“‘And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.’”
I used to think of repentance like mowing the lawn: cutting down that which gets too tall, especially the weeds.
Oh look, there’s a gossip weed, a lust weed, and a greed weed—snip, snip, snip, I don’t want these in my life.
I preferred a quick confession and repentance, vowing to turn away from that sin. I thought the actual working out of repentance was all on me: I could not dig up the root of sin that grew in my heart (it was there for good), so I would just cut off the leaves of the weed. Scissors were all that were in my power, so that would have to be enough for God. The surface would show a manicured lawn, and I thought that was as good as I could get. Other Christians—those born with naturally good soil, without deep roots and stones—could become the vision of the abundant wheat field. I was stuck with my deep-rooted weeds and rocks.
When I try to repent, and then do it on my own strength and get nowhere, I despair. Though I know better, in daily life, the Holy Spirit functions more as cheerleader than as fuel and motivation. I just shove sin down and say “don’t,” instead of doing the hard work of truly confessing it, admitting my inability to do anything about it. I’ve been deceiving myself, thinking I’ve been repenting, but I’ve been doing it in my own power, and its ineffectiveness has led me to doubt the Lord’s power; to doubt that He can change me; to doubt that I can ever have a heart of flesh or be a field of good soil.
But thanks to good friends who pointed me to the gospel, I am reminded that we don’t just chastise ourselves into good behavior (indeed, knowing the state of our brokenness, we cannot). There is a putting off of our old behavior and a putting on of Christ. We don’t just repress our bad attitudes and sinful actions; through the power of the risen Christ living in us, those things can be redeemedor replaced. I tend to stop at “Liz, don’t do that; that’s not how a Christian should act,” when we are given the power to say “Lord, replace this with more of you.” To ask God to weed out our sin and replace it with more of Him must entail truly giving up that sin. Repression is another way of just cutting the tops off of dandelions: it may hide the presence of the root of sin for a while, but it does nothing for a long-term solution. Indeed, it is even more dangerous because it is deceptive; we think we’re making progress on our sin when we can no longer see it on the surface, and we forget that its roots grow stronger beneath the soil.
But praise be to God it is not by our strength! The working out of repentance is what He does in me. He has promised to do it, and we can have confidence that He, the covenant-keeper, will do it. As we continue to follow him, confessing our sin and our inability to change, desperately believing and relying on Him, and turning from our sin, He will replace our hearts of stone little by little with hearts of flesh. God can and will replace our evil with good, can and will redeem the broken pieces of what was made to be good—little by little transforming us into His likeness. Having hearts of flesh is not an unattainable dream or a promise He gave to better Christians; it is a promise for all Christians from an eternally patient and loving God, a faithful farmer and a compassionate potter.
(Written by Liz Crim)