Tuesday
Jan192010

The Rest Were Hardened

Paul addressed the difficulty in converting Jews to Jesus Christ by pointing out that it was not that God had rejected them.

He, of course, was evidence of that, “an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, a member of the tribe of Benjamin” (Romans 11:1). Like the seven thousand sets of believing knees in Elijah’s day, God had reserved a remnant of Hebrew believers in Christ’s as well. It was a remnant chosen by grace and one that had not fallen prey to the spiritual hardening that characterized those who would be lost instead. 

“Israel failed to obtain what it was seeking” – redemption and emancipation. Not all the Hebrews failed of course, for “the elect obtained it, but the rest were hardened” (Romans 11:7). The hearts of the elect were as soft as good soil where the seed of the gospel invitation sank down and sprang forth with life. The hearts of the rest were hard and the seed was deflected away, producing nothing in them at all.

“‘God gave them a spirit of stupor, eyes that would not see and ears that would not hear, down to this very day.’ And David says, ‘Let their table become a snare and a trap, a stumbling block and a retribution for them; let their eyes be darkened so that they cannot see, and bend their backs forever’” (Romans 11:8-10).

There is only one reason that a God who desires the salvation of all men responds this way – “because they refused to love the truth and so be saved” (Second Thessalonians 2:10; see also First Timothy 2:3-4). It is not because they are disposable or expendable, but because something hardened their hearts and made them impervious to Christ’s blood and God’s grace.

Some things are supposed to get hard.

Think of a freshly poured sidewalk or water in the ice cube tray. Neither is worth very much if they stay soft – your shoes get messy and your soda is diluted and that’s no good.

Other things, however, just shouldn’t get hard – arteries spring to mind.

And then there is the kind of hardness that signals a loss of feeling and sensitivity. A callus is a toughened area of skin that has become thick and hard due to repeated friction, pressure or irritation. The callused flesh becomes less sensitive to those things, as well as heat and pain.

The New Testament points out that sometimes people become figuratively callused – their hearts and consciences become unfeeling and insensitive to rebuke, admonition and correction. It happens to unbelievers who repeatedly turn a deaf ear to the gospel call, but it also happens to Christians who learn to mute the sounds of reproof lest they feel guilt for their unreformed behavior.

The spirit thus can harden just like the arteries or the sidewalk, only the consequences are far more serious. Spiritual hardening is a reversible condition, but by its very nature, reversal is incredibly difficult, making prevention the wisest course. 

Consider six warning signs of spiritual hardening, the likes of which might never be reversed if given enough time to advance. 

 

Disobedience. Pharaoh hardened his heart when confronted by God with the opportunity to do the right thing and approve the people’s worship. He disobeyed instead and God’s continual mercy only made him more callused. Disobeying God is difficult the first time, because your conscience bothers you, but it gets easier and before you know it, you’re lost like Pharaoh.

 

Trust in Wealth. On the edge of the Promised Land, God warned, 

 

Take care lest you forget the Lord your God by not keeping his commandments and his rules and his statutes, which I command you today, lest, when you have eaten and are full and have built good houses and live in them, and when your herds and flocks multiply and your silver and gold is multiplied and all that you have is multiplied, then your heart be lifted up, and you forget the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery (Deuteronomy 8:11-14).

 

People today become hardened against the need for God, prayer and worship because they are so blessed of him. They forget that he is the giver of every gift and assume that their prosperity can never fail, yet not one penny will follow them into judgment (James 1:17, Matthew 6:19-21).

 

Rebellion and Discontentment. Job’s wife told her suffering husband to curse God and die. He refused but many do exactly that, blaming God for the devil’s infliction of suffering. Recalling the pilgrims’ thirst, the psalmist warns, “do not harden your hearts, as at Meribah, as on the day at Massah in the wilderness” (95:8).

 

Rejecting Deserved Rebuke. Wisdom says, “He who is often reproved, yet stiffens his neck, will suddenly be broken beyond healing” (Proverbs 29:1). When the warning signs are fulfilled, it can sometimes be too late to change things. Cancer and heart disease don’t just disappear because the patient realizes the seriousness of his doctor’s warnings now that he has them. The one who has spent his life rejecting the call of the Bible can render himself indifferent to rebuke no matter how much he suffers.

 

Refusing to Listen. Some have the remarkable ability to shut their ears to anything that would rouse them from their spiritual coma. Zechariah knew such people. 

 

But they refused to pay attention and turned a stubborn shoulder and stopped their ears that they might not hear. They made their hearts diamond-hard lest they should hear the law and the words that the Lord of hosts had sent by his Spirit through the former prophets. Therefore great anger came from the Lord of hosts. ‘As I called, and they would not hear, so they called, and I would not hear,’ says the Lord of hosts” (7:11-13).

 

Failing to Respond. Some think that they can sit idly while the invitation is extended for their conversion or reformation and that the idleness will not harm them. This they manage to do for months and then years, promising that they will respond at some more convenient season – which seldom comes. 

Failing to respond to the gospel call even once hardens the heart ever so slightly. Each time we do it, the process is repeated and the heart gets a little harder – resistance becomes a little easier and the conscience a little quieter. Before long, we are lulled into false security and the invitation of Christ touches us not. That’s what the devil is after and we give it to him by telling Jesus to wait, all the while searing our consciences as with a hot iron (see First Timothy 4:1-2). 

Paul writes again,

 

Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity (Ephesians 3:17-19).

 

Spiritual hardening is almost imperceptible when it begins and by the time it is evident, it is often too late to do much about it. A patch of concrete that has been poured in the wrong place can be removed while it’s still wet and soft, but by the time it hardens, the only recourse left is a jackhammer. The hardened spirit rarely responds positively to that kind of disruption. For some, it is impossible (Hebrews 6:4-6).

Prevention then is key. Obedience, contentment, humility, attention, daily response to the gospel call. That attitude keeps the heart soft and fruitful.