Freedom From Spiritual Heart Disease

By Dan Gallagher

Despite all we know about the various causes of heart disease, and in spite of the enormous sums of money spent trying to fight it, millions of people continue to suffer and die from it every year. Heart disease is one of the leading causes of death in the western world and it is now even having a significant impact on the eastern societies. Recently I realized that I too suffer from heart disease, but my heart disease is not the type that afflicts my physical body. Just like millions of others, I suffer from a form of spiritual heart disease because my “inner heart” has been infected.

Most of us are familiar with the heart that is the organ in the center of our chest, which pumps all of our blood and is necessary for life. Similar to this central organ of our physical life, we all also have an inner “heart,” the center of all of our thoughts, feelings, and emotions. This inner heart can also be infected resulting in some very debilitating effects. Sadly, ever since the sin of Adam all of humankind has suffered from a form of spiritual infection that causes a diseased inner heart.

People who typically suffer from physical heart disease often have shortness of breath, fatigue, and weakness brought on during times of stress and exertion. Their hearts are damaged and lacking the ability to supply the body with a proper flow of blood, they lack oxygen, nutrients, and the ability to fight off sickness. Problems that affect the physical heart can soon affect the entire body. Similarly, when the inner heart is infected it also affects much of what we think and do, frequently causing us great emotional pain and oftentimes causing us to hurt others nearby.

The Cause of Spiritual Heart Disease

Adam’s sin of rejecting and rebelling against God was so cataclysmic that its effects have since reverberated through the lives and bodies of all humankind. Adam’s sin not only damaged God’s creation, it also caused the entrance of sickness and disease, as well as thorns and thistles in the hearts of all men and women. The deadening in part of our inner hearts is a constant source of messages of unworthiness, unholiness, and inadequacy. People are continually seeking ways to alleviate this pain through self-medication and other forms of self-anesthesia. Some learn to overcome their heart disease by inflating their own image of themselves, while others seek comfort and pain relief through sensual pleasure, intoxicants, sex, and materialism, etc. The agony of this malignancy in the heart causes us to pay homage to all sorts of man-made idols, and even “good things” can become idols when we make them “ultimate things.” No matter what we do, anything other than putting God in His rightful place in our hearts only intensifies the pain of this inner heart disease.

The Cure is Love

God, as the great physician, has provided us the prescription for the remedy that will result in complete healing and a full recovery. God’s love is a divine elixir; the only cure-all for all that ails the heart. The medicine is an injection of love, which must be administered into the very center of our hearts.

Deuteronomy 6:5 and 6
(5) Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.
(6) These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts.

Jesus also prescribed the same treatment when he reminded his disciples and others that God, and God alone, was to have the place of greatest prominence in our lives (Matt. 22:37-39). Adam’s sin of turning away from God created such a gaping hole in the heart of all mankind that only God can fill it. Sadly, men and women throughout the ages have devoted themselves to every type of pursuit, other than the one and only thing that provides complete healing.

Love Prevents Idolatry

God never intended Christianity to be a part-time leisure activity, something we do only when we feel like it or when it is popular. Nominal Christians, those who are Christ’s followers in name only, will never experience the cure for their heart disease. Filling our hearts with love, expressed as complete devotion to God, leaves no room in our hearts for any idols.

God designed us to worship, with the intention that He would be the object of our devotion. When God is not occupying His rightful place in a person’s life, he will constantly be in search of something else to worship. It is as if the heart becomes an idol factory, mass-producing one man-made god after another. Like a Velcro-covered ball, our hearts constantly become attached to whatever draws our devotion. In times past men and women served carved totems and graven images representing unseen spirits and mystical forces. Today people still serve idols but they are idols of the heart, which is anything that takes precedence over God. [1]

Most Christians can recognize the idolatry involved when a person pursues the idols of money, power, and pleasure, but even good things in life can be idols when we make them the “ultimate” things. It is idolatrous whenever I assert my will above God’s will, or believe my thoughts more than what God says about me. Having too high or too low of an opinion about ourselves is always idolatrous. One of the problems with inner heart disease is that it causes us to see ourselves wrongly. Only loving God fully, and experiencing His love in our hearts, brings truth and frees me from the grasp of my false gods. Idols cannot merely be torn down; they must be replaced because the nature of the heart is to worship. We must tear ourselves away from the altars of “self” and fall with full devotion before God, serving Him with our whole heart, soul, mind, and strength. Loving God in all we think, say, and do leaves no room in our hearts for idols and is the only cure for our heart disease.

