Heart knowledge vs. head knowledge?

Have you ever been exhorted to take a truth from God’s word to the next level—from “head knowledge” to “heart knowledge”?

It seems to make sense on the surface. Most of us have had times where we know something to be true, yet have a hard time feeling like it is true.

I know God cares about me but… I know I can trust Him, but… I know he gives me the strength to resist temptation, but…

So, how exactly do we go about taking something from head knowledge to heart knowledge?

Are there steps we can take to execute a mystical transfer from our thoughts to our affections? Or are we just supposed to will ourselves to believe it more? I’m pretty sure the answer to both of these questions is, “No.”  Why? Because, as far as I can tell, the Bible never makes any such distinction between types of knowledge.

It speaks of natural wisdom vs. spiritual wisdom, and it speaks of knowledge vs. lack of knowledge—but never head knowledge vs. heart knowledge.

The problem is not our inability to move truth to the proper location in our being, but our refusal to appropriate truth into our lives.

In other words, the things we know to be true become faith when we live like they are true.

If we sit around and wait to feel right about what we know before we live it, we are approaching things all backward. Emotions usually follow action and investment.  It is perseverance in practicing what we know that builds faith and confidence in God.  In this, we give God opportunities to show himself faithful…and he always will.

Colossians 1:9-10 (NASB)
that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding,
so that you will walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, to please Him in all respects, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God

See related post: Mind, Heart, and Soul: What is the Difference?

11 thoughts on “Heart knowledge vs. head knowledge?”

  1. I agree that emotions usually follow action and investment and that it is perseverance in practicing what we know that builds faith and confidence in God. I also believe that when we go to prayer and we receive an answer from God – a peace that passes understanding or whatever the answer may be – I believe it goes directly to the heart. There are many scriptures in Matthew, Mark and Luke where Jesus is referring to the heart. Mark 11:23, Mark 12:30, Luke 12:34, and Matthew 5:18, Matthew 6:21, and Matthew 5:8 (Blessed are the pure of heart, for they shall see God). I believe that we are probably saying the same thing, but I believe that through surrender, head knowledge goes to heart knowledge. And out of the reservoir in the heart comes praise for God and testimony that can be spoken with authority.

    1. I agree with you both– Surrender and obedience help us to act on God’s promises and see Him follow through in our lives. Prayer definitely helps us in this process as we requests the Spirit’s empowerment then act out of obedience. It’s kind of the “faith without works is dead” discussion.

  2. Robert 🙂 ,
    Thanks for being willing to share your thoughts on this topic. There are several interesting issues raised in this response. I will be writing a new blog post addressing these thoughts. Stay tuned…

  3. knowledge+faith=action is a pretty good equation to sum it up, I think.
    I will write a little something about it this week 🙂
    Stop by and let me know what you think.

  4. I am a physician & tend to use head knowledge vs heart knowledge to describe the difference in factual, book knowledge (ie. Eating a low fat diet is good for me) vs. the point when I can embrace the knowledge enough to consistently act on it (Consistently or at least frequently making good food choices). As medical people, we also talk about stages of change:
    The five stages of change are precontemplation, contemplation, preparation, action, and maintenance. Precontemplation is the stage at which there is no intention to change behavior in the foreseeable future. Many individuals in this stage are unaware or underaware of their problems. Contemplation is the stage in which people are aware that a problem exists and are seriously thinking about overcoming it but have not yet made a commitment to take action. Preparation is a stage that combines intention and behavioral criteria. Individuals in this stage are intending to take action in the next month and have unsuccessfully taken action in the past year. Action is the stage in which individuals modify their behavior, experiences, or environment in order to overcome their problems. Action involves the most overt behavioral changes and requires considerable commitment of time and energy. Maintenance is the stage in which people work to prevent relapse and consolidate the gains attained during action. (http://www.uri.edu/research/cprc/TTM/StagesOfChange.htm)

    Head knowledge is the precontemplation stage. The transition to heart knowledge encompasses the contemplation stage & the preparation stage. Obtaining heart knowledge is the action stage.

    My other thought on this is that we can read, study & gain tools to change. The power & motivation to change come from God & his Spirit acting on our heart.

    1. Dana – Thanks so much for perspective from your field of expertise. Very interesting thoughts and well articulated.

      Certainly there are stages in moving from knowledge to action. I have no problem with that concept. I don’t even have a problem with using heart and mind as a metaphor for the process. Rather, it is the philosophical/theological implications of the idea of literal levels or compartments of the soul that I take issue with (as I explain in the follow up to this post).

