We learned so far in this week’s five-part blog series on Ezekiel 35-36 that God says that he will give us a new heart of flesh, and a new spirit. What Spirit? That’s the next step in the transformation process. Learn about steps 1-3 here. Now we learn about the all-important Step Four in verse 27.
Step Four is that God will give us his Spirit! Amazing! The Spirit of God living in us? Yes! And for what purpose? God explains that the Spirit will move us to follow his ways.
Here we see the direct connection to the teaching of Jesus and his apostles in the New Testament. Jesus talked about fruit trees in very much the same way that God, through Ezekiel, talks about how a human heart changes. Jesus taught that you will know a person by their fruit, just like you know a tree by its fruit. If bad fruit comes from a tree, you know that something isn’t right inside that tree. But a proper tree produces good fruit. This is why Jesus will go on to say, “Out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks.”
The heart is the determining factor in how we will live our lives. The status of our heart will guide our thoughts, our words, our actions. If there are thoughts, words and deeds coming from our lives that are not honoring to God, then we need to examine our hearts. In his book, Inside Out, Larry Crabb says we will find a demanding heart there. While it is good to clean the outside of the dish, Jesus says, if we first clean the inside, we’ll clean the outside too. This is why God performs the ritual bath in verse 25, but what he really wants to get at is that stone cold heart.
He wants to transplant it not with another human heart, not with an artificial heart, not with pig’s heart (pig’s heart?…we talked about that in the previous post), but with a new heart that is enlivened by his Spirit. Of course, that’s precisely what happened in the early church in Acts 2 when the Spirit arrived, just as Jesus said he would. As the Apostle Paul writes, our bodies are temple of the Spirit, and thus we should walk in step with the Spirit so the fruit of the Spirit flows from our lives. We have the energy and power of God the Holy Spirit working in us to help us become more like Jesus.
Ezekiel, Jesus and Paul are not describing physical heart surgery. The kind of heart transplant they envision, the heart transplant that leads to changed lives, is done in the realm of our spirit and our will, and it is most often, but not only, a process of a lifetime.
As we continue through Ezekiel 36, God says that not only will he give them a new heart of flesh and a new spirit, his Spirit, he will also make their land flourish, which we read in verses 28-30. Finally in verses 31-32, he gets very honest with them once again. This beautiful process of God entering their world and lives and doing the work of transformation both inwardly, outwardly and in their land is because they themselves caused it. This is a critical piece of the situation. The people need to see their culpability. Change is not possible unless we first see that we need to change.
When it comes to change there are generally two kinds of people: those who see that they need to change, but feel powerless to do so. And those who do not see that they need to change, but they absolutely need to change. God, in this passage, seems primarily to be addressing the latter group, those who don’t think they need to change, those who look around their world, see the carnage of relationships and brokenness, and then blame others. Repeatedly in this passage, God is saying to Israel, “I am here for you, I am boldly and powerfully going to act on your behalf, but you need to see and acknowledge the truth of what caused this situation in the first place. You did!”
It is so difficult to have a truthful perspective of ourselves, especially when we are at fault. We hate to admit it. I hate to admit when I am wrong. Sometimes I think to myself, “I can’t possibly be wrong on this, or I can’t possibly be wrong that many times.” Could be in my marriage. Could be in my parenting. Could be in my role in the church. All of which matter deeply to me, and thus I want to improve in those areas. Yet, I can hate to be called out on even small ways I might be wrong. Maybe you know the feeling.
But notice God in this passage over and over and over saying to Israel that they need to get to a point where they loathe themselves. Where they are ashamed and disgraced. See the strong language God uses in verses 31 and 32. We might read that and think, “Geesh, God, that’s harsh. Aren’t you supposed to be loving and kind and gracious?” God wants us to hate ourselves? Doesn’t that sound wrong? We’re not supposed to hate ourselves, are we?
But notice how God uses these strong words. He is not saying that the people are to hate themselves. He is saying that they are to have a loathing and shame and disgrace for their sinful conduct. That is the right view of misconduct of any kind. A proper mindset is a negative opinion of our sinful conduct.
The problem, therefore, was that Israel did not have that negative view of their own sin. They blamed others. They blamed God. They kept sinning. They looked at their lives, which were in total shambles at this point, as their city and temple were destroyed and their nation was defeated, and yet even then they still blamed others! That is the sin of the narcissist, the arrogant, prideful, gas-lighting, manipulator. That is the heart filled with demands that Larry Crabb talks about in his book Inside Out.
Yet God is saying to Israel, “I am here. I am ready and willing to help you make the change you need, but you are part of this transformation.” God even says that he will go first. He’ll do the work of transplant, but they must participate too, and have a properly place loathing and shame and disgrace for their sin.
How about you? Does that resonate with the situation of your life? If so, God is ready to reach out to you, to change your life! His gracious, loving arms are wide open to welcome you!