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What does it mean to return to God with your whole heart (Jeremiah 24:7)?

return to God with your whole heart

Through Jeremiah’s vision of the good figs and the bad figs (Jeremiah 24:1–10), God encourages the prophet with a promise to care for a remnant of His people in exile. The Lord would work in their hearts and one day bring them back to their land: “I will set my eyes on them for good, and I will bring them back to this land. I will build them up, and not tear them down; I will plant them, and not pluck them up. I will give them a heart to know that I am the Lord, and they shall be my people and I will be their God, for they shall return to me with their whole heart” (verses 6–7, ESV).

Inspired by this vision, Jeremiah writes a letter from Jerusalem to the exiles in Babylon, urging them to live peacefully and patiently in the land because God has good plans for their future (Jeremiah 29:1–14). Again, through Jeremiah, the Lord calls the people to return to Him with their whole hearts: “Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you . . . and will bring you back from captivity” (verses 12–14). The prophet Joel delivers a similar call to repentance: “‘Even now,’ declares the Lord, ‘return to me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning. Rend your heart and not your garments. Return to the Lord your God’” (Joel 2:12–13).

In these passages, repentance from sin is conceived as returning to God with a whole heart. Interestingly, in Jeremiah’s vision, the Lord Himself begins the work of repentance by changing their hearts. God did the same for the children of Israel when they disobeyed the covenant under Moses. The Lord promised to circumcise their hearts so they would love Him and return to Him with their whole hearts and souls (Deuteronomy 30:1–10). True repentance that turns us away from sin and back to God begins when the Lord changes our hearts. He gives us “an undivided heart” and “a new spirit,” removing our stony hearts and replacing them with “a heart of flesh” (Ezekiel 11:19; see also Ezekiel 36:26; Jeremiah 32:38–39).

The great longing of God’s heart is for people who are far away in spiritual rebellion to repent of their sins and return to a place of wholehearted obedience and devotion to the Lord (Luke 15:11–32). This theme weaves throughout the entire Bible (Nehemiah 1:9; Zechariah 1:3; Malachi 3:7; 1 John 1:9). In His loving grace, God leads us to repentance (Titus 2:11–14; 1 Peter 5:10). In His goodness and kindness, He draws us back to Himself (John 6:44; Romans 2:4). By working in our hearts to change our minds about sin, He does for us that which we cannot do for ourselves. He creates in us new hearts, clean and pure (Psalm 51:10), so that we want to return to Him, our source of life, and love Him with all our hearts.

Returning to God with our whole heart indicates the sincerity of our repentance and devotion to the Lord (Jeremiah 3:10; 1 Kings 8:46–50). God wants us to love Him and dedicate ourselves to Him with everything we’ve got—heart, soul, mind, and strength (Deuteronomy 6:5; 13:3; Matthew 22:37). Samuel urged the people to “worship the Lord with all your heart, and don’t turn your back on him” (1 Samuel 12:20, NLT).

A whole heart for God is an undivided heart (Psalm 86:11). Too often, our hearts become divided through sin and distracted by the things of this world. Just like the stubborn and rebellious children of Israel, we lose interest in what God wants. If we find ourselves in this predicament—more interested in pleasing ourselves than pleasing God—we must surrender our divided hearts to God.

Do you need to return to God with a whole heart? Then heed the apostle Paul’s plea to “live in a right way in undivided devotion to the Lord” (1 Corinthians 7:35). Let God change your heart as you repent from sin and follow James’ urging to “come close to God, and God will come close to you. Wash your hands, you sinners; purify your hearts, for your loyalty is divided between God and the world” (James 4:8, NLT).

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Questions about Jeremiah

What does it mean to return to God with your whole heart (Jeremiah 24:7)?
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This page last updated: August 1, 2023