Head Knowledge vs Heart Knowledge

heart knowledge - Head vs Heart

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“Self-salvation through good works may produce a great deal of moral behaviour in your life, but inside you are miserable. You are always comparing yourself to other people, and you are never sure you are being good enough. You cannot therefore, deal with your hideousness and self-absorption through the moral law, by trying to be a good person through an act of the will. You need a complete transformation of the very motives of your heart.” – Tim Keller, The Reason for God

When you hear about Jesus, what comes to mind? Who is Jesus to you? Depending on where you live, chances are you might have heard the Gospel before. Even now as you read this you might be saying to yourself “bla bla bla, yes I know the Gospel…move on to the next topic.” When it comes to Jesus, do you know Him in your head or in your heart?

“Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make straight your paths.” – Proverbs 3:5-6

We can fill up our heads with knowledge all day long. From reading the internet, studying books, watching TV, listening to music, and having conversations with others, it’s amazing to think how much goes into our heads each day. What would it mean though for us to apply these things to our hearts? When we apply something to our heart, it becomes very real for us at that point. It drives our minds, emotions, and affections towards whatever that thing or someone is.

Heart Knowledge

Jonathan Edwards from his sermon Divine and Supernatural Light has a great illustration to make this point using honey. He says, “your mind can know honey is sweet, people can tell you it’s sweet, you’ve read books about it, etc. but if you haven’t actually tasted it, you know with your head, but not with your heart. When you actually taste it, you experience it for yourself, you know it in a full way, and you can know it in your heart.”

Knowing with your heart however, is not to be confused by being led with your emotions. That is not what I’m talking about here. You obviously still learn things with your head. For example, we can definitely have head knowledge, and not have the heart knowledge to go along with it. However, it’s impossible to know things in our hearts, but not in our heads. When it comes to the Gospel, yes, we need to learn in our heads what Jesus has done for us, but more importantly, we need to learn this in our hearts. It needs to become real to us, personally. That’s exactly what happened to me when I realized that Jesus died for me.

A good way to think about this for yourself is when you read the Bible, pray, or when you’re involved in the local body (the Church), are you doing all of this out of an obligation to God to pay Him back for something or to earn your way? Or, instead, are you doing all these things because of an overflow of gratitude of what He has done for you? Are you loving Jesus with your heart or head?

Head Knowledge

When we say things like “I know God loves me, but I hate myself” or “I know God wants me to be generous, but I just can’t do it,” we are stating truths about God from our head and using that knowledge, but there is a lack of understanding in our heart. If we knew God truly loved us, we wouldn’t hate ourselves. God’s love would be so real to us that we would see ourselves the way He sees us, through His son, as an adopted child. If we knew God truly wanted us to be generous, we would joyfully give our money, time, and possessions back to Him and anyone in need. Especially because He first loved us (1 John 4:19).

So where are you in this? If you haven’t been using heart knowledge, there is no need be feel guilty or condemned (Romans 8:1). Pray to God, ask Him to search your heart, test your thoughts, guide you into understanding that what Jesus has done for you is very real and personal. Make a decision to become a follower of Christ today and to realize that you are forgiven by God through Christ.

“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!” – Psalm 139:23-24

Question: When it comes to Jesus, do you know Him personally, in your head or in your heart? Please feel free to comment below.

Here are other Frequently Asked Questions and how the Bible answers them.

Saved by Grace through Faith. In love with Jesus, His Glory, and obviously my beautiful wife Joelle, daughter Peyton, and son Matthew! Seeking Him in everything to glorify Him and spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Pastor at Austin Life Church.

Please note: We reserve the rights to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • Thanks, Mike, for this good reminder, and thanks for posting the URL on the Christian Poets & Writers group page on Facebook. I just reposted the link on the CP&W blog – http://christianpoetsandwriters.blogspot.com. God bless.

  • mmelin

    Thank you for your thoughts. I’ve noticed that my heart is smarter than my head.

