A few months back, I was diagnosed with a genetic connective tissue disorder, called Loeys-Dietz syndrome. One of the common complications, which I have developed, is an aneurysm on the aorta near the heart. So, tomorrow I will have surgery to cut out that particular portion of the aorta and replace it with a synthetic one. It’s sort of like repairing a broken irrigation line, but a few bucks more.
But this type of heart-related surgery reminds us of a far greater need inherent, not to a small portion of the population, but all humanity. Prior to becoming a Christian, we are unable and unwilling to please God. The reason being goes deeper than defiant behavior. Our behavior is symptomatic of a dead spiritual heart.
Our diagnosis is not pretty:
“Then the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Gen. 6:5).
“The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick” (Jer. 17:9).
“The mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so, and those who are in the flesh cannot please God” (Rom. 8:7-8).
Our hearts are dead and lifeless. Actually, they are worse than dead, in some sense. A physically dead heart is merely unable to function. However, our spiritual hearts go beyond that. We are also unwilling to function. Because of our condition, we refuse to joyfully obey our God in surrendered worship. So sick are our hearts, that our stance prior to salvation is one of constant defiance towards him.
It seems like every day a new behavioral disorder is being “discovered.” One increasingly in the news is “Oppositional Defiant Disorder.” The psychologists do not know how right they are: because of our sick hearts, we are all born with spiritual oppositional defiant disorder.
During physical heart surgery, the patient can contribute nothing to remedy the situation. He must admit he has the problem and check himself into the hospital. He proceeds into pre-op for check-in, lifts up his arm for the IV, and trusts the nurse with his veins. From there, he lies on the bed, is introduced to a bunch of individuals in whose hands his life depends, though he knows them not. He is asked to countdown from 20 to 0, and may fall asleep at 14 or so. The replacement surgery is entirely out of his hands. In fact, if he were to attempt to contribute anything, for example, by insisting that he remain awake or give instruction to the surgeon, his surgery would be prevented.
So it is spiritually. We are helpless to remedy our defiance against God.
“Can the Ethiopian change his skin or the leopard his spots? Then you also can do good who are accustomed to doing evil” (Jer. 13:23).
Physically speaking, some might propose that an individual with an unhealthy heart could exercise more. Sounds like a good remedy and looks good on the outside. But those approaches will only make the situation worse. In fact, they may will kill you if you have an aortic aneurysm. In the same way spiritually, proposing good works and good intentions as the approach to God will only make the situation worse. Why? “Good” is defined as an act performed out of worship to and honor of God. The sin-sick heart cannot do good: every good work that our heart attempts to do is only sin. We function according to our nature. We defy God because our hearts are composed only of defy-God spiritual substance. Without God, we will only defy him to the grave and for all eternity.
Yet, God does not leave us to ourselves.
“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. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances” (Ezek. 36:26-27).
Notice that nowhere in that passage does God say, “And you will help me.” The “I will” statements are telling. Receiving the new heart is all God. We can ask. We can pray. But it’s all God.
By an act of his concern for his enemies, the competent Surgeon steps towards us unworthy sinners, and single-handedly performs the most powerful, needed surgical procedure in the universe. It’s nothing money can buy, works can grant, or the most brilliant human surgeon could do. God performs what we all need purely by an act of his heroic grace. The result is that we receive a new spiritual heart and are enabled to, for the first time, obey God in worship.
“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Eph. 2:8-9).