A prevalent problem in the church today is the individual who possesses a hardened heart. In addition to the many non-Christians with hardened hearts, there are many Christians whose hearts have become hardened because of a failure totally to commit their lives to God, with the possibility of being completely unaware of their hardened condition.
Pharaoh’s heart was hardened (Exod. 4.21; 8.15), because of his resistance to the demands made upon him by God. The word ‘hard’, when used in reference to the heart or will of man means: stubborn, stout resistance, obstinate, blind, gradual loss of spiritual perception, insensibility, and want of conviction. In the manner of Pharaoh, many have become hardened by their continual stubbornness, insensibility, and sin.
The writer to the Hebrews insists that we “…exhort one another day by day, so long as it is called Today; lest any one of you be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin” (Heb. 3.13). The warning against being hardened is so vital that the writer repeats the words, “harden not you hearts”, three times in the context (Heb. 3.8, 15; 4.7).
The importance of the subject suggests that we understand the different ways of being hardened, the causes of it, and the preventives and cures for the hardened heart.
Examples of the Hardened Heart
(1) The person who refuses to obey the gospel becomes hardened.
There are many people who hear the gospel preached over and over again, yet never obey. We cannot understand why, and may begin to wonder if they are even listening. They have refused to obey so often that they have become insensitive to the message, and it soon means nothing to them at all.
(2) Some Christians become involved immorally and soon become hardened.
Such Christians may be attending the public worship service, yet secretly be involved in fornication, drugs, drunkenness, etc. There have been known cases of an individual involved in fornication or adultery as long as a year who seemed to be an active and devout Christian.
When the sin is discovered we are amazed at how a person can be so hypocritical. Such ones have become as those of whom Paul spoke in 2 Timothy 3.5: “holding a form of godliness, but having denied the power thereof…” These have become so hardened in heart that they no longer feel guilty about the sin they have committed.
(3) There are some who become hardened in their sins of omission.
Such sins would include forsaking the assembly, failing to give properly, unwillingness to study the Bible, and neglecting to do good works. Such sins are as harmful as the so-called sins of immorality. James says, “But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deluding your own selves” (1.22).
Cause of the Hardened Heart
The Bible states quite simply what makes one’s heart become hardened. The inspired writer declares in Hebrews 3.13: “… lest any one of you be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.” Paul says in Ephesians 4.22: “that ye put away, as concerning your former manner of life, the old man, that waxeth corrupt after the lusts of deceit.”
Sin is deceitful because it makes promises it cannot fulfill. It offers pleasure which quickly fades away. It takes us further that we ever imagined, when we first participated in the sin. Sin is camouflaged by pleasure, and is constantly searching for excuses and justification. The person who first indulges in a particular sin attempts to comfort himself by saying, “It’s not really so bad”; “there’s nothing wrong with it”; “it won’t hurt anyone”; “no one will ever find out”; or “I’ll be able to change soon, before it’s too late”.
The person who is guilty of sins of omission and neglect may deceive himself by saying, “I just can’t do any better”; or “I’ve always made it okay before, so no need to change now”; or “I’m not doing any less than any one else”. After a long period of deception, the sinner becomes entirely hardened, characterized with stubbornness and insensitivity, concerning his sin and the condition of his soul.
Preventives and Cures
(1) Exhort one another.
This is the solution offered in Hebrews 3.13 to prevent one from becoming hardened. We are encouraged elsewhere in the New Testament to be responsible for the spiritual welfare of our brother: “And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and good works” (Heb. 10.24). “Ye who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness” (Gal. 6.1; cf. 1 Thess. 5.11; Jas. 5.19-20).
In spite of the many scriptures which teach us to exhort one another, a prevalent attitude among brethren is: “I don’t want to stir up any trouble”; or “If he wants to endanger his soul that’s his own business”. There must be more concern for one another in the church.
(2) Listen to exhortation.
When someone shows concern for our spiritual welfare, we need to be grateful to them and not say: “I wish you would mind your own business,” or, “he has no right to interfere with my life”. Be willing to correct an error when a brother points it out to you.
(3) Look at sin in its true sense.
If a person could look ahead to the ugly, horrible consequences of sins such as fornication and drunkenness, it might help him to abstain from the sin, or stop before becoming hardened. The deceitfulness of sin makes that a difficult task. However, a look to the future would cause many to see the fate of sin and lead them to a change in direction.
(4) Examine self.
A daily examination of one’s spiritual life would prevent many Christians from becoming hardened in their unfaithfulness. Paul advises in 2 Corinthians 13.5: “Try your own selves, whether ye are in the faith; prove your own selves.”
(5) Plan to stop sinning now – Today.
Too many of us plan to work more, give more, study more, attend more, or stop sinning, sometime in the future. The word “today”, as used by the writer to the Hebrews, proclaims the urgency of repentance and salvation. Now is the time, and today is the day to change. Harden not your heart!
Keith Hinds, 1980, “Harden Not Your Heart”, Words of Truth 16.48 (28 Nov.): 3.