  • Sean

    understand both concepts of head and heart knowledge, but how do I grow in heart knowledge. I’ve prayed and I’ve asked and searched for it, but how do I make it real?

    • Sean

      I understand*

    • Sean, I think it starts first with the Gospel and continuous reading and studying of God’s Word. Prayer should be accompanied with that at all times as well.

      I believe that we can grow in heart knowledge about God has we remind ourselves of the Gospel each day and ask for the desire to continue to grow.

  • Marie

    It sounds like things start with head knowledge. So is it safe to say that someone with more head knowledge (who believes that Jesus died for his sin) is a Christian and that heart knowledge will follow as he continues to learn?

    • I’m not sure Marie. I can’t predict if someone is a believer or not, but I would be carefully on guard about head knowledge. I know I claimed to know God and be a follower of Christ in my past because I had so much “head knowledge,” but I in fact was not a believer because nothing ever transpired to my heart (became real to me).

      I wasn’t a follower of Christ whatsoever until I realized Jesus died for MY sins…and He became personal to me in my heart. Heart knowledge and head knowledge obviously increases from there, but things had to transfer to my heart first.

  • Robert McFaddin

    I am struggling with this right now. I don’t know if I have it in my heart or just in my head.

    • Thank you for sharing Robert. The simple fact that you are asking the question means a lot because if you didn’t even care, you wouldn’t even ask.

      I wouldn’t want to confuse anyone into thinking that you have to live in doubt. There is no doubt about it that if you have decided to follow Jesus and trust Him as your Lord and Savior, then you are saved. That is something you can place your full confidence in because God says so.

      Struggling to live a Christian life will always be a struggle because we are still sinful as we seek to follow Him. The main point of this post is that a lot of us have this “head knowledge” of Jesus, but it’s never transferred to our “heart” which would drive us to surrender our lives to Him and and want to follow Him. THAT means it’s in the heart as well. Someone who just has everything in their head, won’t really decide or care to follow Christ.

      Hope that helps!!

  • Robert McFaddin

    How does one know for sure they are trusting Christ as their savior?

    I “think” I accepted Christ as savior in October of 1976. I was in 6th grade. I had my ups and downs all throughout high school. I gothe closer to Him in college. Married in 92. Began to experience doubts not long after. Thought I had settles it at a Promise Keepers in 96. Doubt comes again and again. Some days I have no doubt. Other days I have VERY strong dout (“did I ever get saved in the first place”).

    I have prayed and prayed and begged God to take these doubts away.

    • Robert, the fact you have prayed and begged God about these doubts says a lot right there about your salvation through Christ. Why else would you even be interested in praying to God in the first place if He wasn’t working through you?

      This post might help you as well..a lot of people are walking around in doubt if they are believers or not and I don’t believe God wants us to be in doubt or be involved in an investigation about our salvation…He sent His Son so that we can have eternal life and be confident in Him…not to question or doubt if Jesus really did what He did…that includes when we doubt if we are really saved when the Bible tells us we can know for a fact if we are saved or not.

      Check out this post – https://www.beforethecross.com/biblical-teachings/how-can-i-have-assurance-of-salvation/

  • Robert McFaddin

    Thanks Mike! This has been very helpful.

  • A dog

    Seems like a false dichotomy to me. As Jesus teaches in Luke 6, “from the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks,” and elsewhere Paul tells us no one confesses Christ apart from the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 12).

    • Thanks for sharing, what you mentioned in Luke 6 actually lines up perfectly with the post because it’s a matter of the heart…not just what’s in the head. What do you mean?

      • A dog

        Christ doesn’t seem to be drawing a distinction between head and heart knowledge but seems to say that the head knowledge flows from the heart knowledge. We know that God is through His Holy Spirit renewing our hearts and minds, giving us faith. If we are confessing Christ with our mouths, are we not confessing Christ from the overflow of our hearts?

