Diagnosing the Four Steps To a Hard Heart

Diagnosing the Four Steps To a Hard Heart

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Did you know it’s possible to know God, but still have a hard heart? Knowing and experiencing God does not insulate you from being a hard-hearted Christian.

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How has your week been? Have your thoughts been stabilized by the victory you have in the resurrected Lord? How has the residual effect of Christ’s coming out of the tomb affected your life this week?

The resurrection was a singular event intended to have continuous power. It’s like a recyclable gift you can use over and over again. It never loses its power in the Christian’s life. It never diminishes from what it can do for you even if you have been a Christian for decades.

The conquering power of the Lord to secure your victory was meant to sustain you through every day and every event of your life. The same joy, hope, and power you experienced when you first heard about Christ’s salvation is not diminished and should buoy you through any trial or challenge (2 Corinthians 1:8-9).

Can God?

He made streams come out of the rock and caused waters to flow down like rivers. Yet they sinned still more against him, rebelling against the Most High in the desert. They tested God in their heart by demanding the food they craved. They spoke against God, saying, “Can God spread a table in the wilderness?” – Psalm 78:16-19

In Exodus 17:1-7, just three itty bitty chapters from God’s great victory of leading the children of Israel through the Red Sea, His children were bitterly complaining about their new and disappointing circumstances. They were thirsty and wanted water.

Imagine that! I can’t believe those people!! (Insert wink here.)

They experienced God in all His profoundness. They saw Him do the spectacular, which was beyond anyone’s comprehension. They were the choicest recipients of His miracle working power. Almighty God poured unmitigated blessings on them.

What they did would be analogous to you leaving your local church meeting on Easter Sunday and start complaining and grumbling. Should a critical spirit come over you, then you would have a perfect illustration of what the small minded Israelites were doing.

Though the miracle of the resurrection should be enough to equip any Christian through any trial that may come upon them, it also can become just another lifeless past event with no current sustaining power.

Present testing should motivate you to reflect back on God’s past faithfulness to stabilize you through your trials. The backward reflection at God’s past demonstration of power should compel you to trust Him through present difficulties.

The children of Israel were complaining and whining right after seeing one of the most miraculous events in the Bible. How many days after Sunday’s worship do you feel more like Pharaoh and his army crushed by the encompassing waters of the Red Sea?

The question the Israelites needed to wrestle with was whether God’s provision through the exodus was enough for them to rest in His ongoing care in their lives. You have a similar question you need to wrestle with on a daily basis.

Is the Lord’s gospel work enough to daily satisfy you, while giving you hope and direction when your circumstances are not turning out the way you expected?

The Israelites went off the rails quickly. Their problems became greater than God’s victory. Being problem-centered rather than God-centered led to grumbling and complaining, which is a bold accusation against the active goodness of God in their lives.

What they should have done was reflect back to God’s past care and moved forward in faith knowing God would come through for them again. What more could the Lord have done for them than to show His faithfulness to them? He already divided the sea so they could be born again.

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Be Warned

The key moments in your life are when you perceive insurmountable odds or unremitting difficulties. These are the times when you focus your heart on God’s past ability to triumph even in the face of odds that appear to be against you.

You were born to worship, which should come with a large caution flag: you can easily shift from worshiping your Deliverer to worshiping your self-reliant means to extricate yourself from your troubles.

Because the Israelites were not getting what they wanted, they made a choice to walk away from the Lord. Their hearts hardened because of unmet expectations.

If you walk away from the Lord, what hope do you have? You find real hope in Jesus and Him alone. There is a warning for you through the story of the Israelites to not let discouraging circumstances harden your heart.

Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion, on the day of testing in the wilderness, where your fathers put me to the test and saw my works for forty years. – Hebrews 3:7-10

If God saved His people through the exodus, and despite this, their hearts became hard when life became hard, be warned: you can harden your heart like them if you don’t take heed to this warning.

You are no different from the Israelites in the wilderness. What they fell prey to is your temptation as well. If you don’t remind yourself of the gospel–the exodus Christ provided for you through His death, resurrection, and ascension, you will easily and quickly develop a hard heart.

A hard heart is a main point the Hebrew writer was making to his believing audience. He knew it was possible for a true believer to drift from the gospel to the point where the salvation he has does not impact him in his sanctification.

Functional Atheism

These strong warnings in Hebrews are not saying you can lose your salvation or that God never saved you; they are saying that you can lose the resurrection power that your salvation offers you.

You can be saved and on your way to heaven, but lost in the temporal circumstances of your life. You can have eternal life, but lost in the here and now to where the reality of your salvation is overwhelmed by your problems.

There is only one answer for this kind of problem. It’s the gospel, powerfully displayed through the resurrection of Christ. If the gospel is not enough for your present trials, you will be susceptible to a hard heart.

Just like the Israelites in the Old Testament who lost sight of God’s power displayed at the Red Sea, you can lose sight of the empty tomb to the point where your disappointment becomes an accusation toward God.

Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end. – Hebrews 3:12-14

The core issue in this passage is an ongoing, undiagnosed, and untreated heart condition. The warning is to assess yourself soberly, so you don’t have an evil and unbelieving heart. The hardening of the believer’s heart will result in functional atheism or what I call an unbelieving believer (Mark 9:24).

The Christian who is living in functional atheism is looking for deliverance from present circumstances rather than trusting in God’s prior deliverance through the gospel. The Lord will not give you complete victory in your current circumstances. His desire is not so much about giving you everything you want, but for you to trust Him at all times.

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The Hardening Process

The Israelites forgot about God’s past power while demanding He meets their present disappointment according to their expectations. Do not be naive. Unbiblical expectations can happen to you. The Hebrew writer warned the readers by reminding them of what happened to their ancestors.

Millions of Christians since the writing of the Hebrew letter have drifted from their faith. They hardened their hearts. They went into their new salvation with gusto, and life slapped them in the face. Their feelings were hurt, they had crushed dreams, and dashed hopes. Disappointment began to make its appeals in their hearts.

The hardening process was so imperceptible that it was only discerned after they became case hardened. You do not want this to happen to you. But it can. None of us are bulletproof. No matter how we may want to think about ourselves, we’re just one disappointment from walking away from the Lord.

The process of developing a hard heart happens in four contiguous steps:

  1. Evil
  2. Unbelief
  3. Drifting
  4. Hardness.

Let’s take a quick look at all four of these steps.

Evil – God allows evil into your life. From a biblical perspective that is normal and expected (Genesis 50:20). We live in a sinful world. Fallen people are all around us, and so are we. Evil was also a promise from the Lord (Genesis 3:18). The real problem is not so much the evil, but a lack of understanding the purposes of the evil in our lives.

Unbelief – The regression to a hard heart begins when the person who experiences evil questions God’s active goodness in his life. Two of the most common ways this “kind of unbelief” happens are through grumbling and complaining. Both of these are manifestations of anger.

The Anger Spectrum

The complainer is missing the Lord in his mess while demanding God meet his expectations according to his desires. This first false step opens him up to more sin.

The genuinely believing heart begins a slow and almost imperceptible process of not believing God any longer. In most cases, his friends, including Christians, do not discern this kind of unbelief.

Drifting – If the grumbling persists, the person will begin to take steps away from God. The Bible will become cold to him. He will start to move away from the people of God. His prayer closet will become silent.

Hardness – Grumbling and complaining are two ways of pointing the finger at God while expressing disappointment in Him for not coming through for you. It says, “I’m right in this matter, and You are wrong, and You need to subscribe to my solutions.”

Over time this will become a habit, and the conscience will harden to the point where the person is no longer able to perceive what he is doing to himself. There will be an insensitivity to and detachment from the Spirit’s voice, as well as the voices of his friends.

Preventing a Hard Conscience

First preventative – Don’t be naive. The Hebrew writer is also giving us a strong warning. The Lord thought enough about this to put it in His forever Word. Hardness can happen to me. It can happen to you.

Your first call to action regarding this article is to humbly ask the Lord if there is any wicked way working in your heart (Psalm 139:23).

If you have not already perceived your vulnerability to a hard heart as you read this article, maybe the hardening process has already begun. If your first thoughts have been about someone else, be warned: the process may have already started in your heart.

Second preventative – You are vulnerable. Just as our bodies are susceptible to different germ intruders, your soul is always in the crosshairs of Satan (1 Peter 5:8). He would find no greater pleasure than to take you down, and it’s easier than most of us imagine.

Preach the gospel to yourself every day, throughout your day. The gospel is the antidote for a hard heart. If you’re not daily marinating your mind in the victory the Lord wrought for you, His victory will become powerless in your present circumstances.

Third preventative – Love your friends. Your friends are just like you. We’re all naive and vulnerable. We’re no match for the devil and his schemes. If our hearts are not riveted to God’s provision–as experienced by the gospel–we’re easy picking for the evil one.

You must moment by moment fortify your heart with gospel goodness. And as you do, you must have a courageous and grace-filled boldness to speak to your fellow brothers and sisters who are also easily tempted to jump on the path to a hard heart.

The Hebrew writer was warning his friends. He knew the dangers. The Old Testament is a clear testimony of people who did not know how to steward their disappointments.

In three short chapters from their Red Sea experience, they were already accusing God, ready to go back to their former lifestyles. It is imperative you are appropriately heeding the warning about the dangers of a hard heart.

Call to Action

  1. How has the residual effect of Christ’s coming out of the tomb affected your life this week?
  2. Have your thoughts been situated in the victory you have in the resurrected Jesus?
  3. Have you made this article more about you or someone else?
  4. Are you actively engaging your friends in a comparable way the Hebrew writer was engaging that community?
  5. Who engages you that way? Do you have that kind of friend?
  6. What changes do you need to make to your life or community as a preventative measure to keep from a hard heart?

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