October 12, 2014

The heart specialist says . . .

Another spiritual danger is hardness of heart. As I read the biblical warnings against it, I’m thinking “This is when I say ‘no’ to God so many times that saying ‘yes’ becomes almost impossible.” It is about setting my mind, determining what I want, and leaving ‘yielding to God’ out of the picture.

Of course this is dangerous. If not yielded to God, I have no power to resist Satan and am a sitting duck, an easy target for his deception.

In the Old Testament narrative of the people of God being led through the wilderness to the promised land, they were continually saying no to God. They began in faith when they heard the good news of being delivered from slavery and given new life and a new land. But getting to that promised place required much trial and perseverance. They began doubting that this was a good idea and wanted to go back to Egypt. In their desire for the comforts they remembered, they didn’t remember the bondage or their unhappiness. By doing this, their hearts became hard to God.

The writer of Hebrews uses their experience to give me a warning about having a hard heart: “Since therefore it remains for some to enter (God’s rest), and those who formerly received the good news failed to enter because of disobedience, again he appoints a certain day, ‘Today,’ saying through David so long afterward, in the words already quoted, ‘Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.’ For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken of another day later on. So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his. Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience. For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” (Hebrews 4:6–12)

This version says their problem was “disobedience” however the original language uses a word that can be translated either as “unbelief” or “disobedience” which shows how closely connected are these terms. If I do not trust God, I will not obey Him, but the kicker is that this word can also be translated as “obstinacy” or “obstinate opposition to the divine will.”

Lack of faith could be as simple as ‘I didn’t know that God could do that or wanted that’ but coupled with disobedience, lack of faith becomes hard-heartedness. It is knowing the will of God and refusing to do it. In such a case I cannot plead ignorance.

When someone asked me what I have learned the most in my studies in theology, I told him, “I didn’t realize I was such a sinner.” I shudder thinking about making a list of all that I know God wants but have not obeyed. It also makes me entirely grateful for grace, for justification and forgiveness. None of God’s blessings have anything to do with my performance. If they did, I’d have no hope.

For that reason, I am mostly grateful for Jesus and His Word. It is a sharp sword and He uses it to judge the thoughts and intents of my heart. His Words pierce me asunder, but at the same time they also say, “When the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.” (Titus 3:4–7)

From these verses (and not my performance), I know I am on my way to the promised land, not based on what I do or don’t do, or even if I can keep my heart soft, but because God is merciful.

However, from the next verse I know that being yielded to God is an important part of the journey, not to get me in but that God might use me to bless others along the way . . .  “The saying is trustworthy, and I want you to insist on these things, so that those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works. These things are excellent and profitable for people.” (Titus 3:8)

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