A Real Return

“’If you, Israel, will return,
    then return to me,’
declares the Lord.
‘If you put your detestable idols out of my sight
    and no longer go astray,
and if in a truthful, just and righteous way
    you swear, “As surely as the Lord lives,”
then the nations will invoke blessings by him
    and in him they will boast.’

“This is what the Lord says to the people of Judah and to Jerusalem:

“’Break up your unplowed ground
    and do not sow among thorns.
Circumcise yourselves to the Lord,
    circumcise your hearts,
    you people of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem,
or my wrath will flare up and burn like fire
    because of the evil you have done—
    burn with no one to quench it…

“Jerusalem, wash the evil from your heart and be saved.
    How long will you harbor wicked thoughts?'” Jeremiah 4:1-4,14

Only God determines what a real return is. Man who is sin-stained through and through will not, and cannot, manufacture genuine repentance without heavenly grace applied. Our hearts want to hold onto just a bit of the former life, dance just another few steps with worldly tease, linger just a while longer in impure thoughts. We justify mostly returning by excusing flesh passions as natural, unavoidable.

But God’s return demands a complete turn: a naming and absolute removal of sin’s filth, a cutting off of extraneous and calloused habits, a thorough cleansing of heart and mind and every ensuing behavior. He tolerates no residue of the old, and requires that He be the sole recipient of our attention and affection. A clean heart has no room for entertaining foreign gods.

What keeps us from true repentance? What higher value do we place on a divided heart, a straddled fence of devotion? With which idols do we continue to flirt and skirt close to their fire? Where have we been deceived into believing the lies that life lived for me is more satisfying than life surrendered to Jesus and lived for others’ sake? What behaviors and choices have we abdicated to stubborn rebellion? Honesty about our sin leads to honest confession and renewed devotion. Would we heed our Savior’s call to return? (Jeremiah 5:23)

“Have mercy on me, O God,
    according to your steadfast love;
according to your abundant mercy
    blot out my transgressions.
Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,
    and cleanse me from my sin!

“For I know my transgressions,
    and my sin is ever before me.
Against you, you only, have I sinned
    and done what is evil in your sight,
so that you may be justified in your words
    and blameless in your judgment…
Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being,
    and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart.

“Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;
    wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow…
Hide your face from my sins,
    and blot out all my iniquities.
Create in me a clean heart, O God,
    and renew a right spirit within me…
Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
    and uphold me with a willing spirit.” Psalm 51:1-4,6-7,9-10,12

Oh Father, create in me a clean heart, that I might seize the life You intend with freedom and gusto, to the praise of Your grace.

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