Lately, I’ve felt a strong zeal for the revelation of God’s truth, a persistent and powerful desire to see the truth of His word understood and obeyed. Jesus is THE way, THE truth and THE life. There is no other way to the Father but through Him, and every word He speaks is true [John 14:6, Matthew 24:35]. It makes sense, it gives understanding, and it gives love and joy. “Jesus, I want to know You, to know the unchanging truth of your word! Lord, reveal Yourself, give revelation of your words.” As I was reading the book of Acts, I came across two different reactions to the truth of God. In both cases, people heard the gospel in a way that affected their hearts. They were “cut to the heart”. The Greek used for this phrase is κατανύσσομαι (katanusso) meaning to pierce all the way through, or deeply and violently pierced, and καρδία (kardia) meaning the heart, and the “affective centre of our being”. So, these people, having heard the gospel, the living truth of God, were violently, and deeply pierced right through their heart, through the very centre of their being. Yet, these two groups responded in very different ways.
The word of God is described, in Hebrews 4:12, as “living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.” The word of God penetrates even to our hearts to make all things known. Nothing in our being is hidden, but we will all give account to God [Hebrews 4:13]. How will we react to knowledge of God who knows us completely? What is the true condition of our hearts before Him? The two passages from Acts are written below. As you read them, I encourage you to also read around them (verses before and after, related verses in the Bible), and to make your own comparison list of the how the people reacted to God’s truth. Which group do you, or have you at times, related to? What challenges you? In the week after I started writing this, the Lord provided me with an opportunity to test my own heart.
[Acts 2:37-39, 44-47]
(v.37-39) Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Men and brethren, what shall we do?” Then Peter said to them, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptised in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is to you and to your children, and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call.
(v.44-47) Now all who believed were together, and had all things in common, and sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need. So, continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart, praising God and having favour with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved.
When they heard these things they were cut to the heart, and they gnashed at him with their teeth. But he, being full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God, and said, “Look! I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!” Then they cried out in a loud voice, stopped their ears, and ran at him with one accord; and they cast him out of the city and stoned him…”
Peter spoke to the people after they witnessed the Holy Spirit being received by the disciples. They were unsure what had happened, and there was division amongst them – some wondered, “Whatever could this mean?” while others mocked and said, “They are full of new wine.” [Acts 2:12-13] Peter answered their questions from the word of God, explaining the action and purpose of the Holy Spirit. Speaking still from the word of God, he testified that Jesus was Christ saying in conclusion, “Therefore, let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.” [Acts 2:26] As they believed and opened their hearts to receive Christ and the Holy Spirit, Peter reminded them of God’s grace, and of His faithful promise to them.
Stephen preached the gospel in a similar, yet different setting. He was described as a man of faith and power, doing great wonders and signs among the people, and speaking with a wisdom from the Spirit that none could refute. False charges of blasphemy were brought against him and in this way, he was brought before the council, face shining like that of an angel. Yet, the people were already set to listen, not with a questioning heart, but with a desire to accuse. Stephen’s address did not specifically mention the name of Jesus, but he began by reminding the Jews about their history with God – how time and time again God has been faithful to them in love, how time and time again, God’s word had been fulfilled as He had promised. There was no mention of any significant interruption as Stephen reminded them how their fathers had disobeyed God. Yet, at the mention of their own disobedience, their own denial of the Holy Spirit, and their own persecution of those proclaiming Christ, the crowd became angry, gnashing their teeth. These were the words that cut them to the heart. When Stephen made further reference to Jesus being Messiah, they stopped their ears, cried out with loud voices, cast him out and stoned him.
As I read these passages, a few things stand out to me:
- Both groups witnessed the workings of the Holy Spirit
- Both groups heard the gospel
- Both groups were challenged by the gospel
- Both groups were cut to the heart
- One group opened their hearts, the other group stopped them
- One group received, the other group denied
If they were both cut to the heart by the word of God, how could they react so differently? We’ve already looked a little into what it means to be cut to the heart by the word of God. This is the word of God that undeniably and powerfully affects our heart in such a way that we must respond. The way we respond however, is a choice made out of our free-will, a choice of faith. I want to share a recent testimony about how I have been cut to the heart by God’s word.
I need grace. In the midst, and sometimes craziness, of all our wedding planning, I’ve seen things about my character which I have not liked. I felt like Paul when he says in Romans 7:19, “For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice.” I have had some moments of great struggle when I have felt one way about a decision that has to be made, or a way of reaction toward another person; yet have been reminded of God’s word and His heart. In these moments, I felt a difficulty in denying myself that I had not experienced before – the intensity was stronger, and I wondered why it was now so hard. Yet, I kept remembering God’s word, I kept being reminded of who He was, what He desired, and it cut me to the heart. I said “Lord, I’m angry. What should I do?” He spoke, and I could not disobey.
