Who has heard these sorts of comments about the Bible: “I don’t think it means that…’; “its not relevant for today”; “its all too fundamentalist”; “Why should I follow something written so long ago”; “It’s all made up anyway’; “Things have moved on we don’t think like that anymore”
Any Christian who has been around for a while will have heard people speak about the Bible in this way from time to time.
You can summarise what people are saying, when they say this sort of thing, in one word: ‘WON’T’
‘WON’T do what the Bible says’
‘WON’T follow what God wants for our lives’
This is not a new phenomenon. Even when Ezekiel was writing in the sixth century BC there were plenty of people in Israel saying: ‘WON’T’ to the word of God as revealed in scripture by Moses.
‘WON’T’ is the word of the hard hearted; the word of the stubborn; the word of the rebellious and insensitive.
It is a word for today as much as it was a word for then.
When, as we get older, we see the decline in morality in our country; the rejection of any kind of standards, we can imagine generation after generation saying; ‘WON’T….WON’T….WONT’
There are two approaches we can take to those who say ‘WON’T’.
Firstly, there is the approach of the moralist.
The moralist says to those who say ‘WON’T’…..’MUST’
Or if he does not have the power to influence or to require anyone to do anything the moralist says ‘SHOULD’ to those who say ‘WON’T’.
The moralist uses any power or influence he has in society, in a school, in a family, to compel those who say ‘WON’T’. The moralist uses that power and influence to do what is best for society or what is written in the Bible.
‘But isn’t that what God wants?’ you may be thinking?
If we in the church had the power to make people live as the Bible calls us to live; to live a righteous life; to live without sin, wouldn’t God be pleased if we did this?
Now, there is a role for the moralist in society. The church plays this role to some extent when it engages in the public square encouraging people not to sin against each other. This is after all the role of government: to protect the weak from the strong.
But sometimes Moralism can go too far.
You may have seen on television a programme called the ‘Handmaid’s Tale’. Its a horrific story of a dystopia (that’s the opposite of a utopia) where the United States has been taken over by a group of extreme Christians who (to cut a long story short) impose their view of a Christian society on everyone, by force.
The author of the book on which the series is based, Margaret Atwood, says that every horrific scene has actually happened in history; if not in Christianity (mostly not actually), in other religions. There are a lot of dead bodies, as what the authorities perceive to be ‘God’s will’ is enforced on society.
Is that what God wants?
You see, in this passage from Ezekiel, we see God recognising the reason that we are unable live in the way that he wants us to live; we see God recognising that we cannot live a righteous life; We cannot live a life in which we are free from the obstacles between us and Him; obstacles which are created by our own sinfulness. We just can’t.
The reason that we cannot live in that way is because of our hard hearts; our hearts of stone.
Whether we are the sinner who could not care less about what God wants for our lives (the Prodigal, at the start of the story, if you like) or the moralist who wants to impose God’s will on everyone else (the elder brother perhaps), our hearts are hard….
God says, in this book of Ezekiel to the people of Israel that he is going to do something incredible; ‘I will remove from your body the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh’ and God says, in this prophesy written 500 years before Pentecost, ‘I will put my spirit within you and make you (better translated ‘cause you’) to follow my statutes and be careful to observe my ordinances. Then you shall live in the land that I gave to your ancestors and you shall be my people and I will be your God’
Do you see what this means?
It means that when the Holy Spirit comes as promised by God to the Israelites then in exile (and as actually happened after Jesus’ crucifixion at Pentecost) that they will go from
They will WANT to follow God’s laws and standards on how to live and will do so because they want to.
They will be ashamed (verse 31) of their evil ways and loathe themselves for their iniquities and abominable deeds.
He doesn’t say‘I will change my laws so that you can sin without feeling guilty’.
He says that, when the Spirit comes, one sign will be a sense of despair about our own sinfulness.
I can pretty well by now discern where people are on their spiritual journey by hearing from them the extent to which they see themselves as sinners. If they do, then undoubtedly they have the soft heart, the heart of flesh which the prophet speaks about.
If not, then probably the heart of stone.
If they do see themselves as sinners (like the Prodigal at the end of the Story), they know that they cannot get free of that sin without the intervention of the Holy Spirit, without dependence upon the Father, without the heart of flesh which only He can give.
As that as we recognise that, the blessings start to fall and our lives are transformed.
24 I will take you from the nations, and gather you from all the countries, and bring you into your own land. 25 I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. 26 A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will remove from your body the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. 27 I will put my spirit within you, and make you follow my statutes and be careful to observe my ordinances. 28 Then you shall live in the land that I gave to your ancestors; and you shall be my people, and I will be your God. 29 I will save you from all your uncleannesses, and I will summon the grain and make it abundant and lay no famine upon you. 30 I will make the fruit of the tree and the produce of the field abundant, so that you may never again suffer the disgrace of famine among the nations. 31 Then you shall remember your evil ways, and your dealings that were not good; and you shall loathe yourselves for your iniquities and your abominable deeds. 32 It is not for your sake that I will act, says the Lord God; let that be known to you. Be ashamed and dismayed for your ways, O house of Israel.
33 Thus says the Lord God: On the day that I cleanse you from all your iniquities, I will cause the towns to be inhabited, and the waste places shall be rebuilt. 34 The land that was desolate shall be tilled, instead of being the desolation that it was in the sight of all who passed by. 35 And they will say, “This land that was desolate has become like the garden of Eden; and the waste and desolate and ruined towns are now inhabited and fortified.” 36 Then the nations that are left all around you shall know that I, the Lord, have rebuilt the ruined places, and replanted that which was desolate; I, the Lord, have spoken, and I will do it.
The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version. (1989). (Eze 36:24–36). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.