New Hearts for God’s New Covenant People

self-check-stethoscope

Redemptive history is an amazing thing. You can see God’s goodness and grace run through the pages of Holy Scripture. Goodness and grace are inescapable realities.

You’d think God’s people would respond with gratefulness and thankfulness. And yet, God’s people, the very recipients of God’s goodness and grace, are all-too-often ungrateful, unthankful, and down-right rebellious. We can be pretty ridiculous at times, right?

We see this in the history of God’s old covenant people, the nation of Israel. Consider the exodus event. In a stunning display of power and grace, God delivers his people from Egyptian bondage. Then, he plants them in a land that flows with milk and honey. He warns them, however, that if they’re not careful, the abundant blessings they enjoy will cause them to forget their God. As you keep reading, that’s exactly what happens. They forsake God and worship idols.

Because of their rebellion, God eventually brings judgment to the nation. That’s a large part of the message of the book of Jeremiah. Judgment is coming because of sin. Over twenty chapters in Jeremiah (chapter 2–25) warn of judgment against Judah because of their sin.

Thankfully, judgment is not the only word in Jeremiah. Judgment is not the final word in any of the Prophets. There is always a scarlet thread of hope. That’s exactly what we see in our text. We land right in the middle of Jeremiah’s hope-filled section. In chapters 30–33, what scholars call the Book of Hope (or Consolation), we find God making new promises. He is going to restore his people (30:2) by establishing a new covenant.

Several elements make up this new covenant. But here is one of the biggest promises: God will work his law into the hearts of his new covenant people.

 Humanity’s Heart Problem

Every person is born dead in their sins (Eph 2:1). We are not born spiritually alive. We are born with hearts of stone. Indeed, the LORD roots the issue of Israel’s disobedience in what he calls an “evil heart” (Jer 11:7–8). Ezekiel says, “But the house of Israel will not be willing to listen to you, for they are not willing to listen to me: because all the house of Israel have a hard forehead and a stubborn heart(Ezek 3:7). Before Ezekiel, Moses says, “For I know how rebellious and stubborn you are” (Deut 31:27; cf. 29:19).

Though God had given Israel a law that commanded good and righteous things, the old covenant, the covenant God made with Israel at Sinai after the Exodus, never provided the internal grace need to empower obedience. They read the law with their eyes, but it never went to their heart to bring them to spiritual life.

Where do evil and hard hearts lead? Not to God and his ways, but away from him. Israel’s dead hearts led them to run away from God. We don’t see a pattern of clinging to their Lord. Instead, the pattern is Israel fleeing from him and continually rebelling.

What did Israel need?

Israel needed heart surgery. They needed the divine physician to open their chests, take out their stone-hard hearts and replace them with hearts that loved the LORD and ran towards him. They needed more than external stone tablets. They needed internal surgery.

God’s Heart-Transforming Work

This internal work, this heart surgery, is not something that only Israelites needed. The heart-problem in Israel is a microcosm of the heart-problem of the world. Every person on this planet is born dead in sin (Eph 2:1) and in need of God’s heart-transforming work. In fact, this is the world’s greatest need. The most pressing need of the hour is not tied to economics, educational reform, or political renewal, though all those things are important. Instead, the most pressing need is deeper, more fundamental. It’s a spiritual matter. Sinful and rebellious human beings need new hearts.

But this is not something we can perform on our own. Just like a leopard can’t change its spots, we cannot change our hearts. This is Holy Spirit work! This is work only God can do. We need God to change us from the inside out.

So what does God do?

He promises to do what his people cannot do. He will work inside of them to do the internal work so badly needed. “I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts” (31:33). This time, the law doesn’t land on stone tablets but is engraved on hearts of flesh. This heart work is something Ezekiel talks about too. “And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh” (Ezek 36:26).

When it comes to salvation, what we are hoping and pleading for is for God to change our hearts. When it comes to evangelism, we pray that God would do his sovereign heart-transplanting work in those around us. Then, give him the glory for it all.

If you’re a Christian today, this heart-transplanting work has happened to you. God has reached inside, taken your spiritually dead heart out and replaced it with a heart that beats for him and his righteousness. How do you respond? Praise his name forevermore.

If you’re not a Christian, this is what you need. You can’t change yourself. You need spiritual heart-surgery. That’s something only God can do. So, pray and ask the Lord to do his surgical work. Then, when he does, praise his name forevermore.

 

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