Now here is a topic most people would rather not discuss – and I include many pastors and church leaders here as well, not just pagans. But I must discuss it nonetheless. It is about the hardness of heart that comes due to sin, and the warnings about it as found in Scripture.
There are numerous passages that speak to this, so we had better pay close attention. One of the key texts is Hebrews 3:13 which says, “But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called ‘Today,’ so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.”
Now it is quite apparent by the context that this warning is given to believers. Verses 12-14 reads:
See to it, brothers and sisters, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called “Today,” so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness. We have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original conviction firmly to the very end.
It is not my intention here to enter into the big debate about whether believers can lose their salvation, or are eternally secure, and so on. So please wait till I write a few rather longish articles on those quite complex and detailed debates before sending in your views on this thanks!
In the meantime I can recommend one book edited by Herbert Bateman on this and other passages in Hebrews called, Four Views on the Warning Passages in Hebrews (Kregel. 2007).
But if even believers are warned about the dangers of a hardened heart, how much more then are non-Christians at risk in this? And that is the focus of what I want to speak about here. The Bible says much about sin-hardened sinners and what a dangerous place that is to be in.
A key passage on this is Romans 1:18-32. Some of the scariest words of Scripture are found in verses 24, 26, 28: “God gave them over”. Sinners who continue in sin, continue to shake their fist at God, and continue to reject the truth are eventually given over by God.
Let me look at one further set of passages. Since I have again just finished reading through the book of Revelation, let me cite a few passages from there about this very issue. They are quite frightening passages indeed. They speak about God’s just judgment being poured out on the earth, and the reactions of non-believers.
No matter how bad the judgments, these sinners refuse to repent, but dig their heels in even further, cursing God. Consider a few of these texts:
Revelation 9:20-21 The rest of mankind who were not killed by these plagues still did not repent of the work of their hands; they did not stop worshiping demons, and idols of gold, silver, bronze, stone and wood—idols that cannot see or hear or walk. Nor did they repent of their murders, their magic arts, their sexual immorality or their thefts.
Revelation 16:8-11 The fourth angel poured out his bowl on the sun, and the sun was allowed to scorch people with fire. They were seared by the intense heat and they cursed the name of God, who had control over these plagues, but they refused to repent and glorify him. The fifth angel poured out his bowl on the throne of the beast, and its kingdom was plunged into darkness. People gnawed their tongues in agony and cursed the God of heaven because of their pains and their sores, but they refused to repent of what they had done.
Revelation 16:21 From the sky huge hailstones, each weighing about a hundred pounds, fell on people. And they cursed God on account of the plague of hail, because the plague was so terrible.
Those are some pretty heavy duty passages. They depict all too well what happens when the human heart is hardened in sin and rebellion. Instead of allowing a bit of the fear of God to touch their hearts, they are so hardened that these terrible judgments simply harden them even further.
We do read about one other case of judgment in which hardening is not mentioned (nor is repentance). In Rev. 11:13 we read: “At that very hour there was a severe earthquake and a tenth of the city collapsed. Seven thousand people were killed in the earthquake, and the survivors were terrified and gave glory to the God of heaven.”
Scholars differ on two issues which arise here: is this real repentance and conversion in 11:13, and do these judgments contain within them a final offer of repentance, or are they simply retributive in nature? As to the first question, one can compare Nebuchadnezzer’s response in Daniel 4.
For example in v. 34 we read: “At the end of that time, I, Nebuchadnezzar, raised my eyes toward heaven, and my sanity was restored. Then I praised the Most High; I honored and glorified him who lives forever.” Does that indicate an expression of genuine repentance and faith? It could be.
So too with Rev. 11:13. The survivors were terrified and gave glory to God. Does that mean that real repentance took place? Some scholars say no to both cases. And was the judgment dished out simply an act of punishment or was a real offer of repentance included? There is variance of opinion on this matter as well.
However we line up on these questions, the main issue of hardened hearts must still be dealt with. As Robert Mounce remarks, “Once the heart is set in its hostility toward God not even the scourge of death will lead men to repentance.” Or as Robert Wall comments, “The world’s resistance to God’s reign and to God’s transforming grace found in Christ is constant and pervasive.”
J. Ramsey Michaels says this about Rev. 9:20-21:
For the first time, John gives full attention to the human response to these divine judgments. He has mentioned the human response twice before, but only in passing, as a way of dramatizing the severity of the judgments themselves, first in 6:15-17, where people hid in caves and cried out to the mountains to fall on them, and second in 9:6, where they desired death but did not find it. This time the human response is in spite of the severity of the judgment, not because of it. The point is made twice (vv. 20, 21) that these terrible judgments did not bring about repentance or a change of heart among those who were not killed.
Such callous hardness of heart is just so amazing to consider. But we do know that at the end of the day all men will bow the knee to God and give him glory: some will do so willingly while some will do it only under duress. As Philippians 2:9-11 puts it,
Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.
We have a chance now to repent and give glory to God while God offers mercy and pardon. But a day is coming when he will only offer strict justice and judgment. Then too men will bow the knee, even if it is unwillingly. Plenty could be said about all this in general, and the frightening phrase of God ‘giving them over,’ but by way of summation and exhortation, I very much like what R. C. Sproul has to say about this:
The worst thing that can happen to sinners is to be allowed to go on sinning without any divine restraints. At the end of the New Testament, in the book of Revelation when the description of the last judgment is set forth, God says, “He who is unjust, let him be unjust still; he who is filthy, let him be filthy still” (Rev. 22:11). God gives people over to what they want. He abandons them to their sinful impulses and removes his restraints, saying in essence, “If you want to sin, go ahead and sin.” This is what theologians call “judicial abandonment.” God, in dispensing his just judgment, abandons the impenitent sinner forever.
He goes on to say this:
We hear all the time about God’s infinite grace and mercy. I cringe when I hear it. God’s mercy is infinite insofar as it is mercy bestowed upon us by a Being who is infinite, but when the term infinite is used to describe his mercy rather than his person, I have problems with it because the Bible makes very clear that there is a limit to God’s mercy. There is a limit to his grace, and he is determined not to pour out his mercy on impenitent people forever. There is a time, as the Old Testament repeatedly reports, particularly in the book of the prophet Jeremiah, that God stops being gracious with people, and he gives them over to their sin.
The time is now my friends. Take up the offer now of grace and forgiveness obtained through repentance and faith before it is too late.