The law of Moses was always intended to do one major thing – point the believers to the coming and sacrifice of the Savior, Jesus Christ. You’ve probably heard this before, but His sacrifice was and is the most significant event to ever happen in history. He fulfilled the law of Moses and invited all people to come to Him offering as a sacrifice “a broken heart and a contrite spirit.”
I’ve been thinking over that phrase the last couple of weeks – “a broken heart and a contrite spirit” – and I’ve learned a few things about this phrase that I want to share with you. So let’s start with breaking it down.
Defining the Sacrifice of a Broken Heart and a Contrite Spirit
If you don’t know me well, then I should tell you that I’m a huge fan of words. Something I often do during my scripture study is look up words that I think I know the definitions of just to see if there’s more to the meaning of the word than I originally thought. You would be surprised at how much this helps my studies.
Recently, I’ve preferred to use Webster’s Dictionary 1828 for words used in the scriptures because a lot of the language in the scriptures is used based on older definitions. So I’m going to share some of my favorite definitions from that dictionary for the “sacrifice of a broken heart and a contrite spirit.” These definitions help me visualize what this sacrifice is and what it could look like, and I hope it will help you too.
There are two definitions for “sacrifice” from Webster’s Dictionary 1828 that stood out to me:
- Devote with loss
- Destroy to obtain
When we make a sacrifice to God, I think it comes in one of these forms. For example, when we pay tithing, we devote the money to the Church and to God with a loss to our personal finances. However, we do so because God has given us the commandment to pay tithing, and we want to be obedient to Him.
That is probably the more familiar type of sacrifice for us, to give with a loss to ourselves. We see this same sort of sacrifice in parenthood when parents willingly make changes in their lives for their children, even when it means giving up something they care about.
Destroying something to obtain another thing is a type of sacrifice that sounds almost violent, but it’s exactly the kind of sacrifice Christ made for us. He willingly put Himself through the destructive experiences of performing the Atonement and being crucified so that He could obtain the power to free us from sin and death.
Our sacrifices to God are not the same as Christ’s sacrifice, but we still might have times when we perform this type of sacrifice. Choosing to follow Christ even when it results in separation from your family, losing friendships when you stand up for an unpopular truth – these are the kinds of sacrifices that might require destruction so you can obtain salvation.
So when we think about giving Christ “a broken heart and a contrite spirit,” what kind of sacrifice do you that is for you? What does that sacrifice look like?
“Broken” has a short and fairly straightforward definition in Webster’s Dictionary 1828, but the phrases I found most interesting were:
- Parted by violence
- Made bankrupt
I don’t know why, but violence wasn’t something I necessarily thought of when I thought of the word broken, especially in the context of giving something broken to Christ. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized how often violence accompanied breaking.
When a glass breaks, it’s because it smashed against something with great force. When a bone breaks, it caves to a violent pressure that it can’t handle. When a family breaks, there’s a whole range of violence from arguing to physical abuse that could have happened.
And a broken heart? It can break in violent ways as well. Mortal life offers various chances for our hearts to be broken.
But that second definition is also interesting. We all know what it means to be bankrupt or broke – you have no money left.
So when your heart is broken, sometimes it might not be from violence. It could simply be that your heart is empty. Like there’s nothing left to go on with.
These are both important definitions when it comes to giving a sacrifice to Christ because He is the Great Healer – He knows how to fix a heart that’s been parted by violence and He knows how to care for a heart that has nothing left to give.
We’ve already started into the conversation about our hearts, but here are the definitions that stood out most to me for the word “heart:”
- Vital part
- Seat of the will
The heart Christ asks for is “a broken heart,” and we know now what broken can really look like. But what is Christ really asking for when He asks for our hearts? Because I’m very sure that it isn’t the mass of muscle pumping blood through our bodies.
However, our physical hearts can make a good symbol here. A physical heart is the vital organ that keeps our bodies alive. Our bodies can survive without some of our organs. It’s even possible for parts of the brain to be removed without dying. But when the heart stops – that’s it.
Now, if Christ isn’t asking for our physical hearts, what is He asking for? The most vital part of our spirits that we have. I know that still isn’t super clear, which is why I also like the second definition.
I think that our most vital part, spiritually, is our will. Our will is what we use to determine if we will follow Christ or not – if we will choose eternal life or spiritual death. A broken heart can mean a broken will – a will that has been lost or that has caved to violent pressures.
But when we bring our will to Christ, no matter how broken it is, He can revive it. Just the simple act of offering it to Him will restore some vitality into the will. Our physical hearts will be resurrected someday, but our wills can be healed now.
“Contrite” is the word I felt least familiar with when I looked up these definitions. It’s a word I’ve heard a lot, but I didn’t feel I knew the actual definition – and I was right. Here are the two definitions that stand out most here:
- Worn or bruised
- Grief and sorrow for offending God
That first definition was surprising to me. It’s actually similar to the word “broken.” The second definition is definitely more straightforward though.
When I picture a worn or bruised spirit, I think of someone who’s fought long and hard to follow Christ, but now they’re exhausted by the fight. Or maybe someone who’s been beaten down by trials or temptations.
However, the second definition suggests that it isn’t just exhaustion that makes a person contrite; it’s the recognition of weakness, sin, and imperfection that weighs the person down knowing that they’ve offended God.
I do think that both definitions fit well though. Christ brings us rest and strength, both of which we need to continue forward in our lives. But we have to offer ourselves to Him completely before we can receive His aid.
There are so many definitions for the word “spirit,” and we are definitely not going to cover all of them. Here are the two definitions we will look at:
- The immortal part of human beings
- Something with power or energy
Our spirits are immortal. We’ve always existed in some form, and we always will. I’m not sure that, when Christ asks for our spirits, He means our physical spirits. But I suppose He might be asking us to physically follow Him in our actions and faith.
But I like the second definition for this context. We talked about our wills earlier in this post. Our wills certainly have power. If we didn’t have power in our wills, it wouldn’t matter what we did with them.
When Christ asks for contrite spirits, I think He’s asking us to recognize how we’re using the power that is in us and to humble ourselves when we use that power to offend God.
Why Would Life Be Easy?
Now that we’ve defined each of these words individually, let’s talk about why these definitions matter.
I don’t know about you, but after learning about the definitions of these words, the picture in my mind of “a broken heart and a contrite spirit” has changed. It’s something much more damaged and painful than I originally thought. Something that I can’t imagine healing on my own.
It isn’t pretty. It isn’t small. It’s ugly and messy and requires everything we are.
When that’s the sacrifice Christ asks us to offer Him, how could we ever expect that life would be easy?
We aren’t supposed to come to Christ all clean and perfect – when we come to Him, we come with all our messes, sins, and pain, and then He makes us clean. Then He heals us. And eventually, He will perfect us.