Head to Heart

By Mike Mazzalongo     Posted: Sun. Aug 20th
In this sermon, Mike traces out the various stops on the journey of faith that begins in a person's head but must travel to the heart for that believer to become a true disciple of Jesus.
16 But the eleven disciples proceeded to Galilee, to the mountain which Jesus had designated. 17 When they saw Him, they worshiped Him; but some were doubtful. 18 And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, "All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age."
- Matthew 28:16-20

This passage shows us what happens on the outside when someone becomes a disciple of Jesus. We read that very often to see that. The information about him is communicated, an individual is immersed in water, becomes a disciple, and then a person receives more information about Jesus and his commands from others.

In this lesson, I'd like to explain to you what has to happen on the inside of a person, in order to become a disciple. We don't see this process. But the Bible does talk about it. For a person to become a disciple of Jesus two things have to happen on the inside.

1. Jesus has to get into your head

13 Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, He was asking His disciples, "Who do people say that the Son of Man is?" 14 And they said, "Some say John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; but still others, Jeremiah, or one of the prophets." 15 He said to them, "But who do you say that I am?" 16 Simon Peter answered, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God." 17 And Jesus said to him, "Blessed are you, Simon Barjona, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. 18 I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it. 19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven." 20 Then He warned the disciples that they should tell no one that He was the Christ.
- Matthew 16:13-20

After having taught His disciples by word and deed, Jesus brings them to the point where they have to draw a conclusion about Him. What do they think about Him? An opinion has to be formed, a belief needs to be fashioned from the information that has been given. We see the disciples do this very thing and acknowledge Him to be what He claimed to be, the Son of the living God.

Now, the objective of most teaching done in church is this one right here, an intellectual assessment of Jesus: who He is, what He did, why He did it, when He did it, what you should do about it. It's relatively easy and comforting and we have a tremendous capacity to take in and store information about Jesus and the Bible.

A great number of people are baptized and educated, they serve the church, never going beyond the point of having Jesus in their heads. Well, head knowledge of Jesus is necessary, and it is a necessary first step for anyone coming to Christ. But in order to be a disciple, this knowledge has to make its way from your head down to your heart.

2. Jesus has to get into your heart

21 From that time Jesus began to show His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised up on the third day. 22 Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him, saying, "God forbid it, Lord! This shall never happen to You." 23 But He turned and said to Peter, "Get behind Me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to Me; for you are not setting your mind on God's interests, but man's."
- Matthew 16:21-23

So Jesus has asked them about head knowledge, and they have responded well. But this knowledge hasn't made its way to the heart yet, as we see by Peter's reaction. Jesus begins to reveal the cost of establishing the church through them and Peter is astute enough to realize that if his leader is king, he's going to share in the glory. But if his leader is killed, he will have to share in the shame. And so, he tries to discourage Jesus from this course of action. And Jesus cuts to the heart of the matter by revealing, in a moment, that Peter's concern was not really for Jesus or for the church, which is God's interest, it was really for himself. How to save himself. So Jesus reveals to Peter, in a blinding moment of truth, that he was in Peter's head, but He had not yet entered Peter's heart.

24 Then Jesus said to His disciples, "If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me.

In this passage the Lord teaches them the way to get faith, faith in their Lord from their heads down to their hearts, and thus become His true disciples. Quite simply, that self has to die before Jesus can enter one's heart and transform them into His disciple. This is because self does not live in the head. Self lives in the heart.

Dying to Self

In the passage we can see how dying to self requires that we deny the desire of always having self as the dominating force in one's life. What's the first thing Jesus said? You want to be my disciple? You have to - what?

1. Deny yourself

What does that mean? Well, denying yourself, it means struggling against the passion for being first, being important, being considered, being in control. I mean, it's okay to have our way. Sometimes our way is the good way. It's okay to be considered by others. But what is needed is the death of that instinctive yearning to always have this way and to naturally rebel when we can't have it this way. It's easy to give in when we agree. It's when we disagree that self refuses to give up and begins to wage holy war.

Don't we see in our own nation today what's going on because somebody got their way and somebody didn't get their way. We're tearing ourselves apart in order to get our way, politically. Disciples who deny self are not hurt or depressed if they're not in control, but rather are quite content to be in submission to Christ and His word and whoever else the Lord has placed over them in love. We know that the Lord is making His way into our hearts when we are not possessed by the constant desire to hear how good we are or how right we are, but when we're more interested in telling others how good and right and worthy Jesus is.

