“This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time, declares the Lord. I will put my laws in their minds and write them on their hearts.” (Hebrews 8:10)
One of the great cries of the human heart is to become a better person and to fulfill our ideal of what it means to be a proper human being. Alfred Tennyson, the English poet laureate, expressed this desire once in the words, “Oh that a man would arise in me that the man I am may cease to be.” Tennyson longed to become his better self – unencumbered by sin and failure.
But is such an ideal possible? The Bible says it is and that we realise it, not by self-effort or re-education, but by embracing the promise of God’s New Covenant. “This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time, declares the Lord. I will put My laws in their minds and write them on their hearts” (31:33).
To understand the promise of the New Covenant, we need to appreciate the role of God’s law in His dealings with us since the beginning of time. When God created Adam, He made him in His image and after His likeness. In that sense, Adam’s heart was programmed to fulfill the law of God. There was no written law in the Garden of Eden. Since Adam was created in God’s image, the most natural thing for Adam to do was to imitate God. God’s law controlled his mind and regulated his heart. Indeed, God could have said of him, as He once said of Christ, “This is My beloved son in whom I am well pleased.”
However, after the fall, man’s heart was corrupted. Moses tells us in Genesis 6:5, “The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” Adam’s nature had undergone a profound change. Perhaps you are thinking, “What happened to the law of God which had been placed in Adam’s heart?” It was still there, but in a diminished way. The apostle Paul tells us in Romans 2:14-15 that while the memory of the law was still in men’s hearts, it was overruled by our evil desires. It was like a computer file that contained correct information but had been corrupted so that it could not work with other programs. The law was unable to control our desires.
Mercifully, God decided to deal with this problem. The first step He took was designed to show us the true dimensions of our sin problem. It took place on Mt Sinai when God gave Israel His law in the form of two tablets written on stone. Whereas He had put His law in Adam’s heart so that he could freely obey God, when God gave Israel the law on stone tablets it remained outside them. Further, the law on the stone tablets had no power to change people’s hearts. It simply threatened and condemned them. Nevertheless, it did serve a vital purpose in God’s plans – it showed Israel how sinful they were and it pointed them to their Saviour and Messiah, Jesus Christ.
Now, in Christ, God does something for us that we cannot do for ourselves. God says, “I will put my laws in their minds and write them on their hearts.” We cannot renew our hearts any more than we could perform a heart transplant on ourselves. Putting the law back into our hearts is a job that only God can do. He does it when He renews us by the Holy Spirit – “He sheds His love abroad in our hearts by his Holy Spirit, whom He has given us” (Romans 5:5). Thank God for that.