Saturday, May 21, 2011

Is the Human Heart Beyond Cure?

Reading: Jeremiah 16 – 18   
Jeremiah has no delusions about the inherent goodness of the human heart (Jeremiah 4:14; 5:1, 31; 6:14; 7:24; 9:14; 11:8; 12:2; 16:12). Of course, Jeremiah is speaking to a particular people at a particular time, so we can't automatically assume it applies to all of us at all times. Jeremiah was speaking to the people of Judah. Does it apply to Americans, or Germans, or Russians, Arabs, or Libyans?
Jeremiah prophesied after the northern kingdom of Israel (the nation that much more rapidly went into apostasy and rebellion against God). He is speaking to the Jews, the remnant that remained. Judah had been much more faithful, and had more faithful kings. Yet still, they eventually became as involved in spiritual whoredom as her northern sister. These are the chosen people, those who have received the covenant from God, had been delivered and had knowledge of God and how He would work. If their hearts were stubborn and followed wicked ways, does it not mean that we also are in this condition? Paul answered this question quite clearly in Romans 3:9-18 – There is no difference.
Why are we so prone to sin? Why is there no risk of the evening news becoming nothing but human interest stories and nothing bad to report?
Judah's sin is engraved with an iron tool, inscribed with a flint point, on the tablets of their hearts and on the horns of their altars. (17:1)
Sin is written on the human heart... engraved with an iron tool, inscribed with a flint point, on the tablets of our hearts, and on the places of our idol worship. Jeremiah would not encourage us to follow our hearts. Indeed the reason He repeatedly gives for God's painful (Jeremiah 14:17) decision to send his people into captivity, to throw them out of the land as Adam and Eve had been thrown out of the garden, is because they followed their hearts (Jeremiah 16:10-13; 18:11-12). Not only do we have sin engraved on our hearts, we train our children in it as well... assisting them to write sin on their hearts before they learn how to write! (Jeremiah 17:2).
All of this leads Jeremiah to the astonishing conclusion:
The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it? (17:9)
Does Jeremiah leave us with no cure? I don't believe He does; in fact, Jeremiah points us toward great hope for the human race. Just before this conclusion of 17:9, he hints that it exists (Jeremiah 17:5-8). He speaks of the curse on the one who trusts in man, depends on flesh for his strength, and turns away from trusting the Lord. He also speaks of the one who is blessed as he trusts in the Lord and who places his confidence fully in Him. How will it ever happen that people with hearts as described would trust in the Lord? We find the answer to that question a little later in Jeremiah.
31“The time is coming,” declares the LORD, “when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah. 32It will not be like the covenant I made with their forefathers when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they broke my covenant, though I was a husband to them,” declares the LORD. 33“This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time,” declares the LORD. “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. 34No longer will a man teach his neighbor, or a man his brother, saying, 'Know the LORD,' because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest,” declares the LORD. “For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.” (Jeremiah 31:31-34)
God was on a mission, a redemptive mission, that would culminate in a new covenant. This new covenant would be one where God's people who did not know Him would know Him because their sins would be forgiven. God would relate to them, not according to their sin, but would no longer remember them. This was accomplished in Christ. And now, God will do something for this redeemed and forgiven people: He will write a new script on their hearts by His Spirit whom He would place in them. The new script will not be the story of sin which was engraved in their hearts with an iron tool, but would be God's law and way.
We read of this new script in the New Testament epistles too. Ephesians 4:17-24 speaks of how we used to live according to the script of sinful ignorance, living in darkness. But calls us to begin living in the script of Christ, the new man created to be like Him in true righteousness and holiness. This new script is the Gospel, Jesus Christ. And it begins with how He laid down His life for us to forgive our sins and free us from the captivity of sin. (See also Paul's Definition of Spiritual Maturity.) This alone is the cure for the human heart!
Tomorrow morning the message from Isaiah 43 – 44 will show us how God will free us form the captivity of sin and then lead us out of the prison cell by His Spirit. This is really speaking of the same truths that Jeremiah pointed to as he envisioned a day when that which is written in our hearts would no longer be sin and rebellion but Christ!
Love the Gospel, Live the Gospel, Advance the Gospel,

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