        Maybe a question that should be answered is, does head knowledge lead to heart knowledge, and, how do we get heart knowledge (or from whom do we get it)?

        I think trying to make this distinction is dangerous for Christians and removes the emphasis from Christ’s finished work to our response and in particular, the sincerity of that response, whether it be from the heart or the head. I am trying to say that this distinguishment seems uneeded, they are the same. If one flows from the other it’s likely the head from the heart, not the other way around.

        • Oh ok, sounds good. The point I’m making in the post is that there is a distinction..especially in our culture where a lot of people say certain things, but doesn’t mean it’s true. For example, there are tons of people who call themselves Christians or in their head, know about Jesus, but that doesn’t mean at all that God has transformed their heart and they truly believe in Jesus Christ. That’s the biggest distinction.

          I believe God and only God has the ability to change our hearts.

          And I think it starts in the heart, and flows to the head and we proclaim out of our mouths what we believe. Hope that helps! Appreciate you sharing!

          • Priscilla Stadelman Pinkowski

            This is a good discussion. I think the misunderstanding here is one of the idea of dichotomy vs. trichotomy. If one believes that the spirit and soul are one and that the terms are used interchangeably, then what “A dog” is saying would be true. However, if one believes that a person is three parts–spirit, soul, and body–then what Mike is saying makes sense. I was taking counseling classes in a church which believes in the dichotomous nature of man, and because I hold the trichotomous view, the way in which counseling is done is very different. I had to quit my studies there. Thank you for this.

  • Robert Zeurunkl

    The heart and the mind are the same thing. There’s actually a specific example of it in scripture where it says that “Mary pondered all these things in her heart”. And of course, “pondering” is a mental activity. When we say that “Out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks…”, well, we speak what we are thinking. If I was speaking out of my heart, and that had nothing to do with the mind, that would be a very curious (if not creepy) thing.

    • Thanks for sharing Robert. The point of the post is that often times we have a lot of “head knowledge” but that hasn’t transferred into any change in our lives. When our hearts have been affected, change happens, which includes changing the way we think about things and what we speak.

      A lot of people carry around a lot of knowledge including Biblical knowledge, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they are followers of Jesus because nothing has changed for them.

      Thanks again for sharing!

      • Robert Zeurunkl

        Hey, thanks for the reply. But you do know you are just repeating what I said? To say that we have head knowledge that doesn’t result in any change in our lives, we are just saying that we do not have the right head knowledge. We are what we think. If we have head knowledge that doesn’t change our lives, then we do not really have head knowledge at all.

        But I know the type of people you are speaking of. What they have is knowledge of the truth which they are purposely avoiding, or shunning. That is why they will be guiilty before God because, as the Bible says, “They did not retain God in their knowledge.” It is an act of will.

        I’d certainly be interested in discussing the possibility of the Will being the Heart, though. Because the will is definately not the mind, and does not even seem to be subject to it.

        • I see what you mean Robert. I guess you could make the point that it’s not “true head knowledge” but I think that would be more confusing. I think there’s head knowledge out there, we have a lot of it, and even Biblical head knowledge, but if that hasn’t turned into heart knowledge, I don’t think it will change us.

          I’m sure in a lot of ways we are saying the same thing, just differently. Appreciate you sharing.

  • Jennifer

    Wonderful post. Thanks for writing the “honey” puts things in perspective.

    • Thanks Jennifer! Appreciate you sharing that!!

  • Pastor Sudarshan

    Wonderful my Brother. This topic helped me a lot to prepare my
    sermon. The quote of the Tim Keller is also apt. Now we can see in any
    church, there are head knowledge people, but not the heart knowledge.
    book of Daniel 12:4 ” many shall run to and fro, and knowledge shall be
    increased.”. These people are very dangerous to the body of Christ.

    Thank you so much brother, please forward your posts to my email: pastordarshan@gmail.com.
    Your Brother in Christ,
    Pastor Sudarshan, India.

