Written on Our Hearts

“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.” (Jeremiah 31:31-34, ESV)

This passage offers a beautiful picture of God’s loving perseverance with His chosen people and His persistent faithfulness to His covenant with them, even though they had broken it. God acknowledges their unfaithfulness, but goes on to describe a better future, one where His law is no longer something external that must be learned and obeyed, but rather an internal reality and influence that shapes their behavior.

One of my dear colleagues, now deceased, was Robert Saucy. He served as a theology professor at my seminary for almost fifty years. For most of the last decade of his life he worked on his final book, Minding the Heart: The Way of Spiritual Transformation (Kregel, 2013). This book offers a biblical theology of the “heart” and explains how spiritual growth and transformation takes place. During those years I would often meet him on campus and talk with him about this project, and share how eager I was to read it once he completed it. I had talked with Bob enough to understand that, in the Bible, the heart represents us as whole persons. It includes aspects we are aware of, as well as hidden aspects only God knows. The heart is the center of both our thoughts and emotions, and it is where God works to transform us. I love his book, and I am grateful for the time he invested in this writing project.

When God speaks through Jeremiah describing the new covenant He is going to make with His people in the future, He focuses on how their relationship with Him and with the Law will be different. God Himself will “write it on their hearts,” making the Law an internal guide, something with power to shape their attitudes and actions. In addition, everyone will know God and will not need to be taught about Him. We, as Bible study leaders, long for this! We want to teach the Bible in ways that God can use to impact the inner person, the heart of those we teach, so that God’s Word becomes a powerful force in their lives. “I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you,” says the Psalmist (Psalm 119:11). In addition, we want those we teach to get to know God Himself, not just His Law. We want them to know God as righteous and as loving, merciful and gracious; that He is able and willing to forgive their sin and that He does not hold onto their failures, but remembers their sin no more.

When Jesus celebrated the Passover meal with His disciples, He took the cup and said, “This is my blood of the covenant which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Matthew 26:28). He was fulfilling the promise made in the book of Jeremiah, signaling the beginning of this new covenant, based on His death on our behalf, that our sins may be forgiven. In addition, in sending the Holy Spirit to indwell those who have placed their faith in Him, He works powerfully within us to take the Scripture and infuse it into our hearts. As a Bible study leader, I pray that the Holy Spirit would take the Scriptures we study, and use them to bring about a transformation of our hearts that leads to greater knowledge, love, and obedience to God. I recognize my own need for continual heart transformation, and long to see this happen with those I teach.

We are living in the “already and not yet.” God has brought about His new covenant with all those who place their faith in Christ. His transforming work has begun in our hearts, but it is not yet complete. For this reason we lead Bible studies – that God may take His Scripture and write it deeper and deeper into our hearts, so that what flows from our lives reflects our increasing knowledge of Him, love for Him, and obedience to Him. Someday, when Christ returns, the need for our teaching efforts will end. We will be like Christ because He will complete His transforming work in us, and we will all know God fully and not need to be taught about Him. Until that day, we continue to lead Bible studies, and we pray for the Holy Spirit to continue His transforming work. Thank you for your investment in leading others in the study of God’s Word. May God use your teaching in powerful ways, through His Spirit!

Father, I long for the day when my own heart reflects your transforming power to shape me into a more faithful child. Help me to be open to the work of your Spirit in my heart, and move those I teach to do the same. I offer this prayer, ascribed to St. Richard, Bishop of Chichester, England (1197-1253) as my own desire as well:

Thanks be to you, our Lord Jesus Christ,

for all the benefits which you have given us,

for all the pains and insults which you have borne for us.

Most merciful Redeemer, Friend and Brother,

may we know you more clearly,

love you more dearly,

and follow you more nearly,

day by day. Amen.

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