      The idea of somehow spiritually moving our knowledge from one section of our being to another before it can really become part of our lives, I think, is far more mystical than how the Bible describes the process. “He who hears and obeys…”

      There is no doubt that we are dependent on the Holy Spirit in this process to guide us in understanding and empower us to obey, but it does not follow that His work is isolated to engaging our ‘heart’ to the exclusion of our ‘mind’.

      Hope that clarifies my position a little. 🙂

      Again, thanks for stopping by and offering your input. I enjoyed reading!

  5. i don’t think that we move our knowledge from one section of our being from one place to another i think it is more of a process of understanding. and as we understand we are able to respond to his kindness. as i understand from a scientific standpoint, (how humans work) early childhood damage that happens from conception to 6 or 7 years of age has a profound impact on us, the impact of damage (physical, emotional, spiritual, sexual) is that there is a separation of the heart/brain connection through the vagus nerve. this separation leaves the brain in charge and the brain is designed to survive at all costs and will take over when we do not feel safe, we decide that we will take care of our own needs since no one else can or will and true intimacy (in-to-me-see) is lost. no one has escaped the results of this damage. for all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. Rom 3:23 so we are in survival mode or living from the brain all the while trying to appear spiritual, or having the form of Godliness but denying the power thereof,(yes even christians) this i believe leaves us in a dilemma which paul describes, that which i want to do (heart) i do not do, and that which i do not want to do (brain) i do. who will save me from this body of death. the tabernacle God specifically directed the children of israel to build so that he could dwell with them represents what his plan was all along, to heal us from the damage we would sustain in a sinful world and repair the heart/brain separation so that we would no longer be of a carnal mind or denying his power in us. the brain survives (carnal) the heart connects (spiritual). what was contained in the most holy place was the ten commandments that was carved in stone. jeremiah foretells of the new covenant where he will write his laws on our hearts. Jeremiah 31:33. this happened after the crucifixion and the veil that separated the holy place from the most holy place was ripped from top to bottom signifying the beginning of the new covenant and the process of salvation was complete. finished. (i haven’t yet found the sinner’s prayer in scripture)
    Ezekiel 36:26 says that i will remove from you your heart of stone (ten commandments written in stone) and give you a heart of flesh(ten commandments written on the flesh, and the sacrificial system was no longer necessary). it seems to me that God gave us a physical representation of his plan to live inside us, in our physical hearts, that is where he said he would write his laws of love first for him and secondly for others. when asked what is the greatest commandment he said Love the lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your mind, and love your neighbor as yourself. on these two commandments hang ALL the law and the prophets. Matthew 22:39. so what is love? and how can we love if were busy surviving in our brains denying his power in us?

    1. Hi Eric. Thanks for joining the discussion. I offered my perspective on some of the issues you bring up in my follow-up to this post, Mind, Heart, and Soul: What is the Difference?. I have no problem with using the terms mind and heart to represent our thoughts and our emotions, so long as we know they are only figures of speech. I only take issue with the teaching that the mind and the heart are actually separate parts of the self, and the heart is the more spiritual. It takes a lot of creativity to make a biblical case for that, and it gives us the mystical excuse of struggling to convert head knowledge into heart knowledge. It steers us away from repentance and choosing to live like truth is true.

      1. Hello Crystal, I believe God sent me straight to your blog. I googled:”love from the head to the heart” I’ve been struggling with Heart knowledge vs Head knowledge. I know exactly what you are talking about. I liked what you said “The problem is not our inability to move truth to the proper location in our being, but our refusal to appropriate truth into our lives”and ” the things we know to be true become faith when we live like they are true.” I listened to a sermon at church a while ago and it hit me, Yes I know God loves me, I know I can trust Him…but it’s only head knowledge for me. It needs to drop down to my heart. I feel like I’m almost at a stand still. What’s makes it crazy is I’ve been a Christian for almost 30 years. Kind of the roller coaster effect for the first ? years. Anyway I’ve never heard it put like that. Thank you for your blog and putting it so simple.

      2. Wonderful, Carol! Thanks for taking the time share your thoughts with me. It makes me happy and motivates me to keep at it, when get to find out that the things God is teaching me are also encouraging and strengthening others.

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