Christianity 201

April 9, 2017

Their Hearts Were Hardened

by Russell Young

The Lord had hardened the hearts of Pharaoh and his officials when Moses asked for the freedom of God’s chosen people being held captive in Egypt. This hardening was done to accomplish his purposes. The purpose for hardening their hearts was so that the story of his miraculous signs would be relayed through the generations of Israel that they might know that he is the LORD. (Ex 10:1) He has hardened hearts throughout history in order to accomplish his purposes. However, Christ also spoke of the hardness of people’s hearts that inhibited or prevented the furtherance of the gospel and the hope of salvation.

Having a “hard” heart or a hardened heart means that a person’s heart is fixed on an issue as engraved in stone. It is not a heart of flesh that is malleable and can be influenced. A hard heart is not sensitive to anything other than its own interests and goals. It is not a humble heart but is often one that is prideful. As stated, God can harden a heart, but so can individuals. People can have hard hearts in relation to the Word and in relation to others.

The Lord stated that the hearts of his disciples were hard at times in referring to their lack of comprehension or understanding. (Mk 6:52; 8:17; Jn 12:40; Eph 4:18) It is troublesome when the hearts of believers have become hardened and fixed concerning others in the family of God so that they will not even examine the convictions of one another to discern underlying truths. God does not want his created people to have hard hearts and no one can come to him whose heart cannot be molded into the likeness of that of his Son. (Rom 8:29)

It is easy to find people with hardened hearts. They cannot conceive of the truth of God’s sovereignty over the world and all that is. They are not willing to see the divine hand of God in creation or in the miracles about them. They have trouble listening to or considering others and their opinions. They are often selfish and self-centered. We should be careful about applying the label of hardheartedness to others, however, until we have considered our own state. Most people have areas in life where a stubbornness and dogmatism persists and where the heart is no longer malleable and the Spirit’s influence is resisted. This does not mean that a person’s values and “truths” should be easily altered. The gospel is truth, after all, along with the rest of God’s Word; however, only God knows pure truth.

Jesus said, “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.” (Jn 10:27 NIV) ‘Listening’ is the sign of a receptive heart, a heart eager to absorb or accept the Lord’s teachings and directions. Obediently ‘following’ is indication of a sensitive heart. Paul told the Ephesians that they must “no longer live as the Gentiles do in the futility of their thinking. They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their heart. Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, with a continual lust for more.” (Eph 4:17─19 NIV) Their hardening prevented the knowledge of truth and the presence and leading of the Spirit for righteousness.

Every believer should examine himself or herself to check for hard spots in their heart. Honesty might reveal that there are more than they would like to accept. Regardless, Christ condemned blindness and ignorance to his teaching. He requires obedience to the Spirit; hearts that are sensitive and able to be led. It is easy to dismiss one’s ungodly attitudes and behaviors if they are common to those around, even the ungodly. Society gives many permissions that the Lord does not and one day all of those who call themselves by his name will have to answer for their rejection of his righteous standards. He knows because he is in the believer trying to lead and to gain victory. “[T]hose who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.” (Rom 8:14 NIV) Victory cannot be gained by those who have hardened their hearts to sin, and particularly to a favorite sin.

The hearts of the Israelites were hardened and they could not understand or accept God’s righteous requirements. The writer of Hebrews cautioned his readers: “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as you did in the rebellion during the time of testing in the desert.” (Heb 3:8) Accept it or not, those who belong to Christ today are wandering in the desert with the aridness of sin and deceit all around them. They have pledged that Christ was their Lord (Rom 10:9) and he desires to lead them to victory to the promised land, but they must have hearts that are sensitive and are prepared to obediently follow. (Heb 5:9)


Russell Young is the Sunday contributor to Christianity 201 and author of Eternal Salvation: “I’m Okay! You’re Okay!” Really? available in print and eBook through Westbow Publishing, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble; and in Canada through Chapters/Indigo.

9781512757514

To read all of Russell’s contributions here at C201, click this link

October 27, 2016

When God’s Solution Comes Gift-Wrapped

Sometimes we connect with other writers in the comments section. This is from Melissa at Tin Roof Sky. Click the title below to read at source.

Shut. Up.

“Jericho was shut up tight as a drum because of the People of Israel: no one going in, no one coming out.  God spoke to Joshua, “Look sharp now. I’ve already given Jericho to you, along with its king and its crack troops.” Joshua 6:1-2 – The Message

Joshua and the rest of his crew had just been told that their long national nightmare of wandering in the desert was over. Hooray! No more manna, man – milk, honey, and (I’m sure) beans and cornbread were now on the menu! Their lives were going from day after day of same old, same old, to finally getting started with what their forefathers had been promised.

But then – they hit a wall. Literally. They were getting the band back together to take over Canaan, and Jericho was the first stop on the tour. Their mojo was working, but it hit a snag made out of stone.

And we love to look at this story, and imagine the Israelites marching around that city for a week and then shouting the walls down on the last day. We sing songs about it and watch children’s videos with French peas taunting hapless vegetable Hebrews. But don’t skip over those first two verses. They’re the key to this whole thing.

“Jericho was shut up tight as a drum because of the People of Israel: no one going in, no one coming out.”

You know what I think? I think the Jericho-ians (or however they were known) were afraid. I think there were probably more Israelites outside that wall than there were of them inside, and I think word had reached their ears of all the great things God had done for His people. Remember Pharaoh losing a chunk of his soldiers and their gear? Remember supernatural provision? Remember divine judgement and so much quail they literally got sick?

