“He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound . . . to give them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they may be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that He may be glorified” (Isaiah 61:1–3).
AS FAR AS GOD IS CONCERNED, NONE OF US IS A HOPELESS CASE. If our hearts have been ruined by sin, He can rebuild them. And not only can He give us “beauty for ashes” and “the oil of joy for mourning,” but He desires to do so. Yet we should not be naive. God’s help is not unconditional, and it can’t be enjoyed without commitment on our part. A renovated heart does not come from:
Wishful thinking. Whatever has gone wrong in our lives, it is possible to recover from our mistakes, but more is required than simple dreaming. An actual “conversion,” or turning, must take place. The apostle Peter said, “Repent therefore and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord” (Acts 3:19). In the Scriptures, there are no “times of refreshing” without radical repentance.
Faith only. In the New Testament, we find a clear pattern with regard to conversion. Beginning with Pentecost (Acts 2:37–39) and continuing through each subsequent account of conversion (Acts 8:35–39; 16:14,15; etc.), those who had heard the gospel and were convicted of their sinfulness were told to be baptized in order to receive the remission of their sins. Paul, for example, was told by Ananias, “And now why are you waiting? Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord” (Acts 22:16). If we want God to reconstruct our broken-down hearts, we must be on the inside of a forgiven relationship with Him, and in the New Testament, baptism was always the door through which that relationship had to be entered (Romans 6:3,4; Galatians 3:27).
Let us not miss the point, however. When we turn to God, faithfully obeying the gospel, what we’re seeking salvation from is the wreckage of our own hearts. And the wonder of the gospel is that God can do this. He can rebuild a heart that we have wrecked.
“O Lord, the house of my soul is narrow; enlarge it that you may enter in. It is ruined, O repair it! It displeases your sight; I confess it, I know. But who shall cleanse it, or to whom shall I cry but unto you? Cleanse me from my secret faults, O Lord, and spare your servant from strange sin” (Augustine of Hippo).