“The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked; who can know it?” (Jer 17:9). The word “heart” is the most common and complete description of man’s essential essence in the Bible. The heart is the center of our thoughts, intents, motives, understanding, choices, and actions. In its unregenerate state, the heart is the seat of our evil thoughts, plans, and actions.
The theme of the deceptive and wicked heart continues into the New Testament where Jesus uses a debate about clean and unclean food to launch into the following discourse. “Do you not see that whatever goes into the man from outside cannot defile him; because it does not go into his heart, but into his stomach, and is eliminated? That which proceeds out of the man, that is what defiles the man. For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed the evil thoughts and fornications, thefts, murders, adulteries, deeds of coveting and wickedness, as well as deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride and foolishness. All these evil things proceed from within and defile the man” (Mk 7:18-23). In its natural state, prior to our conversion, our heart is aptly described as deceitful and wicked.
But that all changed when you accepted Christ’s gift of deliverance. (If you have been following these posts from the start, you may be tired of “But that all changed…”, but I cannot emphasize enough how radically things changed at our conversion.) In short, when you embraced the gospel message of Jesus Christ, you received a new heart. “Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh” (Ez 36:26). “Heart of flesh” does not refer to a fleshly heart in the spirit vs. flesh sense. The term describes a soft warm beating heart in place of our old stone-cold dead heart. As Watchman Nee wrote in The Normal Christian Life, “The heart, God says, is ‘desperately sick’ and He must do something more fundamental than cleanse it. He must give us a new one.”
And a new heart we have. Our old heart, our old self, our old nature were crucified with Christ on the cross (II Cor 5:14, Rom 6:6). Our old heart was not cleaned up. It was replaced by a new one, a heart no longer deceitful and wicked, but a heart with the law of God written upon it (Jer 31:33, Heb 10:16).
When believers are referred to as still having a deceptive and wicked heart, we miss the beauty and the power of our new identity in Christ. We fall into a, “Woe is me, how can I master my stubborn heart?” mentality. There is no wicked heart to master. It is gone, destroyed at the cross. This is so important to understand. When we diminish the finished work of Christ on the cross regarding the inclination of our new heart (a condition contributed to by a misunderstanding of Romans chapter 7), we think the war with sin in our heart is ongoing. For the believer, the war is over. Christ won the war at the cross. Yes, skirmishes remain in our conflict with our primary enemies; Satan and the flesh. But they are only skirmishes, mop up duty if you will. The war is over.
Does this characterization of our struggle with sin sound too bold? I believe that if we could fully grasp the true implications of “the war is over”, our Christian life would move into a new realm of supernatural living. We often wring our hands as a Christian community to understand why we look so much like the world around us. Could it be that we have let Satan, the great deceiver, define who we are based on our patterns of failure rather than living into the promises of who we are in Christ? The question begs for more discussion and we hope to move into what the new identity looks like in practice in our upcoming posts.