The Dangers of a Hardened Heart

Over the years I have seen a lot of hardened hearts. This doesn’t pertain just to skeptics. Christians can succumb to the same problem. Obviously, when we talk about the heart, we are not literally saying somebody’s heart (that pumps blood) is hardened.

In Mark 12.28-34 we find a scribe asking Jesus a serious question, “What commandment is the foremost of all?” Jesus replied by saying, “Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is one Lord; and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.” Jesus then added a second commandment (from Leviticus 19.18) when he said, “The second is this, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

Here we see the Shema is the central creed for Jesus! Jesus is quoting from Deut. 6:4-9:

 “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart.You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes.You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.”

“Shema Israel, Adonai elohenu, Adonai echad.” These six words begin the Shema (pronounced “shmah”), three sections of Scripture repeated twice daily to remind each Jewish person of his or her commitment to God (Deuteronomy 6: 4– 9; 11: 13–21; Numbers 15: 37– 41).

In the Tanakh (the acronym that is formed from the first three parts of  the Hebrew Bible: Torah (the first five books of the Bible), Nevi’ im (the  Prophets), and K’ tuvim (the Writings), the Hebrew word for heart is  “leb,” or “lebad.” While the word “heart” is  used as a metaphor to describe the physical organ, from a biblical  standpoint, it is also the center or defining element of the entire  person. It can be seen as the seat of the person’s intellectual, emotional,  affective, and volitional life. In the New Testament, the word “heart”  (Gr.kardia) came to stand for man’s entire mental and moral activity, both the  rational and the emotional elements. Therefore, biblical faith involves a  commitment of the whole person.

In Jewish thought, in the Shema, hearing is directly related to taking heed and taking action with what you’ve heard. And if you don’t act, you’ve never heard. Hence, in Deut. : 6: 4-9, we see who our God is and how we should respond to him. It should be a holistic commitment towards him.

As I just said, obviously, when we talk about the heart, we are not literally saying somebody’s heart (that pumps blood) is hardened. We can also assert that we are speaking of  one’s conscience.  The conscience is so much of the core of the human soul that the Jewish mind did not draw a distinction between conscience and the rest of the inner person.

The Greek word for conscience is “suneidesis” which means “a co-knowledge, of oneself, the witness borne to one’s conduct by conscience, that faculty by which we apprehend the will of God as that which is designed to govern our lives; that process of thought which distinguishes what it considers morally good or bad, condemning the good, condemning the bad, and so prompting to do the former, and avoid the latter.” In Romans 2:15, “suneidesis” stands alongside with the “heart” and “thoughts” as the faculty that allows the pagan world to live a life that corresponds to the Jewish people who have the written law. This moral knowledge is what C.S. Lewis discusses in The Abolition of Man. Lewis recalls that all cultures, Greek, Hebrew, Egyptian, Babylonian etc. show that natural revelation is true. It is instantaneously apprehended.

A quick glance at the Gospels shows that Jesus had problems with the hardness of heart. It is important to note that not all witnesses that saw his miracles believed. John says, “Even after Jesus had done all these miraculous signs in their presence, they still would not believe in him” (John 12:37). Jesus himself said of some, “They will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead” (Luke 16:31). One result, though not the purpose, of miracles is condemnation of the unbeliever (cf. John 12:31, 37). (4) So the Biblical pattern of miracles is the following:

Sign/Miracle—–Knowledge is Imparted—–Should Result in Obedience/Active Participation

As we look at these examples, I will repeat it again: Both the Christian and the non-Christian are both susceptible to a hardened heart. I don’t want to pass judgment on anyone’s situation. I know that life itself can harden all of us. Losing a job, family difficulties, and disappointment can all harden us towards the ways of God. Let’s examine a few places where the Bible talks about a hardened heart. As John Piper says in his essay on Faith and Reason:

Paul said in Ephesians 4:18: “They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart.” In other words, at the bottom of human irrationality and spiritual ignorance is hardness of heart. That is, our self-centered hearts distort our reason to the point where we cannot use it to draw true inferences from what is really there. If we don’t want God to be God, our sensory faculties and our rational faculties will not be able to infer that he is God.

In 2 Corinthians 3:14, Paul says the mind is “hardened” (epōrōthē). In1 Timothy 6:5, he calls the mind “depraved” (diephtharmenōn). And inRomans 1:21, he says that thinking has become “futile” (emaraiōthēsan) and “darkened” (eskotisthē) and “foolish” (asunetos) because men “by their unrighteousness suppress the truth” (Romans 1:18). In other words, unrighteousness disorders the capacity to see the truth. The corruption of our hearts is the root of our irrationality.

