From Head Information to Heart Transformation

I recently received this question:

“Through my bible study I’ve been attending, I feel like I’ve accepted in my head that I need saving. But I look at my life and don’t see a lot of sin or reason that I deserve hell. I get that I’m not perfect, but I don’t know how to translate that to really believing.  I don’t know God. I don’t know him well enough to trust him. But I don’t want to go to hell. How do I make the switch from head knowledge to heart?”

Answer: I appreciate your honesty in asking such a good question, and I believe the Scriptures offer life-giving answers. Your willingness to study the Bible and your request for help are excellent places to start. I too have prayed for your increased knowledge of God. There is no more excellent topic to pursue than that of our wise, righteous, benevolent, and merciful Creator.

Work to understand what God means by what He says

It is apparent that you are a part of a Bible study and going to church in order to understand what the Bible says. Keep it up. Forgive me for stating what may be obvious, but you must understand what you read in Scripture. If you were to purchase a new dishwasher and decided to install it yourself, you would feel the need to read the manual regarding proper installation. Having the manual and leaving it on the counter won’t help.

What’s more, having the manual and skimming over the words without understanding them won’t help. You must understand what the words mean. Bible reading is like that as well. Read to understand. I trust you’ve already started doing that, but I wanted to emphasize this.

As you’ve already seen, there are people in the church (Bible study leaders, pastors) who are gifted to teach the Bible (Ephesians 4:11). God has gifted these people to help others understand the Scriptures. Continue sitting under Bible teaching and continue to ask questions. Asking questions is a sign of humble learning. God rewards those who seek His wisdom (Proverbs 2:1-5).

At first it may seem like the Bible is hard to understand. But, know this: God has chosen to reveal Himself to His creatures. God reveals Himself in creation. When someone ponders creation, if they’re honest, they know that there is a God and that He is powerful (Romans 1:21). Additionally and shockingly, the God of creation has chosen to reveal Himself specifically and personally. The one true and living God is relational. He desires to be known. What a thought!

How does God specifically make Himself known? Through Scripture. God wants you to understand His character, His ways, His laws, His promises, and the salvation that He offers. As you continue to work to understand God, know this – He is understandable. This doesn’t mean that we can know everything about God, but He has graciously chosen to reveal Himself to us. Enjoy the pursuit of God!

Agree with the Scripture’s assessment of yourself

As you grow in your understanding of what the Bible is communicating, I encourage you to start agreeing with it. You said that you have the head knowledge regarding your need for salvation but have a hard time seeing that you genuinely deserve hell. I understand what you’re saying. You and I live in a world where morality is often assessed by comparing ourselves to one another (“I’m not as bad as that guy.”). Many people have a hard time believing that they are in trouble with God because they don’t seem that bad. Again, I understand this. However, the Scriptures call us to assess our righteousness by comparing it to God’s righteousness, not some infamous person on the news or some contemptible person in our family. 

I would encourage you to read further in Romans 1-3. These chapters will make a case for man’s sinfulness before God. They declare that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Rom 3:23).

I know that coming to grips with this might not happen overnight, but I would encourage you to read those chapters very slowly. Read a paragraph and chew on it. Turn it over in your mind. Assume that it is true. Trace the sins you see in those paragraphs to the ways that you might manifest them in your heart. Refuse to give yourself a pass. Sin is serious, and sin is rebellion against God. Our sin is so sinful because of Who it is against – God Himself. If I struck a man walking on the street, I’d receive a penalty. If I struck the President of the United States, I’d get a much more severe penalty – rightly so! Sin is horrible because it’s an attack on the sovereign King of the World. See it that way.

Ask God to give you spiritual clarity

Coupled with the previous point, ask God to give you this ability to accept what the Scriptures say in your heart. One of the facets of God the Holy Spirit’s ministry is to convict people of sin (John 16:8). You need the conviction of sin. I need the conviction of sin. When we are convicted of our sin against God, it should drive us directly to God to plead for mercy – which He loves to give. Without conviction, there is no need to go to God. Without going to God, there is no salvation.

Therefore, ask God to help you believe what you’ve read. There was a man we read about in Mark 9:14-29 who had a measure of belief in the power of Jesus Christ, but this man also lacked belief. He said this to Jesus, “I believe; help my unbelief.” That is a great prayer to pray as you ask God to impress His word into your heart. “I believe these things in my head; help me to believe them in my heart.”

Know that God is the One who changes hearts

At this point in my answer, I need to say again how great it is that you’re attending a Bible study, church and asking questions like this. Earlier, I encouraged you to keep learning. That is your responsibility. While you pursue knowledge of God, know that the Scriptures indicated that heart transformation is a work of God.

The prophet Ezekiel told His people who had sinned against Him and were suffering for it that there would be a day when people would desire to obey Him from the inside of their being. It wouldn’t be that some external law would bring forth obedience, but their hearts would beat to obey God. Ezekiel 36:26-27 says:

“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.”

God was promising to put His Spirit into people. Years later, after Jesus Christ died on the cross and rose again, one of His disciples was calling people to repent of their sins and to trust Jesus. He told them that when they did this, they would receive this gift of the Holy Spirit! What a promise. Not only would they be forgiven of their sins, but they would be given a heart that would be willing and eager to obey. I have personally experienced this, and it’s astonishing. God does possess this power, and He wields this power. Friend, believe that God is able to give you a willing heart.

You may ask, “How do I get that willing heart?” I’ve written this post to answer that question. Please read Romans 1-3. Understand what God says. He is the Creator. Men and women have rebelled against Him. We have all sinned against God. The outright immoral person is guilty, and so is the relatively moral person (Romans 2). We are all guilty. But then read and understand these words:  

“But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the One who has faith in Jesus.”

Romans 3:21-26

God has determined to show you His character. He is showing you that He is merciful! God has chosen to gift sinners with His Son’s perfect righteousness. How do they obtain this gift? They are to trust it. They are to acknowledge their sin before God and be willing to forsake sin. They are to believe that Jesus is their gift of righteousness and that He has taken the consequences of their sin onto Himself. Believe everything about that message and ask God to give you a new heart of obedience that stems from gratitude.

Finally, I recently preached four messages on the section of Scripture that I referenced (Romans 1:18-3:26). These sermons may help you understand what these passages mean, and I’ll pray that God would use this section of Scripture to thrill your heart with Him!

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