    • Awesome pastor…thanks so much for sharing and I’ve added you on our email list!

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  • Priscilla Stadelman Pinkowski

    I struggle with this. I don’t know how to get my head knowledge into my heart. My fondest desire is to know and love Jesus more. Help!

    • Thanks so much for sharing. I think the single fact that you have the desire to know and love Jesus more says a lot about you having heart knowledge. Many people don’t really have the desire to know Jesus more so they walk around with head knowledge and they are not effected in their heart. This sounds like it’s different for you and that you are effected.

      Read the Bible, pray, be involved in community and in your Church, and take things one day at a time, one step at a time. God cares for you, loves you, and will continue to be right there with you every step of the way. Thanks again for sharing!

    • Lia

      The thing we know is that God pulls us to Himself at His time. He opens our eyes when He feels we are ready… However reading and meditating on His Word is the best way to get to know Him! Prayer, journaling, fasting…. dedicating your life to Him…. Praying for you…

      • Thanks for sharing Lia! Yes God is in control at the end of the day. He knows when we are ready and we can choose at anytime to begin to follow Him. Amazing grace!

    • Shirley

      Priscilla, i am with you totally on this. How do you get head knowledge into your heart? No one has been able to answer that question. I’ve read the Bible through about 10 times, prayed, attended church, served for about 30 years. I thought I was saved but could never sense that Jesus was in my heart. Everyone tells you it happened to them. Is it possible the reason I don’t know Jesus in my heart is because He doesn’t want me? No one comes to the Father lest He draws him.

      • Hey Shirley, thanks for sharing. I don’t think we can force anything to get into our heart from our head or that there is a formula to this, however, we know from scripture that if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. (Romans 10:9).

        As we believe in Jesus, God has the power to change our hearts and the Holy Spirit gives us the promise of eternity because of what Jesus has done for us. That is something we know for sure even if we don’t understand how it all works, God says so and we either believe Him or we don’t.

        “The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.” – 2 Peter 3:9

        Jesus of course wants you. Scripture is clear that God does not wish that any should perish, but that all would reach repentance. You can know for sure you are saved and the enemy wants you to keep questioning your faith.

        Feel free to read this if it can help you as well – https://www.beforethecross.com/biblical-teachings/how-can-i-know-i-am-saved/

        Thanks again for sharing!

      • Savitri Guard

        Hi Priscilla & Shirley,
        I used to feel the same way… raised in a Christian home I knew God with my head my entire life. He was never as “real” to me as He was to some Christians. I was desperate to know Him as my best friend… I thought I was drawing near to Him by continually submitting and surrendering my life to Him, and He was supposed to draw near to me (James 4:8).

        At 26 I was married to a “Christian” man and I was abused physically, emotionally & spiritually. I stayed, believing I was being the Christian wife, frustrated that God wouldn’t profoundly show up and change my circumstance. The problem for me was that I was in my own head, applying my own religion, saying “This is my cross to bare… I’m laying down my life…” rather than fully trusting God w/ my whole heart, relying on God and asking Him, “What is it you want me to do?” 16 years into this abuse I took a stand for the Lord, throwing off my ideas of religion, all of the head knowledge about my faith walk, my duty as a Christian wife, the perceptions of the church and Christian friends & family… and I broke down and asked Him what He wanted from me, and He told me He wanted me to be whole… in Him. It took a drastic leap of faith into God’s arms… I kicked my husband out and I prayed he would seek God w/ his heart. God is funny because He had this very same plan in mind for me too. As I sat in full dependence on God in total solitude crying out, “I risked my everything I know to be true and what I thought I was called to do Lord. All I have is you.” It was then that He showed up. When I gave up everything I knew (everything I thought I knew) and put myself in a place of total dependence on Him, He revealed Himself.

        …And He revealed the true “me” to myself as well… who I really am in Christ.

        I pray this is reaching you, I pray it relates. I risked it all for God, all my security based on the knowledge of what I had learned about God and I leaped with complete abandon.