[Job 40:3-5] –“Then Job answered the Lord and said:
“Behold I am vile;
What shall I answer You?
I lay my hand over my mouth,
Once I have spoken, but I will not answer;
Yes, twice, but I will proceed no further.”
For this situation, it was like choosing to fast my anger, to deny my feelings in order that God would be glorified, to willingly allow Him to be pleased rather than to do what I wanted at the time. I said, “Yes Lord, Your approval means more to me that anyone else’s, and Your wisdom is good and true.” Then, as I struggled, I said “Lord, help me!”. This was my decision, and the action that followed was a result of my faith, strengthened by the Holy Spirit. Just one situation – I repented, I sought the Lord and asked Him for help. Yet, as more and more wedding planning needed to be done, I saw more and more my desperate need for God’s grace.
[1 Corinthians 13:4-7] – “Love suffers long and it is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things”
That was the NKJV. Here is the NIV version of the same passage, so commonly transcribed on posters, magnets, cups and more.
“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonour others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.”
This is how love is described. Do I have that kind of love in me? If I know God, His love should be in me. If I do not love those around me, I do not know God. So, how do I size up to love? Here’s how these words cut me to the heart : My answer to that question was this – frankly, not well. Better, perhaps, when everything is going my way, and when I’m not under pressure. During all this time of wedding planning, I realise I am impatient, short with others, proud, stubborn, selfish, easily angered, and a grudge-keeper. Basically, I have a tendency toward the exact opposite of all those characteristics of love. At the same time, I know full well that Jesus loves me, and that He delights in me, forgives me and covers me with His righteousness. I want to be confident in Christ, but not proud, strong in my faith, but with humility to consider each one better than myself, always forgiving, speaking words seasoned with grace, and I want the patience, forbearance and love that God has shown me. My heart’s desire really is to be more like Jesus! Yet, in my flesh, I have a tendency towards other things.
What do I do? I set my heart towards God, to always fall towards him, even in my weakness, and I remember His word. See what He says? I might be imperfect, but He is perfect and when I have faith in Him, He shares His perfection with me. As He does this, my character and my heart are moulded to become more like Him.
[Ephesians 1:7-8] – “In Him, we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace which He made to abound toward us in all wisdom and prudence.”
[2 Corinthians 9:8] – “And God is able to make all grace abound toward you, that you, always having all sufficiency in all things, may have an abundance for every good work.”
[James 1:2-6] – “My brethren, count it joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing. If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for he who doubts is like a wave of the sea driven and tossed by the wind.”
Jon Thurlow sings a song, “Dependent On You”:
“Help me to trust You
Help my unbelief, I
I want to be dependent on
I want to be dependent on You.”
[Hebrews 3:12-15] says this:
“Beware, brethren, lest there be in any of you and evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God; but exhort one another daily, while it is called “Today”, lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin. For we have become partakers of Christ if we hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast to the end, while it is said: “Today if you will hear His voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.””
Here are some points I pick up from reading this passage:
- A warning to beware, to keep watch against unbelief, departing from the living God,
- A charge to exhort one another daily, and at all times (“while it is called “Today”)
- Fellowship with the Spirit of God, and with each other, combats the hardness of heart that comes through sin’s deceitfulness
- Believing is not a once off decision, but a lifestyle of partaking in Christ, holding on in faith to His truth
- A warning, an encouragement, and reminder in one: “Today if you will hear His voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion”)
Again, there are more questions to ask the Lord, and I am not going to explore them all right now. However, here are some things to think about:
- How do we keep watch?
- How does sin deceive, and how does fellowship protect?
- How does a lifestyle of continuous belief look like?
- What was the consequence of hardened hearts in the rebellion? What are the consequences now?
An important question to consider is “How will I respond? My response to the above points from the passage is this:
- I will keep watch against unbelief by immersing myself in God’s word, fellowshipping with His Spirit for understanding of His word, and by setting my heart to journey always toward Him in any circumstance.
- I will keep watch against unbelief by blessing and being blessed by God’s church. I will remind my brothers and sisters of who they are in Christ, and I will have a teachable heart so that I may be tested and refined like gold in the fire. I will have humility to let God’s people speak His words to me, just as He uses me to speak to others.
- I will deny myself each and everyday, trusting instead in Christ and His way. I will seek first His kingdom, and serve Him alone.
- When I hear His voice, I will not harden my heart but instead , I set my heart to obey God’s commandments.
- All this I will do through God who gives me strength.