I want to thank those of you who have served in our country’s military. To train for battle, to risk your life, to leave your family, to be ready in an instant when called to serve, all of these sacrifices and more are appreciated beyond what our words could express. While this is Memorial Day weekend in our country, it is Pentecost Sunday in the life of the church. This is the day we celebrate the birth of the church when the Holy Spirit was poured out now over 2000 years ago. With that in mind, I was led this week to focus my thoughts on the Holy Spirit and want to talk to you about what happens to the heart of a person who gives control to the Holy Spirit.
“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)
Many people may not see their need for God because they can’t see their deepest need. It is hidden even to them. It’s on the inside of them. They need a real change of heart. Jeremiah 17:9 tells us, “The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked. Who can know it?” We don’t even know the depths of the depravity, darkness and wickedness that exist within us. But God does.
I Samuel 16:7 “For the LORD does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” He sees it all. The heart is the root of everything righteous or the root of everything evil and on its own it cannot produce anything righteous or beautiful. In Mark 7:20-23 Jesus speaks about what comes out of a person’s heart. From there springs evil thoughts,sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, 22 greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. 23 All these evils come from inside and make a man ‘unclean.'” It is not only arrogant to think that your heart is right without God’s help, but it is also ridiculous. It is impossible for a man or woman to produce a righteous heart. Just as we couldn’t save ourselves and needed God the Father to send Jesus the Son to die on the cross to pay the price for our sin and salvation, we need the Holy Spirit to come into our lives in order to change us so that we can live a successful Christian life. The first experience with Jesus is called salvation. The second experience with the Holy Spirit is called sanctification.
Our passage in Ezekiel speaks of the cleansing work of the Holy Spirit. It is the Holy Spirit that makes us clean. “I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities.” Make no mistake Who is doing the work. It is the Holy Spirit.
It is possible to have a clean heart through the Spirit of God, but we have to recognize our need to be different than we are. Just this week, someone stopped to help me with a minor car situation and when he did, we got into a conversation for a few minutes. My conversations always include the question, “Where do you go to church?” The response was cut and dry. “I don’t. I just try to be good and do good and believe that is good enough.” The gentleman, though kind and helpful, couldn’t have been more wrong. Apart from the cleansing work of the Spirit, he is doomed to destruction and dark and evil in his heart. No good deeds he does can wipe away the corruption that is hidden on the inside.
Not only do we have to recognize our need, but we also have to want God to do His work. In Psalm 51, David prayed, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit in me.” Do you hear the humility in David’s voice? He knew he needed forgiveness. He knew he needed cleansing. He knew he needed to change and he wanted relief from what was weighing him down on the inside. He wanted a clean heart.
Accepting personal responsibility isn’t something it seems our culture is quick to do. We want to minimize the reality of our condition. We want to sugar coat our sin. Lying and deception are called “little white lies” or “protecting ourselves.” Adultery, pornography, and other sexual sins are called “self-fulfillment” or “an alternative lifestyle.” The taking of an innocent life is called “a woman’s choice.” Rather than look within and admit we need a change on the inside, we play the victim card. What our lives are producing (that which the Bible calls sin) is now always someone else’s fault.
What does it mean to have a clean heart? It means the Spirit of God comes into our inner being to separate us from anything sinful, dark, ugly, or depraved. Through the Spirit of God we are sanctified or set apart from anything that can kill our spirit or manipulate our behavior. I didn’t say we still can’t exercise our will to make bad choices, but the Holy Spirit becomes greater in us than the desire to sin.
This experience, the Baptism of the Holy Spirit, is likened to fire. In Luke 3:16 John the Baptist, Jesus’ cousin, who had been baptizing people who were willing to repent of their sins and make different choices said to the people gathered there: “I baptize you with water. But one more powerful than I will come, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.”
In Acts 2:3 tongues of fire rested on the heads of those present on the Day of Pentecost.
Why fire? Doctors will tell you that there are some germs that can’t be rid of by washing. There are some things that can only be cleansed by burning them. In those instances, the germs can’t be washed away, but must be consumed away. Sterilization through fire. “In 1665 London was in the grip of that terrible plague. . . The disease germs were hiding and breeding and multiplying everywhere. In the following year the Great Fire broke out, and the plague-smitten city was possessed by the spirit of burning. London was literally baptized with fire, which sought out the most secret haunts of the contagion, and in the fiery baptism the evil genius of corruption gave place to the sweet and friendly genius of health.”—Dr. J. H. Jowett. Through the fire, the city was literally cleansed.
Fire is consuming. Fire completely destroys everything in its path. The Holy Spirit is out to destroy the root of sin in our lives. The power and light of the Fire of God through the person of the Holy Spirit is to consume our sin and eradicate the sinful nature from our inner man. That is how we are thoroughly cleansed from sin.
