This is a question about Jeremiah 17:9 that says, “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” This verse is often spoken by preachers and teachers as a warning to Christians about their ability to sin. But is it appropriate to preach this verse to Christians? I suggest it is not. This is a verse taken out of context and it should not be applied to Christians.
Now before you think, “But we continue to sin, and our hearts are deceitful,” let me say that I certainly agree with you. We do still sin after we have been saved. However, in our regeneration, Jesus gave us a new heart. And, He gave us the Holy Spirit to indwell us and empower us. Plus, He gave us the mind of Christ… and so much more. We are so very different than the people we were before Jesus saved us and also so different than those to whom it was said, “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it.”
We have already received the cure for a deceitful heart and with the Holy Spirit and the mind of Christ we are able to understand, and control, the sinful yearnings, desires, and inclinations of our hearts. I suggest to you that the heart that is deceitful above all things is the heart of unregenerate man, not the heart of a Christian who is sealed with the Holy Spirit. Again, I am not saying we don’t sin. But I am saying our heart condition is not deceitful above all things, beyond cure, or not understandable. And I remind you that this verse speaks the words of God to the people of Israel, a people who did not have the great salvation that we have, nor did they have the indwelling Holy Spirit to teach and guide them, nor the mind of Christ to direct their thoughts, words, and actions.
Jeremiah 17:9 in Context
The verse is spoken to the people of Israel under the Old Covenant. In context, this is about the people of Judah. It is not about Christians.
Jer 17:1 Judah’s sin is engraved with an iron tool, inscribed with a flint point, on the tablets of their hearts and on the horns of their altars.
This should remind us of the law, which was engraved upon two tablets of stone. The Law has the power to condemn by revealing man’s sins and those sins are engraved on a heart of stone. Just as the Law condemned them, so also their hearts of stone, and so do the hearts of stone of unregenerate man today. God spoke of removing this heart and giving them a heart of flesh—a new heart that could not be engraved with their sins; a new heart that would enable them to follow His will and way.
A Gift of the New Covenant – The Heart Christians Have
Jeremiah 31:31,33-34. ..I will make a new covenant…I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people…For I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.”
Ezek 11:19-20 And I will give them one heart, and I will put a new spirit within you, and I will take the stony heart out of their flesh, and will give them a heart of flesh: That they may walk in my statutes, and keep mine ordinances, and do them: and they shall be my people, and I will be their God.
Ezek 36:26-27 A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments, and do them.
Furthermore, the Jeremiah 17 passage is a warning that Israel will lose their inheritance.
Jer 17:4 Through your own fault you will lose the inheritance I gave you. I will enslave you to your enemies in a land you do not know, for you have kindled my anger, and it will burn forever.
The inheritance God gave Israel was physical (land). Our inheritance is spiritual (eternal salvation) and it cannot be taken away. Our inheritance is secure in Christ. (Read Can I lose my salvation? How can I convince someone that they have eternal security? The Gift of SalvaTION: Justification & Imputation)
Dependence on Self or on God?
God continued speaking through Jeremiah by proclaiming a curse upon those who depend upon themselves and a blessing upon those who put confidence in Him. The self-sufficient man is said to turn his heart away from God:
Jer 17:5-6 This is what the LORD says: Cursed is the one who trusts in man, who depends on flesh for his strength and whose heart turns away from the LORD. He will be like a bush in the wastelands; he will not see prosperity when it comes. He will dwell in the parched places of the desert, in a salt land where no one lives.
The God-dependent man is blessed for his trust in God.
Jer 17:7-8 But blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD, whose confidence is in him. He will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit.
These verses certainly have an application for Christians in our journey of sanctification (Read What you need to know about Sanctification & Glorification, 1 John 1:9 What is the Christian “Bar of Soap?”) It is a perennial truth of God that our hope and our strength can only be found in Jesus. Following our own will and ways will lead to destruction (“like a bush in the wastelands”). Following Jesus, we will bear fruit.
