A Heart of Sackcloth & Ashes

My heart is fickle and often festering with sin. It reminds me of my perpetual need of grace. Thankfully, God has provided His grace through the New Covenant promises fulfilled in Jesus Christ:

Jeremiah 31:31-34 “Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the LORD. For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”

Without the Spirit of God softening my calloused heart, I would remain unchanged. Without the grace of God placing His Spirit within me, I would remain stubborn and unaffected–despising Him and His ways. Yet, He has given the very thing I opposed–Himself–in order to help me obey the very word that I formerly ignored. He has done that for all of His people, by producing in them the faith to know and be known by Him. How sweet the grace of God that comes through faith and repentance… and how reassuring that His love, as found in Christ, can never be lost again (Rom. 8:31-39).

(Image Source)

Yet, even in our sin, the love of Christ compels us toward faith and repentance–that we may become the new creatures that He regenerated us to be. John Murray describes repentance in this way:

“Repentance consists essentially in change of heart and mind and will. The change of heart and mind and will principally respects four things: it is a change of mind respecting God, respecting ourselves, respecting sin, and respecting righteousness. Apart from regeneration our thought of God, of ourselves, of sin, and of righteousness is radically perverted. Regeneration changes our hearts and minds; it radically renews them. Hence there is a radical change in our thinking and feeling. Old things have passed away and all things have become new.”[1]

Repentance is in accord with our new nature. It is a willful turning from sin and turning to Christ. It is an acknowledgement of who God is, who we are, who Christ is, and what God has done in and through Him–for us and for Himself!! It requires embracing Him rather than our sin. In fact, we find in the Old Testament that people often put on sackcloth and ashes to symbolize their repentance. Sackcloth was rough and rubbed against the flesh–something that the Spirit-empowered heart will do as it makes war with the sinful flesh (Gal. 5). The ashes symbolized an understanding of mankind’s humble state of being nothing but “dust” before a holy God. Yet, it was from the dust that God made and exalted man to be His image-bearer, and it is through Christ’s death and resurrection that God has enacted a new creation in which we shall once again be raised from the dust of death and become image-bearers of His beautiful Son. This is all by the power of His Spirit (2Cor. 3:18).

The Spirit that was active in Christ, is now active within us. Throughout the Gospels, we see the Spirit’s ministry of glorifying the Father through Christ’s obedience; as well as the exaltation of Christ who carried out the Father’s plan by the power of His Spirit. Thus, the Spirit of Christ in us compels us to turn and experience life-giving faith as we are not only born-again (John 3), but perpetually renewed by His life-giving, sustaining power. Thus, a lifestyle of faith and repentance is how we apply the gospel power of the Holy Spirit to our lives. He transforms us in order that we might display an increasingly pure and beautiful reflection of Jesus Christ. This is God’s work in us and for us, for our good and His glory!!

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[1] John Murray, Redemption Accomplished and Applied (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1955), 114.

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