The State of Our Heart is the Key to Salvation

Just a brief definition disclaimer before we begin. When I use the word "heart" I mean "heart" in the sense of the way it is used throughout the New Testament as the word kardios. The Theological Dictionary of the New Testament states the definition of heart as: "The heart is the center of the inner life of man and the source or seat of all the forces and functions of soul and spirit." In the LXX (Septuagint), kardios is the same word translated as heart oftentimes in the OT.


I was one of those obsessive and immature guys who liked to know the status of my relationship with a girl or girls when I was dating growing up. I hankered for a tangible definition to something that was not really tangible. That temporary yet stated status gave me confidence and assurance.

We often take the same approach to salvation. I would like to have tangible salvation with a formula; however, it is the underlying heart that really matters - not outward actions or intellectual beliefs. Actions and beliefs can be revealing as to the state of one's heart, but just like the mean girlfriend from the past that ripped my heart in two, people can be fake and treat us like spectators at a performance. Some have this instinct to be fake so ingrained in them that artificiality spews from them without them ever realizing it. Only God can see behind the curtain and into the depths of our girlfriend's heart, and only God can see into depths of people's hearts when it comes to salvation.

There are many different proposed formulas for salvation: The four spiritual laws, the plan of salvation, some focus on just believing, or some other plan. The various formulas are scattered across the internet and are mostly based on Scripture.  All pick out Scriptures here and there to make their point. The formulas proposed are one of the most divisive areas in Christianity.

It doesn't matter what denominational or non-denominational background the teaching comes from, every formula seems to leave out elements that are linked with salvation in Scripture. The formulas also seem to emphasize one-time events. The focus is on getting saved rather than living saved. The formulas, which are the nature of formulas, exclude most if not all of continual aspects of salvation.

If you've said a prayer for salvation or been baptized, yet you ignore helping a neighbor, your one-time salvific event doesn't guarantee anything.  We have neglected what truly matters, and what matters are hearts being the home of the Holy Spirit. It is meaningless if you've completed all the steps in your formula and help your neighbors, yet your heart is not the home of the Holy Spirit. Its the depths of people's hearts that matter, and we cannot see past the surface into people's souls. We can't tell if our neighbor is saved. We have to have some sort of trust that people have transformed hearts when we consider them brothers and sisters based upon what they claim they are. It is impossible for us to examine the depths of anyone's heart.

I use the following example because it is the background I am familiar with. This logic could be applied to any steps of the various formulas that are spread throughout all the different formulas for salvation in Christianity. Many members of the Church of Christ/Christian Church have problems with accepting people as saved who have not been baptized. My question would be "Why did they ignore baptism?" If it was because of ignorance due to the fact that they were brought up in an environment that taught them it wasn't important, then salvation would not rely upon baptism but upon their heart, which they would show was in good standing when they decide to become baptized upon hearing that is what they should do. If it was because of stubbornness and disobedience to a teaching that they knew they should do, then we can almost be guaranteed that they are an individual that does not have a transformed heart.

This is all very reminiscent of what one of the founders of the Church of Christ said during the Rice-Campbell debate on on September 15, 1843. Alexander Campbell stated,
 "God is the judge of the world, therefore, judgment should be left to Him. It will require a Judge with infinite knowledge and wisdom to determine the fate of each individual on the basis of the opportunities for knowledge and the degree of ignorance, or of deliberate refusal to obey, or attempt to create and authorize the traditions of men in the place of the commands of God."
 Campbell echoes Paul in his letter to the Romans:

For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus.
Romans 2:14-16 (ESV)

Many American Christians are in the group of ignorance rather than the group of rebellion. Most are not Bible scholars and have not studied Scripture like an educated believer, nor do they come from backgrounds that teach that laymen should. Churches from all branches of Christianity, even the Church of Christ, are guilty of this. Does that mean the apathetic studiers are not saved? Could an apathetic studier still have a transformed heart?

Even if someone has followed their church's formula for salvation to the letter, it doesn't mean they have a transformed heart. Back to my upbringing for instance. It could mean they grew up in a church that emphasized baptism and they did not want to be outcasts or disappoint their family. Baptism, without a transformed heart, is irrelevant and sacrilegious; however, a transformed heart is relevant even without the steps in a specific formula because a person with a transformed heart will do the steps in the formula once it is revealed to them to do so. They have a heart that is focused on following God. The process of their salvation has begun. It is this transformed heart that becomes home to the Holy Spirit that matters: All intellectual beliefs and physical actions are meaningless without that transformed heart.

I've beaten this to death, but there isn't a formula or a prescription for salvation. We cannot measure when salvation begins in other people. I wish it was all so clear as to be biblically prescribed, that we can complete a checklist and be saved. It seems to be that way to many people; it isn't that way to me and many others in Christendom. I'm sure taking this stance will make me evil in some eyes, but I believe our difference in opinion is because I have a different approach when it comes to studying the Bible, not because I don't believe the Bible has authority. My theory that the transformed heart is the key to salvation leaves room for disagreements on methods of studying Scripture because an intellectual pursuit such as how to study the Bible is in no way a measure of one's salvation.

