The heart of stone
The problem is that as a result of the rebellion in the garden, we have been damaged. This damage affects our thoughts and emotions. As a result, we cannot respond to God properly without his grace being poured out to change us.
If you acknowledge this as true, then the functional question then becomes “what can be done about it?”
In two places in the prophetic book that bears his name, Ezekiel diagnoses our problem by telling the nation of Israel that they had hearts of stone:
If we are honest, we will admit that apart from the work of God in our lives, we possess hearts of stone that cannot respond properly to God or to others.
Behavior modification doesn’t work
Too much of the preaching I have heard over the years boils down to behavior modification, pray more, read more, give more, complain less . . . etc. To tell someone what to do without giving them the tools to do it is foolishness.
Real change cannot take place without the Grace of God working in us to transform our hearts of stone to hearts of flesh. Apart from the Gospel of Jesus Christ being operative in my life, I have little hope for real, sustained change.
Preaching to the heart
This is why it is imperative to proclaim the gospel at every available teaching opportunity. Without the transformation that results from a relationship with Jesus Christ, change can only be external, superficial and perhaps temporary. Therefore preaching that does not first proclaim that transformation will only result in external change.
Paul tells us that we require transformation by the renewing of our minds (Romans 12:1-2). From birth, our thoughts and emotions are tainted by the rebellion in the Garden. Our minds and heart (thinking and emotions) are in need of realignment.
The call to repentance
Therefore, the beginning place of preaching needs to be a call to repentance. The call to daily repentance can be seen in Jesus’ command for us to daily take up our cross (Luke 9:23). It is only after we correctly identify the source of our struggle that we can begin to apply correction. Jesus, when he began his earthly ministry, began by saying
Until we come face-to-face with our sin and have it dealt with at the Cross, we cannot truly begin to have a heart of flesh and deepen our relationship with God.
Oh, to have a heart of flesh that is in constant communion with God. One day . . .