Renewed By The Spirit

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It is not a new story. Indeed it is as old as time itself. In chapter 11 of Ezekiel we hear, once again, of the consequences that come to us from falling away from the generous gift of God’s Law, and falling instead into acting ‘according to the ordinances of the nations around you.’ (Ezekiel 11: 12) Chapter 11 is a description of Ezekiel’s vision from God. It is full of sadness, and Ezekiel cries out, ‘Lord God! You are finishing off what remains of Israel!’ (Ezekiel 11: 13)

Then Ezekiel’s vision reveals a truth that is older than time as well, that is, that God’s love and forgiveness, and his constant concern for his people, even when they have fallen away, is infinitely merciful. The word of the Lord comes to Ezekiel and tells him that the remnant will be saved, he will gather them back from their exile and, ‘I will give them an undivided heart and put a new spirit in them; I will remove from them their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh. (Ezekiel 11: 19) They will once again walk according to the statutes of the Lord and they will be his people and he will be their God once again. This word of the Lord is for us today too. For we, too, are caught up often submitting to the ‘laws’ of man, worrying about immediate dangers to us, rather than remaining faithful to the higher Law of God, even if in doing so, we must suffer at the hands of arrogant men and unrighteous human institutions.

You see, we are no less capable of falling away from God’s Law than the men and women of Ezekiel’s time. And when we fall away from God because of fears of one kind or another, or worse, when we fall into the trap of believing in human ideologies and the fashions or powers of the moment, as opposed to the eternal truth of God, the consequence to us are the same as they were for the Jews of Ezekiel’s time. We find ourselves in exile. When we submit to the gratifications, the pleasures of the immediate moment, more often than not, we eventually find ourselves lost. Those moments of immediate gratification are fleeting and unsatisfying. They never seem to fulfill us. They leave us emptier and more desperate than we were before.

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When we turn back in faith to God, even when we are lost in the self-imposed exile resulting from our sins, he forgives us and forgets our sins. He promises that he will renew us, giving us once again, ‘an undivided heart.’ We will no longer be divided in our hearts, our consciences, between God and man. Rather, everything we do will be within the liberating ordinances of God. Our hearts will be for him alone. He will remove from us our hearts of stone and give us back hearts of flesh.’ This news comes as a source of great relief to us, just as it did to the Jews of Ezekiel’s time.

A prideful heart is a heart that has grown stony. It bows to nothing but its own cold demands. It will listen to no wisdom, hearing only the demands of its own passions. A heart of flesh, on the other hand, is aware of its vulnerability, its own weakness. It knows that it is dependent on something greater than itself. A heart of stone loves nothing greater than itself. A heart of flesh knows that it is nothing without love. A heart of stone cares for nothing but itself. It will roll over and crush whatever is in its way. A heart of flesh melts at the suffering of another, is moved by the desire to heal, to defend, and to be in relationship with the other. Only a heart of flesh can recognize infinite, God-given dignity of the other. Only the heart of flesh is capable of sacrificing its own needs in recognition of the greater needs of the other. Only a heart of flesh sees that the love of God is expressed in his ordinances, that they are the only true source of real justice, real mercy, and real freedom. Only a heart of flesh accepts the wisdom that God’s law is infinite and, therefore, greater than that of finite and fickle mankind.

Lord, we are often in exile and long to be brought back home. We believe in your ordinances, but we are weak and sometimes we are afraid. Sometimes we turn away from you because we have fallen in ‘with the ordinances of the nations around us’ and forgotten the narrow path of your ordinances. At times we have let our hearts turn into stone. Lord, we pray each day that you turn our hearts of stone back into hearts of flesh again so that we can freely and willingly live in accord with your ordinances, loving you with all of our mind, body, soul, and strength, and our neighbors as ourselves. We ask these prayers in your name, Jesus. Amen

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Dan Doyle is a husband, father, grandfather, Vietnam veteran, and retired professor of Humanities at Seattle University. He taught 13 years at the high school level and 22 years at the university level. He spends his time now babysitting his granddaughter. He is a poet and a blogger as well. Dan holds an AA degree in English Literature, a BA in Comparative Literature, and an MA in Theology, and writes regularly for The Veterans Site blog.