This is what Jesus means when He says we must deny self. That self that lives in our hearts. It doesn't mean asceticism. It doesn't mean becoming celibate, becoming a vegan. It means submerging self into Christ. That's what denying self means.

2. Deny the sinfulness in self

Discipleship requires a serious attitude towards sin in one's life. This is what the cross is all about. Take up His cross, deny self take up your cross. What do you think taking up your cross is all about? The cross is all about sin. In the first century we know that the cross was a symbol of shame, a death for criminals, a mark of guilt for those who were upon it.

Jesus was not personally guilty, but rather carried our guilt for sin onto the cross. And carrying our cross today refers to the daily struggle that every disciple faces if he or she chooses to follow Jesus, especially the struggle against personal sinfulness. If you're not feeling any headwind in being a Christian, you better start asking yourself some questions. Disciples are constantly struggling with the process of ridding themselves of sin and helping others do the same, by confronting ourselves and each other about it, by praying with each other over it, by helping each other with it. We, as brothers and sisters, we do a lot of things together socially, within the context of church activity, but how much time have we actually spent helping each other deal with the sin that strangles our spiritual lives? How about that reunion? How about that pizza party? How about that after church activity?

You can always tell the difference in this regard between someone whose religion is in their heads and those who have it in their hearts. People whose faith is in their heads, they don't react well when confronted with their sins, whether it be from the pulpit or just in a personal relationship. They deal with it by denying it, rationalizing it, blaming others for it, running away from it, or making light of it. The general attitude is that, well, nobody's going to tell me what to do. If your attitude is always nobody's going to tell me what to do, you're in the wrong place folks. Join a political party. That's where that attitude will get you somewhere.

In Christianity, we are begging God to tell us what to do. Begging Him, please, Lord, tell me what to do. Show me how to do it. Disciples, with Jesus in their hearts, have a different attitude when corrected. They understand the dangers of sin, they readily confess it, they abandon it to help others with similar problems. Their general attitude is one of thankfulness, gratitude that someone cared enough about their soul to try to save it. What does James say?

My brethren, if anyone among you strays from the truth and one turns him back, let him know that he who turns the sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.
- James 5:19-20

I mean, if you suffer the daily struggle against sin, rejoice. It means that you're spiritually alive, and you're sensitive to God's presence. Some people think if they're sensitive to their own sins, it must mean that God is far away. But it's exactly the opposite. Who do you think is making you sensitive to your own sinfulness? The holy spirit that lives within you. It means you're close to Him, because He's dealing with you.

3. Deny the way of the world in order to follow Christ

Now, we learned in our Old Testament studies of the past that the only purpose for the nation of Israel was to be God's people. That was their purpose. Of course, they farmed and they traded and they married and they built cities and they waged wars, but the reason for their existence was to be a witness for God on earth. All other things were secondary and supportive to this end. Disciples are the chosen people of God in this generation, and our primary purpose is to provide a witness for Jesus Christ to our world.

9 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God's own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; 10 for you once were not a people, but now you are the people of God; you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. 11 Beloved, I urge you as aliens and strangers to abstain from fleshly lusts which wage war against the soul. 12 Keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles, so that in the thing in which they slander you as evildoers, they may because of your good deeds, as they observe them, glorify God in the day of visitation.
- I Peter 2:9-12

He's talking about us. We are the priests. Oh, yeah? What are we offering? We're offering ourselves every day as living sacrifices to God, 24 hours a day. We are all to offer holy lives of purity and service among ourselves and the world as a witness that Christ lives in our hearts. This is our purpose in life. Everything else, your RV, your country place, your job, your career, your savings, that's all secondary. It's okay. You can have it. It's good. That's fine. Nobody wants to take that away from you. Realize, that's just the secondary things.

If you're a Christian making a witness for the living Christ, that's what life is about. I mean, that's not just a preacher saying it. Every single individual here can come up here and say exactly the same thing. And so, this requires a lifestyle, no matter what your lifestyle is, if you live in a big house or a little house, it requires a lifestyle where it is evident that our lives revolve around Christ and not around the things of this world. I mean, you can have lots of stuff, so long as you understand that your life doesn't revolve around your stuff. And yes, of course, we have to work and eat and farm and build our homes and societies, but if these things are the center, rather than Christ and His church, then our religion is in our heads, it's not in our hearts.

