“I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules” (Ezekiel 36:25–27; all Scripture quotations from the English Standard Version unless otherwise indicated).
When Jesus raised the cup at the Last Supper and called it “the new covenant in my blood” (Luke 22:20), the disciples should have recognized the words. God’s covenant with Israel was sealed in the blood of sacrifices. The prophets, especially Ezekiel and Jeremiah, had proclaimed God’s intention to make a new covenant with Israel. Jesus was saying that the new covenant was about to come, and His blood would be the sacrificial offering.
“Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the Lord. For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more” (Jeremiah 31:31–34).
Some believers have been taught that Jeremiah spoke these words to Israel and, therefore, they do not apply to the church. However, Hebrews 10:16–17 quotes this passage directly and states that this is speaking of the New Covenant brought about by Jesus’ blood and death. While the Jewish people before Christ may have experienced part of the blessing foretold by Ezekiel, the fulfillment was found in Christ.
The Old and New Covenants have several similarities and a few differences. In this post, we will look strictly at the new heart and new spirit that are part of the New Covenant. An in-depth comparison and contrast of the two covenants would be too extensive for a single post.
The passage from Ezekiel 36 is a key part of a prophecy regarding the restoration of the Jewish people. They were exiled in Babylon as God’s judgment for idolatry and other sins. The New Covenant prophecies of the Old Testament usually come in this context: Israel has sinned but will be restored. Related to that glorious restoration, God would write His laws in their hearts, giving them new hearts and new spirits. Whereas the Old Covenant was primarily external and physical (people of a particular nationality required to follow specific rules, regulations, and rituals), the New Covenant would be primarily internal and spiritual.
In this New Covenant, God cleanses His people from our sins and idolatries. Then, He gives us a new heart and new spirit, inspiring us to live by His will.
“I will give them a heart to know that I am the Lord, and they shall be my people and I will be their God, for they shall return to me with their whole heart” (Jeremiah 24:7).
“Cast away from you all the transgressions that you have committed, and make yourselves a new heart and a new spirit! Why will you die, O house of Israel?” (Ezekiel 18:31).
The two greatest differences between the Old and New Covenants are the role of Jesus as the One who fulfills the Law and the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit, who gives the new heart and new spirit to the follower of Jesus. He will reveal our sins and idolatries to us, giving us a spirit of repentance and a desire to do God’s will. He will pour out the love of God in our hearts, so that we can obey the two greatest commandments, to love God and love our neighbors (Matthew 19:37–40).
Only by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit can we really understand God’s word, will, and ways. One of the most common errors Christians commit is trying to obey God on our terms, in our strength. We try to figure out His will by using our own logic or listening to current public opinion. We may try to do His will based on the same motives as someone who does not have a relationship with Christ—fear of being rejected by God if we sin, trying to impress others, seeking approval from others. Even when we figure out God’s will, we try to do it in our own strength and timing.
We need the Holy Spirit within us. We need His power to strengthen us. We need God’s word and His own life-force within us to live the life that pleases Him. If you have the Holy Spirit dwelling within you, pray that He may give you the strength you need. Ask Him to let you know when you have wandered from His leadership and started trusting in your own wisdom and strength. Let Him be your guide and strength.
Almighty and most merciful God, grant that by the indwelling of your Holy Spirit we may be enlightened and strengthened for your service; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen (Book of Common Prayer).
Copyright © 2019 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.