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Volume 13, Issue 3: Doctrine 101

Clean Hearts

Patch Blakey

On Sundays, its our family practice to have a big meal. The rule of the house is that the women prepare the meal, and the men clean up afterwards. There is a sort of equity built into this simple scheme, so that all get to feast and rejoice on the Sabbath, and the division of labor allows each a time of rest as well. While the men do the clean-up, the ladies in our household get to relax and enjoy themselves after the meal.

It probably wouldn't surprise anyone if I stated that in all of the years I've washed dishes, I've never seen the dishes clean themselves. In fact, there is no mess that I've seen during the course of my life that ever cleaned itself up. It has always required outside effort to make the beds, pick up the toys, dump the trash, wash the clothes, rake the yard, you name it. It has always required outside effort.
Why is it, then, that as Christians we find no incongruity in telling sinners that they are saved by an act of their own effort, an act of their own "free" sinful will? Job asked, "Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean?" and then goes on to answer his own question, "No one" (Job 14:4).
Now I will gladly grant that people can wash themselves outwardly. That is not in question, since Peter assumes that water is used in the "putting away of filth of the flesh" (1 Pet. 3:21). In the context, Job is speaking of "Man that is born of a woman" (Job 14:1). Job is talking about man, and more specifically, about man's sinful nature which derives from his sinful heart. Jeremiah says the human heart is "deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked" (Jer. 17:9). Given the nature of man's heart, Job's question can be restated to ask, "Who can bring a clean heart out of an unclean heart?" How can a sinner turn to God with his unclean heart to have God make it clean, that is, to save him? How can an unclean heart turn to God at all? Jesus said, "an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is evil: for of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaketh" (Luke 6:45). For a man to call upon God, he must first have a heart that desires to follow after God, a new heart, a clean heart.
So the dilemma becomes plain; man must have a clean heart to call upon God for salvation, but man can't clean his own heart. "Who can say, I have made my heart clean, I am pure from my sin?" (Prov. 20:9.)
In speaking to the Pharisees, Jesus said, "Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye make clean the outside of the cup and of the platter, but within they are full of extortion and excess. Thou blind Pharisee, cleanse first that which is within the cup and platter, that the outside of them may be clean also" (Mt. 23:25, 26). In the parallel passage in Luke 11:39, it is apparent that Jesus was referring metaphorically of the Pharisees themselves, "And the Lord said unto him, Now do ye Pharisees make clean the outside of the cup and the platter; but your inward part is full of ravening and wickedness."
Jesus isn't contradicting Scripture (Job 14:4) by telling the Pharisees to clean their own hearts. He's pointing out their dilemma. The Pharisees needed to clean their hearts, but they couldn't, and no one ever can.
How can that which is unclean, our old hearts, produce that which is clean, a new heart? How can man, being dead, and hence, spiritually unclean, in his trespass and sin, sin which comes out of the abundance of his own sinful heart, repent and turn to God by his own "free" will? Even that "free" will is tainted with the contagion from his own sinful heart.
Man is dead in his sins (Eph. 2:1) and therefore unclean. If he were not spiritually dead, his heart would not be unclean, and would not need to be quickened or cleansed. If this were so, then he would have no sin, and consequently no need of a savior. In fact, he could not be saved at all, for Paul says, "This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners" (1 Tim. 1:15). But because man is sinful, how then may he be saved if he has an unclean heart and he himself is incapable of cleansing it so that he may call upon God in faith?
Scripture provides the answer. God speaks to Peter in a vision, saying, "But the voice answered me again from heaven, What God hath cleansed, that call not thou common" (Acts 11:9). And what had God cleansed but those whom He had saved, "Now ye are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you"(Jn. 15:3). So we see that it is God who cleanses the sinful hearts of men, that they may believe God's word and be saved. If they hear and do not believe, it is because they have not had their hearts cleansed by the blood of the Lamb, and they are still dead, still unclean.
As much as we might wish it otherwise, dirty dishes can't clean themselves and never will. Man can't clean his own unclean heart, and never will. Only the Lord can clean a sinful heart so that it may believe, repent, and call upon the Lord in faith.

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