Though we may associate Ezekiel’s words about changing our hearts of stone to hearts of flesh (Ezek 11:9, Ezek 18:31, Ezek 36:25-27) with becoming a Christian, these words were actually spoken to God’s people who were in exile in Babylon because they had allowed their hearts to become hard and to follow idols rather than the one true God. God told Ezekiel that a healthy heart is an undivided heart, a soft heart (‘heart of flesh’) and a clean heart.
A Clean Heart
A clean heart comes from God. God told Ezekiel, ‘I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols.’ (Ezek 36:25) Hebrews 10:22 talks about ‘having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water.’ God is the one who cleanses us, the one who says that though our sins are as scarlet, they shall be white as snow. (Isaiah 1:18). God is able to continue to cleanse us when we sin; we regularly need His cleansing.
A Soft Heart
A heart of flesh is what God promised to give His people. Not that heart of stone, that concrete heart, that granite heart, that hard heart, but a soft heart, a heart that feels as He does. This happens as God dwells within us: ‘I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.’ (Ezek 36:27) It’s because God is living in us that we can have a heart of flesh, a soft heart. It’s because God’s Spirit is in us that we are moved now to follow God’s decrees and want to be careful to keep His laws. It’s not a question of ‘having to’, of obeying God because we are terrified of Him. It’s a case of wanting to obey Him because His concerns are now our concerns. As Graham Kendrick puts it, when God softens our hearts, we can feel His compassion and weep with His tears. (‘Soften My Heart’, Graham Kendrick)
It’s always important to stay close to God if we want to maintain a soft heart. As we allow His Spirit room in our lives, He will pour His love into our hearts: ‘God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.’ (Rom 5:5) When God’s love is in our hearts, then we will begin to see people as God sees them. We will not judge by appearances; we will look deeper within, through the way things appear. To have a soft heart is difficult at times, for it means we can be easily hurt by other people and by circumstances, but loving God and others is the most important challenge we all face.
An Undivided Heart
Having an undivided heart is the key to spiritual growth. Prov 4:23 says, ‘Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.’ The heart is the wellspring of life; it’s where everything starts. Jesus spoke about our actions and behaviour coming out of the overflow of the heart (Matt 12:34). God is looking for people to serve Him whole-heartedly, with undivided hearts. (1 Cor 7:35) When we do this, we reflect the unity of the Godhead and can live in freedom.
God specialises in heart transplants! He is able to soften our hearts, to cleanse our hearts and to give us undivided hearts. All He needs from us is our ‘Yes!’ of cooperation. He does the rest. In the verses we have considered tonight, God says ‘I will’ seven times. We can be sure that if we say ‘Yes’ to God, He will do all that He has promised in these verses and we can know what it is to have a clean heart, a pure heart, a soft heart and an undivided heart.