Symptoms of Hard-Heartedness
Robert Wurtz II
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, who “will render to each one according to his deeds”: eternal life to those who by patient continuance in doing good seek for glory, honor, and immortality; but to those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness—indignation and wrath, tribulation and anguish, on every soul of man who does evil, of the Jew first and also of the Greek. (Romans 2:5–9 NKJV)
There are many occasions in the New Testament when the Holy Spirit will inspire the writer to use a word found only once in the rest of the New Testament. The technical term for this is a hapax legomena. However, Romans 2:5 contains several hapax legomena — suggesting that God is being particularly expressive when warning us about hardness of heart. Our opening sentence gives God’s diagnosis, “But in accordance with your hardness and your impenitent heart (…).” Our Greek word for hardness comes from the root skleras and it is found many times in the LXX (Greek Old Testament). It is often used to describe an insensitive, cruel and harsh person. A person who is sklerotes is moving in a selfish disregard of others. This can only happen if a person has hardened themselves against the word of God when it speaks concerning our behavior towards one another.
What is more striking is that Paul turns a statement that was commonly known at the time in order to reveal the fact that the reader is oblivious to their own hardness of heart. He writes you are treasuring up for yourself wrath in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God. In ancient times there was a concept that people who were in covenant with God actually had a personal treasury (with their name on it) that God was building up based on the person’s good works. This “personal treasury” would pay out at the final judgment. Jesus spoke of this when He stated, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.” (Matthew 6:19–20 NKJV) Yet Paul informs the people that instead of laying up treasures they are actually storing up wrath for the day of wrath.
Imagine how shocking that would be to hear. On the one hand, you believe you are storing up good works in heaven to be paid out when you die. Instead, you find out that you are storing up God’s wrath. How could this be? Clearly, Paul is demonstrating to the people that their heart is so hardened that it no longer “smites them” when they do wrong. You will recall that David’s heart smote him when he cut Saul’s robe (1 Samuel 24:5) and when he numbered Israel (2 Samuel 24:10). Unlike David, the people Paul is referring to can see other peoples sins clearly (Romans 2:1), but cannot see or feel their own. In the words of Paul to the Ephesians, “they are past feeling.” (Ephesians 4:19) Their conscience is seared with a hot iron. (1 Timothy 4:2)
People who fit Paul’s description in Romans 2:1-9 are in need of radical repentance. The person must first repent of the attitude that John the Baptist confronted when he preached radical repentance. You will recall that the Jews had a tendency to evoke “Abraham as our father” as if that birthright was the solution to everything. It was not. No matter what family you are born into (Jew or Gentile) you are expected to walk in line with God’s revealed will. In fact, the Jews had an even greater obligation to live righteously because to them were entrusted the oracles of God. (Amos 3:2) If we have ears to hear we will see that Paul is preaching repentance in these verses. He is challenging the same attitude that John the Baptist challenged.
The second area of repentance is to identify areas of our life where we know that we have flagrantly disregarded God’s word. These are areas where we may have sinned and felt convicted in the past, but now we behave a certain way and it doesn’t bother us at all. This is a symptom of hardness of heart. No matter how many sermons we hear on that topic it will never do any good. One way God illustrates hardness of heart to us is by using the analogy of hard (untilled) ground and seed. This is perfect because many people have tried to plant seeds on hard dirt only to discover that it doesn’t work. Our heart, if hardened, is similar to hard and dry ground. What happens? The heart is hard and beaten down in an area and the seed of God’s word cannot penetrate or take root. It happened as the people resisted and then rejected God’s word. They would hear it and like seed on scorched earth, it bore no fruit. So God told Israel,“Break up your fallow ground, For it is time to seek the LORD, Till He comes and rains righteousness on you.” (Hosea 10:12b NKJV)
In the summer of 1980, the Midwestern United States suffered one of the worst heat waves and droughts on record. This natural disaster claimed some 1,700 lives and farmers lost an estimated $20 billion in crops ($60 Billion in 2017 dollars). In those days our family lived out in the country and we witnessed first-hand the destruction of that heat and drought. I recall the day my uncle came to plow up our half-acre garden. As the farm tractor attempted to make its first pass, the ground was so hard that the front wheels came up on the tractor and it rode a wheelie for about fifty yards. This happened each time he cut a new row. I had seen many fields plowed by this time, but as a young boy watching that tractor ride wheelies was very exciting to me. In retrospect, it’s a wonder he didn’t destroy his equipment. Needless to say, 1980 was a disaster for gardeners.
God forbid that our hearts would be as hard and dry as that soil in 1980. Yet if it is, repentance is the only solution. Without it, our lives will be as barren as our garden was that year. The solution for a hardened heart? When need to come before the Lord with an open heart and really let Him speak to us. Nothing is off limits. No excuses. We have to make that first step because God wants to plant the seed of His word on that hardened ground. “Break up your fallow ground, For it is time to seek the LORD, Till He comes and rains righteousness on you.” (Hosea 10:12b NKJV)