How'd you like to be married to a woman that you just like in your head, would that be great? How'd you like to be engaged to and plan to marry and spend your life with a man that you only like in your head. Would you like that? What makes us think Christ likes it any better We're not going to survive as disciples in this life if we compromise obedience to Christ for the things of the world. What does John say?

15 Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16 For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world.
- I John 2:15-16

In most cases, we can be disciples in this world. But Jesus tells us that when the pressures of gaining wealth or the cares of this world try to force us to compromise obedience to Christ and service in His kingdom, we must follow Christ. Because isn't that what He says? Follow me, He says, follow me, deny self, pick up the cross, follow me.

25 For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. 26 For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul? 27 For the Son of Man is going to come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and will then repay every man according to his deeds.
- Matthew 16:25-27

No matter what you gain in this world, it will not be worth the price of losing your soul in Christ. You often hear TV evangelists say to their viewers, just let Jesus into your hearts and people in the crowd raise their hand or they come forward. Seems so simple, doesn't it? Just think or say, "Jesus, come into my heart." But you know what, that's not the way Jesus comes into our hearts. The process from head to heart is a long and arduous one for most people. It requires a willingness to deny the permissiveness of self, a constant struggle to deny the power of sin alive in our flesh, and a firm commitment to follow Jesus wherever and whenever. This is the cost of discipleship. This is how we become disciples. This is what has to happen on the inside, so that what is happening on the outside becomes valid. People don't see the Jesus in my head, people see the Jesus in my heart.

Where is your Faith?

Simple isn't it? Is He in our heads or is He in our hearts? Are we disciples? Here, are we disciples, or are we just religious people? Because we got plenty of religious people. We got lots of those.

The first step for a would-be disciple is to acknowledge Jesus as the son of God, like Peter did; repent and be baptized for the forgiveness of sins, like the three thousand did on the day of pentecost. You may understand about religion and go to church, even participate in the songs and communion, but if you've not confessed Christ and been baptized, you do not belong to Him. And whatever you do, is done in vane, will never ever save you. The second step for any disciple is to get faith from the head to the heart. It's a difficult thing. It took Jesus several years with Peter.

So don't be discouraged if it isn't happening overnight for you. But it's possible, if you are willing to die to self. So, dying to self, from head to heart, denying self, denying sin, following Jesus.

I'd like to finish with a little piece that explains, in practical terms, this idea of dying to self, but in everyday life. Hopefully, you'll understand how a true disciple emerges from this particular process.

  • When you are forgotten or neglected or purposefully set at naught and you don't sting and hurt with the insult or the oversight, but your heart is happy being counted worthy to suffer for Christ, that is dying to self.
  • When your good is evil spoken of, when your wishes are crossed, your advice disregarded, your opinions ridiculed, and you refuse to let anger rise in your heart or even defend yourself, but take it all in patient loving silence, that is dying to self.
  • When you lovingly and patiently bear any disorder, any irregularity, and impunctuality, or any annoyance; when you can stand face to face with waste and folly, extravagant spiritual insensibility, and endure it as Jesus endured, that is dying to self.
  • When you are content with any food, any offering, any raiment, any climate, any society, any solitude, any interruption by the will of God, that is dying to self.
  • When you no longer care to hear yourself in conversation or to record your own good works or itch after commendation; when you can truly love to be unknown, that is dying to self.
  • When you can see your brother prosper and have his needs met and can honestly rejoice with him in spirit and feel no envy, nor question God, while your own needs are far greater and in desperate circumstances, That is dying to self.
  • When you receive correction and reproof from one of less stature than yourself and can humbly submit inwardly as well as outwardly, finding no rebellion or resentment rising up within your heart, that is dying to self.

What's interesting about this piece is that the author did not put their name to it. They remain unknown. How appropriate that this commentary has no author's name.

I pray that we all will have Jesus firmly fixed both - I'm not knocking head knowledge, you have to have that before it goes in here, but I hope we have it both in our heads and in our hearts and be found faithful, as disciples of Jesus, when He comes. And make no mistake, He will come. He will come.

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Bill Schlarb, Bruce Veinot
for the Ottawa West Church of Christ