I’ve got a problem with the classic hymn “Come Thou Fount”. It contains this famous refrain:
Prone to wander, Lord I feel it, Prone to leave the God I love
Now, let me bring you inside my slightly (or really) odd brain. Even though I love the hymn, unlike normal people, I can’t sing, “Prone to wander, Lord I feel it” without feeling conflicted.
There is a part of me that does feel prone to wander from God. Even though I have been decisively saved by God, I still sin in a multitude of incredibly stupid ways. I guess you could call this sinning being “prone to wander”.
But the more I read Scripture, the more I’m convinced that when God saved me, one of the main things he saved me from was being prone to wander.
I know, I know, it sounds like I’m speaking out of both sides of my mouth. Let me explain a bit further.
Israel Was Prone To Wander
Spend any length of time in the Old Testament and you’ll see that Israel’s greatest problem was that they were prone to wander. Actually, the word “prone” is a bit of an understatement.
The speed at which Israel could wander away from God was breathtaking.
In Exodus 12, the Lord delivers Israel from the hand of Egypt in staggering fashion, executing the first-born Egyptian sons and leading Israel on an epic “jailbreak”. He then provides them with manna from heaven, causes water to burst forth from a rock, and leads them to Mount Sinai, where he gives the law to Moses.
If anyone had reason to stay close to the Lord, it was Israel.
But what do they do when Moses clambers up the mountain to meet with God? They say to Aaron, “Up, make us gods who shall go before us. As for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.”
Then they create a golden calf and throw an orgy that would make the surrounding nation blush.
Israel couldn’t faithfully follow the Lord, and the results were catastrophic.
Prone To Wander, Prone To Idolatry
This pattern repeats itself again and again throughout the Old Testament, like some sort of apocalyptic broken record. God would deliver Israel, command them to follow him wholeheartedly, and then they would wander into idolatry.
The book of Judges shows Israel constantly deserting God. Judges 2:11-12 describes how deeply Israel was prone to wander:
And the people of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the Lord and served the Baals. And they abandoned the Lord, the God of their fathers, who had brought them out of the land of Egypt. They went after other gods, from among the gods of the peoples who were around them, and bowed down to them. And they provoked the Lord to anger.
Israel doesn’t just abandon the Lord once or twice – it happens again and again. The constant refrain throughout Judges is, “Everyone did what was right in their own eyes.”
The people of Israel simply couldn’t remain faithful to God, no matter how many times God rescued them from the consequences of their sins.
Prophets like Jeremiah and Ezekiel didn’t pull any punches when describing Israel’s constant wandering. In Jeremiah 13:27, Jeremiah uses graphic terms to describe Israel’s unfaithfulness to God:
I have seen your abominations, your adulteries and neighings, your lewd whorings, on the hills in the field. Woe to you, O Jerusalem! How long will it be before you are made clean?”
To say that Israel was prone to wander is a colossal understatement. The Lord describes their unfaithfulness not just as wandering, but as “whoring”.
They simply could not remain faithful to the God who had saved them. If God was going to have a people for himself, something desperately needed to change.
God Writes The Law On Our Hearts
The reason Israel was so prone to wander was that the law of God was outside of them, carved into stone tablets. They didn’t have the inner power necessary to keep the law.
To remedy this dire, hopeless situation, God promised that he would make a new covenant with his people. In this covenant, God will move the law from stone tablets to the hearts of his people.
In Jeremiah 31:33, the Lord gloriously says:
For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people.
In Ezekial 36:26, the Lord says:
And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.
The heart of the new covenant is new hearts – hearts that are not prone to wander! Hearts that have the law burned upon them and that delight in obeying God. Hearts that are dead to sin and alive to God.
The New Testament describes this spiritual heart surgery as being born again or made alive. It uses terms of profound ontological (who we are as people) change, like dark to light and death to life. When God saves us, he changes us at the very core of our being. Whereas once we couldn’t and wouldn’t obey God, now we delight to do his will. Our identity in Christ has completely changed.
This doesn’t mean that we don’t sin. It doesn’t mean that we don’t still encounter temptation. It does mean that our response to temptation has fundamentally changed. The Holy Spirit, who dwells within us, both convicts us of sin and gives us the power to put it to death.
This is why Paul can say in Romans 8:13:
For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.
The people of Israel didn’t have the Holy Spirit dwelling within them and thus didn’t have the power to put to death the deeds of the body. They were prone to wander. Not so with us. The almighty, gloriously powerful Holy Spirit dwells in us, giving us the power to put to death the deeds of the flesh.
Does It Really Matter If We Sing “Prone To Wander”?
I imagine that some of you are thinking, Well this seems like a whole lot of theological nitpicking. Can’t we all just get along?
You’re right: I am being a little nitpicky regarding the phrase, “Prone to wander.” It won’t stop me from continuing to joyfully sing “Come Thou Fount”.
But I believe that the way we see ourselves dramatically influences our ability to fight sin and pursue holiness. In fact, self-identity is at the heart of Paul’s exhortation to holiness in Romans 6.
In Romans 6:11-12, Paul says:
So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions.
The starting place for overcoming sin and temptation is considering ourselves dead to sin. There are many times when it doesn’t feel like we’re dead to sin. When the temptation is so strong that it feels like we have to give into it.
In those moments, we must remember that we have died to sin and been made alive to God. Our old selves that were prone to wander have died with Christ. Now we are alive to God and have the power to put sin to death. Our feelings aren’t actually true. We don’t have to let sin have the upper hand.
So, no, I’m not going to stop singing the wonderful hymn, “Come thou fount.” But when we get to the phrase, “Prone to wander,” I’m going to call these glorious truths to mind. Unlike Israel, I am united to Christ and have the Holy Spirit dwelling in me.
Yes, I’m still tempted to sin and still give in to its siren song at times.
But at the core of my being, I’m a new person.
I’m not prone to wander.