Posted by: 15shekels | May 26, 2011

A Heart of Flesh

“The very first tear he made was so deep that I thought it had gone right into my heart. And when he began pulling the skin off, it hurt worse than anything I’ve ever felt…Well he peeled the beastly stuff right off—just as I thought I’d done it myself the other three times, only they hadn’t hurt—and there it was, lying on the grass: only ever so much thicker, and darker, and more knobbly-looking than the others had been. And there was I as smooth and soft as a peeled switch and smaller than I had been. Then he caught hold of me—I didn’t like that much for I was very tender underneath now that I’d no skin on—and threw me into the water.” -C.S. Lewis, “How the Adventure Ended,” The Voyage of the Dawn Treader

“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.” -Ezekiel 36:26

“No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.” -Hebrews 12:11

I wish there were a way to be transformed by God without it hurting. I wish that I could grow on my own, becoming ever kinder, more talented, and stronger, setting and achieving my own goals, while God continually pats me on the back and affirms me. That would be nice. That would be unthreatening and easy.

I wish I could gently peel off my dragon skin. I wish my heart didn’t have to be cut out and replaced by another one. I wish I could reap a harvest of righteousness without painful discipline.

And yet that’s not how it works. The story from Lewis’s “The Voyage of the Dawn Treader” captures it so perfectly: young Eustace finds treasure in a cave and gets so greedy that he literally turns into a dragon. He tries desperately to peel off his scales, but keeps finding more scales underneath. It is only when Aslan shows up and removes the scales with a tear “so deep that I thought it had gone right into my heart” that Eustace becomes a boy again.

In Ephesians and Colossians, Paul tells believers to “put on the new self” (Eph 4:24) and to “clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, etc…” (Col 3:12)  What we sometimes forget is that before we are able to put on the new self, we must “put off” the “old self.” (Ephesians 4:22). And in order to put off our old selves, we must let God perform surgery. We must let him cut off our scales, cut straight to our hearts, remove the stones that work so poorly, and give us real hearts, hearts of flesh that are marked with the seal of the Holy Spirit.

I wouldn’t mind so much if this surgery could be a one-time transaction. Four years ago when I first realized that the King of all Creation had died to save me from my scaly, stony self, I was moved deeply and humbly lay my life at His feet. My repentance wasn’t exactly comfortable—I felt exposed and small—but it felt like a relief to admit that I needed help. I confessed that I was selfish, stubborn and prideful, and I rejoiced that through Christ’s atoning sacrifice on the cross I could be forgiven and clothed in his righteousness. Sinful self put to death, new redeemed self activated. Painful but finished.

Not exactly. Justification is a one-time event; sanctification is not. What Lewis doesn’t mention (but Hebrews does) is that as we walk through life with Christ and allow him to become not only our savior but our lord, we need him to continue scraping off the scales and performing surgery on our hearts. In order to grow as disciples, we need to diminish (become “smaller than I had been” as Eustace narrates), not once but constantly, because we continue to want to make ourselves bigger. We need to recognize how terribly we fall short of God’s standard, even after we have been redeemed. Over time as we move closer to him, we must allow the Holy Spirit to peel off layer after layer.

As my husband will tell you, I hate criticism and I hate discipline. I received my first speeding ticket two months ago and sobbed uncontrollably for two hours. Tom will make a reasonable and gentle request that I grow in a particular area and I will prepare a case for why he is wrong, complete with evidence and carefully constructed arguments. I am terrible at discipline and I am terrible at humility. I fear that my scales are thicker and stickier than most people’s.

And yet I hand the scalpel back to my loving father. A stone heart may not hurt, but it doesn’t beat or love either.

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