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Does the Christian Have a Deceitful Heart?

When I was a young Christian, one verse I quoted a lot was Jeremiah 17:9, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” In my understanding, Jeremiah was describing the heart of everyone, even Christians. I was so convinced of the depravity and sinfulness of man, and my own for that matter, that this verse seemed to be a perfect description of me.

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But as I’ve grown, I’ve begun to wonder if Jeremiah 17:9 describes the heart of a Christian. Is my heart desperately sick? Is my heart deceitful above all things?

TWO REASONS I RECONSIDERED MY POSITION

1. One of the chief gifts of the New Covenant is a new heart. The book of Ezekiel contains one of the most famous OT promises of a new covenant. In chapter 36:26-27, God say, “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. 27 And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules. (Ezek. 36:26-27)

2. The new heart replaces the old heart. Not only is a new heart one of the chief gifts of the New Covenant. But notice also that the new heart replaces the old heart. “I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.” God does not say he will give a new heart that will coexist alongside an old heart. The new heart that God gives replaces the old heart that God takes out.

BUT DOESN’T SIN COME FROM THE HEART?

Doesn’t Jesus teach that sin comes from the heart of man? In Mark 7:21 Jesus says, “From within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery…” So Jesus is saying that whenever a Christian has evil thoughts, is sexually immoral, steals, murders, cheats, or any other sin you can think of, all of these things proceed from their hearts.

THE DILEMMA

So here is the dilemma we face: If Christians have a totally new heart that replaces their old heart, how can Jesus say that sin proceeds from the heart? Can good hearts produce sin?

I plan to wrestle more with this issue in my next couple posts. But for now I want to hear from you. 

Question: Do Christians have a wicked heart? Or is it totally new? And if you think it’s totally new, how do we explain Jesus’ words in Mark 7:21?

Comments(11)

  1. Reply
    Patrick Schreiner says

    I have been wrestling with this too. In short I do not think we should speak of ourselves as Jeremiah does. But I also still think evil comes from our hearts. Therefore we have new hearts, but it is also complex for evil comes from these already/but not yet new hearts.

    http://patrickschreiner.com/2013/03/19/justification-and-regeneration-reviewed/

    • Reply
      Andy Barlow says

      Patrick, thanks for stopping by. So would you say that an “already/but not yet new heart” would be the same as saying that the Christian has a heart that is both old and new at the same time?

      And if you’ll indulge me. Having read both your post and Leiter’s book, I’m curious how you respond to his statement that the only aspect of redemption left for Christians is the redemption of our bodies. What I’m getting at is this: to say that Christians have an already/but not yet new heart would seem to suggest that something more than the redemption of the body happens at the resurrection. And that something more would seem to be the act of making an already/but not yet new heart into a totally new heart.

      I’m wrestling with these issues and have no clear answers yet. So I’d love your thoughts.

      • Reply
        Anita Cohn says

        Andy,
        I hesitate to enter into any discussion as to the “mystery” of the Gospel. But I am assuming that as my Pastor you are provoking us to search these things out for ourselves and to grow in grace and knowledge of the Savior. So I offer two scripture references for you consideration: Romans 7:14-22 and Matthew 7:20-21, along with Matthew Henry’s commentary on Romans 7. The process of sanctification is a process. Often a long and painful one…but a “process”. As one who has walked with the Lord for over 50 years, I can so identify with Paul in Romans 7; but, “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” who has secured our place in heaven. Our hope and assurance is in the finished work of Christ’s victory over sin and death on the Cross; and, in the power of His resurrection. Thank you for your reminder of that in your Easter message this past week, and for your provocation to search. Don’t know if I’m hitting your target, but these are my thoughts. Pressing on to the goal…Blessings.

        Romans 7:15-25 (ESV)
        15 For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. 16 Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. 17 So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. 18 For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. 19 For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. 20 Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.
        21 So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. 22 For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, 23 but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. 24 Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? 25 Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin.
        Matthew 7:20-21 (ESV)
        20 Thus you will recognize them by their fruits. 21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.

