“Today, if you will hear His voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion” (Hebrews 3:15 NKJV).
What is a Hardened Heart?
The “heart” is the center of our being (emotions, will, reason, intellect, conscience, mind, etc.). The Bible makes a clear distinction between a “hard” heart and a “soft” heart (Ezekiel 36:26). A soft heart implies willingness to obey God and follow His ways, while a hardened heart signifies disobedience and rebellion against God’s will.
The Bible has several references to a hardened heart, and Pharaoh epitomizes this during the time of Exodus (Exodus 8:15, 32; 9:34). Despite receiving many warnings, Pharaoh was stubborn (Exodus 13:15) and chose to follow Satan and continually challenge the Lord’s authority (Exodus 5:2); so, he refused to humble himself (Exodus 10:3), was deceptive and continued to pursue the Israelite’s even after the last plague until his army was destroyed (Exodus 14:9-23). While some may try to exonerate Pharaoh of wrongdoing, citing the instances where the Bible says that “the Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart” (for example in Exodus 4:21; 7:3; 9:12; 10:1, 20, 27), the Bible clarifies that “the Egyptians and Pharaoh hardened their hearts” (1 Samuel 6:6). Furthermore, the Bible warns us that when we stubbornly continue to reject the Lord’s commands and walk in unrighteousness, a time comes when the Lord gives you up to your sins (Romans 1:24, 26, 28). We believe this is what happened to Pharaoh: we know that he was idolatrous, and he was not willing to obey the Lord’s command, even when his own advisers pleaded with him to let Israel go (Exodus 10:7). Pharaoh and the Egyptians were ultimately responsible for the fate that befell them, and as Christians we should learn an important lesson from their example, “for the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23).
What Causes the Heart to be Hardened?
Physiologically, a heart disease or “heart attack” is usually caused by fatty deposits building up in the arteries and clogging them, therefore blocking blood from flowing. Spiritually, in like manner, sin also causes our hearts (mind, emotions, conscience) to be hardened as one continues to sin and rebel without repenting (Hebrews 3:12-13). The good news is that the Lord has promised us that “if we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). However, if we do not confess our sins or are in denial of our sins, we not only deceive ourselves (1 John 1:8) but also increase the chances of having a desensitized or “seared” conscience that is unable to discern right from wrong (1 Timothy 4:1-2).
While a humble and repentant heart is pleasing to God (Psalm 51:17), pride deceives and causes the heart to harden (Daniel 5:20), consequently leading to one’s downfall and sin (Proverbs 18:12; 21:4). Today there are many people, including Christians, who are arrogant and proudly question the Lord like Pharaoh did: “Who is the Lord, that I should obey His voice…? I do not know the Lord, nor will I…” (Exodus 5:2). Others treat the Lord as their servant and so give Him commands to do this and that for them, for example the prosperity preachers who “command”, “decree”, and “declare” for the Lord to accede to their worldly demands. In the Bible we read how King Nebuchadnezzar “… became arrogant and hardened with pride, he was deposed from his royal throne and stripped of his glory…” and humbled by the Lord before he repented (Daniel 5:18-21). His son, Belshazzar, however, did not humble himself and remained arrogant and suffered the consequences (Daniel 5:22-29). Likewise, King Ahab and Queen Jezebel (1 Kings 21:19, 23; 22:28), and King Herod (Acts 12:21-23) were filled with pride, arrogance, and self-centeredness, which hardened their hearts and largely contributed to their untimely deaths.
Having a stubborn and self-righteous attitude blinds us to truth and hardens our hearts (John 9:40-41; 12:39-41). The Lord God pleaded with Israel to listen to Him and follow His ways so that He could bless them (Psalm 81:13-15), but they did not listen to Him and were stubborn and disobedient, choosing to instead walk in their own twisted thinking (Psalm 81:11-12). In the New Testament, we see the Lord Jesus also pleading with us to listen to Him and obey Him (Matthew 13:16-17; John 8:42-47). Instead of allowing religion, doctrines, and dogma, or our own ways of thinking to blind us from God’s Truth, we should yield to the leading and direction of the Holy Spirit., who guides us into all Truth (John 16:13).
Thirst for power and control can also harden our hearts. The Lord Jesus Christ, the Good Shepherd who feeds, protects and pays close attention to His sheep (John 10:11-16), encourages us to follow His example and be humble servants (Mark 9:35; John 13:1-17). Even within marriages and family relationships, there are some couples and family members who are not serving each other, or who are insecure and want to have strict control over their spouses and other family members. In so doing, they harden their hearts to the truth, and cause others to likewise harden their hearts and stumble. While sharing the gospel, we have met people whose hearts are hardened – not only do they not want to hear the Gospel or accept a tract, but many times they will also block friends and family members from hearing the message. We have also been encouraged to meet a few people who seem soft-hearted and receptive to the Lord’s message as if they have never heard it before, and we pray the Lord saves these precious souls.
