Spirit of Grace Ministries
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Spirit of Grace Ministries
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Heart Transplant

Heart Surgery

by Dennis Pollock

Many Christians read here and there in the New Testament, but rarely touch the Old. And if they ever do read the Old Testament, it will likely be either in Psalms or Proverbs. It seems to take a really hard-core Bible student to dig into the prophets and be inspired by these ancient firebrands who preached so forcefully and whose writings contain a strange mixture of withering rebukes and glowing promises. But if you ever do dig into their writings you will be rewarded with some amazing and powerful passages, which spoke not only to their generation, but to every generation of believers, even to this day.

In this study we will look at a single verse from the pen of that mysterious and strange prophet, Ezekiel. You might call Ezekiel God’s “acting prophet.” Many of his prophetic declarations were demonstrated through various symbolic acts and unusual behaviors. The most painful of these demonstrations involved the death of Ezekiel’s wife, and God’s command to His servant not to do any of the customary mourning gestures that Israelites normally did to express their grief, not even to cry. God wanted Israel to know that He was taking away the great love of their hearts, the temple at Jerusalem. In the midst of this terrible disaster, they would not have the time or opportunity to grieve over this loss, as they would be preoccupied with their own personal enslavement and dislocation.

But Ezekiel, like all good prophets, also spoke of a new day sometime in the future, when Israel would be restored and transformed. In this study we will look at one verse which vividly speaks of the heart surgery God would perform upon His stiff-necked people:

I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will keep My judgments and do them. (Ezekiel 36:26, 27)

Most Christians who know the Bible well immediately see in this promise a description of the new birth experience, and they are right. However, we should recognize that this promise was first made to the people of Israel. God has promised (and He never breaks a promise) that the day will come when He will give a new heart to His Jewish people. Israel has long been in rebellion against the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God and Father of the Lord Jesus Christ, but this will not continue forever. A day is coming when this rebellion will cease and they will receive the promised “heart of flesh,” and will serve God and His Son Jesus Christ with joyful hearts.

Still, anyone with the slightest knowledge of what Jesus does for His people when they put their faith in Him cannot help but see that this promise fits them perfectly. Let us consider some of the major points of this amazing promise, as it relates to every Christian, Jew or Gentile, man or woman, boy or girl.

“I Will…”

At the center of this promise is a new heart, a desperate need for the stubborn Israelites of Ezekiel’s day, and just as desperate a need for stubborn men and women today of every nation. But it starts with a tremendously encouraging thought. God says, “I will do this – I will give this new heart.” This stands in stark contrast to the Old Covenant, where God gave the laws and rules, and then left it to every man and woman to keep them. Under that dispensation, the thought was not “I will,” but rather “You shall.” God had told Israel under the law:

  1. “Therefore you shall keep every commandment which I command you today, that you may be strong, and go in and possess the land which you cross over to possess.” (Deuteronomy 11:8)
  2. "You shall keep my Sabbaths and reverence My sanctuary: I am the LORD.” (Leviticus 19:30)


It may have sounded doable, but Israel had no idea of the stubborn, tenaciously wicked, perverse leanings of their hearts that would lead them astray again and again, far from God’s favor and blessings, and deep into His curses and judgment. Ezekiel’s ministry to the captive Israelites living in Babylon, far from their homes and their beloved Jerusalem was a vivid testimony to the Jews’ spiritual impotency in obeying the commands of YHWH, the God of Israel, from the heart. But now Ezekiel promises an entirely new proposition, program, and covenant! It is no longer a matter of Israel futilely attempting to keep God’s laws and statutes. Now God says I will put things on a far more solid basis – “I will give my people a new heart.”

The Heart

We find in this single verse and promise God’s description of both the cause and cure for all the evils, misery, crime, and broken relationships that are seen in our dysfunctional planet. He declares our one, overriding problem: we have a corrupt, wicked heart. He also reveals our great need: we need a new, good heart, which will delight in the ways and will of God. This is humanity’s diagnosis and God’s prescription. God has much to say in His word about the heart. He tells us:

  1. Keep your heart with all diligence, for out of it spring the issues of life. (Proverbs 4:23)
  2. For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit… (Mark 7:21, 22)
  3. He is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart… (Romans 2:29).


This new, circumcised heart which delights in God and has both the energy and the ability to keep His commands is precisely what God, through His servant Ezekiel, is promising here, both to the people of Israel, and to all people who will put their faith in His Son Jesus Christ. This is not something we do for ourselves, or procure by the strength of our own willpower. God says, “I will give them a new heart.”

