Morning struck offensively early at the Olson home yesterday as the tranquility of our slumber was shattered by the clamor of MIDI violas, violins, and cellos. Neither of us greeted the sound of the baroque-era alarm with joy as it struck 4:50 a.m. although Kristin did present a more imperturbable picture of grace than I did by falling back asleep. I opted instead to grumble and to launch a salvo of vitriolic, verbal retaliation at my phone which probably sounded more like a cantankerous Charismatic muttering under his breath (I don’t think I was speaking in tongues but I would forgive someone for confusing it as such) as I sat up and starting scratching my head for a few minutes (my higher cognitive functions hadn’t flipped on just yet). Incensed and exhausted, I proceeded to make a pot of coffee in as grumpy a manner as possible, aiming to teach that alarm a lesson (I think that at that particular moment it made more sense than it does now). An inauspicious beginning to the day, indeed!
Rational thought returned somewhere around the middle of my first mug of coffee. Every morning Kristin and I have coffee together to talk, pray, and have devotions over, and brother, I needed it in the worst way! With an awareness on loan from some delicious, French vanilla-flavored brew*, we turned to this morning’s Psalm (51) and read alternating lines aloud to each other. This Psalm is quite precious to both of us as it encapsulates our experiences with sin in such a painfully beautiful way, bringing us back to times when we have fallen; times we have experienced conviction so vividly; times we have hated our sin so desperately and appealed to God for not only forgiveness but also cleansing of our very wills. As this Psalm spoke to us of the grievousness of sin, I found myself returning mentally to verse 10, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.” That verse has aided me in prayer so many times as I implore God to help me in putting to death the desire for sin that yet lives on within me, and has shaped my understanding of what true repentance is. The picture of the contrite sinner, broken over his transgressions and driven by the Holy Spirit to repentance is not hypothetical- it’s actual.
Fixated upon verse 10, I kept thinking of clean hearts and new spirits and it came to me that this is the solution God prescribes throughout the entirety of Scripture- from the command to circumcise our hearts (first spoken in Deuteronomy 10:16) and to be born again (as attested to by Jesus in John 3). The hearts which we are born with are pathetically deficient for our purpose to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. God must personally intervene if Man’s chief end is to be realized, and David’s plea in Psalm 51:10 becomes reality as God fulfills the Old Testament promises of spiritual renewal in lost sinners. God promises a new covenant in Ezekiel 36:25-27 which states, “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.” Jeremiah 31:33-34 also reveals God’s redemptive purpose in a new covenant: “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.”
Christ purchased the New Covenant with His blood (Luke 22:20) and by His death once for all ratified the inheritance of all who would belong to the New Covenant community (Hebrews 9:15); every promise of atonement, justification, adoption, sanctification, perseverance and ultimately glorification is sealed upon Christ’s work as the mediator of this new covenant and guaranteed through God’s faithfulness to the covenant. A people unwilling and unable to save themselves are redeemed and delivered from the power and penalty of sin by the perfect person and work of Jesus Christ to the glory of God, and it is in Christ that we find the fulfillment of God’s promise in Deuteronomy 30:6 to circumcise our hearts Himself, “so that you will love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live.” God’s commands will always require His grace to perform faithfully- our darkened, rebellious hearts will never submit and obey otherwise, and this dependence upon God is to His glory and for our joy, as the former will always ultimately translate to the latter for His people.
The fervent prayer of David does not go unanswered; each adopted child of God, whatever the progress of his or her individual sanctification, bears witness to the radical heart transplanting which God performs in regeneration as we are born again to a living hope, preserved and sustained through faith (1 Peter 1:3-5). Let us strive then for the purity of heart to which we are called by honoring the Son of God, who for the joy that was set before Him gave Himself up for each of us, with our praise and our worship, and by laying aside all that gets in the way of our being a living sacrifice; for we, the redeemed, have been enabled by the grace of God in this new covenant to do so. To close, I’ll paraphrase** that perennial oldie-but-goodie Augustine, esteemed Doctor of Divinity and Bishop of Hippo, with this wonderful prayer from his book Confessions: “And all my hope is nowhere except in your great mercy. Grant what you command, and command what you will.”
*I actually have yet to repay this loan, but so far the coffee maker hasn’t noticed… don’t remind it, ok?
**I’d straight up quote him, but I don’t know Latin. My bad.***