The following post is part of our ‘Principles of Reformation’ series. For the first post in the series, please click here.
Over the last month, members of the Gospel Reformation Network’s Executive Council have contributed material as part of a series of brief articles entitled Principles of Reformation. The men have brought out treasures old and new from their ministries, and it is my privilege to bring the series to a close with a fresh consideration of an unseen Reformation, the Reformation of hearts.
For His own glory, God has granted to us the ability to discover and know His truth, render acceptable worship to Him, express His truth in doctrinal formulation, and pursue the Reformation of His church with zeal and vigor. What an encouragement it is to see with our eyes and experience the visible fruits of His blessing in our communities, conversations, and holy convocations! And yet, all our efforts, all our outward service, all our hopes are empty and vain without the supernatural intervention of the Spirit of God in the hearts of men.
The Holy Spirit comes and goes without our being able to see His perfect work in regenerating spiritually dead men (Jn. 3:8). Though the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22, 23) is wonderfully evidenced in the words and deeds of the saints, the Spirit’s work of sanctification invisibly operates upon the human soul, the very wellspring of life. Here our heavenly Father’s instruction is to be heard and heeded. It is in reference to the application of the wisdom of God to the hearts of men that we read, “My son, be attentive to my words; incline your ear to my sayings. Let them not escape from your sight; keep them within your heart. For they are life to those who find them, and healing to all their flesh. Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life” (Prov. 4:20-23). It is the perfect wisdom of God expressed in His Word and applied by the Spirit that reforms the hearts of men.
Christ’s Ministry to the Heart
It is in Matthew’s Gospel that we are confronted with Christ’s wholly wise agenda for the reformation of the human heart. Again and again, our Savior confounds the Pharisees and their scribes, unmasking the lie of their outward show of religiosity and pietism in their mishandling of God’s Law. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus warns His hearers against following the selfish example of the hypocrites who give to the poor (Matt. 6:1-4), pray in public (Matt. 6:5, 6), and mar their bodies by fasting (Matt. 6:16-18) for the sake of being noticed by others as exceptionally spiritual.
When Jesus declares toward the close of the Sermon that “not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 7:21), he hits the climax of His warning against religious externalism. Doing the will of the Father is not a matter of superficially checking the box of certain deeds of well-doing. It is a matter of true righteousness from grateful hearts enthralled and transformed by the grace of God. The will of God our Father for us His children is to be conformed to His holiness (Lev. 19:2) in sanctification of heart and life (1 Thess. 4:3). Sanctification of life – both initially and repeatedly – is the work of the Spirit of Christ our ascended King who grants repentance to His people and forgives their sins (Acts 5:31).
By the end of Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus definitively exposes Phariseeism for the religious hypocrisy that it is (Matt. 23), igniting the wrath of its legalistic practitioners (Matt. 26), and leading to His gruesome death on Golgotha’s bloody cross (Matt. 27). However, this is not how Christ’s earthly ministry concludes – praise the Lord!
In Matthew’s capstone chapter, Christ is risen – again I say, praise the Lord! – and He immediately addresses the hearts of His followers, telling them not to fear (Matt. 28:10) and assuring them that He is ever and always with them (Matt. 28:20). In these sayings and their parallel passages in the other Gospels, Christ our Reformer King instructs, comforts, and graciously commands the hearts of those who are His. Not content with external submission to His demands, the Lord of Glory addresses Himself to the hearts of men.
Our Ministry to the Heart
Christianity is the religion of the sanctified heart (Ps. 51:10), of spirit-and-truth devotion to God (Jn. 4:23), and of the heavenly assembly of just men made perfect in glory (Heb. 12:23). Our God is the one true and living God (Jer. 10:10) who examines the hearts of men (1 Sam. 16:7). These grand and glorious truths of the Christian Faith have direct bearing on our piety as individuals. For just one example, consider the Westminster Larger Catechism’s teaching on God as the exclusive object of our prayers: God only being able to search the hearts, hear the requests, pardon the sins, and fulfill the desires of all; and only to be believed in, and worshiped with religious worship; prayer, which is a special part thereof, is to be made by all to Him alone, and to none other.
These truths likewise have direct bearing on our ministry as elders in Christ’s church, following the example of prophets, apostles, evangelists, and our forefathers in the Faith. In our ministry, we are to be concerned with the hearts of men. Describing his apostolic ministry, Paul wrote under inspiration of the Holy Spirit, “Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. For this I toil, struggling with all His energy that He powerfully works within me” (Col. 1:28, 29).
What does it mean for us to present those to whom we minister as mature – in other translations, “perfect” or “complete” – in Christ? Paul writes to the Church in Corinth that there is coming a day when the Lord “will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart. Then each one will receive his commendation from God” (1 Cor. 4:5). Paul’s ministry goals were oriented toward the Reformation of hearts.
Is the orientation of our ministry goals any different? We labor to fill and safeguard the pulpits of our churches with Christ-exalting proclamation, graciously warning and instructing the flock of God to heed the voice of their Good Shepherd, the Lord of human hearts. As elders, we are called not only to bring God’s Word to our people, but also to bring our people to God’s throne in urgent, pleading prayer for their hearts. In anticipation of that day when He shall come to judge the living and the dead, we labor by Word and prayer, with earnest zeal and faith, for nothing less than the Reformation of hearts.
Our ultimate goal is for the glory of God to be magnified among men, but all voiced acclamation and praise is meaningless apart from the converting grace of God in the heart. As God’s Word makes clear, conversion is not our work. We are merely stewards of the means God has appointed for the conversion of men and nations to the joy of the Lord (Ps. 67). We cannot manufacture, force, or otherwise bring about heart-transformation. We can, however, pursue it with vigorous faith, employing the means God has appointed for the fulfillment of His purposes to the praise of His Name. We can and must pursue the Reformation of hearts.
 The Ultimate Goal of Reformation: Our Goal Is God’s Glory by Jonathan L. Master
 The Fundamental Principle of Reformation: God’s Word Is Our Sure Foundation of Knowing God by Richard D. Phillips
 The Reformation of Worship: God’s Program for His Glory by J. Ligon Duncan, III
 The Reformation of Doctrine: Its Preservation & Progress by David B. Garner
 The Reformation of the Church: Spiritual Aims Call for Spiritual Means by Jason Helopoulos
 Westminster Larger Catechism 179