Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols. Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances.
These verses are a description of salvation. The verses that follow complete the picture, painting an image of the glory to come. This morning, I feel that I need to zero in on the first two phases of salvation.
The first part of salvation is often called justification. We are made right with God. God tells Israel that He will cleanse [them] from all [their] filthiness and from all [their] idols. That, in brief, is justification. God cleanses me from all my filthiness. He noted, in preceding verses, that the uncleanness of Israel was comparable to the uncleanness of a woman during her menstrual cycle. I know that it is a bit graphic, but I appreciate knowing just how nasty my sins and transgressions are in God’s sight. It is actually worse than that, because God compares my best acts of righteousness done without His empowering to menstrual cloths. Yup, the best I can do is about as desirable as a used tampon. If that is the best I can do, then it should not surprise me that God does not stop with cleaning me up.
God moves on to the second part of salvation, often called sanctification. This is the phase wherein He changes me. This is where ever believer I have ever met spends the preponderance of their time walking with God. God gives some detail about the process, saying that He will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I have noticed that I can be stone-hearted at times. There are things which simply do not touch me. The world is such that we can become desensitized to the pain around us — there is quite enough to callous any heart. But God wants better for me than that. His own heart has not grown hard, despite the pain in the world. He wants my heart to be like His. So He takes my stony heart and replaces it with a fleshy heart; takes my insensate heart and replaces it with one that feels as He does; takes away the spirit that is effectively dead and replaces it with one that lives. David prayed, in the psalms, that God would create in him a clean heart and renew a right spirit within him. That, in essence, is what God says He will do.
And He keeps going. God also promises that He will put [His] Spirit within you and cause you to walk in [His] statutes, and you will be careful to observe [His] ordinances. This is not a reviving of my own spirit, which God has already promised to do, but a filling with His own Spirit; a filling with Himself. And that filling of me with Him causes me to be able to walk in [His] statutes and to observe [His] ordinances. I am not perfect and the process is not yet complete, neither is my obedience perfect nor my observance of His ordinances complete. When I am perfected and completed, so, too, will my obedience be complete and perfect. The day is coming, but is not here yet.
That completion; that perfection is the final stage of salvation. It bears note, since it is not included in this morning’s verses. Later in the chapter, God describes what can summed up as a return to glory. And that is the final stage of salvation: glorification. God glorifies those who are His own as a reflection of His glory.
This morning, I am reminded that salvation is both an accomplished act and a process. From the perspective of God, looking in from eternity, the process is completed; fait accompli. From my perspective within time, the process drags on — day-by-day; moment-by-moment; rising, falling, ebbing, flowing, obeying, rebelling, succeeding, failing. I fall and God picks me up; dusts me off; and sets me to walking again.
Two nights ago, my daughter was in a rough place. She is experiencing discomfort and there is very little that her parents can do to alleviate her suffering. What we can, we do, but that was insufficient for the night. My daughter would not sleep and I, to my shame, was not a good father. I was unjustly angry and allowed that anger to color my actions and words. When I reflected on my night, the following day, I wept. A part of me is still weeping over that failure, it was so complete. That is the heart of flesh within me, feeling the hurt of my wrongdoing. That is the new spirit wanting to obey and not succeeding. That is me, in the process of being sanctified; set apart; made different than I was. And that encourages me — one who sometimes wonders if he was ever really saved at all. To know that the process marches on is to know that it began. And, right now, I need that confirmation and encouragement.