Friday, February 23, 2007

A Rock and a Hard Place

One would think that at my chronological and [supposed] spiritual age that I would be quite sage and insightful in God’s word. After all, He crafted every single amazing word, and nothing in it should surprise us… I mean GOD wrote it! And, over the last uhm… few years, I’ve had the opportunity to read the whole thing… several times… and in several ways…. Some parts, many times. Some of it, I’ve managed to capture “deep in my heart,” and some of it… say the “begats” I’ve struggled through, and honestly, maybe haven’t ‘savored’ as much.

But it seems that no matter how often we read and study God’s word, no matter how fascinated (or not!) we are by Scripture… He still manages to astound us with not only the incredible truth put forward, but with the intricate and well, awesome way that the warp and weft of the text is woven.

I tread lightly when commenting on Scripture, as it truly is “Holy ground.” My friend Ryan Paterson quotes someone when he cautions, “And God spoke — the rest is just commentary.” Commentary, taken in the appropriate vein however can often open new perspectives, and bring us to a point at once alternative to our own and of deeper understanding.

Having read and been excited and influenced by the writings of John Eldredge (clearly not one of the Bible’s authors!). I was at once struck with his position about the human heart: he says that once we have accepted Christ, that we’re given a new and a good heart:

“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.” (Ezekiel 36:26).

Eldredge’s commentary on this concept is a source of serious and ongoing debate between his detractor/critics, and his followers. The Ezekiel passage is often contrasted and compared with the prophecy of his contemporary Jeremiah: “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9). Prayer, meditation, and contemplation on the idea lead me to believe that God has indeed done a work in my heart. Yet, being human, and not choosing/able to walk continually in the Kingdom of God, I fall short of His Glory, of His standard of perfection. (No great revelation to any who know me!). But clearly, God is at work! I guess this has left me in a quandary of “spiritual anatomy…”

If the heart is good, where is the ‘residual evil?’ Paul says in Romans that it’s resident in our flesh. (And it’s important to distinguish between the “flesh” of which Ezekiel speaks… and to which John the Apostle refers (John 1:14), and Paul’s reference to our flesh, our “sin nature.”).

Now at this point, I think I come down on the side of a good heart… my heart couldn’t hold the message or love of Christ if it wasn’t a “good” place for him to write… Paul tells the Corinthians that:

“You show that you are a letter from Christ, the result of our ministry, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.” (2 Corinthians 3:3)

Some insist that the new ‘core’ of our heart is good, but that there is still residual “stuff” there as well. Again, a question of Spiritual anatomy… but back in Ezekiel, we’re told, “I will give them an undivided heart and put a new spirit in them;” and we’re told, “I will remove from them their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh.” (Ezekiel 11:19). “An undivided heart…” a whole heart, containing a new spirit… a heart of flesh… “And the word became flesh.” (John 1:14). I am not a good man, but within me is a new heart, crafted by God, indwelt by Jesus.

And here’s where God’s Word just blows me away… all this talk of hearts of flesh and stone… Go back to Exodus for a minute… after God led His people out of Egypt, out of bondage and captivity, he explained to their leader Moses, what he planned to do with them, how he wanted to continue in relationship… he made a contract, a covenant if you will, with them:

“Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” (Exodus 19:5-6)

Soon thereafter, God called Moses up to meet with him on Mt. Sinai, and gave Moses the Laws that would govern God’s people under His covenant:

“Moses turned and went down the mountain with the two tablets of the Testimony in his hands. They were inscribed on both sides, front and back. The tablets were the work of God; the writing was the writing of God, engraved on the tablets.” (Exodus 32:15-16)

The Law, which God engraved on… stone. The repository for God’s Law under His covenant with His people was… stone.

And when God established a New Covenant with His People, he wrote his Law on flesh… (Remember? “The Word became flesh… and made His dwelling among us.” – John 1:14).

Somehow, I always knew and understood the connection with Jesus in the New Testament and the “heart of flesh” in Ezekiel’s Old Testament prophecy… but I’d never made the connection backward between the Mosaic Law (carved into stone), and the heart that God told Ezekiel that He would remove from us. Right there, in the middle of the Holy Book… a waypoint, a sign post that “connects the dots” for us…

God just blows me away sometimes!
(or... maybe I'm just a little slow! -- I'm indebted to John Coe for the connection with "Heart of Stone.")


Ryan said...

Alright. I think you have convinced me about having a completely new heart. The verse from Ezekiel about an "undivided" heart is pretty dang clear.

I wonder how tempted I will be to believe that now with a "new heart" the residual evil, or "flesh," will be overcome in my own strength. If it's simply sinful habits that remain, can I reprogram my habits?

Of course, to say that sinful habits are "simple" is quite an understatement.

To think only God can change my heart, but then I will change my behavior is not exactly consistent thinking.

. . .

On another note, is the residual sin/flesh only in our physical self, or does it extend to our spiritual nature as well?

Ryan said...

FYI: the quote attributed to me comes from the back of Rob Bell's Velvet Elvis.

Old_Guy said...

Thanks Ryan!

I said you were quoting "someone," but not who it was... now I've got Eldredge AND Bell quoted in the same post! Quite a pair to draw to!

Toph said...

That is a pretty amazing parallel. Don't you just love it when the Bible makes complete sense?

Ryan, you raised some interesting questions. I read a quote by John Stott (who was referring to Puritan teaching) where he said that, "The Law sends us to Christ to be justified, and then Christ sends us to the Law to be sanctified." (I found this to be so insightful that it made its way into my cell phone list of Christian quotes.)

I'm really not sure where the line between my work and Christ's work regarding my behavior is drawn, but it almost seems irrelevant. Whatever conclusion we draw, the command is the same: obey God in my actions. And it's way easier to sit and think about it than to actually do it, unfortunately.