Not only is it possible through the Holy Spirit to have a clean heart, but it is also possible to have a Single Heart.
If God is going to accomplish His work in our lives, He must have our full attention. Our hearts must be single in their focus on Him alone. “I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols.”
God cannot be one of many passions. Knowing and following Him must be the single desire of our hearts. In Ezekiel 11:19 God said something similar to what we read at the beginning of the message in Ezekiel 36. He said, “I will give them an undivided heart and put a new spirit in them; I will remove from them their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh.
Many Christians wonder why they aren’t satisfied or fulfilled on a daily basis. They wonder why they don’t have power to live above sin or why they don’t see God working around them, in them and through them. I believe it could be because they haven’t surrendered fully to the Holy Spirit’s transformation, and they still possess a divided heart.
Like the cleansing of the Spirit, we must also desire to have an undivided heart. The Psalmist prayed in Psalm 86:11 “Teach me your way, O LORD, and I will walk in your truth; give me an undivided heart, that I may fear your name.” What is an undivided heart? An undivided heart places loving, knowing, worshiping, and following Christ alone as its highest priority.
An undivided heart starts with a consuming passion to be with God. Listen to Psalm 84:1-2 How lovely is your dwelling place, O LORD Almighty! My soul yearns, even faints, for the courts of the LORD; my heart and my flesh cry out for the living God. And how about Psalm 42:1-2? “As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. Where can I go and meet with God?” Do you hear the passion? The Holy Spirit can enable us to desire God like that.
For a person with an undivided heart, being with God is the highest high they can experience. It tops any earthly adventure and thrill and any physical or emotional experience. I love the song that says, “Times of refreshing, Here in Your presence, No greater blessing than being with You. My soul is restored. My mind is renewed. There’s no greater joy, Lord, than being with You.” People who possess an undivided heart have their passions focused on loving God over everything else and they find it is the greatest joy of their lives!
A divided heart is focused on self. It is conflicted. It is selfish. It has an earthly plan “B” if God doesn’t come through the way a person thinks He ought to. It puts confidence in the things of this world like money, notoriety, ability, and power.
People with an undivided heart are focused not only on God’s presence, but also on God’s plans. An undivided heart causes a person to want to please the One he or she loves in all things. It doesn’t mean a person with an undivided heart is perfect in all their attempts to please the One he or she loves, but that more than anything, that is their desire and aim.
God called David a “man after His own heart.” David didn’t get life perfect. That is for sure. He committed adultery. He then committed murder. But his passion for God and desire to be led by God and love God were so deeply rooted in his undivided heart that when he did sin, it broke his heart. He wasn’t just embarrassed or sorry to have gotten caught. Scripture shows us He grieved over the fact that he had hurt the One he loved. That’s a sign of an undivided heart. Perfection isn’t the sign; but humility, repentance, confession and grief over our disobedience to God are. Does it bother you when you don’t get it right with God? If not, you may have a divided heart.
Another sign of David’s undivided heart included his love for God’s Word. Psalm 119 is a long Psalm. There are 176 verses and they are full of references to David’s love for the Word of God. He shows that a love for God cannot be separated from a love for His Word and points out repeatedly in that Psalm that a pure or upright or undivided heart is full of devotion for God’s Word. You can respect God’s Word but not be devoted to it. You can be inspired by God’s Word and not be devoted to it. You can read God’s Word and listen to sermons preached, but if you don’t take it into your inner man and act on what you hear, you don’t love it. Loving something or someone moves us to action.
David took the Word of God seriously. He said in Psalm 119:11, “I’m going to hide God’s Word in my heart so that I won’t sin against God.” He knew a love for God’s Word would assist him in living a righteous life. He knew a love for God had to play out in the way he lived.
David’s undivided heart was on display as he sought God’s presence, as he desired God’s plan, as he devoted himself to the Word and we see it on display in the fact that he loved to praise God and pray to God. Listen to Psalm 119:164, “Seven times a day I praise you for your righteous laws.” His love for God’s Word contributed to his desire to praise God. Can you see how one thing just leads to another when you fix your heart on wanting more of God? He didn’t say, “Every seven days, on Sunday, I will praise God,” but seven times every day. He was out of control with this praise thing! That’s right! He was so controlled by the Spirit of God who was at work on transforming his heart into an undivided one that he was literally praising God all of the time.
He made up his mind that he would praise God all the days of his life. Psalm 104:33 “I will sing to the LORD all my life; I will sing praise to my God as long as I live.” He wasn’t a conditional praiser. He didn’t say, “I’ll praise God as long as things are good with me” or “I will praise God as long as my health holds out.” He said, “I will praise God as long as I have breath!” Worship and praise weren’t negotiable for David. They weren’t seasonal for David.
Not only did David decide to praise God as long as he lived, but he also was committed to praying to God as long as he lived. Psalm 116:1-2 I love the LORD, for he heard my voice; he heard my cry for mercy. Because he turned his ear to me, I will call on him as long as I live.”
