I believe the reason so much Bible knowledge yields so little change in so many Christians is because it never gets to the affections. Affections is the realm of the emotions. But affections go deeper than momentary feelings that can be both shallow and unpredictable. Affections act upon us and influence us to action. I am convinced that the doorway to the will is the affections. What we desire, what makes us happy, what we fear, and what makes us angry exert tremendous influence over what we do. If you want to truly change your ways, you need to change your affections. Becoming like Jesus means loving what he loves and hating what he hates. It means joining in with his laughter and sharing his tears. Those things are not just cognitive; they are affective. But we can’t just will our affections to change. That change is forged by God’s Word in the hands of the indwelling Holy Spirit.
I think that’s what we see in God’s new covenant with Israel when he promised to put his law within them and to write it on their hearts (Jer. 31:33). What does that mean? We usually say something like, “God’s law will be in our heart instead of on stone tablets like the Ten Commandments.” But we still don’t explain what we mean by “write it on the heart.” The heart refers to more than the mind and it’s more than our feelings. It’s the center of our being where thoughts, feelings, and decisions all come together. It is where truth shapes affections that yield decisions that compel action. The true walk of righteousness requires all of these working together. Truth understood in the mind that leads to no action is dead orthodoxy. Feelings not rooted in truth will lead to unstable emotionalism. Truth that compels action but apart from engaging the affections yields legalism. A right walk with Jesus is the result of truth shaping the affections so that the affections capture the will which in turn prompts action. In other words, the seriousness of the sin revealed in God’s Word begins to grieve us enough that we actually decide to do something about breaking the particular sin habit. Conversely, the joy of God begins to shape our own joyful affections so that what we most want, in the deepest part of our being, is to do those things that allow us to enter into the experience of God’s joy.
The new covenant is about God’s law being written on the affections. Israel had it on stone tablets and parchment scrolls. They heard it and memorized it, so it got into their minds. The average Jew had far more Scripture memorized than the committed Christian of our day. Yet, so often, it had no effect on their behavior. What they knew did not influence what they did. Why? What they knew did not capture their affections. With sin forgiven (Jer. 31:34) the Holy Spirit is free to write God’s law on the secret pages of our desires resulting in actual transformed living. Paul explained the dynamic this way: “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and work for his good pleasure” (Phil. 2:12-13). God works in us first, by writing his law on our hearts so that not only do we do the work of God, but we do it out of a heart that, more than anything else, desires to do that work. By writing his law on our hearts, God turns the “have to” of the old covenant into the “want to” of the new.
O that more followers of Jesus would understand the amazing gift God has given in the forgiveness of his Son that frees us from our enslavement to sin, which is really being overly enamored with self, and enables us to love him with our minds and hands, as well as with our every smile and tear. Don’t settle for just thinking and doing this year. Rather, let the thinking fan the flames of holy affections, and then see what God will do through you.