A church member meticulously studies the Scriptures, but he refuses to obey in certain areas. His faith is primarily an intellectual pursuit. Another tends to follow her heart instead of God’s commands. Her feelings seem to override the Bible’s authority. Another brother faithfully serves the church, but he has no interest in doctrine, as if learning truth is an add-on to genuine Christianity.
Each Christian’s background, gifts, and personality predispose him to a faith that emphasizes either head, heart, or hands. Though well-intentioned, local churches can reinforce this disposition by emphasizing one or two of these components at the expense of others, leaving Christians with an incomplete approach to spiritual formation.
Each Christian’s background, gifts, and personality predispose him to a faith that emphasizes either head, heart, or hands.
Some churches are prone to a head faith, elevating doctrine and theology. Other churches are prone to a heart faith, emphasizing affections and expressive worship. Still other churches are prone to a hands faith, accentuating embodied activity and practical Christian living. All are essential aspects of Christianity. But alone, each emphasis is inadequate. Where can we find a solution to such fragmented faith?
Jesus’s Solution for Fragmented Faith
In Matthew 22:36, a Pharisee asks Jesus a question to test him, “Teacher, what is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus cites Deuteronomy 6:5 in his reply: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” (Matt. 22:37). This command, the Great Commandment, has been called the North Star of spiritual formation.
To love God with all our heart, soul, and mind surely means to love him with all we are. But we must not overlook that Jesus mentioned the faculties separately. Our intellect, emotions, and actions work together in spiritual growth, and all must be addressed in discipleship. Genuine transformation requires Christians to know and be and do. We see this in several places in the Bible. For example:
Ezra had set his heart to study [head] the Law of the LORD, and to do it [hands] and to teach his statutes and rules in Israel. (Ezra 7:10)
Desire [heart] without knowledge [head] is not good, and whoever makes haste with his feet [hands] misses his way. (Prov. 19:2)
Martyn Lloyd-Jones summarized the biblical emphasis this way:
The heart is always to be influenced through the understanding—the mind, then the heart, then the will. . . . But God forbid that anyone should think that it ends with the intellect. It starts there, but it goes on. It then moves the heart and finally the man yields his will. . . . The Christian life is a gloriously perfect life that takes up and captivates the entire personality.
If Lloyd-Jones is right and the Christian life “captivates the entire personality,” how do we go about captivating whole persons in our local church discipleship structures?
Waking Up to Holistic Holiness
At the church I serve, we developed a discipleship strategy that helps us to implement holistic discipleship practically. The strategy features three venues: corporate worship, small groups, and life-on-life discipleship (groups of two or three). While all three venues address head, heart, and hands, each has a particular emphasis.
In corporate worship, we cultivate the heart by training our affections through worship and expository preaching. Our small groups focus on pursuing the mind of Christ through Bible study, and life-on-life discipleship groups emphasize practical Christian living through spiritual disciplines and obedience to Christ’s commands.
If the Christian life captivates the entire personality, how do we go about captivating whole persons in our local church discipleship structures?
Recently a man in one of our life-on-life groups became convicted that he’d neglected reading the Bible. He awakened to this reality, admitted the problem to the other men in his group, and they prayed for him, collectively asking God for his formative grace in this man’s life. Now the brother is acting according to God’s will. Through prayer, accountability, and personal discipline, God’s grace is forming this man into someone who not only reads and obeys Scripture but who also loves the God of Scripture.
By God’s grace, we’ve seen this same pattern play out throughout our church’s discipleship ministry. The threefold emphasis on head, heart, and hands has awakened church members to gaps in their formation, and then leaders in the three ministry venues have encouraged them to honestly admit the gap, ask God for his help, and then experience change, learning to act according to God’s Word and will.
The pursuit of holistic holiness is the biblical remedy for fragmented faith. As we pursue it, our testimony should be the same as John Newton’s, who said, “I am not what I ought to be. I am not what I wish to be. I am not what I one day will be. But, by the grace of God, I am not what I once was.”