Ambassador of Reconciliation
7/28/14 at 03:22 PM 4 Comments

Who Changes the Human Heart?

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Our Bible study lesson in Revelation took us to a passage in Jeremiah about the heart:

I will give them a heart to know that I am the Lord, and they shall be my people and I will be their God, for they shall return to me with their whole heart (Jer. 24:7).

It made me wonder, “Does God give them a heart to know that He is the Lord because they have returned to Him with their whole heart? Or do they return to God with their whole heart because He has given them a heart to know that He is the Lord?”

Later in the book Jeremiah makes some similar statements about the heart:

You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart (Jer. 29:13).

I will give them one heart and one way, that they may fear me forever, for their own good and the good of their children after them (Jer. 32:39).

Do they find God because they have sought Him with their whole heart? Or do they fear God because He has put it in their heart to do so? Who bears the responsibility? Who takes the credit? Who gets the blame?

There are many more passages that point to both human responsibility and divine sovereignty. The New Testament also speaks of this tension. John says we must receive Christ and believe in His name in order to become children of God, but it is the will of God—not the will of man—that brings about the new birth:

But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God (Jn. 1:12-13).

In John 6, Jesus calls people to take action: to come to Him, believe in Him, and eat the bread of life. He promises that whoever comes will be welcomed and blessed; it is an open invitation to everyone. Yet at the same time, He says that the only way to come to Him is by being drawn by the Father and given to the Son:

I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst (Jn. 6:35).

All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out (Jn. 6:37).

No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him (Jn. 6:44).

The disciples ask Jesus, “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?” (Jn. 6:28). When Jesus answers, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent” (Jn. 6:29), does He mean that believing in Him is the work we must do, or that creating faith in our hearts is the work of God?

Paul also expresses the interplay between human choice and divine working:

Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure (Phil. 2:12-13).

We see the two principles at work in this passage:

Work out your own salvation [man’s will and work].
It is God who works in you [God’s will and work].

 Some emphasize the sovereignty of God. Others emphasize the free will of man. What is the truth?


*Note the six times in John 6 that talk about “coming” to Jesus (“come/comes to me”—Jn. 6:35, 37a, 37b, 44, 45, 65). Which verses speak of a person’s choice to come to Christ? Which verses speak of God’s work of drawing the person to Christ?

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