A New Heart of Flesh
“I will give them one heart, and a new spirit I will put within them. I will remove the heart of stone from their flesh and give them a heart of flesh, that they may walk in my statutes and keep my rules and obey them. And they shall be my people, and I will be their God” (vv. 19–20).- Ezekiel 11
Doing theology properly often involves holding two complementary truths in tension. For example, in our doctrine of God, we must never emphasize our Creator’s oneness at the expense of His threeness (unitarianism) or His threeness at the expense of His oneness (tritheism). In our doctrines of salvation and providence, we must never emphasize divine sovereignty at the expense of human responsibility (fatalism) or human responsibility at the expense of divine sovereignty (Pelagianism and semi-Pelagianism). Maintaining this tension can be difficult, but it keeps us from falling into doctrinal error.
Old covenant prophets likewise found it difficult at times to hold complementary truths in tension. Consider the dialogue between the Lord and Ezekiel that is recorded in today’s passage. God told Ezekiel that judgment was coming upon His people, and Ezekiel agreed that they deserved it (Ezek. 11:1–12; see chap. 6). Ezekiel did not protest that the nation had not earned its punishment; rather, He was dismayed that God would fully destroy the descendants of Jacob/Israel, a nation already whittled down by exile, famine, and war (11:13). Ezekiel found it hard to hold two truths in tension: that God could “by no means clear the guilty” and that He would not break His covenant with Israel, always preserving a people for Himself (Ex. 34:7; Lev. 26:44–45). Because Ezekiel knew that Israel deserved only death, he could not see how the Lord could preserve His chosen nation if He had to judge Israel.
God answered the predicament by saying that He would preserve a remnant by His sovereign intervention to change their hearts. He would bring those whom He exiled into foreign lands back to Canaan, put a new spirit within them, and replace their hard stone hearts with living hearts of flesh that beat with true faith and love for Him (vv. 14–21). The Lord would purify His people so that they would escape His wrath.
Other inspired writers show more comprehensively that the Lord can judge and preserve His people at the same time only in Christ. He bore the judgment we deserved for our sins, and we are preserved in Him because we are declared righteous in the Son (2 Cor. 5:21). For this justification to occur, the Lord must take the initiative and transform our hearts because without this transformation, we cannot see the kingdom of God, let alone enter it by faith (John 3:3). The Lord must regenerate us so that we can believe and be justified, and consequently receive the indwelling Spirit and be sanctified.
Dr. R.C. Sproul has said that the biblical doctrine of salvation can be summed up effectively in three words: regeneration precedes faith. Without regeneration, we cannot trust Christ and be united to Him, and if we are not united to Christ, we cannot be justified, sanctified, and glorified. We cannot deserve regeneration, which is why we must finally attribute our salvation to God alone. Let us be grateful that the Lord has not left us to ourselves but has transformed us to believe in Him.
Passages for Further Study
2 Corinthians 3:3