The Evangelical Universalist Forum

"The heart is deceitful above all things"

Jeremiah 17:9 bothers me. The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it? This verse is big with Calvinists, who argue that the strong intuition that double predestination would be evil has no place in forming doctrine. What are your thoughts? Paul’s words in Romans 2 about the conscience seem to contradict Jeremiah 17:9.

I think Calvinist intuitions that we should ignore our heart’s sense that double predestination sounds perverse shows how deceitful hearts can be :wink:

And more seriously, I agree that as often happens with Scriptures, Romans 2 (as well as Jesus’ words on our abilities to observe and draw reasonable conclusions) appears in tension with Jeremiah 17 and begs us to seek a reasonable balance in the Bible’s perspectiveS about human abilities and responsibilities.

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Can you post the verses?

Yes, I’m thinking of Jesus’ questions, such as “Why don’t you judge for yourselves what is right?” (Luke 12:56,57) which implies that his hearers have this innate ability to judge what is right.

Indeed, he regularly appeals to their ability to reason, here: “You know how to interpret the appearance of the earth and sky” suggests that they should also know how to interpret spiritual truths and events. He declares that despite the evil component in them, “you know” what a “good gift” to your child means (Matt 7:11). Thus he reasons that you have a basis for evaluating what to believe about God!

Similarly, when Jesus presents the rationale for rejecting the Bible’s food laws, he invites them to depend upon their reason, “Don’t you see that what you eat enters the mouth, goes into the stomach, and then out of the body”?!" (Matt 15:17) He reasons that such beliefs never made any sense.


Well I’m on a Channing ‘roll’ today, so here goes:
“We object strongly to the contemptuous manner in which human reason is often spoken of by our adversaries, because it leads, we believe, to universal skepticism. If reason be so dreadfully darkened by the fall, that its most decisive judgments on religion are unworthy of trust, then Christianity, and even natural theology, must be abandoned; for the existence and veracity of God, and the divine original of Christianity, are conclusions of reason, and must stand or fall with it. If revelation be at war with this faculty, it subverts itself, for the great question of its truth is left by God to be decided at the bar of reason. It is worthy of remark, how nearly the bigot and the skeptic approach. Both would annihilate our confidence in our faculties, and both throw doubt and confusion over every truth. We honor revelation too highly to make it the antagonist of reason, or to believe that it calls us to renounce our highest powers.”

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The deceitfulness of sin might be more like a disease which Jeremiah is describing in it’s advanced stages.
Not everybody is as bad as that verse describes, but I think we all have the capacity to become that bad if we don’t stay humble before God.

Would you believe that was my sermon two weeks ago?
The Matthew 15 part that is. Clean and unclean.
Sorry not trying to be self referential but I just feel like these themes are so uncannily harmonic. I will be thinking about something Ive never thought about much and then read a book or read you guys here and its like your talking about the very same things I was thinking about. That seems far more common now that Im exploring universalism.
Let him who has an ear hear what the spirit is saying.

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@Bob_Wilson so in light of those verses and Romans 2, what are we to make of Jeremiah’s words about the heart? Was he mistaken?

Jeremiah was talking about me. I know that’s never been said before in any commentary, but now you know.

When Scriptures conflict, yes, it’s possible that one view is better than another, and here Jeremiah could be thought mistaken in being hyperbolic. But the more charitable hermaneutic is to try to recognize that both texts may contain important correct insights. As I put it above, this case “begs us to seek a reasonable balance in the Bible’s perspectiveS about human abilities and responsibilities.”

My sense here is that Jeremiah points toward an important Biblical theme, human fallibility and our vulnerability to internal corruption and deception. At the same time, other texts affirm that we still have an internal capacity to make judgments, and our imperfection does no exempt us from the necessity of using that moral judgment as best we can. As Paul puts it, we need to honor our conscience, even though it can at times be misguided.

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The Old Testament teaches that we have a wicked and deceitful heart. But for those who have found Christ the New Testament says that God removes the old heart of stone and gives us a new heart of flesh. This is a heart of love, compassion, and humility. We don’t have an ugly and wicked heart. But one that is lovely, good, and beautiful.

You beat me to it!

We Christians have a new heart, a new nature. Regarding the heart, Romans describes the miraculous work of the Spirit:

Romans 2:29
No, a person is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code. Such a person’s praise is not from other people, but from God.