Misunderstanding What Love Is

In English we frequently use the word “love” to describe a very strong feeling of attraction for someone or something. This can cause some confusion for people when they read the word “love” in the Bible because this is not necessarily how the word is being used. In the Bible there are two Greek words (agape and phileo) that are translated into the one English word “love.” Phileo is the Greek word that describes the very strong emotional bond that exists between two people, the feeling of affection, fondness, and attachment. This is the feeling that exists between friends, in various degrees, depending upon the amount of closeness or intimacy. The closer or more intimate the friendship, the greater the love (phileo). This is a relational love, which is experienced as endearment and sentiment towards another.

The second type of “love” referred to in the Bible is represented by the Greek word agape. This is a type of love that people have referred to as “the love of God.” It is an intense love always demonstrated by devotion, obedience, and action. The very nature of agape love is that it motivates you to overcome any feelings you may have in the moment because of your devotion to do what is best for another person. It is impossible to say you love someone, in the agape sense of love, and then not do loving things for him or her. This is the type of love that is completely selfless and is always focused on the good will of others. This type of love always seeks to do what is best for others, which is why God says “it does not envy,” “it is not rude,” “it is not self-seeking,” and “it is not proud” (1 Cor. 13:4 and 5). [For further study, please watch this videos series.]

Agape love is the motivating force in a person’s heart that always prompts us to obey God and act with godliness towards others. It activates our sense of duty and obligation to God by transforming them into actions. Jesus taught that this type of love was inseparable from obedience.

John 14:23 and 24a
(23) Jesus replied, “If anyone loves [agapao] [2] me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love [agapao] him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.
(24a) He who does not love [agapao] me will not obey my teaching.

No one can really say that he loves (agape) God if he does not obey Him, because love towards God and actions are inseparable. There are times that I do not “feel” like doing something, but my devotion, my agape love, for God causes me to override my thoughts and obey Him. Let’s face it, there are many times when loving people is really hard to do. Sometimes loving others seems harder than swallowing broken glass as I bite my tongue and hold myself back from saying what I really “feel” like saying. My “honesty and authenticity” in the moment would not be a blessing to anyone, including others, God, and me. Because of my agape love to serve others and to always do what is best for them, I am able to overcome my desire to speak hurtful words. The temptation to sin is always attractive and enticing but our love (agape) for God motivates us to overcome our feelings and walk in obedience to His ways.

Although agape love is always expressed as obedience, we must remember that God is never interested in mere obedience, but obedience driven by a heart of devotion to Him. Obedience may be motivated by a number of things other than love. This is why God always looks on the heart of a person and never on external appearances (1 Sam. 16:7). The Pharisees erred in their strict following of the Law because their hearts were wrongly motivated. God never desired mere acts of worship but a heart of worship. They were exceptional in following much of “the letter of the Law” but they missed the “spirit” or heart of the Law, which is love, and is why they came into such sharp contention with Jesus. Walking with love (agape) is the complete fulfillment of the Law because then we will always do the right thing for others.

Galatians 5:14
The entire law is summed up in a single command: “Love [agapao] your neighbor as yourself.”

The Law, with commands such as “Do not steal,” “Do not covet,” and “Do not commit adultery,” is completed in love (agape) because when we are walking with agape we will never disobey God or harm others (Rom. 13:9). The Apostle Paul wrote to the Roman Christians, “Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love (agapao) one another, for he who loves (agapao) his fellowman has fulfilled the law” (Rom. 13:8). Filling our hearts with this type of love for God and others is the divine elixir that brings complete remedy to our heart disease.

Learning to Love Starts with God

I have encountered a theme that I have in common with others, that at the core of my heart I fail to grasp how much God truly loves me. Although we cognitively understand that God loves us and frequently even say, “God loves us,” for many of us this has not really settled into the very core of our hearts. Unfortunately, until this happens we will continue to live with the effects of inner heart disease.

God does not love us because we deserve to be loved or because we are worthy of His love. God loves us because God is love (1 John 4:8). He cannot do anything other than love because it is His very nature. He is completely and absolutely pure love and He loves us unconditionally, without any hesitation, and without any wavering. He does not love us any more when we are good, or any less when we are bad. This is a truth that must permeate the core of our being. We are all worthy of His love only because He first loved us and has made us worthy.