        Sometimes I think we lean on our own understandings, or on our security, (our possessions), our kids, our family, our network of friends, our importance/our services/our talents… to define us… when He wants us to lean on Him for everything.

        I would strongly encourage a leap of faith in your life… a drastic leap into God’s arms where you put yourself in a place of total reliance on Him. Try forgetting what you think you know of Him and what He wants of us. He wants us solely and “souly”, ignorant, childlike asking, “Who are you in me and who am I in you? What do you want of me Lord?” This is where He became real for me.

        At the age of 38 I became a Christ follower of the heart. I leaped and He caught me as real as an earthly father catches his daughter.

        Check out the book Captivating if you haven’t Shirley ;) it will show you how remarkably you were made and how desperately God wants you.

        Praying for each of you. Try risking all your knowledge for God, lean on only Him. Praying that He would reveal Himself to you and you would feel wholeheartedly your Father holding you in His loving arms.

      • Mike Hill

        Simple answer many have told me cry out to God ask and pray to Him with a sincere heart He will make it real for you in His timing :)

  • Bettathen Uraverage

    This is hard question because head knowledgeis one thing butfrom my heart, I desire toknow Jesus more and I’ve asked the questions everyday and when I hear the trutb it just makes me cry in joy. Wanting to fellowship and ask other’s and work out whts been worked in. Wow

  • Lia

    Today in Bible study with middle school girls we tackled this question. I met God with my head when I was 12 but didn’t become personal in my heart until the age of 48. He became real… So when was I actually saved? Even before my personal relationship with Him began I was volunteering at church and leading the prayer team, woman’s team, etc. However, I felt my heart change when my personal relationship with Him began. I began craving His Word, whereas before I would read as necessary. So, should the rapture have happened prior to my personal relationship beginning, I probably would have been left… Salvation began when my heart changed…

    • Hey Lia, thanks for sharing and that’s exactly something I went through. Looking back I believe I was NOT a believer during times I even served in the Church…it was just a head knowledge but never any heart in it. It wasn’t until I realized Jesus actually died for my…personal…sins until I really became a follower of Jesus. Wrote more about this here – https://www.beforethecross.com/encouragements/jesus-died-for-me/ Thanks for sharing!

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  • Mike Hill

    I am very VERY unsure and confused on this matter I genuinely don’t know which category I fit into I know What Christ has done and I desire a deep relationship with Him I have repented of sin and asked for forgiveness but I have struggles with SO many things assurance of salvation being the main one which has lead to question my motives in everything I do which I want to be in the right heart but I don’t know if it is or if its filthy rag works I’m really confused. There have been times people have said to me Jesus die for you or He paid a high price for you and it really hit home but I feel distant from God as if we haven’t met yet I have no idea whats going on so confused any idea whats going on ? Thank you in advance :)

    • Hey Mike, thanks for sharing. It is difficult at times to follow Jesus and one of the biggest battles we’ll ever face is the assurance of our salvation. Not because we don’t have assurance…the Bible tells us we can be sure and that the Holy Spirit is the promise…the guarantee of our inheritance…..the problem is because of spiritual warfare and us too often thinking we are not good enough.

      We have to be reminded on a daily basis that what Jesus did on the cross was in fact..enough. And that He only had to do it once. And just like the thief on the cross who gained salvation through His belief in Jesus at his very last second…we too at anytime can choose to follow Jesus and at that point be forgiven.

      Things don’t get perfect after that, in fact, we see even more of our sin and the other areas of our lives we need to turn away from and that can be very difficult. All along the way satan likes to tempt us to make us think we aren’t really saved, when in fact if we have chosen to believe in Jesus and choose to follow Him and make Him Lord of our lives…we are in fact saved.

      I’d pray about this between you and God and if you know you believe in Jesus and that He paid the price for your sins and now you’ll follow Him…then at this very moment..are you saved and nothing can change that. You have been rescued. You have been redeemed.