The Verse in Question: Jeremiah 17:9
Jer 17:9-10 The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it? I the LORD search the heart and examine the mind, to reward a man according to his conduct, according to what his deeds deserve.
There is an answer to the question, “Who can understand [a deceitful heart]?” The answer is, God knows the heart (Ps 44:21, Luke 16:15, Acts 15:8, Romans 8:27). We’ve already read the consequences for the people of Judah when God searches their hearts (Jer 17:5-8). God also searches our hearts and examines our minds. He reveals our heart condition by His Word (Heb 4:12) and He will chasten His children to direct them to live according to His ways (Heb 12:6-7). There is no condemnation for those in Christ (Ro 8:1)—no curse, no loss of inheritance. God does not reward us according to our conduct. He has forgiven our sins and remembers them no more (Heb 8:12, 10:17). God rewards us because we belong to Jesus. When we repented and trusted in Jesus, He saved us and gave us our reward — eternal life with Him.
You might wonder if Jeremiah 17:9-10 could be about rewards as earthly gifts from God, not eternal life. Reading on it becomes clear this has eternity in mind:
Jer 17:12-1 A glorious throne, exalted from the beginning, is the place of our sanctuary. O LORD, the hope of Israel, all who forsake you will be put to shame. Those who turn away from you will be written in the dust because they have forsaken the LORD, the spring of living water. [the consequences of a deceitful, stony heart] Heal me, O LORD, and I will be healed; save me and I will be saved [and given a heart of flesh], for you are the one I praise.
The Heart of a Believer
While the “deceitful heart” is clearly addressed to the house of Israel (specifically Judah), it can certainly be applied in our time to unregenerate man, unrepentant sinners, unsaved souls. They have that heart of stone and it is “engraved” with their sins. But again, this should not be applied to Christians. Our sins have been forgiven and washed away (Rev 1:5). The hearts of stone, we once had, have been replaced with a heart of flesh, just as God promised would have happened to Israel if they had received their Messiah. And one day that will happen when Israel recognizes Jesus as both Messiah and Savior. (Ezek 11:19)
Jesus has Given Us A New Heart
We do not have the heart of stone, the desperately wicked heart spoken of in Jeremiah 17:9. We certainly do have a heart capable of sin, but we must live in the joy of our salvation, in the redemption of our hearts, souls, and minds, knowing that with the Holy Spirit we can overcome any sinful desire that might creep into our minds or hearts.
We are not to focus on who we were, an unregenerate man with “a heart of stone,” an unrepentant sinner with a “heart deceitful above all things” that is “beyond cure.” We have been “cured” but the only One who is capable of curing. And we have been sealed, never to lose the gifts and promises we have received.
2 Cor 5:17 .. if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.
Rom 5:5 …the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us.
2 Cor 1:22 Who hath also sealed us, and given the earnest of the Spirit in our hearts.
2 Cor 3:3 Forasmuch as you are manifestly declared to be the epistle of Christ ministered by us, written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God; not in tables of stone, but in fleshly tables of the heart.
Living In and For Christ
Live in the light of salvation (1 Th 5:5, Col 1:12)
Walk in the newness of life (Rom 6:4)
Experience joy in Jesus (Ps 28:7, 1 Pet 1:8)
Have hope in Jesus (Heb 6:19)
Find rest in Jesus (Heb 4:3)
Abide in Jesus (John 15:4)
Be Ready Always...
to give a reason for the Hope that you have (1 Peter 3:15). When you can’t share the gospel with your words, share it by leaving tracts that tell people about God's grace.
When leaving a tract, always be diligent to pray about the short gospel message. Pray that it be found by someone who is in need of Jesus’ saving grace, and pray that the person will have a tender heart and open ears to receive the gift Jesus desires to give them.
By the power of the Holy Spirit, even a small tract can help in turning a broken sinner from darkness to light.
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