We do not know the exact time of salvation because the heart is a nebulous thing, but we do know that salvation is not always linked to an outward action or a belief statement. It is linked to a change of one's heart. This change of one's heart will bring about proper beliefs, which will result in proper actions; however, proper beliefs and/or proper actions are meaningless without the change of heart. Proper beliefs and actions don't happen overnight. I don't even know if the process of us having proper beliefs and actions will happen on this side of the grave. Our complete transformation is a process, a process that begins with our heart becoming the home of the Holy Spirit.

A surrendered heart that is the home of the Holy Spirit cannot be separated from proper beliefs and actions. This concept seems to lend a stronger credence to baptism and all of the other key actions of the salvation formulas. A kingdom heart will do all of the actions God desires of it. To Focus on having a person live out the actions of a kingdom heart is fruitless until their heart is inhabited by the Spirit.

There seems to be various gateways to the Spirit inhabiting one's heart, which I equate with the beginning of kingdom living. It can happen at baptism, laying on of hands, upon hearing the Gospel, upon believing the Gospel, and at various other times - the Holy Spirit coming into a person's life and taking over cannot be kept in a neat, little salvific box, nor does it really benefit us to argue about that particular point at which a person begins kingdom living. The key is that the beginning is just that, a beginning. It is not something to get overly hung up on. At the point when one's heart is inhabited with the Holy Spirit and sealed for salvation, one's thoughts and actions will begin to align itself with God's perfect will. Having one's heart changed is the beginning of a process, not the arrival of perfection. Everything we do from that point on should be done to help us perfect our thoughts and actions as our heart was perfected.

This makes sense of our struggle with being saved yet continuing to sin. Our heart, the seat of all the functions of our soul and spirit, has been sanctified, yet our thoughts and actions are still out of tune with our sanctified heart. This doesn't give us an excuse to sin; it just assures us that when we catch ourselves sinning, our salvation is still secure. Our thoughts and actions still cling to the fallen nature of our self while God is trying to redeem our whole being and all of his creation, not just the heart where he started.

This leads me to ask, "How do I change my heart?" And the answer seems to be, "I cannot." We must stand on the truth that we are completely saved by grace. I would argue that at the sound of the gospel, whether that arrives through the voice of a person or an echo of God in nature, everyone's heart is knocked upon by the Holy Spirit. He wants to come into our heart and begin to change our life. We might give intellectual consent before allowing the Holy Spirit in, or our heart might be craving it without our intellect knowing. Sadly, some hearts will resist. I do not know the formula of how to have an open heart to God's Spirit, but all of the formulas provide physical and intellectual things we can do to help that process if it hasn't already occurred. But how we have an open heart is one of the great mysteries of Christianity. Opening up our heart isn't something we can manipulate; it is something that has to be a desire at the core of our being.
'This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, says the Lord: I will put my laws in their hearts, and I will write them on their minds,' he also adds, 'I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more.' Where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin (Hebrews 10:16-18).


Here is a list of some of the verses that inspired these thoughts:

"I will strike her children dead. And all the churches will know that I am the one who searches minds and hearts, and I will give to each of you as your works deserve." (Rev 2:23)

Acts 1:24 - "Then they prayed and said, 'Lord you know everyone's heart. Show us which one of these two you have chosen..."

Acts 15:8 - "And God, who knows the human heart, testified to them by giving them the Holy Spirit, just as he did to us..."

Luke 16:15 - "So he said to them (the Pharisees), 'You are those who justify yourselves in the sight of others; but God knows your hearts; for what is prized by human beings is an abomination in the sight of God."

Romans 8:27 - "And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God."

Galatians 4:6 - "And because you are children, God has sent the Spirit of his son into our hearts, cring, 'Abba! Father!'"

The heart appears to be the home of the Spirit in us.

1 Thessalonians 2:4 - "Just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the message of the gospel, even so we speak, not to please mortals, but to please God who tests our hearts."

Romans 5:5 - "Hope does not disappoint us, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us."

2 Corinthians 1:21-22 - "It is God who establishes us with you in Christ and has anointed us, by putting his seal on us and giving us his Spirit in our hearts as a first installment." This is a very similar passage to Ephesians 1:13-14 - "In him you also, when you had heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and had believed in him, were marked wit the seal of the promised Holy SPirit; this is the pledge of our inheritance toward redemption as God's own people, to the praise of his glory."

2 Corinthians 3:3 - You show that you are a letter of Chirst, prepared by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tables of human hearts."

2 Corinthians 4:6 - "For it is the God who said, 'Let light shine out of darkness,' who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ."

Acts 16:14 - "A certain woman named Lydia, a worshiper of God, was listening to us; she was from the city of Thyatira and a dealer in purple cloth. The Lord opened her heart to listen eagerly to what was said by Paul."

Hebrews 10:21-22 - "Since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us approach with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water."

Romans 10:9-10 - "If you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For one believes with the heart and so is justified, and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved." Paul doesn't just write "believe" but "believes with the heart" and "believe in your heart". It is much deeper than just intellectual assent.

1 Corinthians 14:25 - "After the secrets of the unbeliever's heart are disclosed, that person will bow down before God and worship him, declaring, 'God is really among you'."