Jeremiah 17:9 says, “The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked: Who can understand it?” This verse is often spoken by Bible preachers and teachers as a warning to Christians about their ability to sin and their desires that can lead to sin. But is it appropriate to preach this verse to Christians? I suggest it is not.
Now before you think, “But we do continue to sin, and our hearts are deceitful and wicked,” let me say that I certainly agree that we still sin after we have been saved. And we know our hearts are capable of deceit and wickedness. But does that mean our hearts are “deceitful above all things?” What about the new heart Jesus gave us? This Old Testament verse is really about the condition of the heart, not the heart’s capability of sinful desires and actions. So does it apply to Christians?
The New Covenant
The Bible tells that Jesus fulfilled the Old Covenant and ushered in the New Covenant. In our regeneration, Jesus has given us all the promises of the New Covenant, including a new Spirit to indwell and empower us (the Holy Spirit), AND the promised new heart of Ezekiel 36:26.
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. (Ezek 36:26-27)
Yes, these were promises prophecied to Israel, but they were the promises of the New Covenant. Had Israel (as a nation) received their Messiah, they would have entered into the New Covenant and received these gifts. We know they did not. Yet individual Jews along with Gentiles from all nations, who have trusted in Christ, have received these gifts under the New Covenant.
The Gifts of the New Covenant
In the New Testament, we learn that being under the New Covenant we have been given the mind of Christ and the Holy Spirit who works love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control in us (Gal 5:22-23). Jeremiah prophesied of this:
…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. (Jeremiah 31:31,33-34)
…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 11:19-20)
With the mind of Christ, the Fruit of the Spirit, and the Holy Spirit indwelling and sealing us, we are able to identify and control sinful urges, yearnings, desires, and inclinations of our hearts. I suggest that the heart referred to in Jeremiah 17:9 is that of unregenerate people. Without the Spirit, man’s heart certainly is “deceitful above all things.” The Jeremiah 17:9 heart is not the heart of a Christian who is “in Christ” and sealed by the Holy Spirit. A Christian has a heart of flesh. Again, I am not saying that we don’t sin after salvation. We certainly do. But I am saying that our heart condition is that of a new heart, not deceitful above all things, not beyond cure, and not unable to be understood. It is a new heart filled with the love of God and capable of loving God and others.
Jeremiah 17:9 in Context
Again, this verse is God’s words to the people of Israel under the Old Covenant. They were a people who did not have the great salvation that we have, nor did they have a new heart, the mind of Christ, the Fruit of the Spirit, or the indwelling Holy Spirit to direct their thoughts, words, and actions.
Specifically, Jeremiah 17:9 was spoken to the people of Judah.
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 that has no power to save. The Law only has the power to convict and condemn by revealing man’s sins. Those ten laws were engraved upon two tablets of stone and also upon hearts of stone. Just as the Law condemned, so also does a heart of stone. The stone heart represents unregenerate people — then and now. But through Jesus’ atoning work, the way to God was opened and all who repent and trust in Jesus are given a heart of flesh—a new heart that can not be engraved with one’s sins; a new heart that enables one to follow God’s will and ways.
Who Can Understand the heart?
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).
Jeremiah 17:5-8 tells of the consequences for the people of Judah when God searched their hearts. God also searches our new hearts and He examines our minds. He reveals our heart’s intent and discerns our mind’s thoughts by His Word (Heb 4:12), and He also chasten us, His children, to direct us 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 has forgiven our sins and remembers them no more (Heb 8:12, 10:17).
We do not have the heart of stone, the desperately wicked heart spoken of in Jeremiah 17:9. Under the New Covenant, we have a new heart.
- The Old Covenant was written on tablets of stone; the New Covenant is written on the heart of flesh (2 Cor 3:3).
- The Old Covenant is the letter of the Law that kills, while the New Covenant is of the Spirit who gives life (2 Cor 3:6).
- The Old Covenant brings condemnation; the New Covenant brings righteousness (2 Cor 3:9).
- The Old Covenant had a glory that faded; the New Covenant has a glory that excells (2 Cor 3:10-11).
While our hearts are still capable of sin, we must remember that we are a new creation in Jesus and we are capable of living in the joy of our salvation, in the newness of our hearts, in the regeneration of our souls, and by the renewing of our minds, knowing that with the Holy Spirit we can overcome any sinful desire.
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.” We have been given the new heart filled with the love of God. And we have been sealed, never to lose the gifts and promises we have received.
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 has 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.
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.
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