The Bible warns us very clearly that if we persistently keep sinning and justifying ourselves, ignoring or resisting the Biblical truth, there will come a time when our thinking becomes futile and our hearts will be darkened (Romans 1:21). Paul further writes: “having their understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart; who, being past feeling, have given themselves over to lewdness, to work all uncleanness with greediness” (Ephesians 4:18-19 NKJV). As people keep heading in this direction, this leads to a “point of no return” when God will give them over to their debased or corrupted mind and let them do things their way (Romans 1:24). These are the ones whom the prophet Isaiah wrote about: “Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; who put darkness for light, and light for darkness; who put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter! Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes, and prudent in their own sight!” (Isaiah 5:20-21 NKJV). The end result is punishment and death (Isaiah 5:24; Proverbs 28:14 NKJV).
How Can You Have a Renewed Heart?
In order to have a renewed heart, we must first recognize and admit that we have a problem, and then allow the Lord to search us and examine our hearts (Psalm 139:23–24). As we faithfully pray and study the Scriptures, the Holy Spirit will reveal the true condition of our hearts and we should be willing to surrender our ways and thoughts to the Lord, instead of justifying ourselves and being self-defensive (Proverbs 14:12; 16:25), for He alone is the True and Just Judge of our hearts (Jeremiah 17:10; Romans 8:27). Like the Jews who tried to stone Jesus when He told them the truth about His identity (John 8:56-59; 10:27-36), as Christians we should not think that we are better than others, or that others deserve death because they are worse sinners than us; unless we repent, we too will perish! (Luke 13:1-5).
When we were born again, God exchanged our heart of stone and gave us a soft heart (Ezekiel 36:26), a heart that yields to His Spirit, his truth, a repentant heart that easily forgives, an obedient heart that is surrendered to His will. The Lord fills our hearts with love (Romans 5:5; Ephesians 3:19), even love for our enemies and those who hate us and persecute us (Matthew 5:44-45). Some Christians have a habit of holding on to grudges or refusing to repent of something for days, weeks, months, and years. As followers of Christ, we should be willing to humble ourselves by asking for forgiveness quickly when we are wrong (refer to A Humble Heart Part 1 and Part 2). We should not let the sun go down while we are still angry nor give the devil room (Ephesians 4:26-27). When we repent of our sins, they are forgiven and forgotten (Psalm 103:12). The Lord forgives us right away and when we confess our sins to each other, repent, and pray for each other; healing enters our hearts and peace flows (James 5:16). The Lord commands us to forgive others as He forgives us (Matthew 6:15), and He has called us to be peacemakers (Matthew 5:9).
Some Christians have hardened their hearts and they no longer heed godly correction or rebuke. They think they are right and are quick to justify their wayward ways. If you rebuke some people for sins such as idolatry, adultery, fornication, or addiction (to alcohol, drugs or other beverages), they will avoid you for a long time. Some of us might have experienced rejection and lost many good friends who did not want to receive Biblical correction. However, we have also learned that every time we correct each other and overcome misunderstandings through prayer, repentance, and forgiveness, our relationships grow and the bond of love in Christ is strengthened. As iron sharpens, we should be sharpening and encouraging one another (Proverbs 27:17). If a brother or sister goes out of their way to correct you and you respond harshly, it makes it difficult for them to correct you again in the future, and this might be to your loss. Therefore, let us live a life worthy of the calling we have received, being completely humble and gentle; being patient, bearing with one another in love, and making every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace (Ephesians 4:1-3).
Fellow Brothers and Sisters in Christ, please do not harden your heart and fall to deception! The Bible warns us that “A man who remains stiff-necked after many rebukes will suddenly be destroyed–without remedy” (Proverbs 29:1 NIV). The warning to “a generation that is pure in its own eyes, yet is not washed from its filthiness” (Proverbs 30:12 NKJV) applies today. Therefore, please be strong and steadfast in your faith and do not surrender to Satan’s schemes to steal your heavenly reward.
We would like to close this message with a beautiful word of praise and reminder from Psalm 95 (NKJV):
“Oh come, let us sing to the Lord! Let us shout joyfully to the Rock of our salvation. Let us come before His presence with thanksgiving; let us shout joyfully to Him with psalms. For the Lord is the great God, and the great King above all gods. In His hand are the deep places of the earth; the heights of the hills are His also. The sea is His, for He made it; and His hands formed the dry land.
Oh come, let us worship and bow down; Let us kneel before the Lord our Maker. For He is our God, And we are the people of His pasture, And the sheep of His hand.
Today, if you will hear His voice: “Do not harden your hearts, as in the rebellion, as in the day of trial in the wilderness, when your fathers tested Me; they tried Me, though they saw My work. For forty years I was grieved with that generation, and said, ‘It is a people who go astray in their hearts, and they do not know My ways. ’So I swore in My wrath, ‘They shall not enter My rest.’”
Finally, let us humble ourselves before God that this promise may become true of us:
“Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will keep My judgments and do them” (Ezekiel 36:25-27).
Be strong in the Lord, and “keep your heart with all diligence, for out of it spring the issues of life” (Proverbs 4:23 NKJV).
Abes and Janet.