Comfort in the Precious Promises of God
God calls us to such radical obedience to His law that, if we are honest, we should dispair of all hope from ourselves to accomplish what He demands of us (Rom 3:20). Left to ourselves we cannot rise above the source of the fountain of who we are by nature - a poluted well. We, therefore, do not need improvement, but a totally new heart that would desire obedience to our Lord. For all believers this has occurred (past tense). It is the grace of God in Christ that we now have a heart which delights in obedience. Apart from the Holy Spirit we continue in darkness since we are nothing in ourselves, but in Christ take courage and note the glorious promises of God in Ezekiel:
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. You shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers, and you shall be my people, and I will be your God. And I will deliver you from all your uncleannesses. And I will summon the grain and make it abundant and lay no famine upon you. I will make the fruit of the tree and the increase of the field abundant, that you may never again suffer the disgrace of famine among the nations. Then you will remember your evil ways, and your deeds that were not good, and you will loathe yourselves for your iniquities and your abominations. It is not for your sake that I will act, declares the Lord GOD; let that be known to you. Be ashamed and confounded for your ways, O house of Israel. - Ezekiel 36:25-32
These are truly glorious promises that God makes to us here. It is important to stress that in the text a desire to obey is something that God gives us, not something we ourselves conjure up or exercise our will to attain. For apart from His mercy we would not ourselves desire it, yet God grants it to everyone who would become a Christian. It is here where God first touches the heart of a sinner and makes him a saint, where the heart that was once hostile to God is now disarmed. While we all know that total depravity has infiltrated the human race (for all in Adam), yet these promises describe the beginning point where God actually reverses that depraved course since He gives us a new heart in Christ. Where we were once desperately wicked, alienated and unable to lift ourselves out of our misery, God has begun the process of redeeming us - an effect which the text says is certain. The first evidence in the redemeed (that depravity is no longer "total") is that they believe the gospel. We believe Christ because God has opened our eyes to see Him as he is, and for the first time we see the beauty and excellency of Jesus Christ in the Scripture. Such a glorious vision is not possible for those in an unregenerate state- for the man without the Spirit thinks spiritual truth is foolish (1 Cor 2:14). The text says that God removes the heart of stone and gives us a heart of flesh - a change that has taken place which God has wrought. In doing so, the text declares that He causes us to obey and walk in his statutes.
Take note, lest you be discouraged that obeying God is beyond your ability. In your natural self this is true, but when the Spirit united you to Christ this is no longer the case. The believer, by nature, loves Jesus and his law. When he reads the word of God it stirs up great affection in him for his Beloved. And it causes him grief and consternation when he disobeys his law. But be encouraged and know this: The promises in Ezekiel chapter 36 are not exortations of what God would have us do but unconditional promises to all believers. In other words, God makes the results certain:
"I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses."
"...from all your idols I will cleanse you."
"I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you."
"I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh."
"I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules."
"You shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers, and you shall be my people, and I will be your God. And I will deliver you from all your uncleannesses."
Because it is God who does these things for the believer, it should give us great assurance, for our acceptance with God is not because of what we do for God but what he has done for us. The believer, then obeys not in order to be saved, or maintain his salvation, but obeys because he is already saved and his new heart which God has given him, delights to do so. God gives him the desire and power to obey him, the text declares. He has not only justified us in Christ but given us his Holy Spirit which loves righteousness and fears God. The Lord not only commands us that we ought to obey, but are given a new heart that wants to obey.
In Jeremiah 32 which is a parallel passage to Ezekiel, God promises He will not turn away from His people to do them good but He also changes our hearts indelibly that we will never turn away from Him. "I will put the fear of Me in their hearts so they will not turn away from me." The implications of this is profound because, again, it is the promise of God, that is, it is something God does for us. For this we praise the Lord for there is nothing that gives us greater assurance to our souls than to know that God has done for us what we could not do for ourselves and has accomplished our redemption in Jesus Christ.