(If you’ve been wondering about the heart of a Christian, this is for you.)
Some years ago when I was palling around with my single, male ministry friends, we were discussing one of our favorite topics: women. We were talking about our true desire to not get into trouble with females. Some of us had a history of struggle and of doing things we knew were not in keeping with our life in Christ. We knew it. We felt it. Certain physical things outside of marriage are not appropriate, so we were talking about how best to prefer God and the women we dated. One of the guys threw up his hands and proclaimed, “I’m not dating anymore, I’m not giving myself a chance to do wrong,” and he paused to take a deep, attention-gathering breath before concluding, “because God says that the heart is wicked, so I cannot trust myself.” We all thought, “Wow. That’s not good news at all! We’re in big trouble!”
So, to better prosecute ourselves(!), we looked up the verse he was referencing (Jeremiah 17:9 NASB), and there it was, the we-are-rotten-to-the-core proof: “The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick; Who can understand it?” We said, “Gosh, that’s just great. It’s more deceitful than anything? We can think of a lot of ‘anything’ that we thought was more deceitful than our hearts. But no.”
Another version translates the Hebrew this way: “The heart is the most deceitful thing there is and desperately wicked. No one can really know how bad it is!” (TLB) And another one really put the nail in the coffin: “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” (NIV) “Oh, great!” we said, “So there’s no cure for it, either! Don’t we feel much better?!”
No, we didn’t. And it sure made some common sayings seem odd: “Love each other from the heart.” That’s gotta be difficult with a desperately wicked heart. And how about this complimentary phrase: “She has such a warm heart.” We said, “She can’t have a warm heart! Not if it’s the one we’re learning about!” And how about this descriptive sentiment: “He has a broken heart.” And we said, “Heck if he does! He has a horrible heart! It’s worse than being broken, it’s fully-functioning awful!”
This gave birth in some of us to the desire and creation of new forms of accountability groups—a way of policing our terribly untrustworthy selves. Imagine it: none of us could trust ourselves, so we put ourselves in charge of policing ourselves together. Brilliant! Maybe the odds of success would improve; you know, a safety in numbers kind of thing.
Well, I had a problem: I didn’t have time for the groups or gatherings that some of the guys designed. I was too busy. Besides that, I didn’t really understand it. Something seemed wrong about it all. It didn’t make sense with what I knew about God in me. What I had been finding in my early life with Christ in me was that our being together made all the difference with me. I no longer was vigilant with myself, paying great attention to my presumably wicked and deceitful heart, because my attention had been re-directed—captured, by God in me.
So hearing the Jeremiah 17:9 verse kind of threw me out of whack for a while. It didn’t make sense. After pondering it for few days I did what I often do with things that don’t work in my life with God: I forgot about it. I carried on in life with God in me, enjoying the little understood fact that how God is with people (even the opposite sex) was now how I was with them, too. As a result of our union, our getting together, His life and desires and influence were given to me and were expressed through me. I thought, “Wow. This is way better than the groups those guys are torturing themselves in.”
Through the new birth, the second birth in Christ, my old heart, the wicked and deceitful one left to itself, had been removed and a new one put in its place. As Old Covenant believers at one time traveled to the perfect dwelling place of God, so now New Covenant believers have become the perfect dwelling place of God. That is the new heart you have. The new heart is the dwelling place of God with you—on your inside.
Before Jesus’ death and resurrection, there was no way of curing the heart. Before the New Covenant in Christ, Jesus said, “What comes out of a person is what defiles them. 21 For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come—sexual immorality, theft, murder, 22 adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly” (Mark 7:20-22).
But God always intended to do something perfectly curative about the heart. By the Holy Spirit, the prophet Ezekiel wrote about God’s plan: “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. 27 And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws” (Ezekiel 36:26-27). That’s the gospel! That’s the BIG DEAL—God is born into us! He has given us a heart to contain Him. We had a heart problem—God wasn’t in it—but we no longer do because it has been made perfect for God with us and in us.
The new heart is where God lives in union with me. I make decisions in my heart—the Holy Spirit and I together—so it’s a decision from the heart, from that place. To be clear, it’s not so much a decision OF the heart, like the heart is all-by-itself a decision maker. It’s a place where choices and influence happens most powerfully with God and me, and with God and you.
In this way, you and I, the new creation sons of God, meet with Him and are under His influence and subsequent leading, which produces the fruit of the Spirit through you and me. Tahdah! The Christian life. That’s it! We’re set up for God on the inside.
Have a look at the following verses.
2 Corinthians 9:7 “Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” And where is God? Inside of you. Do you think He might have something to do with making you cheerful in the giving? I think so.
1 Peter 1:22 “Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for each other, love one another deeply, from the heart.” That’s where you and God are together, in the heart. Do you suppose that there’s a whole lotta love goin’ on in your heart? Yes!
Ephesians 6:6 “Obey them (your masters) not only to win their favor when their eye is on you, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from your heart.” (Parenthesis mine.) That’s the key. It’s from the two of you together on the inside—from your heart. The will of God naturally flows from there. How cool is that?
The apostle Paul wrote about what had happened to the new-hearted Corinthians: “For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:6). Before the New Covenant in Christ, “darkness” was the condition of our hearts. But God Himself turned on the light because He came into our hearts, having made them a perfect place to dwell with us. With you. With me.
That’s the new heart. That’s what we received in Christ. That’s pretty good, right?