The Hardening of the Human Heart

Published: 01st February 2012
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There are passages in the Bible that are frightening. Heb. 3:12-13 is one such passage. "Beware, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God; but exhort one another daily, while it is called 'TODAY,' lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin." (NKJV) This is a passage addressed to Christians but the idea that the heart can be hardened by sin is applicable to all men.

The fact that a man can be hardened by sin is scary in that the implication is that a person might well get to the point where he/she is so hardened that they can no longer repent and thus lose all possibility of being forgiven. Sufficient hardening leads to damnation. When your heart becomes so hard you cannot repent, for your heart will not allow it, you are done.

The spiritual heart of man can be likened to cement in that when cement is wet, before it has settled and dried, you can fashion it in whatever manner you choose but once it has hardened it becomes a different matter altogether.

Once a person hears the truth, whether it be about the gospel as a whole or the truth as regards a particular sin, and that person refuses to respond to the truth in an obedient manner he hardens his heart in that very act.

Sin is a hardening agent. Everyday away from God living for self, when one has heard the truth and knows better, is another day of sin, another day of the further hardening of the heart. You say you can change but the desire to do so becomes less and less as time goes by and one grows ever more comfortable in a non-Christian or unfaithful lifestyle. Sin becomes ever more comfortable as each day passes by. This is a part of the deceitfulness of sin. Things seem to go fine without God or without faithfulness. That is until the day it is too late.

In Heb. 6 the Bible speaks of Christians who have gotten themselves into a situation where it is impossible to renew them to repentance:

"For in the case of those who have once been enlightened and have tasted of the heavenly gift and have been made partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, it is impossible to renew them again to repentance, since they again crucify to themselves the Son of God, and put Him to open shame." (Heb. 6:4-6 NAS)

One does not fall away from God in a single hour, day, or week but it is a process. Let the leaven of sin do its work, let the heart become gradually hardened by it, day by day, week by week, month by month, year by year, and the end result may well be a heart too hardened to repent and who can say how long or short a period of time that may take.

The Bible speaks about God giving up on people. No doubt they had become hardened. In Rom. 1 we read words like "God also gave them up" (v. 24), "God gave them up" (v. 26), and "God gave them over" (v. 28) all talking about God giving those people up to sins of various kinds which means he ceased to exercise any restraining influence on them. The New Living Translation says "God abandoned them" in verses 24 and 26 and in verse 28 "he abandoned them." How would you like God to abandon you, to give up on you, to allow you to go on in sin with no more efforts to convert you or bring you to repentance? Would that scare you? It should.

God says in Psalms 81:11-12, "But My people would not heed My voice, And Israel would have none of Me. So I gave them over to their own stubborn heart, To walk in their own counsels." (NKJV) That God was longsuffering with his people in Israel and Judah no one can doubt who has ever read the Old Testament. Time and again in the prophets one can see God pleading with his people to repent and turn back to him but they refused to do so. There comes a time when it is too late to repent, too late because you cannot do it, because you become incapable of doing it. The heart will not allow it.

A person's heart is not something to be played with. "Keep your heart with all diligence, For out of it spring the issues of life." (Prov. 4:23 NKJV) Adam Clarke says of this verse, "'Above all keeping,' guard thy heart." The New Living Translation reads, "Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life." Think about that, your heart determines the course of your life and so it does. That is pretty serious business. If the heart wanders, if it is not steadfast, if it is not centered on God, on Christ, on the gospel, on God's will, what then? The answer is that it is then directing the course of your life towards hell. There is good reason to, "Guard your heart above all else." One's eternal destiny is at stake.

Jesus said, "Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." (Matt. 6:21 NKJV) If you look closely at the two verses just prior to Matt. 6:21 Jesus only offers two alternatives as to where a man's treasures will be, either on earth or in heaven. He says without quoting it all, "Do not lay up for yourselves treasure on earth…but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven." (Matt. 6:19-20 NKJV) A man's treasure is either going to be found on earth in the things of this world which means that is where his heart is or his treasure is going to be in heaven which means his heart is set on the spiritual life. The one pathway is inevitably going to lead to sin for it does not lead to God.

A man who has hardened his heart against God and his word is like a man carrying around a bottle of liquid nitroglycerin in his pocket. He never knows when his life will be ended and total disaster befall him. Solomon wrote, "He who hardens his heart will fall into calamity." (Prov. 28:14 NKJV) Now I want you to take note of two things from this passage. (1) There is no doubt about the calamity. It is coming. You will not escape it no matter who you are if you harden your heart. (2) Secondly, who is it that hardens his heart? It is the individual. It is not something that has to happen. You can prevent it. It is in your hands; you have the ability to prevent your heart from hardening.

Again, "He who is often reproved, and hardens his neck, Will suddenly be destroyed, and that without remedy." (Prov. 29:1 NKJV) While the text is correctly translated "hardens his neck" we understand that is just a figure of speech referring to the hardening of the heart. The New Revised Standard version reads, "One who is often reproved, yet remains stubborn, will suddenly be broken beyond healing." (Prov. 29:1) It is the heart that is stubborn but who makes it that way? Who is responsible for not listening to the word of God that reproves a man of his sins? To ask is to answer. What happens to such a man? He is destroyed without remedy. That ought to scare us.