I think circumcision of the heart by the Spirit, i.e., “the new birth into a living hope” (1 Pe. 1:3), is what is also being foretold by Jeremiah’s contemporary here:

Ezekiel 36:26
I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.

However, we know that our new nature can be repressed by sin:

Hebrews 3:13
But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called “Today,” so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.

Amen to all that. Even when Paul speaks of his body of death warring against the desire to please God, it testifies that the new nature is at the core of who we are regardless of what the flesh trips us up with.

One thing I regret about bible chapter and verse organization is how Romans 8 was split from Romans 7. Everything in Romans 7 is the reason behind the “Therefore” in Romans 8:1 Paul was not changing the subject.

This may sound like hyper grace but I believe it should be read like this paraphrase:
“If I do that which I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it but sin living in me, THEREFORE there is now no condemnation to them that are in Christ. For the law of the spirit of life has set me free from the law of sin and death.”

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How do you reconcile that with Hebrews 6 and 10 which seem to teach backsliders are screwed?

Quite easily I think.
First we have to measure the weight of Hebrews, an unattributed book that was hotly disputed by canonical councils. Some highly respected people in church history almost left it on the cutting room floor if my memory serves me correctly. I am not saying Hebrews is not inspired. Im just saying that when it comes to creating a standard whereby we develop the theology of backsliding and reprobation we have to weigh its authority against Pauls and Johns well attributed and undisputed letters.
Second, whoever did write Hebrews was dealing with a very specific set of issues that in my opinion should not be confused with simple moral lapses or even sinful habits. The context of the entire book was keeping Christians from returning to Judaism. The long chapters about Jesus as the better high priest and explaining the sufficiency of his once-for-all sacrifice tell us this is addressed to an audience who are falling into the web of the Judaizers.
The phrase about no sacrifice being left for sin sounds really scary and I think has tormented not a few young believers. But when we realize he is not talking to stumbling Christians or even carnal Christians but to Christians who were literally turning away from Christ back to Levitical priesthood for justification before God you have a much better sense of why he was so severe in this warning.
How could a person taste the power of the coming age and then say, “You know I think I like the Old Covenant way better.”? Thats the actual trampling of Christs blood. Not slipping up and sinning too many times ala Romans 7.
Anyway thats my take, but there could be a better explanation.

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@PastorMark along those lines, I’ve read some people say ‘sinning willfully’ in that context meant returning to the OC. Not sure how I feel about that. Militating against Heb 6 and 10 are several verses in the Epistles that affirm backsliders can be saved.

Theres plenty of scripture in the New Testament that pleads against sin and compromise and loss of passion well enough. These are indispensable. However when a passage says “Cross this line and theres no turning back and no hope left” we must weigh it for context and comparison against the vast body of references that establish assurance of salvation and grace for weak and failed people. One passage of warning should not erase chapters of assurance and grace. Some would even go as far as saying those passages in Hebrews argue against justification by faith alone. I do not agree, but thats because I believe they are only applicable to people who turn back to Judaism and leave grace by faith alone.

“When we are faithless, He is faithful, for He cannot deny Himself”
Paul said that is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance.

I have yet to study this out, but I wonder if there is a also a case to be made that the chronology of Pauls writing might reveal a maturation of grace in his attitude towards people who fail his expectations. He rejected Mark only to later ask him to be brought back into the ministry. The thorn in His flesh may have been a turning point in his stridency. I wonder even if Universalism began to dawn on him more and more as time went on. Perhaps Paul spoke of his theological development as progressive and ongoing when he said, “I will go on to visions and revelations from the Lord” 2 Cor.12
Again I really haven’t mapped things out but that thought keeps stirring within me.

Regarding the idea of a genuine Christian losing his salvation and going to hell, folks might find this take from Paul Ellis of New Zealand reassuring:

Hebrews 6:4-6

Hebrews 10:26

I appreciate the authors desire to relieve fear and condemnation but I think he states amiss that the passages in question are only about people who heard and rejected but never got saved. The audience of the letter seems to be Hebrew Christians who have tasted of the power of the coming age and the heavenly gift and “shared in the Holy Spirit”. That is not a description of the never-been-saved.

Since this thread mentions "hyper-grace’…and some ‘embrace’ it here, on this forum…here’s the Got Questions take on it!