Jeremiah 17:9 is a famous Bible passage about the heart, a verse many of us know by heart. It says this: “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” Pastor John, this is certainly true of a pre-conversion heart without the Holy Spirit, but is this passage accurate of a converted, regenerated heart that is united to Christ? Or, is it simply wrong to apply this passage as a diagnosis for the sin struggles in the Christian life?
It is wrong to apply this text, the text about the Jeremiah 17:9 about the heart is deceitful above all things. It is wrong to apply that text to the regenerate heart without qualification. Let me start with the definition. In what sense is the heart deceitful like that? Here is my answer. The heart offers incentives and motives for behaviors that destroy us by putting the proposed action in a compelling light. In other words, that is deceitful. It is a lie and the heart is telling us: Do this, do this, because if you do this and this and this. And it is lies. It is lying. It is in to destruction. So evil actions can have very compelling motives that the heart offers up. Or flip it around. Good acts can have no motive. The heart just stays silent and doesn’t offer anything or the heart offers corrupt motives. You know, you can tithe in order to be seen for your good deeds and things like that. So, yeah, the heart is deceitful in the sense that it is withholding good motives from good actions and it is offering bad... good motives, bad actions.
Now before we are converted by Christ through faith in the work of the Holy Spirit, we don’t have faith and without faith it is impossible to please God, Hebrews 11:6. And, therefore, we don’t please God. The mind of the flesh cannot please God. And so the heart is thoroughly corrupt. It is not doing anything that is godward and, therefore, anything that is pleasing to God. So it is not an overstatement when Paul says in Romans three: None is righteous. No, not one. No one understands. No one seeks for God. Now that means until there is a mighty and wonderful work of grace in our hearts. And when that happens the new covenant that is promised and that Jesus bought with his blood happens and what happens in the new covenant is, Ezekiel 11:19. I will remove the heart of stone from their flesh and I will give them a heart of flesh. Or Ezekiel 36:26. I will give you a new heart, a new spirit I will put within you. And the Bible is just ... I mean the New Testament is filled with beautiful descriptions about what this... what happens. 2 Corinthians 4:6. God who said: Let light shine out of darkness, has shown in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. Or Romans 10:9: If you believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead you will be saved. Romans 2:29: The true Jew, that is the Christian is one inwardly and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the spirit, not the letter. And Romans 5:5: God is shedding out his love in our hearts, pouring it out through the Holy Spirit. And Romans 6:17: Thanks be to God that you became obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching. And 2 Corinthians 1:22: God put his seal on us and has given us his Spirit in our heart as a guarantee. So this is not deceitful. This is a guarantee welling up in the saints’ heart. Or Galatians 4:6: God has set the Son into our hearts, the Spirit of his Son into our hearts crying: Abba, Father. Ephesians 3:17: Christ dwells in your hearts through faith. Philippians 4:7: The peace of God which passes all understanding will guard your hearts in Christ Jesus.
So I hope… I mean those texts are just so thrilling to me that in spite of all my imperfections God has targeted my heart with omnipotent invasion. He has moved in, given me a new heart in Christ, indwelt by the Holy Spirit. And our calling, therefore, is to bear fruit out of the abundance of the heart now. Something new is going to come as an overflow. The heart is ... let’s be careful here. Our heart is not our new god giving infallible guidance. God is God and his Word is our sure guide, but the heart is now a regenerate witness with the Holy Spirit to the truth of God. And we are being changed from one degree of glory in our hearts to another and our hearts are being brought to affirm, approve what is the will of God, what is good, acceptable and perfect.
So we should not say of our new spirit indwelt hearts: It is deceitful above all things and desperately corrupt. We should say: Apart from Christ I would be deceived. Apart from Christ I would be corrupt. But I am no longer apart from Christ. I have the mind of Christ by grace through faith. If you don’t qualify that with those texts that I just gave, then you are going to give a totally wrong impression as to what has really happened to the believer. I mean, we are supernatural people. God has moved in on us and to minimize that or belittle that by using descriptions of an unregenerate heart to describe a regenerate heart is a huge mistake. Here is what I would recommend, that the person go back and look at the preceding verses of Jeremiah 17:9 and the following verses. Both of them relate to fruit. And, therefore, you take Jesus’ words: Make the tree good and its fruit good. Make the tree bad and its fruit bad. In other words, I think if you look at the context there of Jeremiah 17:9 and the relationship between the heart and fruit and then apply Jesus’ words to that, you will see that Jesus intends for us to understand that a corrupt and deceitful heart will bear corrupt and deceitful deeds. A new tree bears different fruit.
Thank you Pastor John. And thank you for listening to the podcast. Email your questions to us at askpastorjohn AT desiringgod DOT org. And visit us online at desiringgod DOT org to find thousands of books, articles, sermons, and other resources all free of charge from John Piper, and all intended to help explain why God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him. … I’m your host, Tony Reinke. Have a great weekend.