The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it? (Jeremiah 17:9 ESV)
This verse is trumpeted around, particularly in Reformed circles, to broadcast the depravity of the heart. It’s also used to express the wickedness of the heart of believers. But is this the Biblical teaching about the heart of a person who is in Christ?
Here’s a wonderful thing about the gospel … the beauty of conversion is that God changes our heart! God takes a wretched heart and makes it clean and new! We experience death to the old self as we are resurrected to new life, the very life of Jesus shared with us in abundance!
This heart change was promised by the prophets:
I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. 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. (Ezekiel 36:25-27 ESV)
And 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, (Ezekiel 11:19 ESV)
Jesus performed miracles that foreshadow His cleansing work, such as:
And behold, a leper came to him and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, if you will, you can make me clean.” And Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, saying, “I will; be clean.” And immediately his leprosy was cleansed. (Matthew 8:2-3 ESV)
Jesus made this leper clean physically; Jesus makes believers clean spiritually! And just as Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead unto new life, He raised us from our spiritual deadness unto spiritual life as partakers of the eternal life of God!
As members of Christ, we walk with resurrected & cleansed hearts!
and he made no distinction between us and them, having cleansed their hearts by faith. (Acts 15:9 ESV)
since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. (Hebrews 10:21-22 ESV)
Our consciences have been purified! Our hearts made pure and good!
how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God. (Hebrews 9:14 ESV)
So flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart. (2 Timothy 2:22 ESV)
The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. (1 Timothy 1:5 ESV)
The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks. (Luke 6:45 ESV)
Our hearts are made pure, otherwise we will never see God:
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. (Matthew 5:8 ESV)
Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart, (1 Peter 1:22 ESV)
From the heart we are to forgive:
So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.” (Matthew 18:35 ESV)
In the parable of the sower, the seed that lands on good soil has a heart that is honest & good:
As for that in the good soil, they are those who, hearing the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patience. (Luke 8:15 ESV)
When the early church met, they did so with hearts that were glad & generous:
And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, (Acts 2:46 ESV)
It is from the heart that believers are obedient to respond to the gospel:
But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, (Romans 6:17 ESV)
It is from the heart that we believe:
For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. (Romans 10:10 ESV)
We can even trust the conviction of our heart:
But whoever is firmly established in his heart, being under no necessity but having his desire under control, and has determined this in his heart, to keep her as his betrothed, he will do well. (1 Corinthians 7:37 ESV)
Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. (2 Corinthians 9:7 ESV)
Our hearts have been enlightened:
having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, (Ephesians 1:18 ESV)
We make melody to the Lord with our heart:
addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, (Ephesians 5:19 ESV)
With our heart we have the burden to pray and desire for others to be saved:
Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved. (Romans 10:1 ESV)
We can now do the will of God from our heart:
Bondservants, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, with a sincere heart, as you would Christ, not by the way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but as bondservants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart, (Ephesians 6:5-6 ESV)
God has poured out His love in our hearts!
and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. (Romans 5:5 ESV)
God has planted His Spirit in our hearts:
and who has also put his seal on us and given us his Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee. (2 Corinthians 1:22 ESV)
And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” (Galatians 4:6 ESV)
Christ dwells in our hearts!
so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith–that you, being rooted and grounded in love, (Ephesians 3:17 ESV)
God says that He shines in our hearts!
For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. (2 Corinthians 4:6 ESV)
How dare we suggest that what God has said He has made clean, we say is still dirty! How dare we say that where Christ dwells is still wretched when His light shines in and through us! Jesus Himself dwells in us, and yet some of us still say that where Jesus abides remains evil.
Let’s take a quick look back at Jeremiah 17:9. It’s written to rebellious Judah, prior their well-deserved judgment at the hands of the Babylonians. To apply this verse to describe the heart of a believer in Christ is not only to take the verse out of context, but even worse it completely disregards God’s regenerating work of a new heart. When someone responds to the gospel by being brought into union with Christ by his Spirit they are a new creation. Jeremiah 17:9 is not a description of the heart of a newly-created disciple of Jesus.
The true condition of the heart of the converted individual is that which has been transferred from deadness unto the life of God! Our hearts have been made pure, clean, and good!
So if our hearts have been made pure and clean, why do we still sin? We still sin because of the flesh.
The flesh seeks for us to find our identity, our purpose, in anything other than Jesus. Whether we find our purpose in the evil works of the flesh (Gal. 5:19-21), or simply in our human accomplishments that are not necessarily sinful (Phil. 3:4-7), the flesh is seeking ways for us to find our pride in something about ourselves.
The Galatians sought to establish their sanctification through the law, which Paul describes as fleshly living (i.e. human accomplishment).
Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? (Galatians 3:2-3 ESV)
The Galatians certainly didn’t try to do this according to the evil works mentioned in 5:19-21; in their attempt to follow the law they would have agreed that the wicked & evil things in that list are unacceptable. But the flesh seeks to find our purpose in our human accomplishments. For the Galatian believers, their attempt to adhere to the law served as an opportunity for the flesh.
Praise the Lord that He has changed our hearts that we may indeed have victory over sin! He has cleansed our hearts that we are capable of resisting the flesh! We can now choose to not gratify the desires of the flesh, something we could never do prior to our conversion.
If we suggest that the true condition of our heart is still sinful, wicked & evil, we are intimating that there is no such thing as conversion, that the old self is still alive, that God has not changed our heart despite the fact that He tells us that He has done so. We would remain unchanged, unconverted. If we believe that the true condition of our heart is still sinful, it will more than likely lead to a form of self-fulfilling prophecy that leads us into further sin. Believing that our hearts are still sinful will not give us victory over the flesh and help us to prevent sinning.
The Scriptures do not say “look really deeply into the depth of your sinfulness so that you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.” No. It states “walk in the Spirit and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.”
We’re told that the path to putting off sin is knowing that we are the dwelling place of God on earth:
Since we have these promises (“these promises” = the promises in 2 Cor. 6:16-18 that we are the dwelling place of God on earth), beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God. (2 Corinthians 7:1 ESV)
Knowing that God has made our hearts pure is our hope to have victory against the flesh! The confidence we have to not sin is in knowing that He has already cleansed our hearts and the true condition of our heart is that it has been made right before Him. It is knowing the true condition of our heart based on God’s resurrecting power that abides in us that enables us to have victory over sin.