By Lionel Woods
I was listening to a specific album and also reading a really good blog yesterday. Both of them referenced Jer 17:9 which says:
9 The heart is deceitful above all things,and desperately sick;who can understand it?
I have no problem with this being referenced at all. Actually I even use at times when I am sharing the gospel, especially when someone says “oh God knows my heart”. There is also a parallel in the Gospel according to Matthew in which Jesus says “it is not what goes into a man’s mouth what defiles him…….For out of the heart comes evil thoughts”. So again I think this is a very weighty truth and shows the depravity of mankind and the verse can be used in such an instance but……….
The current usage of the verse
In both instances the person applied these verses to themselves or others as Christians and this is where I have the problem. Christian’s don’t have wicked hearts we have new hearts. I understand where people are trying to go when quoting this verse and applying it to Christians but I think they are wrong and gravely wrong at that. You may think I am splitting hairs and that this conversation isn’t relevant but give me a few minutes and I will explain why this isn’t so. The current usage is in the battle between our fallen flesh and our new nature. Both are at war with one another so this verse is used in the sense of saying “I really can’t trust myself, I must trust the word of God and the Spirit”. I agree that we struggle with the flesh because we have dual citizenship. Our primary citizenship is in heaven while simultaneously we are strangers or aliens in this sinful world and we have the ability to sin because we still have this corrupting flesh that we occupy. This however doesn’t make this verse applicable, although I get the point that is trying to be made.
The audiences view of this scripture
First lets see exactly what is being said just a few verses previous to verse 9 to understand what the prophet Jeremiah was conveying:
17:1 “The sin of Judah is written with a pen of iron; with a point of diamond it is engraved on the tablet of their heart, and on the horns of their altars, 2 while their children remember their altars and their Asherim, beside every green tree and on the high hills, 3 on the mountains in the open country. Your wealth and all your treasures I will give for spoil as the price of your high places for sin throughout all your territory. 4 You shall loosen your hand from your heritage that I gave to you, and I will make you serve your enemies in a land that you do not know, for in my anger a fire is kindled that shall burn forever.”
God is speaking to Judah through Jeremiah and proclaiming His judgment upon them. He tells them “I will make you serve your enemies in a land that you do not know”. Why is this? Because they have turned to other gods to serve them. Just as Israel will be conquered so will Judah. Judah held on a little while longer but eventually they gave themselves over to idolatry and the violating of the Covenant God made with them (thus the Old Covenant had land promises that were conditional upon covenantal faithfulness).
So first we must see how does this apply to us. The observation is quite simple. It does not apply to gentiles in its immediate context; however in its broader context we understand that all who reject the Messiah have wicked hearts and we see that in Matthew when Christ addresses what comes out of the heart is which defiles but what goes in the mouth is digested and discarded (the focus not on clean hands but clean hearts).
A Future Promise of a New Heart
Even if this did apply to all people there is a huge prophecy given 14 chapters later in which I hold in high regard because of its fulfillment in Christ. It is found in Jeremiah 31:
31 “Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, 32 not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the Lord. 33 But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 34 And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”
At last we see an answer for Israel’s problems. We have to understand what is going on here. Israel CANT KEEP THE TERMS OF THE OLD COVENANT! We must see that. We have to see that. We see in the New Testament Paul calling this covenant good and spiritual but also powerless. The covenant leaves mankind to himself and if left to ourselves we are in trouble. Israel can’t keep the terms folks. We see that quite easily.
1. Moses is gone for 40 days and they already make a god in the form of a calf
2. God keeps them and conquers their enemies and when they are on the brink of entering the promise land they punk out (we would have also) send some spies and shake their fist at God.
3. God conquers their enemies in Joshua and not a hundred years pass before they are already unfaithful to the covenant and we see the cycle of judges for 500 years.
4. They reject God’s rule over them and beg for a king.
5. The 3 king violates all the terms of the covenant by intermarriage and we see the rapid decline of Israel, the subsequent division of the kingdoms and idol worship becomes the norm.
All of this proves that God is faithful but the covenant made with the people is conditional. God always keeps His side of the deal but the mutual party can’t. It is impossible there is no life giving power in that covenant it is a covenant or ministry of death (2 Cor 3).
The prophecy fulfilled
In Hebrews 8 we see:
6 But as it is, Christ has obtained a ministry that is as much more excellent than the old as the covenant he mediates is better, since it is enacted on better promises. 7 For if that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no occasion to look for a second…………
…….13 In speaking of a new covenant, he makes the first one obsolete. And what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away.
The writer takes Jeremiah 31 and applies it to those who have placed saving faith in Jesus Christ. What is the centrality of this New Covenant? Lets see:
10 For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord:I will put my laws into their minds,and write them on their hearts,and I will be their God,and they shall be my people.
The New Covenant writes God’s law on our hearts and our minds and we are given the power to obey and respond. Ezekiel also makes a prophecy in chapter 36 but that is up for debate. Even if you believe that some of those promises will be fully realized in the Millennium you still must believe that the “new heart” and the “new spirit” are realized today in those who have been born again.
Once again this may seem like I am splitting hairs but I am not. My home church is going through Ephesians and it is important that we understand our position in Christ and exactly what God has done for us in Christ. We have a high status before God and I don’t want us infringing upon this status by calling our new hearts purchased by the blood of Christ, chosen by God the Father and sealed by Spirit of God , wicked! We don’t have wicked hearts. We have new hearts which are beautiful, we have been born-again, we are new creatures, and we no longer have to struggle with our hearts. Our struggle is with the flesh and the devil. God has made us slaves to righteousness so we no longer need to fear our hearts, though the non-believer best fear it greatly. I want to tackle the wretched men but I really need about a 5-10 page essay on it to answer all of the faulty questions about the “wretched men” theology that plagues our churches. God bless and love to interact with you thin.