Without the word of God we would not even know there was such a thing as sin or that we were going to be judged by God's word. It is God's word that reproves a man, that tells him he is wrong and needs to change, that he needs to repent? What do you think, should a man harden his heart against the things he reads in the Bible? It is just a matter of time for the hardened man who refuses to listen to the word of God, just a matter of time.

"But in accordance with your hardness and your impenitent heart you are treasuring up for yourself wrath in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God." (Rom. 2:5 NKJV) The impenitent heart is a hard heart. It will not obey God and its reward is wrath. That reward begins at the day of death. He will be as was the rich man who desired of Lazarus some water for his tongue for he said, "I am tormented in this flame." (Luke 16:24 NKJV) That time of torment for the hard-hearted man or woman could begin in the next few minutes for no one knows the minute of his death. My niece died in apparently perfect health while asleep on a couch at the age of 33. The autopsy found no apparent cause of death. According to the autopsy report she ought to be alive but she is not. When your heart quits beating you are dead no matter what state of health you may think you are in or your doctor says you are in.

An impenitent heart is a choice. A hard heart is a choice. God knows a man's heart. Peter said at the Jerusalem council in Acts 15 in speaking of God's acceptance of the Gentiles, "So God, who knows the heart, acknowledged them." (Acts 15:8 NKJV) The Psalmist, David, said, "He knows the secrets of the heart." (Psalms 44:21 NKJV) Then we are told, "All things are naked and open to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account." (Heb. 4:13 NKJV) David in speaking to his son Solomon said, "The Lord searches all hearts and understands all the intent of the thoughts." (1 Chron. 28:9 NKJV) One can fool other men as to his motives and as to what he thinks. He can mislead, deceive, and even tell outright lies but he cannot fool God for God knows--he has searched out every man's heart.

One of the big questions then that a man faces is am I honest with myself? Am I honest with God's word as it applies to me? If I am not I am simply going to die in my sin or sins. There is no way around it. In God's eyes it is the wicked man who "hardens his face." (Prov. 21:29 NKJV) We can please men or we can please God. We can please self or we can please God. Whatever we do we must remember the question Job asked, one which we must answer, "Who has hardened himself against Him and prospered?" (Job 9:4 NKJV)

I want to close this article out with a short discussion of Zedekiah, the last king of Judah, a man who hardened his heart against God. I quote the following text:

"Zedekiah was twenty-one years old when he became king, and he reigned eleven years in Jerusalem. He also did evil in the sight of the LORD his God, and did not humble himself before Jeremiah the prophet, who spoke from the mouth of the LORD. And he also rebelled against King Nebuchadnezzar, who had made him swear an oath by God; but he stiffened his neck and hardened his heart against turning to the LORD God of Israel." (2 Chron. 36:11-13 NKJV)

The kingdom was at that time a tributary to Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonians. Zedekiah rebelled against Nebuchadnezzar paying no heed to Jeremiah, God's spokesman. Jerusalem was laid siege to around 18 months before being taken. When the city was taken Zedekiah was captured while trying to flee. All of Zedekiah's sons were executed before his very eyes and then his own eyes were put out and he was carried captive to Babylon. I remind you of what Job said, "Who has hardened himself against Him and Prospered?" (Job 9:4 NKJV) Not Zedekiah.

Zedekiah "hardened his heart against turning to the Lord." Was there a reason he could not have turned to the Lord? Was there something preventing such a turning? Not a thing in the world. Jeremiah was there urging just such a turn all of the time. Until a man gives in to the word of God and is willing to come into compliance with it there is no hope for him.

In this same chapter where we read about Zedekiah in 2 Chron. 36 just 2 verses below where we left off in our reading above we find the following as a follow up.

"And the LORD God of their fathers sent warnings to them by His messengers, rising up early and sending them, because He had compassion on His people and on His dwelling place. But they mocked the messengers of God, despised His words, and scoffed at His prophets, until the wrath of the LORD arose against His people, till there was no remedy." (2 Chron. 36:15-16 NKJV)

Zedekiah was not the only Jew with a hardened heart. But I have quoted this passage to make some points from it. (1) God is compassionate. He sent warnings via the prophets but they were more than warnings. Often as one reads the prophets it is as though God is begging, pleading, as though his heart is broken over his people who have left him. He yearns for them and desires their return much like a parent over a child, a child who has turned his back on the parent and broken the parent's heart.

(2) The second point is that God had done all he could. There comes a time when everything has been done that can possibly be done for an ill patient. So it is with the spiritually ill.

(3) The third point was that God's word was despised. When you get yourself in that position, where you despise what God says, how can you expect help from God for you have basically said I will not accept such help? His help is found in his word that tells us what we need to do but we are unwilling to accept his prescription.

(4) The final point, there comes a time when there is no remedy. Why not? Because of the hardness of heart.

I close now with the best advice you will ever get. It is not mine. It is God's. "Today, if you will hear His voice, Do not harden your hearts." (Heb. 4:7 NKJV) How is your heart today? It is the pure in heart that will see God (Matt. 5:8). They do not harden their hearts against his word. We will either see God or Satan in time to come. It is our choice. It is our heart that will make the difference.

All of Denny's articles, over 160, can be found on his web site DennySmith.Net.

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