Jesus made Deuteronomy 6:4-5 the calling of life. “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.” In the first of our set of posts we looked at the call to love God (Vision); the second noted “all” as the range of love (Integration); the third linked “words” and “heart” in verse 6 as the resource for life (Nurture); and now we conclude with Exercise as applied love. We also have an acronym from the first letter of each key term: VINE.
Exercise comes in verse 7—“You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.” This daily sequence—with each family member present in each phase—are life settings where love can be applied. Parents “teach” and “talk” of their love for God—the V,I and N—in ordinary moments of life. So this love gently overflows from one generation to the next.
Good. But later, by New Testament times, Pharisees had shed Vision, Integration, and Nurture. So now Exercise was compressed into performance; with “right choices” at center. This set up hypocritical compliance in place of “faith working through love” [Gal 5:6]. The collapse helps explain what Jesus told Nicodemus, a Pharisee, in John 3. Nicodemus was religious—“the teacher of Israel”—yet Jesus still called him to faith! “You must be born of the Spirit.” Nicodemus didn’t get it. Next, in John 4, we find a sharp contrast with the Samaritan woman’s immediate response. She received the Spirit’s “living water” as offered by Jesus; and later explained in John 7: “Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’ Now this he said about the Spirit” [verses 38-39]. This divine activity also set up Paul’s promise of “God’s love poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit” [Ro 5:5].
Let’s explore what Exercise involves. It’s an inside-out change—with new, heartfelt impulses birthed by the Spirit’s presence. He shares Christ’s heart which moves our hearts to take up new ambitions: from selfish to selfless. New directions in life emerge as he slowly moves us from insularity into communities of love. Our hearts become conduits of God’s love through us.
The nexus of heart and mind needs close attention, especially in light of the Pharisees’ failure. And in light of commonsense beliefs today that our mind and will are self-ruled. They aren’t! Both serve heart-desires. Jesus taught this: “For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person” [Mk 7:21-23]. This, of course, contradicts Aristotle and the Stoics who insisted that we become good through making good choices. But only God is good; and any goodness comes by God’s love working in us. This “inside-out” approach rejects “outside-in” spirituality as illusory.
This reversal relies on two features. First, a person must receive the Spirit. Just one master can rule a heart. Next, that soul then embraces the V, I, and N. And, as part of Nurture, one may look at every use of “heart” in the Bible. Ideally by completing a bold Bible read-through. Start with God’s heart in Gen 6:6. Then trace how souls are affective and heart-centered: a response-based center that births motives. As in, “Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life” [Prov 4:23]. Also, note the heart’s key moral role in Jeremiah 17:9-10.
The heart is a tangible metaphor that links fears and desires to the pace of a beating pulse. It reflects stirred responses. Motives, then, are features of life so close to us that we usually can’t see them. Much like autonomic “fight or flight” responses, we have auto-spiritual responses, stirred either by God’s Spirit pouring out God’s love in our hearts; or by responses to the “spirit” at work in non-believers [Eph 2:2]. New birth means we now have God’s Spirit abiding in us as a “helper” who stirs and convicts us. We see this in 1 Corinthians 2 and in Galatians 5. So, too, in Psalm 139 where we’re invited to pray often: “Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” [vs 23-24]. The new auto-spiritual impulse—our Exercises—include listening, confessing, rejoicing, and walking in love.
Call this a daily “washing of water with the word” [Eph 5:26]. Even after salvation our hearts still oscillate between old, self-concerned habits of the past; and our new impulses of love, joy, peace, patience, and more [see Ro 5-8]. Our new life-with-Christ comes about as his Spirit—now present to us in a “Heart-to-heart” bond—is a constant companion. But not as a dictator. He stirs us by applying Scriptures and by working through biblical communities. Christ is “gentle and lowly” in giving us his Spirit. He is now “in” and “with” us, as promised in John 14.
This activity in us displays our growing affective attraction to Jesus. As we abide in his word his ambitions start to work in and through us. We’re now able to “keep in step with the Spirit” [Gal 5:25]. Not by hearing directive “voices,” but by responding to the Son’s Bible nudges as he gently shapes our new hearts to be like his own heart.
Now, another exercise. Ask Jesus for “his kingdom” to be more evident to us in daily life. So we no longer treat daily activities of school, family, or career functions as private turf. Instead we ask him to keep us awake to his ambitions. And as we grow we’re increasingly alert to Christ’s supply of other “hearts”—to friends who are also responding to him. So we link up. And then invite others to join us. This missional process is Christ’s love working through our hearts as a spreading goodness. It displays our unique gifting as we share in community activities.
In other words, if your own experience of Christian faith is dry and dissipated, invite Jesus, by his Spirit, to have “the eyes of your heart enlightened”—as Paul prayed in Ephesians 1:18—to begin to be captured by what Jesus sees and loves. Exercise is a natural part of this life.
Another exercise is to embrace Christ’s call to take up his cross. Jesus calls us to radically new values: “Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple” [Lk 14:27]. Paul shared this. “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” [Gal 2:20]. This isn’t a call to a masochistic life of deprivation. Instead we’re increasingly free to ignore values of the day. We turn, instead, to enjoy our life with Christ. And we look ahead to the communion he shared in John 17. The present fallen world seeks self-fulfillment. Jesus offers eternal glory. One is a complete reversal to the other. In which Adam’s love of self is overturned by Christ’s love for others.
A final exercise is our embrace of constant thanksgiving. “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Do not quench the Spirit” [1 Thess 5:16-19]. This is counterintuitive to our former life “in the flesh”—with our comfort and success as measures of life. Instead we live with a faith that treats this world as upside-down. We now have a new vision of Christ at work, turning everything for good for all who love him. So we can still thank him “in” our events, even when we’re hurt by the hard events of a broken, dying world. He knows and loves us! Our Vision leads to thanksgiving.
How do we embrace this Exercise? It comes from God’s Spirit, not by our determination. With Christ “in us” we’re able to keep in step with his Spirit. So, set your eyes on Christ; and go for it!