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In recent days, we have seen God, through Ezekiel, promise new leadership (chapter 34) and a return to the land (35:1–36:14). These were glorious promises, but were they enough to ensure the ongoing well-being of God’s people? After all, they had previously had good kings (David, Hezekiah, Josiah, etc.) and had inhabited the Promise Land, but those blessings had not prevented the exile. Would this time be any different?

The text before us this morning (36:16–38) gives the answer. This time would be different because, as he restored his people to the land with a new Shepherd-King, he would change their hearts. He would give them new hearts and put a new spirit within them, enabling them to walk in his statutes. He would do everything that was necessary to produce actual change.

It is important to observe that God was motivated in this primarily by the glory of his name. This was true of the promise of a new Shepherd-King (34:30) and of the promised return to the land (35:15; 36:11). It was also the driving motivator behind God’s promise of a new heart and new spirit (36:21–22). Motivated by concern for his holy name (36:16–21), the Lord would produce genuine change in the hearts of his restored people (vv. 22–38).

Israel had profaned God’s name by its idolatry, which led to exile, but exile was itself a continuing profaning of his name. God had inextricably linked his name to his people by his covenant, and the land was a part of the covenant. The fact that they were not in the land (as a result of God’s covenant faithfulness) gave the surrounding nations cause to question God’s holiness. Who was this God who could not keep his people in the land he had given to them (v. 20)? It was therefore essential to the glory of his name to return the people to their land. Duguid is correct: “The root of God’s action in restoring his people is grounded not in his love (which might suggest something lovable about the object of his affections) but in a demonstration of his holiness.”

To prevent another exile, in which God’s people were removed from their land, giving cause for surrounding nations to question his holiness, God would produce real change in their hearts. This would ensure that his name was not again profaned as it had been during exile.

It is this God-wrought change that gives us room for encouragement in this text this morning. The language of new heart and spirit (v. 26) and of God’s Spirit dwelling in his people so that they carefully obey his rules (v. 27) is the language of new covenant. Under the new covenant, God’s Spirit indwells us to produce certain change. His presence with us causes us to walk in God’s statutes and to obey his rules. He gives us power to change.

We live in a world that recognises the need for change, but which ordinarily ascribes to us the power to change ourselves. To be sure, assistance is offered, but we must ultimately find within our own willpower the ability to change. Weight Watchers will help, but only if we have the willpower to change. Alcoholics Anonymous will offer assistance, but only to those who find within themselves the will to change. We must dig deep enough to find the resolve to change.

The gospel offers a different message. While cooperation with the Spirit is necessary for us to embrace real change, it is ultimately the Spirit who empowers that change. We can change because God gives us all we need to change. As Peter said, “his divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence” (2 Peter 1:3). We can change because, in his Spirit, God has given us what we need to change. His Spirit will use the Scriptures and the saints to affect our change, but the power is his.

God’s Spirit continually transforms his people, giving them the ability to produce Christlike fruit (2 Corinthians 3:18). He gives us the ability to resist sin (John 16:7–8). He opens our eyes to the truth, which shows our need to change and how to do so (John 16:12–15). He empowers our prayers for change, making them effective before God (Romans 8:26). He changes our desires so that we want to live a life that is pleasing to God (Romans 15:13).

As you meditate on Ezekiel 36:16–38 this morning, thank God for the gift of the Spirit, who empowers us to change. Ask for grace to keep in step with the Spirit so that you will walk in God’s statutes and obey his rules.