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. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. (Ezekiel 36:25-26)
Dearly beloved in Christ Jesus, during this period of Lent, the Lord intends to renew us by pouring clean water on us and indeed giving us a new spirit. A keen look tells us that whenever the Lord wishes to begin a new thing, water and Spirit would always be involved; as found in the life of Christ at his Baptism (cf. Matt 3:13-17) and in the injunction of Jesus to Nicodemus (cf. Jn 3:1-21).
Ezekiel records the Lord’s words spoken to the nation of Israel as He was prepared to act to bring Israel back to Himself in a future day. In that future day, the Lord will accomplish three things for Israel. First, He will sprinkle them with clean water, so that they will no longer have any sin nor ever again turn from the Lord to worship idols. Secondly, He will give each Jew a “new heart” and “new spirit” so they will have faith in the Lord forever. Finally, He will put His Spirit within them so they will obey Him and walk in His commandments forever.
These actions which the Lord intends to carry out amongst the people of Israel, He wishes to carry out in the life of every Christian. Scripture teaches that “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (Rom 3:23) but the Lord does not just close his eyes toward us, in fact the Prophet Ezekiel says that ‘He is not interested in the death of a sinner, rather let him turn from his evil ways and live, (Ezk 18:23).
As we consider these statements in the aforementioned passage (Ezk 36), notice that each of them refers to spiritual outcomes. The sprinkling of water describes the removal of sin; the new heart symbolizes coming to faith; and the placing of God’s Spirit refers to an obedient walk. The Lord is speaking about the way He will bring salvation to the nation of Israel, so Ezekiel 36:26 is a spiritual statement describing Israel’s justification by faith resulting in the removal of Israel’s sin. The Hebrew scholars Keil and Delitzsch write, “Cleansing from sins, which corresponds to justification, and is not to be confounded with sanctification, is followed by renewal with the Holy Spirit, which takes away the old heart of stone and puts within a new heart of flesh, so that the man can fulfill the commandments of God, and walk in newness of life (Ezk 36: 26-28).” The season of lent affords us another opportunity to dispose our hearts to the spirit of God, as individuals, communities and indeed as a nation, so that we can experience the promised transformation and then begin to walk along the paths that God wants us to.
A “new heart” and “new spirit” is the promise of spiritual regeneration. Jeremiah also spoke of this spiritual change in the heart of a sinful man (Jer. 31:31). This “new spirit” is the Spirit of God himself being offered to us to assist us in keeping the laws of God. (Ezekiel 37:14; 39:29; Joel 2:28-29). Only the Holy Spirit can empower man to fulfill the word of God. There are about twenty-five references to the Holy Spirit in the book of Ezekiel. A new heart and a new spirit are themes Ezekiel reflects on several times. Jesus may have had this passage in mind when He spoke to Nicodemus one night in Jerusalem. To this upright, morally and spiritually sensitive man Jesus said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (Jn 3:3). Nicodemus asked, “How can a man be born again when he is old?” Jesus replied, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. . . Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again” (Jn 3:5, 7).
Reflecting on that work of God in the human heart, the apostle Paul wrote: “Therefore if any man is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things have passed away; behold, new things have come” (2 Cor 5:17). The Holy Spirit changes the heart to cause the individual to “follow” the Lord. The Spirit enables and creates the desire in the heart of the person to do what is humanly impossible. The only way to live a life pleasing to the Lord is by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit (Gal 5:16-26).
The Holy Spirit dwelling in the heart of the believer will “cause you to walk in My statutes and you will be careful to observe My ordinances” (Ezk 36:27). Only the sovereign grace of God can do this. As we open ourselves to the Holy Spirit, He enables us to “walk” in the statutes of God and carefully observe His “ordinances.” The holy life is an exchanged life given by the almighty himself.
How strange that this promise becomes a stumbling block of misunderstanding for many Christians who only see material miracles in this passage of God’s word when the greater miracle is the radical change in the heart of believing sinners? Modern man needs the message of this passage to be properly understood in its context. God will achieve this great feat for us because He loves us and ultimately for the sake of his Holy name. This restoration will vindicate the name of the LORD. His reputation is at stake! When the “fool says in his heart, there is no God” (Ps 14:1), it is simply because believers have derailed and are now acting in error. Following and keeping the laws of God in all spheres of our lives help to point others in the way of God. So lets us dispose ourselves to accepting the Spirit that the Lord offers us during this period of our Lenten observance.
What God does for Israel as well as non-Jews is an act of sovereign grace. No one deserved these restoration promises. A sovereign holy God reached down to us all in His amazing grace to save and restore. God chose to save for Himself a people; He did this out of grace and mercy. We have been redeemed by the shed blood of the Lamb of God.
Have you personally experienced this “new Heart” and “a new Spirit”? Jesus Christ came to give us this new Spirit to enable us work in the path of eternal life. Hence, all that we need as individuals to receive the new Spirit of God, is to dispose ourselves and that is exactly what Lent offers us as we are enjoined to Fast, Pray and do Charity. Let us also use this period to pray for our country Nigeria that the peace and mercy of God would continue to abide with us always; that our leaders may also receive this new Spirit, the killings of the innocent be abolished, poverty and hunger be alleviated, justice to reign and comfort be given to those who suffer.
O that today you listen to his voice, harden not your hearts. Do have a blessed month ahead.
† Alfred Adewale Martins
Archbishop of Lagos.
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