A Right Spirit and Clean Heart


Create in me a clean heart, O God, 

and renew a right spirit within me. 

Cast me not away from your presence, 

and take not your Holy Spirit from me. 

(Ps 51:10-11)

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

When we think of the word, “holy”, we usually think of moral purity, but another definition is: “pertaining to being dedicated or consecrated to [set apart to] the service of God” (BDAG 61). The same word for holy in Greek also means saint, as well as morally pure and separate.

Moral purity and separation are fundamental ideas in the Old Testament understanding of God, as seen in Genesis: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” (Gen 1:1) Two acts of separation occur in creation: non-being is separated from being (Gen 1:1a) and the heavens and the earth are separated from one another (Gen 1:1b). Other separations—darkness and light, morning and evening, dry land and water, male and female—follow in the creation account which God declares to be good.

Contemporary attacks on the goodness of God often start by declaring these separations arbitrary and capricious, especially as they pertain to gender. The argument goes that if these separations are arbitrary, they are also discriminatory, hence not good. Therefore, the Bible teaches discrimination and cannot be considered normative for postmodern Christians.

Good separations, often referred to today as boundaries, need to be clear and concrete. In the Ten Commandments (Exod 20), the law sets forth voluntary boundaries defining who is and is not part of the household of God. This covenant between the people of Israel and God begins with a reminder of the benefits of the covenant: “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.” (Exod 20:2) The point here is that you were once slaves, but I set you free—you owe me.

A Christian interpretation of this passage takes a different twist. The Apostle Paul talks about being a slave to sin (Rom 7:14). Today we talk about slaves to an addiction, being slaves to fear, or slaves to other passions. God offers us the freedom to escape such bondage, if we seek him. 

The covenantal benefits (blessings) and strictures (curses) were laid out in greater detail in Deuteronomy. Deuteronomy, which means the second book of the law, needed to repeat the covenant for a new generation because God cursed their parents (who had lived in Egypt) for their lack of faith to die in the desert (Deut 1:20–37). Here we first read about the benefits:

And if you faithfully obey the voice of the Lord your God, being careful to do all his commandments that I command you today, the Lord your God will set you high above all the nations of the earth. And all these blessings shall come upon you and overtake you, if you obey the voice of the Lord your God. Blessed shall you be in the city, and blessed shall you be in the field…. (Deut 28:1-3)

Later in parallel fashion, we read about the strictures:

But if you will not obey the voice of the Lord your God or be careful to do all his commandments and his statutes that I command you today, then all these curses shall come upon you and overtake you. Cursed shall you be in the city, and cursed shall you be in the field… (Deut 28:15–16)

These blessings and curses are cited again in Psalm 1: Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers… (Ps 1:1)

Reminding people, especially leaders, of these blessings and curses was the primary responsibility of an Old Testament prophet. Those that kept their covenantal obligations were considered righteous under the law (Phil 3:6).

If God considered Job righteous, then why did Job end up suffering? (Job 1:1)

One response to the question of suffering is that Job’s faithfulness was tested by evil circumstances (Job 1:9) and confirmed to be true (Job 42:1-7). Another response is that suffering is a consequence of foolishness (Prov 1:7). The best response is that sin brings suffering, is part of our nature, and God’s intervention is required to overcome it, as we read:

For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another… (Job 19:25-27)

This theodicy of Job reveals God’s glory and his love for us in providing us a redeemer.

The possibility of a redeemer is prophesied by Moses (Deut 18:15) and expresses God’s forgiveness (Exod 34:7). In praying for God’s forgiveness, King David expressed most clearly God’s intervention in our moral condition, cited above in Psalm 51. David recognized that divine intervention was required for a human relationship with a holy and transcendent God. To be human means to be unholy and mortal, not holy and immortal (transcendent), like God.

Later, God intervened through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ to atone for our sin (1 Cor 15:3–10). In Christ and through the Holy Spirit, we can live in obedience to God (set free from the law) and can come before God in prayer and worship.

A Right Spirit and Clean Heart

Also see:

Preface to a Life in Tension

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net

Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com

Newsletter: https://bit.ly/HangHome_2020


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