We are an adulterous generation. We love man-centered error more than Christ-exalting truth, and our rational powers are taken captive to serve this adulterous love. This is what Jesus exposed when he said, “You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times.” In other words, your mind functions just fine when seeking out a partner in adultery, but it cannot see the signs of Christ-exalting truth.”

Note: You can download Piper’s book THINK right here.

Let’s expand here on some different types of hearts that are out there:

Heart #1

This person’s conscience has been informed or trained by proper instruction. This is one of the functions of the Scriptures, parents, and teachers and the Holy Spirit. These vehicles are given to inform our conscience, and to apply God’s law to our life. This heart is very sensitive towards the ways of God. The person who has this heart desires to keep their heart pure before God and by God’s grace attempts to walk in a daily relationship with Him. They have a healthy reverence for God and know while God is the Creator, they are the created ones. This person knows “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.” (Proverbs 1:7) This person has realized what Jesus said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matt 5:3) is true.

Even though this individual blows it at times, they know it is folly to turn away from God. Obviously, this person has received Jesus Christ into their lives and has received a cleansed conscience and a new birth (see John 3). In other words, they have appropriated the following: “For if the blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkling those who have been defiled sanctify for the cleansing of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?” (Heb.9: 13-14).

Heart #2

While this person has received the new birth – they have become a Christian, they have now have begun to face some major temptations and trials. They may not be in regular discipleship and are not living a disciplined life before God. Disappointments and setbacks are causing this individual to question the goodness of God. They are beginning to develop a heart of rebellion. Being around other Christians has become more of a burden and the joy and praying and reading the Bible is becoming more of a challenge every day. This person needs to come to God and ask him for the grace to be sustained in these trials and to turn away from anything that may cause them to grow more hardened in the future.

Heart #3

This person can be a Christian who has allowed their conscience to become dull, or seared (1 Tim. 4:2). In other words, people can and do harden their heart towards God! Sin has a way of causing the heart to grow harder and harder towards the ways of God. Sin also dampens a person’s ability to be receptive towards God’s invitation to them. Sometimes a hardened heart results from an unforgiving or bitter spirit. Or, this person has reached the point where they say “I don’t care what God thinks!” Sometimes people don’t want the rule of Christ in their lives. This individual is in serious trouble and needs to recognize the need for repentance.

The Hardness of Heart -The Unbeliever

A hardened heart can also be applied to a non-Christian who has continually rejected the message of the Gospel. As just mentioned, this person can also be someone who has allowed their conscience to become dull, or seared (1 Tim. 4:2). God has sent them several messengers to speak to them about this issue. Sadly, they won’t listen. While they say they are open to looking at the evidence, this individual doesn’t want the rule of Christ in their lives. So as they look at the evidence, the more elusive it becomes.

As time goes on, this person’s heart has grown so hardened towards God that they can’t even recognize that God has been offering his invitation to them on a daily basis. They have forgotten that sin can dampen the cognitive faculties that God has given us to find Him. Therefore, sin has damaging consequences on the knowing process (Is. 6:9-10; Zech. 7:11-12; Matt. 13:10-13).

This person may be able to identify with the following comment by Alvin Plantinga:

” Our original knowledge of God and his glory is muffled and impaired; it has been replaced (by virtue of sin) by stupidity, dullness, blindness, inability to perceive God or to perceive him in his handiwork. Our knowledge of his character and his love toward us can be smothered: it can be transformed into resentful thought that God is to be feared and mistrusted; we may see him as indifferent or even malignant. In the traditional taxonomy of seven deadly sins, this is sloth. Sloth is not simple laziness, like the inclination to lie down and watch television rather than go out and get exercise you need; it is, instead, a kind of spiritual deadness, blindness, imperceptiveness, acedia, torpor, a failure to be aware of God’s presence, love, requirements.” (Warranted Christian Belief. New York, NY: Oxford University Press. 2000, 214-215).


Every Christian needs to examine his/her relationship with God on a regular basis. It is also evident that sin has grave consequences for both the Christian and the non-Christian. If you want to have a hard heart that ignores the truth of God He will grant your wish if you continue to rebel against him. The only remedy for a hardened heart is a spirit of repentance.