The Implications of a New Heart
This week I was given the task of preaching a message on what it means for God to give you a new heart. As I prepared my message, I was drawn to the following passage found in Ezekiel 36: "Therefore, give the people of Israel this message from the Sovereign Lord: I am bringing you back, but not because you deserve it. I am doing it to protect my holy name, on which you brought shame while you were scattered among the nations. I will show how holy my great name is-the name on which you brought shame among the nations. And when I reveal my holiness through you before their very eyes, says the Sovereign Lord, then the nations will know that I am the Lord. For I will gather you up from all the nations and bring you home again to your land. Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean. Your filth will be washed away, and you will no longer worship idols. And I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart. And I will put my Spirit in you so that you will follow my decrees and be careful to obey my regulations." (Ezekiel 36:22-27 NLT)
Ezekiel was a prophet during the time of the Jews exile in Babylon. Ezekiel predicted the fall of Jerusalem to the Babylons and warned the Israelites that their idolatry and unfaithfulness to the Lord would not go unpunished. Ezekiel challenges people to turn from their wicked ways, so that they can experience the promises that God has for His people. He knows that although Israel has been unfaithful, God's plan involved redeeming His people and producing in them a change of heart.
The Jamieson, Fauset and Brown commentary on this passage points out that "the external restoration must be preceded by an internal one. The change in their condition must not be superficial, but must be based on a radical renewal of the heart." This struck me as the key point in this passage. Namely, God's internal work in our hearts leads to external outcomes in our lives!
According to this passage, God does not only repair and mend our hearts...He completely replaces it! The nature of this heart surgery is nothing less than incredible. The heart refers to one's innermost character. It speaks of our emotions, passions and appetites. Before we come to know the love found in Jesus Christ, our hearts are described as stony and stubborn. When we say something is set "in stone" we are referring to what the Merriam-Webster dictionary would describe as a "permanent and unchangeable state." Left to our own devices we are stubborn. Bent on doing things our own way. When we surrender our lives to God, He gives us a heart that's "tender" and "responsive." He helps us to break our walls down. He polishes off our jaded edges. He puts His Spirit within us, making it possible to live a life that is pleasing to Him.
A few verses down, the passage from Ezekiel continues, "This is what the Sovereign Lord says: On the day I cleanse you from all your sins, I will resettle your towns, and the ruins will be rebuilt. The desolate land will be cultivated instead of lying desolate in the sight of all who pass through it. They will say, "This land that was laid waste has become like the garden of Eden; the cities that were lying in ruins, desolate and destroyed, are now fortified and inhabited." Then the nations around you that remain will know that I the Lord have rebuilt what was destroyed and have replanted what was desolate. I the Lord have spoken and I will do it." (Ezekiel 36:33-36)
Although this passage is a prophecy concerning the nation of Israel, I believe it serves as a picture of what God does in our lives externally when we yield to his internal work in our hearts. He cultivates our desolate land. He brings growth where there once was stagnation. He yields life from death. Seeds of his love, hope and joy germinate in our hearts, take root and begin to grow. The art of rebuilding is a process, a journey. God builds the foundation and one by one lays the bricks causing us to grow up strong in Him. The areas of our lives that once lied in ruins become fortified, strengthened by the love of our Father. They become inhabited by His indwelling presence.
God always chooses to reveal His holiness by His redemptive work in the lives of broken people. In verse 23, the Lord declares, "Then the nations will know that I am the Lord, when I am proved holy through you before their eyes." God reveals to the world the nature of His character and his love towards humanity by transforming us into a masterpiece right before its very eyes. People around us will know who the Lord is when they see how His love has changed us and made us whole. They will be drawn to Him as they see that the chains that once bound us, no longer have any power over us because of His liberating grace.