Friday, November 17, 2006

If I have a new heart, and God's Spirit in me, then why is it still hard?

Here's a great promise from the book of Ezekiel, one I first heard about when Juan Carlos Ortiz spoke at our church, some time in the 1980s I think. He asked us, "How many of you wish you were nicer, that you were a more patient person, a kinder person?" Of course we all raised our hands.

So he then asked, with mock exasperation, "Why you are not like that?" This got some laughs. From there he somehow got to the point that we need help from God; we need him to do something supernatural in us. And he told us to turn to the book of Ezekiel. Now I used to think of Ezekiel as being cryptic and depressing, which it largely still is to me, especially "cryptic". Why, for example, are we told about the measurements of the heavenly temple in chapters 40-48? But anyway, here is one place where Ezekiel gives us good news of great joy (to coin a phrase):
I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. 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. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.
Ezekiel 36.25-27
How cool is that? To just always do what God wants, and to just do it naturally because the Spirit of God becomes my Spirit of God... sounds great! Sign me up!

Alas, it's not quite that easy. The Apostle Paul knew that quite well (he did write Romans 7, about the ongoing frustrating struggle to do what God wants).

So what did Ezekiel mean? Or what did the Lord mean when he said that through Ezekiel?

Here's something I heard some time ago, which still seems reasonable to me. In our natural state, we're hostile toward God. God invites us into relationship with him, softens our hearts, and sends his spirit to live inside us. At some point, our hearts become "neutral" toward him - that is, we are no longer hostile to God, and we have the possibility of doing things his way.

The rest of our lives on earth, we can learn to listen to him, learn to see things his way, love what he loves, and so on.

For most of us, that takes all our lives, and it's not an "ever upward" kind of thing. Three steps forward, two steps back -- sometimes it seems like just one step forward, and two steps back.

But the promise is still exciting. We can approach that blessed state asymptotically I suppose. We can get help - from the Helper, as Jesus called him.

Sounds pretty good to me!

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