God’s Work of Regeneration is the Difference Between Life and Death!
By Richard Allen – November 13, 2023
This installment in our Parable of the Soils Study should not come as a surprise to anyone who has paid attention to what we’ve learned so far. In the Parable of the Soils Study #3, the subtitle was: “So What Is It With The Heart?” We should all know by now that the “Heart” is the source and essence of our relationship with God. So the very focus of Jesus’ teaching in the Parable of the Different Soils (i.e. Hearts) is how each Soil rejected, received or choked the Seed (i.e. Word of the Kingdom). Now, after describing the condition of the first three Soils: The “Hard-Hearted-Hearer,” the “Shallow-Hearted-Hearer” and the “Divided-Heart-Hearer,” we have confirmed that it is the nature of the Soil that determines the planting, growth and harvest that will result. Good Soil will: 1.) Receive the seed, 2.) Allow the seed to take root, 3.) Provide the seed unencumbered growth. And 4.) Yield a bountiful harvest. But as I pointed out in Study #7, Jesus Himself identified the good soil as being different from the other three portions of Soil. Jesus’ words in Luke’s Gospel Chapter 8 explain why the fourth portion of Soil produces fruit,“ but also raises the question: “Who are these honest, good-hearted people?”
“And the seeds that fell on the good soil represent honest, good-hearted people who hear God’s word, cling to it, and patiently produce a huge harvest.” (Luke 8:15).
Last week I also introduced the reader to a parallel passage in the Book of Jeremiah Chapter 4, where the Prophet admonishes his hearers to repent and return to God, then tells them:
“For thus says the Lord to the men of Judah and Jerusalem: ‘Break up your fallow ground, and sow not among thorns. Circumcise yourselves to the Lord; remove the foreskin of your hearts, O men of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem; lest my wrath go forth like fire, and burn with none to quench it, because of the evil of your deeds’ ” (Jeremiah 4:4-5).
In the style of many Hebrew Scriptures, the prophet Jeremiah tells wayward Israel that they needed to “break up their fallow (hardened) ground, and not sow seed among thorns.” But then the Prophet adds “Circumcise yourself to the Lord, remove the foreskin of your hearts.” It’s clear that preparing hardened, fallow and thorny ground so it may receive and nurture the seed – is identical to “Circumcising the foreskin of your heart” to receive the Word. I closed last week’s study stating that since this is the case, we need to understand what ‘circumcision of the heart’ is. This ‘circumcision of the heart’ produces “good-hearted people.” This is the key to understanding this week’s Blog.
The Circumcision of the Heart
I hope to establish that several Theological Terms, as well as Biblical Concepts in both the Old and New Testament Scriptures, are synonymous with the Circumcision of the Heart, including: Regeneration, Writing God’s Law on the Fleshy Tables of the Heart, The New Birth, Having Eyes to See and Ears to Hear, Being Born Again, The New Man, Spiritual Transformation, Taking away a heart of stone and giving a heart of flesh and Being Baptized By the Spirit. Circumcision of the Heart is a term used several times in the Old Testament, starting in the Book of Deuteronomy:
“And now, Israel, what does the Lord your God require of you, but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to keep the commandments and statutes of the Lord, which I am commanding you today for your good? Behold, to the Lord your God belong heaven and the heaven of heavens, the earth with all that is in it. Yet the Lord set his heart in love on your fathers and chose their offspring after them, you above all peoples, as you are this day. Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart, and be no longer stubborn. For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God, who is not partial and takes no bribe” (Deuteronomy 10:12-17).
“And the Lord your God will bring you into the land that your fathers possessed, that you may possess it. And he will make you more prosperous and numerous than your fathers. And the Lord your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, so that you will love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live” (Deuteronomy 30:5-6).
These verses are especially significant, as Deuteronomy, literally “The Second Law,” was the Law God had Moses reinstitute for the Children of Israel after they had completely violated the law in “making and worshiping the golden calf.” It was clear that Israel would never attain a “righteous standing before God” by human effort or Law-Keeping. They needed something much more in order to please God than outward “works of the law.” It’s apparent they needed – and God wanted a relationship of love and obedience – from their Hearts! So, God not only admonishes them, but tells them that “He will circumcise their hearts and the hearts of their children in order that they will love the Lord their God with all their heart and soul and might live.” Nothing short of His work in human hearts would ever bring fallen men and women into a heart relationship with God! This heart relationship involves God the Holy Spirit changing us from the inside out. Without this change, our best efforts are filthy rags before God – even our best religious works!
I hope we can see the dilemma that the Parable of the Soils presents. The Word of the Kingdom is able to save us if we believe! But just mental assent, or momentary religious experience won’t cut it. We need a complete transformation by the Spirit of God, making us new creatures in Christ. When the Sower goes forth sowing the Seed (Word), how exactly does God, the Master-Gardener, change the soil of our fallen hearts to make it receptive? And when does He make this change? It appears to be obvious that He must change the nature of the Soil before He plants the Seed, but we don’t see God doing any plowing or breaking up of the hardened soil of our hearts. It’s here that many other passages in the New Testament shed light on this wonderful work theologians call: Regeneration. Let’s look first at 1 Peter 1:23, which explains what this preparation looks like, and infers when it happens:
“Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from the heart, since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding Word of God” (1 Peter1:22-23).
That’s an amazing passage, packed with Biblical truth. First, the Apostle Peter tells believers that they have purified their hearts by “obedient faith in the truth.” Not stopping there, he goes on to admonish them to love one another earnestly from the heart – since they were “born again,” not by perishable seed, but Imperishable Seed, the living and abiding Word of God! It’s clear from this passage that the Word of God is the Imperishable Seed, not like earthly seed that can decay and become unusable. No, the Word of God in the hands of the Holy Spirit of God is Imperishable, Eternal and infused with Power! This completely agrees with our Parable of the Soils. But it also casts new light on our Parable: The same Seed which is the Word of the Kingdom – the Gospel of Jesus Christ – not only is the only message that can save, but it is also the vehicle that brings about the New Birth!
This “New Birth” by the Word of God is the work of God in Circumcising our Hearts! This work is also what physical circumcision “prefigured” from the start of God’s dealing with Israel. He longed for the day when sin would be fully atoned for, and His Spirit could once again dwell with His people, bringing them to “newness of life” and making them truly Jews, that is, those in Covenant Heart-Relation to Him. Here’s what Paul tells the Roman Gentile believers who were struggling with the old distinctions between Jew and Gentile, somehow imagining that these distinctions in physical lineage (i.e. in the flesh), were actually important:
“For no one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly, nor is circumcision outward and physical. But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter. His praise is not from man but from God” (Romans 2:28-29).
In wrapping up this study, let me honestly say that this was what the Prophet Jeremiah was foretelling in Jeremiah 4:4. It was the day when God would “circumcise the foreskin of His people’s hearts” and ”break up the fallow ground of their natural, sinful hearts so they might Hear, Respond, and Believe the Gospel of Jesus Christ.” For those men and women in whom God has miraculously applied the “Plow of Regeneration” in the Soil of their Hearts, the Word of the Kingdom – that is, the Word of Jesus’ so-great Salvation – finds ample room to sprout and grow in their hearts. These alone are the blessed believers who have an “honest and good heart.” There is no other way to obtain an “honest and good heart” but by the Spirit of God preparing our hearts for a bountiful harvest!
Soli Deo Gloria!