A Heart of Flesh

Ezekiel 36:26 “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.”

God has always intended to make us genuinely different people. That change is real only if it takes place on the inside. A new heart and a new spirit aren’t mere matters of outward behavior. They are the result of the transformation of our very selves.

Have you ever spent a considerable amount of time living or working in a different culture? In small ways you adjust certain behaviors, but that doesn’t mean you have changed who you are. When I did cross-cultural mission work in the poverty-stricken inner city neighborhoods of Milwaukee, I learned you had to be very careful about any physical contact with minors, even the most innocent kind of touch. For many of them, almost all physical contact has been either violent or sexual in nature. But that didn’t change the way I played with my own children. When I was working with our sister churches in Scandinavia, I learned that you take off your shoes at the door, much like they do in Japan. But I still walk around my own house with shoes on most of the time.

The Lord doesn’t bring us back to himself for a visit. He makes us his own forever. So he doesn’t ask us to accommodate a few quirky customs he has by adjusting our behavior for a little while. He makes us different people. He gives us a new heart and a new spirit. He leaves nothing that goes on inside of me untouched.

In our language and culture we tend to separate “mind” and “heart” and “will.” “Heart” has to do with what we feel and believe, not necessarily how we think. In Hebrew language and culture these are a package deal. The new heart involves how we feel, and how we think, and what we want. Right and wrong, good and bad, like or dislike, true or false–don’t expect any of it to be the same when the Lord is through working on you. He fully intends to remake us on the inside.

This is what happens when God calls us to faith. Notice that this is not a self-improvement project. “I will give you a new heart….I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh,” the Lord says. I’m sure you have seen fossils before. They are amazing stone images of plants and creatures from the distant past produced by the forces of nature over long periods of time. But no one would mistake them for living versions of plants or animals. No one would expect them to be able to do the same things.

That’s like our hearts, the Lord says. Sure, our hearts may do an adequate job of pumping blood through our bodies. But when it comes to believing the right way, thinking the right way, wanting the right things, they are no more alive than a fossil. God has to come and cut the stone heart out of our chests and replace it with a heart of his own making that actually works.

Thankfully, in his grace, that is what he does. Through word and sacrament we get a heart transplant. The gospel changes us. God’s grace has made us spiritually alive.

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