“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.”
“And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.” (Ezekiel 36:25-27)
“Your son’s heart is failing. We’ve done all we can do with medication and palliative surgery. Unless he undergoes heart transplantation soon, he’ll die. He needs a new heart.”
These are shocking words, yet words that parents hear each day. How would you feel if your child’s cardiologist spoke these words to you? You would probably be filled with a mixture of fear, anxiety, and guarded hope. You would probably be stunned into silence. And, after the idea sank in, you would have many questions. Is it really necessary? Can we somehow do without it? Is it safe? Who is the surgeon? What is his track record; what kind of survival rate do his patients have? When will we do it? How is it done?
Two of my patients have undergone heart transplantations. They and their families have lived the experience of hearing “your son needs a new heart” and then waiting, praying, questioning, fearing, and hoping until the surgery took place.
God tells us in the Bible that we, all of us, have a sick and failing heart, and each of us, therefore, needs a new heart. God’s plan has always been for his people to be characterized by right actions and goodness, and for these to flow out of a heart given to us by God, a heart that loves him and is grateful to him. God is not interested in our feeble attempts at appearing good, moral, or religious to him, others, or ourselves. He is not impressed by external morality, rules- keeping, religious duty, or ethics, any of which can hide a heart of hypocrisy and sin. Instead, he offers to give us a new heart resulting in the desire and the ability to obey him and to do what is good and right. The process is much the same as the physical heart transplantation many patients have undergone. God, our physician, tells us we need a new heart, and then he proceeds to give us one if we ask him to.
1. A heart transplant is performed because a patient has a serious heart problem. A life threatening problem requires radical treatment. It is necessary. Otherwise, the patient will die. There is no other choice. It is do or die.
God is clear in the Bible that each of us has serious heart disease in the spiritual sense. In fact, it is so bad that anything short of a new heart, a heart transplant, will not do the job. He says the same thing in many ways: we need a new birth, we need a new heart, we need to be transformed. The point is, we need a new heart only he can give to us, or we will never experience the joy of knowing him, the life only he can give, the desire and ability to do what is right and good, and the relationship God gives us with him both now and into eternity. Without a new heart, we are assured that we will spend eternity without God in hell. Each one of us has a fatal heart problem, and we need a radical solution. This is not optional, and it is not simply cosmetic surgery.
2. A radical cure is necessary in certain instances. And, who would argue that a heart transplant is not a radical cure? In a patient with a failing heart, a heart with only a very limited ability to sustain life, reassurance, medication, placebo, or palliative surgery will never cure him. This patient needs the radical cure of a new heart.
God tells each of us that our spiritual heart disease demands the radical cure of a new heart. He does not falsely reassure us that we are OK as we are; he tells us the awful and ugly truth about ourselves: we are dead in our sins, radically corrupted and totally unable to help ourselves. He does not give us false hope by placing us on a regimen of self-improvement or sin-management. He does not medicate us by prescribing that we follow a set of religious duties so we will feel better about ourselves. He does not anesthetize us or hide from us the effects of our spiritual heart failure by deluding us about our true condition, or by making us forget how serious our condition is. No… he gives us the straight and honest truth about ourselves. Sin has so damaged our hearts that we are totally helpless and can do nothing to help ourselves. We need a radical cure: we need a spiritual heart transplantation. Only Jesus Christ can give us the new heart that each of us needs. That is why he came to earth and died for us: to give new hearts, new lives, new freedom, and new joy. If we did not require a radical cure, then why would Jesus have ever come to die for us?
3. A heart transplant is dangerous. Can you think of anything more frightening than to undergo general anesthesia, realizing that soon the surgeons will be cutting your heart out, placing you on a heart-lung machine, and then will be sewing a donor’s heart into your chest? Can you think of anything more dangerous? This operation is not like changing a memory chip in your camera. What thoughts would you have before such an operation? The big recurring thought would be: what if I don’t wake up? A heart transplant is not completely safe, and not everyone survives the surgery, much less the long term. You and your family would submit to the risks and dangers of the operation realizing that there was no other choice, trusting in the surgeon’s abilities, and above all, trusting in God.
In a spiritual sense, a heart transplant seems dangerous to us as well. Why? Because all that we normally trust in is revealed as useless. We do not have the control that we thought we had. We cannot help ourselves. And, we are completely in the hands of another. If this transplant fails, we die.
