The overarching illustration I used yesterday was how our faith is a lot like a heart transplant. This was quite literally the case for Israel in Ezekiel 36. God sought to remove their hearts of stone and exchange them for a heart that could feel.
In recent years in the medical world, we have seen a lot of development with heart transplants. Patients in desperate need of a new heart can undergo this intensive surgery and hope for a good outcome. One of the things that has been the case for many years, however, is that a major intervention like a heart transplant requires a lot of preparation and followup.
In other words, chances are that a doctor would never perform a surgery without proper care in a broader sense. They need to have conversations about the problem and procedure. A patient often has to commit to lifestyle changes to prepare and ensure the donated organ is put to good use. And even after the surgery, medication, healthy diet, and exercise are needed to ensure the transplant lasts (otherwise a patient may end up being worse off and in need of another heart!). Simply having the transplant procedure by itself is never an option.
To apply this metaphor to our faith, the same is also true for how God changes us. Of course, “one-time” experiences of God can be influential in our lives. But to follow Christ means a continual process of discipleship and apostleship. We must always deepen our faith in God by allowing God to continually change our hearts. It truly is a process!
As I alluded to on Sunday, John Wesley preached quite a bit on this topic. Following God is a lifelong process. We cannot simply call it quits after praying a prayer of salvation. By following Christ, we are made new and our life has tangible differences. Wesley specifically outlined three spiritual states of being someone may go through:
1. Natural State– This signifies someone who is unaware of God. S/he does whatever they want. Here’s how Wesley describes someone in this spiritual state:
For [their] soul is in a deep sleep: [Their] spiritual senses are not awake; They discern neither spiritual good nor evil. The eyes of [their] understanding are closed; They are sealed together, and see not. Clouds and darkness continually rest upon them; for [they] lie in the valley of the shadow of death.
When we follow our natural desires apart from God’s will and plan for our life, that does not lead to a good outcome!
2. Legal State– Being aware of God, yet still struggling with sin. Wesley argued that it is imperative we come to an awareness and knowledge of who God is. Many people might describe this spiritual state of being as justification, where we are justified in Jesus Christ and made right in God’s eyes. Yet the Christian journey does not end here. Simple awareness of God is not where we ought to end up. Being in a “legal state” means we still struggle with sin and never really overcome our brokenness, even though we are awakened:
God touches the heart of [the person] that lay asleep in darkness and in the shadow of death. [That person] is terribly shaken out of [his or her] sleep, and awakes into a consciousness of his danger.
Being in a legal spiritual state means we realize that we have a sin problem.
3. Evangelical State– Knowing the love, peace, and freedom of God. The “evangelical” Christian, according to Wesley, is a follower of Christ who begins to overcome sin and surrender control to God:
Beware, then, thou who art called by the name of Christ, that thou come not short of the mark of thy high calling. Beware thou rest, not, either in a natural state with too many that are accounted good Christians; or in a legal state, wherein those who are highly esteemed of men are generally content to live and die. Nay, but God hath prepared better things for thee, if thou follow on till thou attain.
This final spiritual state means we are able to overcome sinfulness in our life with the help of God.
God has prepared “better things” for your life. Receiving a Godly heart is a lifelong process. God may touch your heart, but we always need that divine aid to let go of all those stony and calloused areas of our lives. As we allow God to change our hearts, we begin to experience that new life and wonderful creation because of Christ.