Replacement

In this amazing promise, God goes on to declare, “I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you…” God refers to the old heart as a “heart of stone,” a cold, hard, inflexible organ which has no capacity to passionately respond to the ways and the Person of the Creator. We come into this world with perverse and selfish hearts, and as we age our hearts become more and more resistant to change, and to the loving hands of our great Potter. We find it impossible to adapt to His directions, and we stubbornly cling to our ungodly ways, values, opinions, and tendencies.

Of course the heart can be educated and many suggest that this is the solution to all of our problems. But an educated hard heart is still hard, and knowledge does nothing to change that. Indeed if anything, it makes us far more efficient in our sinning and our rebellion. We have more resources with which we may defy our Creator and mock His name and His word. No, what our heart needs is replacing. Just as there are people living with such terrible heart disease that they are put on a waiting list to receive a healthy heart from someone who has died accidentally, so we must somehow get a new heart to replace our old, stony, perverse, inflexible, rebellious, stubborn, ego-centric heart which has been the major barrier between us and our God.

Math Class

Bored Students

Imagine a math teacher vainly attempting to instruct a class of high school students in the complexities of trigonometry. The students have two problems. First they are a rebellious lot who see no need for math of any kind, let alone trigonometry. Second, they are unusually dull, and haven’t the slightest ability to grasp his teaching. Thus they fall impossibly behind as the year goes on, and every one of them is failing the course. The teacher, on the other hand, is a math fanatic. He loves everything about mathematics, to such a degree that he works out complicated math problems at home for entertainment. He is a brilliant man, and knows his subject inside and out. But due to the students’ mental slowness and rebellious attitudes, he is constantly frustrated and is unable to teach them a thing. It is an impossible situation.

But suppose the teacher was able to discover a means that would transfer to his students both his love for the subject and his ability as well. Both his heart and his mind would be imparted to his students until they loved math every bit as much as he did, and they found themselves fully able to comprehend even the most difficult and complex aspects of it. If this could ever happen, the task of teaching those students would be transformed from a nightmare into a dream assignment. Teaching would be easy, discipline problems would be non-existent, and both teacher and students would find math class a great delight.

This is very much like what God had to do for the human race. Like those lazy, rebellious, and thick-headed students, so were we in the things of the Spirit. We had neither the heart nor the ability to keep the commandments of God. And if ever we needed proof of this, Israel was God’s prime example. The story of Israel is a story of failure. They were promised blessings, preeminence, and prosperity as a reward for keeping the commandments, statutes, and ways of God. They would be the head and not the tail; they would be blessed going out and blessed coming in. It was a great offer – but their stubborn hearts could never keep pace with this promise. They failed and were punished again and again. But this was not merely a problem with some stubborn Jews. This was God demonstrating to the entire human race that by the strength of our wills and our resolve, we will always fail. Our hearts are faulty. We have spiritual heart disease and are in desperate need of a transplant. And this is exactly what God provides through His Son Jesus Christ. God makes this a reality in our lives through His indwelling Holy Spirit: “I will put My Spirit within you…” 

Caused to Walk Uprightly

The conclusion of this verse is nothing short of incredible: “I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will keep My judgments and do them.” Not “I will help you,” not “I will encourage you,” not “I will assist you,” but “I will cause you to walk in My statutes...” This is at the heart of the New Covenant which Jesus Christ has established by His death on the cross and His resurrection. Our old heart is removed, a new heart is given us as the Holy Spirit enters us and becomes a “permanent resident” in our lives. Suddenly we find we have a new nature. Whereas the things of God used to be exceedingly dull, now we find them fascinating. Before we had no will to live uprightly, but now we say like Jesus: “I delight to do Your will, and Your law is within My heart” (Psalm 40:8).

Ezekiel was not the only prophet to whom this amazing mystery was revealed. Jeremiah knew about this business of the new heart as well, and prophesied:

Then I will give them one heart and one way, that they may fear Me forever, for the good of them and their children after them. And I will make an everlasting covenant with them, that I will not turn away from doing them good; but I will put My fear in their hearts so that they will not depart from Me. (Jeremiah 32:39, 40)

This is not to suggest that God does our obeying for us, and turns us into robots without any will of our own. Our responsibilities involve trusting Christ and yielding to Him; His specialty is motivation. Paul summed this process up beautifully when he wrote: “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure” (Philippians 2:12, 13).

This is the essence of what it means to be born again through faith in Christ Jesus. And at some point in history, Israel will partake of this wonderful promise of Ezekiel, and serve their Messiah Jesus Christ alongside their Gentile brothers and sisters. Jews will turn to God and His Son Jesus Christ wholesale. Our God is in the heart transplant business!

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