They were afraid. They were under a self-imposed siege. They placed all their faith in the wall, and in the hopes that the Israelites would keep on truckin’.

But I think God put that fear into their hearts, so that their defeat would be certain and complete.

 God spoke to Joshua, “Look sharp now. I’ve already given Jericho to you, along with its king and its crack troops.”

Their king couldn’t hide out in an undisclosed location. Their army couldn’t sneak out and come from behind in a surprise attack. Joshua was facing his first big test as Commander-in-Chief, and God had gift wrapped the city for them.

All they had to do was obey his (admittedly odd) instructions. All the people had to do was keep their mouths shut, and keep walking. And then, on the last day, they had to shout to the Lord for the victory.

That’s it. Obey God, watch the walls crumble, and take the first steps into fulfilling God’s call on their lives.

So here’s my question to you: What walls are you up against? Maybe they aren’t obstacles, so much as a gift box. Maybe instead of seeing them as your enemy, you need to see them as God’s way of making sure your victory is complete. Maybe God is going to give you some instructions, and when you follow them, you will have a whole new perspective.

I’m facing some walls. I’ll bet you are too. Let’s look beyond and see them as wrapping paper, instead of a stop sign.

March 31, 2015

Living on the East Side of Jordan

Today we pay a return visit to the writing of Elsie Montgomery at the blog Practical Faith. She continues to work through both an Old Testament passage and a New Testament passage (and one from a Psalm) in each day’s writing. To read more in this series, click the title below and then click the blog header to see the daily chronology unfold. If this resonates with you, consider becoming a daily reader of her daily devotional.

PuzzlePuzzles in the Bible

In studying the Word of God, I’m beginning to see it in a very broad view. It (and all of history) has four parts: creation, fall, redemption, new creation. The first two are described in just three chapters. The last one is hinted at more than described but can be found in the last part of Revelation. The redemption part fills most of the Bible. I’m also seeing how each narrative, each piece of poetry, the writings of the prophets and of course the stories of Jesus and the new church all fit into this larger plan.

But there are puzzles. In Numbers 32, God’s people are about to enter the land of promise, and while they will encounter enemies and battles, they will eventually enjoy this new land. This is both a genuine historical event and an illustration that points toward the redemption of God’s people through faith in Christ and the entrance of Christians into a new way of life.

The puzzle is in the OT illustration. A couple of tribes decided they didn’t want to go into that land God promised them. Moses was upset. He reminded them of God’s anger when the entire group refused to go in forty years prior. He warned them, “For if you turn away from following him, he will again abandon them in the wilderness, and you will destroy all this people.”

However, they said, “We will build sheepfolds here for our livestock, and cities for our little ones, but we will take up arms, ready to go before the people of Israel, until we have brought them to their place. And our little ones shall live in the fortified cities because of the inhabitants of the land. We will not return to our homes until each of the people of Israel has gained his inheritance. For we will not inherit with them on the other side of the Jordan and beyond, because our inheritance has come to us on this side of the Jordan to the east.” They wouldn’t live there, but they would help the others go in and fight for what God had promised them.

So Moses said to them, “If you will do this, if you will take up arms to go before the Lord for the war, and every armed man of you will pass over the Jordan before the Lord, until he has driven out his enemies from before him and the land is subdued before the Lord; then after that you shall return and be free of obligation to the Lord and to Israel, and this land shall be your possession before the Lord.” (Numbers 32:15–22)

I’ve wondered what part of God’s redemptive plan is illustrated in this historical event. I’ve one answer, but this is pure speculation on my part. In the narrative, His people entered the land He promised them, just as Christians are to enter new life in the fullness and power of the Holy Spirit. Those who helped them go in, but did not live there are like some Christians who do not seem to desire that rich manner of Christian life. They are content to be God’s people, but ‘live on the east side of Jordan.” They care about those who move forward in their spiritual lives, even help them by prayer and support, but are not concerned to move on themselves. Again, my explanation is speculation. If there are better answers, I’d love to hear them.

The NT is mildly related, not to the OT story, but to my attempts to better understand it. Paul was writing to a church that was fighting over which was the best speaking gift. He said, “If anyone thinks that he is a prophet, or spiritual, he should acknowledge that the things I am writing to you are a command of the Lord. If anyone does not recognize this, he is not recognized. So, my brothers, earnestly desire to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues. But all things should be done decently and in order.” (1 Corinthians 14:37–40)

God didn’t want them quarreling or forbidding the gifts they didn’t prefer. Instead, they were to be orderly, obeying the commands of the Lord and desiring the gifts that explain His will. He didn’t tell them to push aside the gifts they looked down on, but to recognize the Word of God as the Word of God. This is not about being the ‘best” but being godly people. I can speculate about meaning, but God does not want me to look down my nose on those who do not agree.

The reading from the Psalms expresses the hearts of those who stayed on the east side of the promised land, and it expresses how I feel when I cannot understand why God allowed them to do that or what significance it has for His people now.

“I believe that I shall look upon the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living! Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!” (Psalm 27:13–14)

Sometimes saying “I don’t know for sure” comes out of my mouth with great reluctance. I like to know all the answers, and the bottom line for everything. This time, I am not sure. Maybe God allowed those tribes to stay out of the land of promise just to humble me – the person who thinks she can know everything – and show me that I must wait on the Lord for this one.