Today’s Bible reading

I will sprinkle you with pure water, and you will be clean from all your impurities. I will purify you from all your idols.  I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit within you. I will remove the heart of stone from your body and give you a heart of flesh. I will put my Spirit within you; I will take the initiative, and you will obey my statutes and carefully observe my regulations. – Ezekiel 36:25-27 (NET)

The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant that I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt—a covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, says the Lord. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says 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.  No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, “Know the Lord,” for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more. – Jeremiah 31:31-34 (NRSV)

And I will pour out a spirit of compassion and supplication on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, so that, when they look on the one whom they have pierced, they shall mourn for him, as one mourns for an only child, and weep bitterly over him, as one weeps over a firstborn. – Zechariah 12:10 (NRSV)

More thoughts for meditation

In this chapter, Cavey tries to reinforce the outlooks that will change our direction. An inward change of heart requires and outward change of behavior. This is kind of obvious, yet Gandhi wondered, “How can do many Christians be so unlike Christ?” And Steven Weinberg (Nobel Prize in Physics) wrote:

Frederick Douglass told in his Narrative how his condition as a slave became worse when his master underwent a religious conversion that allowed him to justify slavery as the punishment of the children of Ham. Mark Twain described his mother as a genuinely good person, whose soft heart pitied even Satan, but who had no doubt about the legitimacy of slavery, because in years of living in antebellum Missouri she had never heard any sermon opposing slavery, but only countless sermons preaching that slavery was God’s will. With or without religion, good people can behave well and bad people can do evil; but for good people to do evil — that takes religion.

Following Jesus cannot be reduced to the most correct ideology. Love is bigger than that. It cannot be led by our unreformed hearts. Jesus cannot live “in our hearts” unless we have transformed hearts, otherwise our faith is just what our heart feels most deeply. We’ve got to relate to God. So Cavey teaches:

A NEW HEART. A NEW SPIRIT. AND GOD’S SPIRIT!

I want this to sink in—can you tell? Jesus taught that he was instituting this New Covenant era (Matthew 26:28; Luke 22:20), and that human beings could really start all over as reborn, remade, renewed versions of themselves (John 3:3-8). He claimed to be curing hard-heartedness (Matthew 19: 8 and context). And he promised he would somehow indwell us via God’s Holy Spirit (John 14:15-27; 16:13-15), which would give us the power to live a better, more courageous life (Acts 1:8). This is the furthest thing from today’s common moralistic therapeutic deism that often passes as Christianity in our cultural moment. *

Before this curative heart transplant, we read things in the Old Testament like “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” (Jeremiah 17:9 KJV). Yes, that was then, but this is now: Jesus comes to give us a new heart. Fascinatingly, some circles of Christianity are still fond of quoting verses like this one to refer to all people, including themselves. “You just can’t trust your heart, you know. The Bible says it’s wicked.” But these Christians are talking like the New Covenant never came! King David’s prayer has been fully and finally answered: “Create in me a clean heart, O God, And renew a steadfast spirit within me” (Psalm 51:10 NASB). You got it, David. And now so do all of us who trust in Christ.

*“Moralistic therapeutic deism” is a term first introduced by sociologists Christian Smith and Melinda Lundquist Denton in their 2005 book about the spiritual beliefs of American youths, Soul Searching. The term refers to a popular trend of (a) valuing a basic morality common to most religions; (b) a generic spirituality that helps us feel good about ourselves; and (c) a God who exists but who doesn’t interact or interfere with our lives unless, perhaps, when called upon for help.

Suggestions for action

Pray: Search me Lord, and show me whether I have let myself settle for religion when I could be reborn.

Most of us probably got a heavy dose of “moralistic therapeutic deism” in the last 20 years. How did you relate to Cavey’s footnote about it? Why don’t you go back over that paragraph and ask God whether you are infected with a, b or c – not in theory, of course, but in practice.

Likewise, how stuck are you in the Old Testament? If someone leads us in “Create in me a clean heart, O God” perhaps you should stand up and ask, “Are you implying that Jesus did not give me a new heart and I still have to ask for it like he never died for me? Or do you just want to help me feel better after I turn to God from my distractions?” When you look around for the old sacrifice system in the church, Catholic or Protestant, you don’t have to look far.