Even my regular readers may not remember that some time ago I decided I wanted to work my way through John Piper’s sermons on the new birth. I know it has been awhile since I mentioned this, but I don’t want to rush this process, and let’s just say I’vebeen busy with other things. So far I have shared my quotes and thoughts from the first and second sermons.
Watching this third video, it was very refreshing to see Piper emphasize that the new birth really does change us. It was a very helpful reminder of the need for God to, as he puts it, give us new life by connecting us to Jesus.
My guilt must be washed away. Cleansing with water is a picture of that. Jeremiah 33:8 puts it like this: “I will cleanse them from all the guilt of their sin against me, and I will forgive all the guilt of their sin and rebellion against me.” So the person that we are—that continues to exist—must be forgiven, and the guilt washed away.
But forgiveness and cleansing is not enough. I need to be new. I need to be transformed. I need life. I need a new way of seeing and thinking and valuing. That’s why Ezekiel speaks of a new heart and a new spirit in verse 26 and 27: “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.”
Here’s the way I understand those verses: To be sure, the heart of stone means the dead heart that was unfeeling and unresponsive to spiritual reality—the heart you had before the new birth could feel. It could respond with passion and desire to lots of things. But it was a stone toward the spiritual truth and beauty of Jesus Christ and the glory of God and the path of holiness. That is what has to change if we are to see the kingdom of God. So in the new birth, God takes out the heart of stone and puts in a heart of flesh. The word flesh doesn’t mean “merely human” like it does in John 3:6. It means soft and living and responsive and feeling, instead of being a lifeless stone. In the new birth, our dead, stony boredom with Christ is replaced by a heart that feels (spiritually senses) the worth of Jesus.
Then when Ezekiel says in verses 26 and 27, “a new spirit I will put within you. . . . And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes,” I think he means that in the new birth, God puts a living, supernatural, spiritual life in our heart, and that new life—that new spirit—is the working of the Holy Spirit himself giving shape and character to our new heart.
The picture I have in my mind is that this new warm, touchable, responsive, living heart is like a soft lump of clay, and the Holy Spirit presses himself up into it and gives spiritual, moral shape to it according to his own shape. By being himself within us, our heart and mind take on his character—his spirit (cf. Ephesians 4:23).
So now let’s step back and sum up these last two weeks. What happens in the new birth? In the new birth, the Holy Spirit supernaturally gives us new spiritual life by connecting us with Jesus Christ through faith. Or, to say it another way, the Spirit unites us to Christ where there is cleansing for our sins, and he replaces our hard, unresponsive heart with a soft heart that treasures Jesus above all things and is being transformed by the presence of the Spirit into the kind of heart that loves to do the will of God (Ezekiel 36:27).
By John Piper. © Desiring God. Website: desiringGod.org