Chief of Sinners

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“The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked: who can know it?”  Jeremiah 17:9

I wonder if it’s so much easier to say this than it is to actually know this and realize it about my own heart?  I wonder if it’s easier to treat this truth as abstract than it is to treat it as a personal reality?  And I wonder if my view on these words will make a difference in not only the way I live my own life, but in the way I view others?

I mean, who can really know the depths of the deceitfulness, the depravity of my very own heart?  Do I really know what I am capable of thinking or saying or doing?  Because I know You, Jesus, as my Lord and Savior, because I am Yours, does that so alter my heart that it no longer has it’s original tendencies? Is my heart utterly changed all at once in You, or are You continually changing me as I learn to utterly rely on You moment by moment?

This was important to Your heart, Lord, because You laid these words on Ezekiel’s heart to share with Your people.  “And I will give them one heart, and I will put a new spirit within you; and I will take the stony heart out of their flesh, and will give them an heart of flesh…”  (Ezekiel 11:19)  One heart.  One heart with who?  One heart with You.  One heart with each other in You.  But all at once?  A new spirit.  Why?  Does the new spirit compel the change in my old heart?  Does that new spirit change the desires of my old heart?  Or does that new spirit give me new desires that my old spirit never had?

Is this making of a new heart and new spirit something You alone do miraculously in me like a magic trick or do I have responsibility to You?  Ezekiel tells me that I have a responsibility in this.  “Cast away from you all your transgressions, whereby you have transgressed; and make you a new heart and a new spirit: for why will you die, O house of Israel?”  (Ezekiel 18:31)  You provide the way.  You provide the means.  You are the Way and the Means.  But what will I do with Your Way and Your Means moment by moment?  Will I hunger after You and Your Way so deeply that I forsake my own way?  Will I choose the responsibility of the moment before me to accept Your way, no matter what I feel or what contrary thoughts I think?  Will I truly cast away everything in that moment that is contrary to You?  Will I choose to make that new heart a reality by accepting it from You, by embracing it in You?  Will I seek the advice and direction of Your Spirit even when it goes counter to mine?  Will I choose the new heart and the new spirit in each moment?  Or will I be satisfied with the old?

This was on Your heart, Lord, because You brought it up again in Exekiel 36:26.  “A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you:  and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh.”  When will you give me this new heart, this new spirit?  When?  What if You are producing and personally doing this miracle in me every time I take the responsibility to respond to Your will and ignore my own?  What if there is no magically replaced heart in one fell swoop but a heart that is changed through moment by moment being placed in the surrender of Your hands and will?  What if my life is meant to go through trial after trial so that I will have personal opportunity upon personal opportunity to surrender into Your hands my every individual thought and action, hope and dream, so that You can continually make my heart new and like Yours and so that I can accompany You in that work and make my heart after the heart that You are creating in me?  What if, with every time in every situation where I submit to Your desire and not my own, Your Spirit is growing stronger within me?

“And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and you shall keep my judgments, and do them.”  (Ezekiel 36:27)  Lord, I can’t think of anything I want more.  And I can’t think of anyone who is further from that.  Because there are moments where I so struggle.  There are moments when I find that I turn Your love into something that it wasn’t meant to be.  There are times that I get so confused and so tired.

Maybe, just maybe, I understand where Paul was coming from in 1 Timothy 1:15 when he shared, “This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief.”  Well, I’ve come to the acceptable conclusion that he’s not the only chief sinner.  I’m right there with him.  And it’s just as faithful a truth and as acceptable a truth now, that this is the reason why Christ Jesus, You, came to save me.  Beyond any shadow of any doubt, the only reason that I am able to turn from sin and to You, is because of You.  I have come to the absolute conclusion that I am powerless on my own.  The absolute only way that I have power over the deceitfulness of my own heart and my own inclinations to sin is by the work You are doing in me and by my response to that work moment by moment.

There is absolutely nothing about me that is any better or less sinful or more holy than any other person.  I’m as bad as the worst of the worst.  I’m right up there with the chief of them.  I am.  Sin is sin.  If I want to quantify my sin it’s that simple.  Sin is sin.  See, but You, You really know me.  And despite knowing every truth past, present, and future, You choose me for Your own workmanship, to receive Your love.

So Paul continues, “Howbeit for this cause I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might show forth all longsuffering, for a pattern to them which should hereafter believe on Him to life everlasting. “  What does that mean?  For me, it means that You are absolutely merciful to me.  It means that Your mercy shown to me is the evidence of Who You Are.  This mercy in accepting me and changing my heart and placing Your Spirit in me is not an evidence of my longsuffering although it demands that in me.  It is an evidence of Your longsuffering toward me.  It’s the pattern of Your love and Your work and Your mercy toward us, toward sinners.  It’s what shines Your light in that You alone would take such damaged property and choose it to make as Your own, and to change into Your image, that You would dare to change that which is all but unlike You and make it like You.

I can’t stop thinking about the magnitude of what You have chosen to do in us, in me.  I think that Ezekiel couldn’t stop thinking about David’s words in Psalm 1.  I think he was meditating in Your words and You were bringing it all together for him in a way that he could share with others.  Because You had already faithfully begun that work in changing his heart and giving him a new spirit.  And he was responding.  His delight was in You and Your way.  He meditated in it day and night.  He couldn’t get away from it because he didn’t want to get away.  He wanted to be wrapped more deeply in it.  Just like David.  Just like me.  Not because we’re anything good or special, but because You are everything Good and Special.

And You replanted us.  You took us from where we were planted in ourselves and You replanted us in You, by enormous rivers of living water that never cease to flow and never cease feeding us.  Waters that so nourish that which is planted in them that it brings forth fruit and leaves that protect that fruit.  For this, I would and I must commit myself to You moment by moment.  I’m in desperate need and I can’t live outside of Your water.  Nothing else satisfies and nothing else has what I need to change my heart and strengthen Your spirit in me that He would be my spirit.

So I share in these words of praise with Paul.  “Now, unto the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only wise God, be honour and glory for ever and ever.  Amen.”  I am so glad that You are forever faithful.  This utter, this chief sinner needs You desperately.  Thank You, so much for Your longsuffering in me and for me.  May I respond in absolute surrender to You moment by moment and may I continually be sensitive to the guidance and work of Your Holy Spirit in me.  For every struggle, for every trial, for every test that You bring in my life, refine me more and draw me more closely into Your will and into surrender.  May I be of one heart with You so that I will know and delight in Your ways and in You as deeply as You delight.

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