        Title: Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary on the Whole Bible
        Romans 7:23-25
        This passage does not represent the apostle as one that walked after the flesh, but as one that had it greatly at heart, not to walk so. And if there are those who abuse this passage, as they also do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction, yet serious Christians find cause to bless God for having thus provided for their support and comfort. We are not, because of the abuse of such as are blinded by their own lusts, to find fault with the scripture, or any just and well warranted interpretation of it. And no man who is not engaged in this conflict, can clearly understand the meaning of these words, or rightly judge concerning this painful conflict, which led the apostle to bemoan himself as a wretched man, constrained to what he abhorred. He could not deliver himself; and this made him the more fervently thank God for the way of salvation revealed through Jesus Christ, which promised him, in the end, deliverance from this enemy

        • Reply
          Andy Barlow says

          Anita, thanks for being brave and sharing. I think you expose the tension of the Christian life very well. We are new creations. And yet in a very profound and felt sense, we are not yet fully new. In fact, we often feel quite corrupt. What I’m wrestling with is the “mystery” itself. How can sin proceed from the hearts of those that scripture says have new hearts? I understand that sin and the flesh remain. But I’m really trying to get clarity on what exactly these things are. It may be a mystery we’ll never understand this side of heaven. But we may also be able to press into this mystery further and gain some clarity.

          Thanks again for your comments.

  2. Reply
    Todd Morikawa says

    Hey bro, I encourage you to read Ryan Fullerton’s review of Charles Leiter’s book: http://www.ibclouisville.org/2013/03/23/justification-and-regeneration-review-and-response/. Several of us have been going back and forth on this (over the last few years really). I have been helped by all the discussion. I’m glad we’re all agreed on Jeremiah 17.9. This is not a perfect illustration, but I tend to liken the Christian’s sin to Adam and Eve’s sin. Did they have an internal struggle? I would say, yes, but that the temptation was mainly from without (Satan’s lies). So it is with Christians. Our hearts are made new. Not perfect, so they can still be tempted and deceived (making it still an internal struggle), but it would be right to say Christians have good hearts now. The part that I want to push hard on– which also likens it to Adam and Eve– is that Christians have an ability to do good that they did not have before. In every temptation, we actually have the God-given ability to resist, and do good. That, to me, makes our hearts “totally” new (totally, in the sense of radically). Still wrestling myself,

    • Reply
      Andy Barlow says

      I’m curious what you think about Leiter’s argument about the resurrection of the body. In arguing that “flesh” refers to the fallen physical body where sin still seeks to reign, he supports this by noting that the only thing left in our redemption is the redemption of the body.

      I actually find this to be a compelling argument. What do you think?

      • Reply
        Todd Morikawa says

        I do find that compelling as well. I have a hard time saying that our flesh is equivalent to our physical body. It is at least that, but probably more. With that in mind, I do think our hearts have been redeemed, but our flesh has not yet.

  3. Reply
    Hauns Schnackenberg says

    Hey Andy! Are you still thinking about this? I’m a little late I see, but I’ve actually been thinking and writing about this a lot the last couple years. I’ve come to the same place as you’re describing. When I started really looking at what God did for us in the new birth, I was like ‘Hey, God says I don’t have a Jeremiah 17:9 heart as a believer!’ Every verse talking about the new creation contradicts that. Jer. 17:9 absolutely describes what Paul defines as the flesh, but God doesn’t define us by our flesh. He says our identity has changed in Christ and now our identity is a new creation. Anyways, I know I haven’t touched your question but would love to talk with you about it. I could post here, or send you an email. Miss our fellowship and conversations like these Andy! Let me know

    • Reply
      Andy Barlow says

      Hey brother! I have still been thinking about the issue. I’d love to continue the discussion. Here or via email is fine with me.

