by Pastor Scott Yi
A few years ago, I remember seeing a billboard around Providence. It was an ad promoting one of the local hospitals here. The slogan on the billboard read, “We’re extraordinary at getting you back to ordinary.” Do you remember seeing this ad? At first, it sounds kind of catchy. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized how depressing that sounds. All those hours meeting doctors and nurses, all the insurance paperwork, all the treatments and medicine, and what’s it all for? So I can go back to my ordinary, mediocre, average lifestyle? That’s not what I want. I want to be better than before. I want to be stronger than before. So if God is able to help me, I don’t want to just go back to the way things were. To the same temptations and the same disappointments and the same helplessness. I don’t want the ordinary life. I want to see something new. I want true, lasting change. In Psalm 51, David tells us that change like this can only happen if God puts his Spirit inside of us.
In Psalm 51:10, David writes, “Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.” David, realizing that on his own he will never become better, understands what he needs is a “steadfast spirit.” He needs “a willing spirit,” it goes on to say in verse 12. He needs the Holy Spirit. These verses are not about trying to improve our own personality, our own ethical makeup. It’s not our spirit he’s referring to. Each of these spirit references is about God’s Spirit, a power outside of ourselves, from God, that transforms who we are. This description of God’s Spirit being “steadfast” is packed with meaning. David is not merely asking to be cleansed of his sins. Just like for us, getting a clean slate from our mistakes would be great, but what we really want is more than that. We want lasting change.
In earlier biblical history, we see God’s Spirit only being able to enable people temporarily. One example is Exodus 31:3, in which the Holy Spirit equips a craftsman named Bezalel to be able to build the ark of the covenant. So this verse about having a steadfast spirit means that God is not merely “coming upon” individuals like in the past, but it means that he’s dwelling inside of us, living inside of us and therefore empowering us. He enables us to become the people of love that we’re always meant to be. We can’t change ourselves. It’s only God’s Spirit that can change us.
And so, it’s finally in the New Testament that this gift of God’s indwelling presence arrives in full. It’s made possible by the one sacrifice that is able to cover over every sin, the sacrifice of the cross. Remember what I said about the ordinary life. When Jesus takes away our sins, it’s not like the negative balance in our bank account is brought back to zero. The Gospel isn’t just about wiping away existing debt; it’s about giving us more than we ever had before. Jesus gives us his inheritance. He gives us new purpose, new power, a new presence. The coming of the Holy Spirit had been prophesied for hundreds of years in the Old Testament and now in the New Testament, it’s finally here. The most important of these prophecies is in Ezekiel 36:26. This is what God promises: “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. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.”
Ezekiel’s words echo David’s own: “Create in me a clean heart.” Both men of God are talking about the same thing. We can’t try to make ourselves better. We can’t work on becoming a better person. The only hope for change comes from something as radical as heart surgery. Our heart of stone needs to be broken down, beaten down, and replaced with a heart of flesh. It’s got to be Jesus’ heart inside of us, because his is the only heart that’s ever been able to love God to the fullest, to glorify God to the fullest.
If I had to summarize what the Old Testament is all about, I guess I would say: heart surgery. The story of the Old Testament is a story of failure. God’s People could not rise up to be who they were supposed to be, because in the end, their hearts were too poisoned. Their hearts were too hardened. Psalm 51 tells us that what we need is a transplant. Now this imagery of getting a new heart is fascinating. It means that, even back then, thousands of years ago, people were dreaming of biological miracles, medical impossibilities. It wouldn’t be until about 3000 years after the time of King David, that the world would see the first ever successful heart transplant. It happened in the year 1967. The first person to ever receive a new biological heart and live was this man named Louis Washkansky, in South Africa. Now unfortunately, he did not get to live very long. The new heart was working, but because immunosuppressive drugs had not been effectively developed yet, he died from infection only a few weeks later.
Today, heart transplant surgery is almost completely safe. The main problem with heart transplants today is the cost. It costs you $800,000 to buy a new heart for yourself. Obviously, none of us could afford something like that, so if you needed it, you better have the greatest insurance policy on the planet. But this heart transplant that’s in scripture, this spiritual procedure, costs us nothing. As we see in Psalm 51, we have nothing we could offer God. He says in verse 17, “My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit.” Like David, all we have with us is our repentance. But in the end, that nothingness, that humility, is exactly what God wanted all along. God can’t change the heart of someone who’s proud, who’s defiant, who thinks they know better than everyone else. All God wants is our willingness to change. That’s all he needs to start working on us.