Romans 5:8
But God demonstrates his own love [agape] for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

When we say that God always loves us we do not mean that He always approves of us. He loves us in spite of our sin and frequently His love (agape) will be demonstrated by His discipline (Prov. 3:12; Heb. 12:7 and 9). He loves us, so He does not support our sin and sometimes lets our error correct us. When we are being obedient, we seem to “feel” His support more because He is giving us grace to support us in doing His will.

Often when I sin I feel as if God loves me less, but the problem is never with God; the feelings of unworthiness and inadequacy always come from within me. There is nothing we can do to earn more of God’s love and there is nothing we can ever do to lose His love. The ultimate example of God’s love (agape) for us was His giving of His son as a sacrifice for our redemption (John 3:16). It is beyond my understanding how great this love is, but I can accept it and trust in it.

Jesus, following in the footsteps of His Father, also demonstrated this same type of selfless love when he overcame his own desires for life and yielded to the will of the Father.

John 15:13
Greater love [agape] has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.

The record of Jesus’ prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane tells us that he did not want to die, but the above verse tells us that he overcame his feelings and obeyed because of love (agape). Obedience unto death is the greatest demonstration of this type of love, and it is what we are also called to do for each other.

1 John 3:16
This is how we know what love [agape] is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers.

Sin, disobedience to God’s commands, is always the result of spiritual heart disease and is caused by a shortage of love in our hearts. God tells us that if we really love Him we will obey Him and do what He tells us to do.

1 John 5:3a
This is love for God: to obey his commands.

Love is the Measuring Rod of Our Lives

As a building contractor for more than twenty years, I had to make sure that my work complied with the Uniform Building Code. This is a set of building standards that ensure that construction work is done safely and to prevent unscrupulous people from doing shoddy and deceptive work. The Building Inspector is the one who examines the work at various times in the construction process to ensure compliance with the standards. As followers of Christ we too will all have our work examined and inspected to see if it passes the quality standards of the Chief Inspector, Jesus Christ himself. [3] This will be the day when we will have to give an account of our life’s work (Rom. 14:12; Heb. 4:13).

2 Corinthians 5:10
For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.

The word “appear” in the above verse is not to simply make an appearance like to show up at a friend’s party. This is a translation of the Greek word phanero, which means “to be made manifest,” or “visible” in the sense that we will be examined or exposed. Standing naked and completely exposed before a crowd of people is a pretty uncomfortable idea, but to be standing fully exposed before the King of Kings will be completely unnerving for some people while their life’s work is scrutinized.

Thankfully, we can be completely cleansed of our sins, because Scripture declares that, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). Nevertheless, it will be very difficult for many to have their lives fully revealed before the Lord and judged for quality.

1 Corinthians 3:12-15
(12) If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw,
(13) his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man’s work.
(14) If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward.
(15) If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames.

When I appear before the Lord I will not be evaluated based on how many teachings I have presented or articles I have written, nor will I be assessed on any of my earthly achievements or worldly pursuits. The measuring rod that our lives will be gauged against is the standard of love (agape). Did I really love God, demonstrated by living a life of love?

God tells us that no matter how spiritually powerfully we walk, even having enough faith to move a mountain, if my motivation is not love then “I am nothing” (1 Cor. 13:1-3). Without love all of my talents and gifts, and all the sweat of my brow, adds up to a big fat “zero” in God’s ledger books. God has given us the ultimate gift, the gift of salvation and everlasting life, and, like any investor, He expects us to properly steward that gift by providing Him a return on His investment in the form of a life of loving Him and others.

Many Christians are familiar with the Scripture that says that “God is love” and “perfect love drives out fear” (1 John 4:18), but far too many fail to understand that the context of this section of Scripture is about the “day of judgment” when we will appear before Christ’s throne.

1 John 4:16-18
(16) And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him.
(17) In this way, love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment, because in this world we are like him.
(18) There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.

We will have confidence before him, and no fear, when we have lived a life of love.

Immunized from Heart Disease

When we fail to grasp God’s complete love for us we seek out our own salvation, our wholeness, through avenues other than Him. The more we inoculate our hearts with the truth of God’s great love for us, the more complete and whole we become, and the more we are able to love others. When God’s love permeates our minds and hearts we become convinced that there is no good thing He would ever withhold from us. We free ourselves from idols, die to ourselves, and lose ourselves to Him. No longer having the need to erect walls of self-protection or to retreat across a moat into the bastion of self-defense, we are freed from heart disease, living with hearts fully devoted to God.

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