“Create in me a clean heart, O God, And renew a steadfast spirit within me.” (Psalm 51:10).
As these words are being written we, in our part of the world, are only haltingly entering into the spring season. As you, dear reader, read these words however, it will certainly be warm and the summer of the year of our Lord 2002 should be well upon us. Summer time is usually a time of holidays and relaxation for most of us. This is the time of year when the hustle and bustle of the school and church season are past. With fewer meetings to attend, fewer obligations upon us and more free time, our thoughts tend to turn to less intense things.
With this increase of free time which follows the increase of daylight, perhaps we ought to take time to consider the state of our lives. We need to evaluate our progress in holiness and our growth in the grace of God in Christ. Let us do this by reflecting on these words of David found in Psalm 51: “Create in me a clean heart, O God.”
We all know the context of this 51st Psalm. David, God’s man, had fallen terribly into sin (cf. II Samuel 11 and 12). This man whom God had called from the menial task of shepherding his father’s sheep to become the King in Israel; this man whose heart belonged to God, had allowed his heart to wander far from God’s ways. David’s sin makes very real the serious caution our children receive when we teach them to sing, “O be careful little eyes what you see.” David’s wandering eyes led his feet to wandering off the path of righteousness and into the way of wickedness.
While David’s fall into sin is a great warning for all of us who love the Lord, this record also provides us with an unspeakable source of gratitude. God did not allow His man to stay in sin! Nathan came! God’s Word, which alone is powerful to save, is also powerful to sanctify.
“Create in me a clean heart, O God,” David prayed. Oh, how great and gracious a God we have! Not counting against us our sins, but providing the way of redemption in the Greater King, Jesus. He saves us not only in the “sweet bye-andbye,” but He also sanctifies us through the renewal of our hearts.
David’s heart, like ours, was wicked and filled with all sorts of unrighteousness. God will not permit such wickedness to live before Him. Therefore, the Creator God of heaven and earth, the same God who in the space of six days made all that is, of the heavenly realm as well as the physical, also creates, no, RE-creates in the heart of His people a new heart. Without His re-creating work we would fall eternally. But God saves and grants life to those who hear the voice of their Saviour and follow Him. They are granted grace to deny themselves and take up the cross of obedience to their King, Jesus.
The “New Heart” is the emblem of a new life. Our old, fallen heart of wickedness is removed and we receive, in His grace, a Holy Spirit heart transplant which begins the work of renewal in our lives. This is the New Covenant Promise of God given through the prophet Jeremiah:
“‘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 in their minds, and write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people.’ No more shall every man teach his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them, says the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more (Jeremiah 31:33, 34).”
This “New Heart” is enabled to do what the old, fallen heart could not and would not do. The rhythm of God’s will more and more resounds in this new heart. Before, the fallen heart could only will “obdurate disobedience” (cf. Canons of Dort, III/IV, article 1). The fallen will would and could only will rebellion. But the new heart is now enabled to will the will of God—though imperfectly because sin still lurks at our doorstep.
The Apostle Paul, in his Letter to Titus writes by the Holy Spirit: “. . . according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and re-newing of the Holy Spirit.” (Titus 3:5).
When the Holy Spirit works the work of regeneration and renewal (the “New Heart”) in us, this work opens what were before sin-blinded eyes; unstops what were before sin-deafened ears; and awakens what was before a sin-darkened will—all of which had been fatally blinded by the ancient “Sneaky Snake.” A true “New Life” begins. As with all of life, there is progress and growth, as well as regression and stumbling.
Have you ever wondered about the tendency, especially of little boys, to love mud puddles? It is almost predictable that if our little boys happen upon a mud puddle while riding their bicycles they will swerve to ride directly through its middle. If, while walking down a roadway, they see that puddle it is almost a sure thing that they will stomp their way through it. When MOST little boys grow up, however, they might find themselves still yearning for a romp through the mud but they will, most likely, avoid the mess. This is a good illustration of the way of the Christian life.
“When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things.” (1 Corinthians 13:11).
When Christ has performed His heart-transplant operation upon us, we might find ourselves sometimes yearning for the “good old [bad] days” of the mud and muck of sin, but, our New Heart tells us that the old way is a messy and dangerous way, and we will, thank God, more and more avoid it.
So, if our New Heart is one that desires to avoid the mud and muck of sin, we have before us in this prayer of David a confession and a commitment. Here we find ourselves with one of the Holy Spirit’s given “check points” for our Christian life. We confess unabashedly and absolutely that our entire salvation, beginning to end, including sanctification, is God’s work and it is done for His glory. We cannot add one gram, not one ounce of righteousness to our own credit before God, for we have none worthy of Him.
“But we are all like an unclean thing, And all our righteousnesses are like filthy rags; We all fade as a leaf, And our iniquities, like the wind, Have taken us away (Isaiah 64:6).”
Contrary to much popular “antinomian” teaching today, we also confess that “He who is in us is greater than he who is in the world (1 John 4:4).” The God who has given us a “New Heart” has Himself taken up residence in us. His life, in us, is not without effect. Our “good works,” that is, our faltering obedience to His will, cannot and will never save us, for while we yet live here in this world we are still beset with sin. However, He who is in us declares:
“For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them (Ephesians 2:8–10).”
This is, after all, a great “Indicative” passage in Ephesians which describes our new reality since the God-given Heart Transplant.
Therefore, dear reader, we encourage you to take time out during your times out this summer to reflect on your life in Christ. Have you, truly, received God’s gift of the “New Heart? Is your “New Heart” truly beating more and more in the rhythm of God’s will?
Rev. Dennis W. Royall is pastor of the Cornerstone URC in London, Ontario.