In American culture independence is a valued trait. Frank Sinatra sings, “I did it my way,” and everyone cheers.
But in the Kingdom of God, we bow our will to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. In the Bible, when people live outside of God’s will their heart is described as “darkened, rebellious, callous, unfeeling, or idolatrous.” Such a heart has grown hard, and resistant to God.
“It is in this context that hardening, or hardness of the heart must be understood. The heart represents the total response of a person to life around him or her and to the religious and moral demands of God. Hardness of heart thus describes a negative condition in which the person ignores, spurns, or rejects the gracious offer of God to be a part of his or her life.”1
In the parable of the sower, the conditions of the heart are covered in terms of soil. Seed is unable to penetrate hard soil and grow. The seed only flourished in the good soil. This is equivalent to the person who hears God’s Word, learns its meaning, and then puts it into practice so it accomplishes much.
*Be ready to hear God’s Word.
Ears to hear is of utmost importance in preventing the hardening of our hearts.
“He who has ears to hear, let him hear” is tagged on the end of several parables in the New Testament. This warning is found at Matthew 11:15, 13:9, 13:43, Mark 4:9, Luke 8:8 and 14:35. The person with ears to hear is willing to spend the time needed to comprehend the text and uncover its application.
The book we selected for women’s Bible study at the church I attend emphasizes the importance of taking time to study the Word of God. Often, we read the Bible as if it were written for an audience of one… us. Yet each book of the Bible was written in a certain place and time, by an author inspired by the Holy Spirit, for a particular segment of the population. Without the ancient context, there is no modern point to God’s Word.
The soil in the parable of the Sower is prepared by tilling to receive the seed and the heart must also be prepared through prayer to receive the Word.
“Without prayer, our study is nothing but an intellectual pursuit. With prayer, it is a means of communing with the Lord. Prayer is what changes our study from the pursuit of knowledge to the pursuit of God himself,” writes Jen Wilken.2
*Put the Word into practice.
Once the Word of God is planted in our hearts by hearing it, we can tend it as a farmer does his crop so it will flourish and grow. The planted Word takes root in our hearts when we comprehend what the text says, interpret it correctly, and determine its application. For the text to be transformative, we approach it with a willingness to change. We begin to practice what it says, often imperfectly at first but we get better as we live it.
And we can change if we do not harden our heart. Refuse to obey God’s Word.
In Ezekiel 11:19 God tells the Israelites he will replace their heart of stone with a heart of flesh. This promise is for the time Israel collectively recognizes Jesus Christ as her Messiah. But those of us who have received the Holy Spirit have been given this heart of flesh, the ability to receive the Word of God and practice it.
What might prevent us from putting into practice God’s Word which is obeying it?
We dismiss the consequences. I often hear people who don’t want to follow a particular commandment say, “God will love me anyway.” He does love us even when we sin, but there are consequences to disobedience. It is not so much “punishment” as the unavoidable result of the conduct. If you embrace this behavior, this will happen.
Adam and Eve did die when they ate the forbidden fruit. First spiritually, separated from God, and later physically.
What was the command?
“And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” Genesis 2:16-17
Everything God teaches us is for our good. But when we are told to forgive, and someone harms us, our heart balks at such a command. Surely, this can’t be the “best” for us. We have freewill, God gave us choice. Our heart begins to harden when we reject God’s Word and say, “I will not.”
*Guard against deception.
In Jeremiah 17:9 we are told the heart is deceitful above all things but hardening of heart goes beyond this condition. Instead of creating that pliable heart ready to receive and follow God’s Word, we can harden our hearts. Bitterness over circumstances can cause our hearts to become hard.1
To have a right response to the commands of God, (the ability to put it into practice), after we prepare our heart to receive the Word we guard against deception.
Proverbs 4:23 instructs: “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.” (NIV)
We know sin entered the world through Satan’s deception and we too can be deceived. Paul tells us to gear up for war in Ephesians 6:14-18. What is our armor?
–The belt of truth. “Truth is the objective standard by which reality is measured. God’s Word is truth.” Satan “can’t function in an environment of integrity.”3
–The breastplate of righteousness. “This is the righteousness of Christ, imputed by God and received by faith, which guards our hearts against the accusations and charges of Satan and secures our innermost being from his attacks.”4
–The shoes of the gospel of peace. Our feet need to be anchored on the Rock (Jesus) in hand-to-hand combat. “Christ is our foundation in this world.”5
–The shield of faith. This piece of armor “makes Satan’s sowing of doubt about the faithfulness of God and His Word ineffective.”4
–The helmet of salvation. The fact we are saved, our spirit has come alive to Christ, gives us the ability to discern spiritual truth and not be deceived by Satan’s lies.
–The sword of the Spirit. This piece of armor is named as the word of God in the Bible. While the other pieces of armor are defensive weapons, the sword is an offensive weapon.
–Pray at all times in the Spirit.
A heart that has not been turned to stone is a receptive heart. It is ready to respond to God. It is the type of heart needed for relationship.
©2023 Susan Cort Johnson *All Rights Reserved
1-If you have ever hardened your heart, refused to obey a command, what were the consequences? What caused your heart to soften?
2-What are some good ways to always remember that God has the very best for us? I learn about God, His attributes and character and make note when I personally experience them. Then when doubt of his faithfulness or goodness begins to get a foothold, I recall how God has proved that He is who He says He is. In this way I avoid hardness of heart.
1-Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology. Copyright © 1996 by Baker Books.
2-“Women of the Word, How to Study the Bible with Both Our Hearts and Our Minds” by Jen Wilken. Published by Crossway, Wheaton, Illinois.
3-The Tony Evans Bible Commentary by Tony Evans. Holman Bible Publishers, Nashville, Tennessee.
4-GotQuestions.Org. Got Questions Ministries answers questions about the interpretation of God’s Word on its website.
5-Ephesians, Thru the Bible Commentary Series by J. Vernon McGee. Publisher Thomas Nelson Nashville, Tennessee.