Symptoms of Hard-Heartedness

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)

Dealing with an Uncooperative Heart

Robert Wurtz II

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. For we have become partakers of Christ if we hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast to the end, while it is said: “Today, if you will hear His voice, Do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.”

For who, having heard, rebelled? Indeed, was it not all who came out of Egypt, led by Moses? Now with whom was He angry forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose corpses fell in the wilderness? And to whom did He swear that they would not enter His rest, but to those who did not obey? So we see that they could not enter in because of unbelief. (Hebrews 3:12–19 NKJV)

Our passage begins by arresting our attention with the word, “Beware.” It is translated from the Greek verb blepo and is in the present active imperative. This means that we must constantly be on guard against what the writer says next, (…) lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God. That is to say, we are to constantly guard against our own heart turning against and away from God. 

The writer prescribes a solution for this problem. We are to exhort one another daily, while it is called “Today.” The allurement of sin (with all of its trickery and fraudulence) when entertained, has a hardening effect upon our heart. As the heart hardens it becomes an evil heart of unbelief. In other words, it ceases to agree with what God says about the sins that a person wants to partake of. The heart becomes recalcitrant (uncooperative, defiant, rebellious, etc.). Again, we are to exhort one another daily. Exhort is the Greek word parakaleo and it means to come along side to help. We have the addition of, while it is called “Today.” In other words, while there is still hope. The longer a person entertains sin the eviler their heart becomes and the more difficult it is to reverse the hardness.

We are reminded that we must remain steadfast in our confidence to the end and are given the illustration of Israel in the wilderness as an example of what not to do. They started out in faith and obedience, but as time went on they rebelled against God in their hearts. Their attitude towards God got worse and worse. The more He revealed about Himself the less they wanted to cooperate. In time they realized that they didn’t want God. They preferred the gods of Egypt. 

Understand that Egypt was a picture of this present evil world and Pharoah was a picture of the Devil (Satan). When the Israelites rebelled against God they were turning back to this present evil world and all that that entails. Rather than coming out of the world to be a unique people separated unto God, they wanted to be like everyone else and do what everyone else does. In fact, when Moses came down from the mountain with his face glowing with the glory of God they were afraid and didn’t want anything to do with it. Why? Jesus would answer this when He stated that light has come into the world, but men love darkness rather than light because their deeds are evil. When God exposed them as sinful they rejected that revelation and preferred that God stay away rather than submitting to His requirements so that He could stay around (so to speak).

What was their problem? For who, having heard, rebelled? And I suggest that rebellion is one thing that God detests in our lives. When we refuse to submit to Him and His word we are in rebellion. When His word contradicts some sin that we wish was not a sin we have to make a choice. Are we going to let God be true or are we going to harden our hearts and rebel? If we are not careful we can develop an unacceptable attitude towards God that puts our souls in danger. 

The solution (in part) is that we beware that we do not have an evil heart of unbelief. That is to say, pay attention to our own inward attitudes towards God and His word. Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. If we find ourselves rebelling and resisting what He says in His word we need to check our attitude. God is not an earthly authority figure. He is the judge of all the earth and has the power to cast our souls into Hell if we live and die in rebellion. Now with whom was He angry forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose corpses fell in the wilderness? And to whom did He swear that they would not enter His rest, but to those who did not obey? So we see that they could not enter in (…). The world mocks and scoffs at the biblical warnings about Hell (and so do many professing Christians) but the reality remains. It is appointed unto man once to die and after that the judgment. 

Secondly, we need others to come alongside (and we need to come alongside others) to encourage the right attitudes towards God in this evil world. The world hates God and is utterly hostile to Him. Don’t fall in with this world like a good kid falls in with evil companions. We need good and godly friends who live right. We need one another. We need people who will tell us the hard cold truth. What good is it to have a glaring issue in our lives and everyone is afraid to say anything? That is not to say that we are forever helping people get the splinter out of their eye — but we do need to encourage people (and others encourage us) to keep our hearts right with God.