Renewing Our Hearts and Spirits

The other day I tracked a lot of mud through the hall and into my apartment at 6 am when I took out the dog, half asleep. Later, on our long walk, I spilled the water on myself rather than the ground when checking the rain gauge.ThenI tipped the coffee grounds while filling up a canister.I felt like a mess. That same day, while walking at the park, a bird pooped on me in a conspicuous place on my top. Now I really was a mess. Surely this is a picture of my messy heart. I think I have my life and myself under control, but there’s muck and sins, some not so little messes that I don’t even know exist. It’s not a pleasant thought, but it’s biblical. Jesus said, “First clean the inside of the cup and the plate, that the outside also may be clean.” (Matthew 23:26) Before Christ’s incarnation, God repeatedly called his people, Israel, to repent, throw off their sins, and make themselves new in their hearts and spirits to live with him. In my last devotion, we meditated on God’s broken heart over the sins of his people. Today we will see that God expected Israel to do what was necessary, on their part, to recommit themselves to him with a new heart and a new spirit. “In Ezekiel 18, [Ezekiel] appears…to focus on the moral responsibility of the individual. Of course, this reading sits well with modern individualism (which rightly stresses individual moral accountability)…the exiles are pressed to repent and take responsibility for their moral lives. Thus the appeal is to make yourselves ’a new heart and spirit.’” (1)Here is the Word“Repent and turn from all your transgressions, lest iniquity be your ruin. Cast away from you all the transgressions that you have committed, and make yourselves a new heart and a new spirit! Why will you die, O house of Israel? For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Lord God; so turn, and live.” (Ezekiel 18:30b-32) God preserved the prophet’s message to call us to repent, throw off our heart sins, and renew our devotion to Christ. 

Repent, Turn, and Cast Away

“Man…is perpetually changing. He sets his mind on the things of God but quickly forgets…He wrestles through the issues of eternity and determines to walk in obedience to all of God’s commands but quickly turns aside after idols. His mind fluctuates more than the weather; his emotions churn like a seething cauldron; his will seems utterly unwilling and unable to fix itself in a single direction. At one point he is determined to follow God, at another juncture to follow himself. He loves God enthusiastically but briefly, and the world with abandon but with interruptions. He determines to follow the straight and. Narrow road life eternal but wastes his life on byways. The call to repentance is ever before him. He hears the heart cry of God to ‘turn and live, for why will you die’ (Ezekiel 18:30-32). But will he heed the cry?” (2) God never ceases to call us to turn away from our sins, casting them off, living with him in his Spirit for his pleasure and glory. Jesus did not die for us to have one experience of repentance but to have a life of joy and grace under his gentle, easy yoke. 

A New Heart and a New Spirit

How can God expect Israel to “…make yourselves a new heart and a new spirit” (v. 31b)? “In repentance Christ turns a heart of stone into flesh. The heart is the ‘premum vivens,’ the first thing that lives, and it must be the ‘premum vertens,’ the first thing that turns. The heart is that which the devil strives hardest for. Never did he so strive for the body of Moses as he does for the heart of man. In religion the heart is all. If the heart be not turned from sin, it is no better than a lie…it is odious to make a show of turning from sin while the heart is yet in league with it….God will have the whole heart turned from sin. Sure repentance must have no reserves or inmates. Turning to God makes for our profit. Our repentance is of no benefit to God, but to ourselves. If a man drinks of a fountain he benefits himself, not the fountain. If he beholds the light of the sun, he himself is refreshed by it, not the sun. If we turn from our sins to God, God is not advantaged by it. It is only we ourselves who reap the benefit…[There has been] a change wrought in the heart. The flinty heart has become fleshy. Satan would have Christ prove his deity by turning stones into bread. Christ has wrought a far greater miracle in making stones become flesh.” (3) Don’t we want to continue Christ’s process of sanctification by keeping our hearts soft, pliable for God, molded by the Holy Spirit? The Spirit will work in our favor if we only turn to God in repentance. 

