text, the picture is that your heart is like a stream of water that's continually flowing out to touch and impact people around you that you come in contact with, he explained. "So, it gives us an indication of why people do evil things."
If your heart is full of self and pride, then your interpretation of the Bible may be perfect, your doctrine may be sound, but self and pride will also be what you communicate. "Like a virus, it'll flow out and touch other people," he said.
The verse in the Proverbs also explains why people, churches and institutions sometimes stray away from faithfulness to the Bible and its teachings. "I think it starts when their hearts grow cold toward God."
In the whole Bible, God puts a high importance on the condition of people's hearts, Grudem stated.
While our hearts will be fully pure after Jesus returns, in this time between Jesus' resurrection and his Second Coming, we're in the New Testament or New Covenant age, when God still tests our hearts, he added. As the Apostle Paul said, God was testing his heart as he went from city to city. (1 Thessalonians 2:4)
Paul faced many hardships and persecution. "But at the end of the day, I think every day, he was saying, 'God, was my heart true to you? Was I faithful? I'm speaking to please God who tests our hearts.'"
That's true today of us also. "I think God is testing our hearts."
God will let different heart tests come into our life, Grudem told the congregation. "Friends might turn against you. It might be illness that goes on for some time, no evident solution. It might be a financial setback that you didn't plan for. It might be difficulties with children or with parents or with in-laws or neighbors or a thousand other things. It might be a temptation to do wrong for the sake of great gain. In all of this, in all of these situations, God is watching."
Now, how can you keep your heart?
The words "Keep your heart" imply you can know something of what's in your heart. "I think it implies that you have some ability to examine your heart, otherwise there'd be no sense in telling you to keep it or guard it," Grudem reasoned.
Don't let your hearts be polluted, he said. "If you know that there are books, movies, or Internet sites that pollute your heart, don't go there. Keep your heart with all vigilance."
Perhaps a great help in keeping your heart is "just the old fashioned disciplines" of the Christian life: Bible reading, private and corporate prayer, worship, obedience to God's word, caring for the needs of others, sharing Christ with others, giving to the Lord's work, fellowship with God's people, Grudem said.