On an evening in the middle of February 2005, my life was forever changed. I was in my dorm at Ohio University when I received a phone call and an invitation to come to the lobby. I was probably sitting around doing something very important, like watching basketball or playing video games, but I still managed to accept the invitation. The only thing I knew about the gathering is that it was a Bible study that was offering free pizza. I figured I could put up with a little Bible to get some free food.

I went to church from time to time growing up, but I never embraced Christ and I certainly didn’t believe that the message about Jesus was true. I thought religion was a crutch for people who needed something to cope with life, but I was strong enough to get on without it. However, when the Gospel was shared at that Bible study on February 21, I was cut to the heart through the conviction of the Holy Spirit and knew I needed Jesus in my life.

From that day on, I began to study the Bible, read Christian books, and learn as much as I could. I learned a verse that had a significant impact on me: “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind” (Romans 12:2, ESV). I wanted my mind to be renewed so that I could live a life that honored God. I also read a book that shaped my view of the Christian life: Love Your God with All Your Mind by JP Moreland. Quickly, my newfound faith was becoming significantly driven by intellectual matters and I was focused on studying so I could defend God’s Word to skeptics at my university.

Recently, however, something has begun to change in my walk with Christ. I have been challenged to see the primacy of the heart and the affections in following Jesus. Similar to what happened as a new believer, a specific book and a specific verse in Scripture have been significant in beginning this revolution in my life. First came the book: You Are What You Love by James K. A. Smith. The premise of the book is that we have often sought to pursue Christian discipleship far too much as an intellectual endeavor, whereas the emphasis of the Scriptures is upon our hearts becoming increasingly focused on Christ. As I read the book, I knew that Smith’s premise was basically correct.

Shortly after reading the book, I studied this passage from Ephesians 3:

For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of His glory He may grant you to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith — that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. Ephesians 3:14–19 (ESV)

In the past, my eyes would have immediately been drawn to the words “comprehend” and “know” because I would have focused on the intellectual aspects of the Christian faith. I would have used this passage to support my view that renewing of the mind is the primary role of discipleship. However, something new stuck out this time.

It’s found in verse 17, which radically challenges my old perspective: “so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith — that you, being rooted and grounded in love…” When Paul speaks of the very foundational hopes that he has for the young believers at Ephesus, he doesn’t begin with the things of the mind, but of the heart. Paul says that it is only once someone has a deep foundation of love for Christ that they can begin to deeply comprehend or know the love that Jesus has for them.

This really is a significant change in the way I think about my own discipleship with the Lord. My practices and spiritual commitments must be far more aimed at shaping the loves of my heart than they have been historically. Since coming to Christ, I have become a fairly avid reader and have studied a number of things that have helped me to think well about matters of faith and how the Gospel impacts our culture and our lives. However, my heart and attitude as a worshipper have often been quite stagnant. I am asking God to help me be more engaged in loving Him with all my heart!

This also has implications for how we seek to make disciples. When we are seeking to lead people to the Lord or help new believers grow in Christ, we must remember that the loves of their hearts are even more foundational than the thoughts of their minds. We must help them see the beauty and majesty of the Lord and help them learn the art of worship. Our desire is that their affections would be changed from worldly things to the King of kings and the Lord of lords, not merely that they would check some boxes to indicate intellectual assent to correct doctrine. Paul tells us that we want people to comprehend and know the truth about Christ, but that it is only fully possible when they are “rooted and grounded in love.”

Gospel ministry, in and through our lives, is first and foremost a matter of the heart. Yes, we want lives to be transformed through the renewal of the mind, but that takes place only in those whose hearts submit to the God who does the renewing. May our lives and ministries reflect the primacy of worship in the Christian life!

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Each Thursday we send out our Training Resources Newsletter, which shares a new ministry tool and an encouraging story about God’s Spirit preparing someone for service.

Dustin Speaks is the Mission Mobilization Pastor. He and his wife, Lauren, arrived in Columbus in the fall of 2012, after several initial ministry experiences. Dustin previously served as an associate pastor in South Dakota and as a missionary to university students in Berlin, Germany. Dustin studied history at Ohio University, where he met Lauren, and was involved in campus ministry with Cru. After graduation, the Speaks went to Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (Chicago) to complete a degree in Intercultural Studies. He enjoys playing nearly all ball sports—basketball, golf, and soccer are his favorites. Dustin and Lauren have three young children.