Our Heart’s Desires Sanctified

“There is a current debate over whether a desire can be sinful…Some people say, and I think this is incorrect, that those desires are neutral and it’s whether or not you act on them…In Protestant theology even our desires must be sanctified… ‘For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.’ (Romans 8:13) Living God’s way…means putting to death the sins of our [old nature]. When was the last time you cleaned behind your refrigerator…or washer and dryer? So what happens? The only time you clean behind there, except for this afternoon because you’re thinking about it now, is when you move. And what happens when you move to a new house and you move that washer and dryer? Oh, you’re embarrassed, you’re ashamed. Can you believe all that [filth]…oh, that’s where that is! And the idea of the Spirit’s work in our life is that the Spirit will move the fridge, in our life, so to speak, the hard areas in our life…He will move the washer and dryer to clean behind it. This is the process of sanctification…Remember, sin is not just the bad things that we do, it’s the attitude of our heart, our inner thought life.” (4) Once the Spirit removes our blinders and sheds light on the dark recesses of our hearts, it is up to us to sweep out the filth—or maybe vacuum, or even power wash our hearts if need be. Whether with tears, weariness, or relief, we must repent, throw off our heart sins, and continually renew our devotion to Christ. 

Christ’s Call for Heart Repentance 

Paul writes, “Since we have [God’s] promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God.” (2 Corinthians 7:1) Ezekiel declares, “Why will you die, O house of Israel? For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Lord God; so turn, and live.” (v. 32) “The design of the exhortation is to convince men of their want of such a heart; of the importance of it: and which, through the efficacious grace of God, maybe a means of his people having it, seeing he has in covenant promised it to them. The Targum renders it, ’a fearing heart, and a spirit of fear,’ that is, a heart and spirit to fear, serve, and worship the Lord…The sense is, that he takes no pleasure in the afflictions, calamities, and captivity of men, which are meant by death here; but rather that they would repent and reform, and live in their own land, and enjoy the good things of it; which shows the mercy and compassion of God to sinners…I take no delight in your present deaths, your captivity; it would be more agreeable to me would you turn from your evil ways to the Lord your God, and behave according to the laws I have given you to walk by, and so live in your own land, in the quiet possession of your goods and estates.” (6) I don’t enjoy avoidable messes in my house or myself; I have to put up with unavoidable ones. But God takes no delight in our calamities that result from unconfessed and lingering sinfulness, no matter how deeply hidden it might be. Just like cleaning up mud, coffee grounds, we must clean our hearts. “God does not command what cannot be done, but admonishes us to do what is in our power, and to pray for what is not.” (7) God called his people Israel to repent, throw off their sins, and make themselves new hearts and spirits to live. We must repent, throw off our heart sins, and renew our devotion to Christ if we want to live the good spiritual Life with him. “Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.” (Psalms 19:14)

Related Scripture: Exodus 20:17; 1 Samuel 16:7; Psalm 19:14; 24:4; Jeremiah 9:24; Ezekiel 20:7; 33:10-11, 14-16; Hosea 14:1-2a; Romans 8:15; 1 Thessalonians 4:5.

Notes:

  1. English Standard Version Study Bible Notes, Ezekiel 18:1-32, (digital edition), Crossway, 2008.
  2. Roberts, Richard Owen, Repentance: The First Word of the Gospel, page 44, Crossway, 2002.
  3. Watson, Thomas, The Doctrine of Repentance, pp. 58, 53-54, Banner of Truth Trust, 2016, (1668).
  4. Pastor Allen’s Sermon, Romans 8:12-17, 9/5/21, https://www.trinityboerne.org/sermons/sermon/2021-09-05/the-rights-that-really-matter
  5. ESV Study Bible (Matthew 5:28), Ibid.
  6. Gill, John, “John Gill’s Exposition on the Whole Bible,” Ezekiel 18:31b-32, https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/geb/ezekiel-18.html
  7. Henry, Matthew, “Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary on the Bible, Ezekiel 18:30-32, https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/mhn/ezekiel-18.html

September 9, 2021

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