      I have a few thoughts swirling in my head. First, the Bible doesn’t clearly define what our heart is. It seems to be a general way of describing what comes from inside. So it is possible that the Jeremiah promise of a “new heart” simply speaks of Christians receiving new internal desires which come from the Holy Spirit.

      If “heart” is simply a reference to what comes from inside, then it explains how Jesus could speak of wickedness coming out of the heart of even a Christian. Since the flesh remains, and is deeply intertwined with our internal worlds, then when we sin, there is a real sense in which it could be said that sin proceeded from our hearts.

      I guess what I’m saying is that there are ways of maintaining that Christians have a totally new heart, and yet understand how Jesus could say sin comes from the heart.

      I’d love to hear more of your thoughts.

      • Reply
        Hauns Schnackenberg says

        Yep, totally agree, was thinking the same things. I’ve been thinking you could even lump in what Scripture says concerning our spirits with the promise of a new heart (John 3:6). These are some other thoughts I’ve been mulling over: We ARE righteous, but still have the ability to choose to sin. We will be held accountable for that sin, but it does NOT define us. It is an aberration, a reality that God does not ignore, but God does not view us as sinners. This is proven by the fact that Jesus will strip those things away with fire when we appear before His throne. He does not destroy us or condemn us at that point, but removes that which is dross. The fact that He considers it dross signifies that He does not view US as dross. The real, truest us is righteous like He is. It is kind of like stepping on a nail and then saying “Oh no, I’m a nail!” No, you do not become a nail at that point, you just stepped on one and it needs to come out. It doesn’t change your identity. So I guess I don’t necessarily see a problem with saying that we can sin out of a new heart (especially if defined as you did above). The sin doesn’t change the fact that we’re righteous. Just as our sin doesn’t alter our position as justified, so sin does not change our identity as a righteous new creation in Christ. We are in the process of becoming more like Him; we have the seed of practical righteousness (and positional righteousness) in us with the gift of the new heart, and it is being cultivated as we agree with the Spirit of God’s work in our life and choose to follow hard after Him. I think the good heart remains good even though we at times still choose to sin/walk in the flesh. So does the sin spring from our new heart, the flesh, or demonic influence without? Not sure, but would lean towards the flesh/world/satan. But the fact that we can choose to not walk in what God has given us does not negate the goodness of what God created in us. To borrow Paul’s analogy in 1 Cor. 3, its like He lays this foundation of pure gold and we can choose what to build on it. Regardless of what material we use to build with, it doesn’t change the quality or integrity of the foundation. As a Christian, choosing to sin doesn’t mean my heart isn’t good, it just means I’m choosing to live out of the old me – the old, bad heart. (Not to minimize the devastating effects of sin – it DOES have an affect on our rewards, as everything done from that place of the old, bad heart will be burnt up and done away with forever, not to mention consequences here also.) Bottom line – we have been set free from sin through justification – but also in the gift of a new heart that is desperately in love with God – the heart that God desires us to have – one like His. Ours is not fully mature/perfect yet, but that is the whole point of us being here, to be conformed into His image.

  4. Reply
    John A. says

    Greetings, friends. As I was searching the topic, “Is the Christian’s hear perfect?”, I was drawn to this blog. I also believe that those who have been “born again” now have a “new heart”, and no longer the heart described in Jeremiah 17:9. I believe that the issue is the fact that we yet remain in these “corruptible” bodies, awaiting their final transformation on the last day. Paul’s dilemma in Romans 7 is that conflict between the “inward man” (that which has been perfected), and his “members”. Note Rom 7:22-23: 22 For I delight in the law of God after the inward man:

    23 But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members.
    We read of this same conflict in Gal 5:17, which is why we are urged to “walk in the Spirit”. But as Romans 7 confirms, it doesn’t necessarily come easy. But praise God, we have that blessed hope, and a Wonderful light at the end of the tunnel. May the Lord richly bless you all.

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