Monday, February 21, 2011

Identifying the Hard Heart by Dudley Hall

Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. Hebrews 3:12 (ESV)

This text comes from an author seeking to relate our situation to the one the Israelites faced when they were offered the promised land. "Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion on the day of testing in the wilderness..." (Hebrews 3:7-8 -ESV). The Israelites had heard the voice of God telling them that he had given them the land. He instructed them to take it. They did not believe him and chose instead to reject his word. As a result they were given what they wanted and lived as they were until they died.
What is a hard heart? From this text we must conclude that it is a heart that refuses to take God's verdict as final. In its essence, a hard heart is one that clings to another authority besides God. In the case of the Israelites, they were so captured by the physical evidence of large and strong armies that they couldn't believe God's gift was viable. So their final authority was reason based solely on what they could observe with their senses.

Like the promise of the land to the Israelites, the promise of grace to us seems too good to be true. We must have an underlying trust in the One who speaks in order to believe the outlandish gift of grace.  Who would risk life and limb on the word of a stranger? If we do our research well, we will find that the one who speaks has a record of faithfulness. He has never been found to be deceptive. He has done everything he promised even at the cost of giving his own Son. But the research alone is not enough. We must know him. That is why he has ordained life to be about relationship with him. Relationships need maintaining. There is some work to discovering the different treasures in the other person. It is worth the time and effort. It is not about a first-time encounter and then waiting until the final day of judgment.

But there is more than just research on the rational level. There is the gift of illumination, which allows us to see beyond the scope of our natural senses. When we neglect that gift, we are taking the first steps down the path of a hard heart. Eventually we will not be able to see anything of God's reality. We will be shut up to reality as defined by us. We wind up being our own authority and that is judgment. So we cannot afford to neglect "today's" word. It will be the key that unlocks tomorrow's word. As we continue to live by his daily word we develop believing hearts that can march confidently into our promised land.

What if we have already begun to have a hard heart? There is good news. The very fact that we recognize it is a gift from God. We can acknowledge it and choose to submit to his forgiveness. We can start over. The "today" word for those convicted by the Spirit is to confess. When we do he grants illumination for the day.

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