Doesn’t this sound like someone whose heart is singly focused on knowing, loving and obeying God alone?
Jesus said the greatest commandment is to “Love the Lord with all our heart, soul, mind and strength.” That takes an undivided heart. That takes the work of the Spirit. It takes the cleansing and removing of idols in our lives so that everything is stripped away until we are singly focused on knowing, loving and obeying God alone.
People who don’t surrender to the transforming work of the Spirit will always have an on again, off again heart for God. There will be no consistent power, influence or peace. I’m telling you this undivided heart is so critical to our success as Christians.
I was given to performance for so much of my life. The affirmation of others, the applause of others, performing for others, that’s where I got my validation. Had I not surrendered my heart fully to the work of the Spirit do you know that I would be totally insane by now? Had I not decided to live for, sing for, preach for, and work for an audience of One, I would have gone berserk trying to gain everyone’s approval. There is so much freedom and simplicity that flows into our lives when we live to please just One person, and it starts with the Spirit making our hearts clean and then singly focused on knowing, loving and obeying God alone.
I’m sure glad God the Father doesn’t have a divided heart towards me. I’m sure glad He doesn’t drop me, lose interest in me, reject me, or be too busy for me every other day. Don’t we owe the same to Him?
Not only can the Holy Spirit produce a clean heart and single heart inside of us, but He also comes to give us a new heart. Ezekiel 36:26 “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.”
In ancient times, the heart was known to be the seat of a person’s affection and passion. Ezekiel is saying the Holy Spirit will give us a new heart, that is, He will direct our hearts to be passionate about the things of God. He will change our desires. He will change our “want to’s” to want more and more of God and less and less of the things of this world. The things we used to want and live for will no longer be our pursuit.
There’s a newer Gospel song out that talks about this transformation. The chorus says:
I don’t walk like I used to walk. He made the difference.
I don’t talk like I used to talk. He made the difference.
I don’t live like I used to live. He made the difference.
I don’t give like I used to live. He made the difference.
He made the difference. He made the difference in my life.
Listen, salvation is the starting point. You have to have your sins forgiven through Jesus’ blood in order to be right with God and be able to have eternity secured in heaven, but that’s not the end. It’s like an assembly line. Jesus Christ, the Son of God, hands you over to the Holy Ghost, the Spirit of God, and you are supposed to be transformed. In order to look, think, and act differently you need to be baptized with the Holy Spirit and daily ask for Him to have control.
If you are still getting drunk and high on the things this world has approved, you need a change. If you are still living for yourself and have no room in your heart for other people or their needs, you need a change. If you are still a miser with your money or your talent or your time, you need a change. If you are still controlling or harsh with the people in your life, you need a change. If you are a Christian in name only but your life does nothing to back up your claim, you need a change. If you are a closet Christian and aren’t sharing the Gospel with those around you, you need a change. Accepting Jesus is the starting point. Baptism in the Holy Spirit will make sure you reach the finish line!
With this new heart, he says the Holy Spirit will deposit a new spirit within us. The heart of stone that we are born with is hardly teachable. It doesn’t want to be coached. It is cold towards the things of God. But when the Spirit of God overtakes a person, their spirit, their will, that stubborn and selfish nature, begins to yield to the Spirit of God. This new spirit is a compliant one, so the person is like clay in the hands of the Potter, God, who fashions and makes the person and sends the person where He desires. There is a willingness to serve God that is born out of the new heart. What takes place on the inside is then seen on the outside.
Finally, the work of the Spirit creates in us an obedient heart. Ezekiel 36:27 “And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.” It’s more than a willingness, but a follow through of complete obedience which takes us to maturity in Christ. The Holy Spirit is our internal compass. Instead of the sin nature, the one we are born with, being our compass and guide, the Holy Spirit becomes our internal compass and guide. Are you getting it? When we let God have His way, He does a heart transplant on us. He takes out the heart that wants to live for self and gives us a heart that wants to live for God. The Holy Spirit anchors our hearts and tunes them to the will of God. Just like a piano will get out of tune over time we must regularly be tuned by the Spirit of God to obey the will of God.
Remember that Jesus told the disciples they would receive power when the Holy Spirit came upon them. That power will enable us to witness, but it will also enable us to win against sin. I have found it to be true that when I am faced with a temptation to sin, if I just say, “God, help me,” the Holy Spirit is right there to sustain and strengthen me and show me the doorway of escape. Eventually, that which is second nature replaces our first nature and becomes our first inclination.
The heart of Pentecost is a clean heart, a single heart, a new heart and an obedient heart. Does your heart need some work this morning? Have you been baptized with the Holy Spirit? Have you prayed to receive the Holy Spirit? Do you daily seek to yield to the Spirit of God? Do you want the heart of Pentecost?