We cannot save ourselves. We cannot please God without the new heart he promises to give. All of our good deeds, religious acts, morals, duty, and honor come up short every time. (Romans 3:2124 …the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law…the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus…) We can never be good enough on our own to earn God’s favor; that is why we often feel so frustrated and unfulfilled in our efforts at self-improvement, self-reformation, self-control, anger-management, etc .Each of us needs a new heart. Each of us must realize that we are not in control, and we must abandon our own efforts to help improve our standing in God’s sight. It is scary and seems dangerous to stop trusting in our own efforts. Yet, we have serious, deadly heart disease, and we have no choice but to accept a radical and seemingly dangerous cure
4. A heart transplant requires a skilled, expert, and experienced surgeon to perform the operation successfully; this is not a do-it-yourself operation. Anyone who undergoes heart transplantation needs a surgeon to do it for him; that much is obvious. The patient would want the best, most experienced, most skillful surgeon he could find. Any of us scheduled for a heart transplantation would carefully research the surgeon, his record, his reputation, his integrity, and his expertise. Trust in the surgeon must be full and implicit because in the most immediate sense, the surgeon holds the patient’s life in his hands, and in the most concrete sense, he holds his old and new hearts in his hands during the surgery. The patient gives up all control here, and must stop trusting in anything he can do. The patient submits to the surgeon. The patient brings one thing to the operating table: his old, failing, weak, sick heart.
In the same way, God, our heavenly surgeon, must perform this spiritual heart transplantation for us. He is infinitely expert at this procedure, he never loses a patient, and he is full of integrity. God promises to give us a new heart for the asking. We can add nothing to this operation; all we bring to the operating room is our sinful, weak, failing, sick hearts. We give up trusting in anything we can do. We must submit to our heavenly surgeon and trust him to give us a new heart: he never turns us away or rejects us as we come to him asking for healing. We trust God’s goodness, his promise, his integrity to deliver on his promise, and his power to do what he promises. Finally, we trust his success rate: it is 100%, even in poor candidates for heart transplantation such as you and me. This heart transplantation may seem extremely dangerous, but in reality, there is no risk at all.
5. A heart transplant requires the death of a donor and acceptance by the recipient. The provision of a new heart for any heart transplant patient requires a donor who has died. The donor must die before the heart can be harvested for the living patient. The donor, or his family, must be willing to give the heart to a recipient. Then, the patient and/or family must receive the donor’s gift. If the donor has not died, the transplantation will not occur. Likewise, if the patient refuses to accept and receive the donor’s heart, the operation never comes off, and the patient dies. The patient may refuse the donor’s heart for any number of reasons. Pride (“I don’t need anyone’s help or charity”), fear (“I’m afraid this won’t work, so I won’t take the risk”), lack of trust (“I don’t believe my doctor’s diagnosis and prognosis” or “I don’t trust his skills”), or self-delusion (“I’m really not as sick as they say, and I will do just fine if I ignore my problem”) all lead to the same ultimate result: death. The reason for refusing the remedy does not matter, because without the only possible cure, the patient dies.
In the same way, it was necessary for Jesus to die for our sins in order to provide for a new heart for you and me. There was no other way; if that were possible, an infinitely wise God would have had another solution. Jesus died to give us a new heart; this required his death.* And this solution to our failing hearts is not just a solution, or even the best solution, but the only solution. He offers us a new heart freely and willingly; he offers it now and without charge. There is no waiting list, and every one of us qualifies for this spiritual heart transplantation. The heart you and I need is there for the asking and taking. We pay him nothing, and we do not work off our debt to him. As with any heart recipient, we must accept the heart God promises us, not refusing to receive it because of pride, fear, lack of trust, or self-delusion. God offers the only possible remedy, and without it, we will die-separated forever from the presence, goodness, light, and joy of God.
So, if you are growing weaker and sicker because of your failing heart, go now to God through Jesus and ask him for a new heart, offering nothing to him but your sins and your sick heart. You and I have nothing else to offer. He promises to give you and me a new heart, replacing our cold, stony, sick, dead, sinful, failing hearts. He is able and willing to do this, for he is God, and the donor, Jesus, has paid the ultimate price. A new heart is given by God for the asking and receiving, a heart that is alive, that loves and enjoys God, that functions properly, that is full of love and joy, that desires to do right and is able to do so, and that is dependent upon God himself. You and I need radical surgery; we need a heart transplant. And, God is the only one who can cure us.
*The analogy breaks down here. Jesus rose from the dead, was resurrected, and became alive again. He did not stay dead like a heart donor in the physical sense. It was necessary for him to become alive again to demonstrate that he was the Son of God, to validate all that he said about himself, and to use the same resurrection power in our lives to give us new hearts and eternal life. A dead Jesus staying dead would have been a dead and useless savior. His resurrection is key and central.
See “The Ultimate Solution” to explore further how we can receive Jesus Christ into our lives.
Copyright, Jerry Miller, Jr., 2008. You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this article as long as the wording is unchanged and there is no charge for the distribution.