We often define people by their physicality. This one is tall: that one is short. This one is fair: that one is dark. This one is fat: that one is slim. Sometimes, we use what they have to define them. “The man that drives the black Toyota Corolla.” “The lady that has those two adorable twins.”
My old man was called “Baba Rome” because he worked in Rome, Italy at a branch of the United Nations. My great uncle was called “Baba Ekotedo” because he lived in Ekotedo in Ibadan.
At other times, we try to define people by our perception of their character. A friend of mine is called affectionately: “The Troubler of Israel” because he likes to stir up controversy and he can argue nonstop about inconsequentials from morning tonight.
However, we can never really define a man by externalities. It is the heart that defines the man. Solomon says: “As he thinks in his heart, so is he.” (Proverbs 23:7). This means no man can really know another man because no man can read the heart of another man. Only God know the heart.
God says to Samuel: “The Lord does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:7).
It also means we do not and cannot even know ourselves. Again, Solomon says: “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it?” (Jeremiah 17:9). Solomon testifies that only God can know the heart. He says to God: “You alone know the hearts of the sons of men.” (2 Chronicles 6:30).
Our heart determines the course of our life. We sin with our hearts. Jesus says: “Out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications.” (Matthew 15:19). We speak according to our heart. Jesus says: “Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.” Matthew 12:34). We see spiritually with our hearts. Accordingly, Paul talks of “the blindness of the heart.” (Ephesians 4:18).
We think with our hearts. (Proverbs 23:7). We receive the scriptures in our hearts. (Matthew 13:19). We understand the scriptures with our hearts. (Matthew 13:15). We keep the word of God in our hearts. (Psalm 119:11). Indeed, the things we value most are not kept in the bank, but in our hearts.
For this reason, Jesus counsels: “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:19-21).
Heart of stone
Since we understand the scriptures with our heart (Matthew 13:15), an unbeliever cannot understand the scriptures. Jesus says: “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” (John 3:6). The scriptures are spiritual but an unbeliever is flesh. He is not a spiritual man.
Paul says: “The natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.” (1 Corinthians 2:14).
Before I met the Lord, I was a so-called Christian, born in a Christian family; but I could not understand the scriptures. Little did I know that God himself had shut the scriptures to me, ensuring that I could only be a nominal Christian and not a true believer: I only started to understand the scriptures after I received the Holy Spirit.
That is the promise of the New Covenant in Christ Jesus. God says: “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.” (Ezekiel 36:26).
Thus, the disciples did not understand most of what Jesus said to them before Calvary. However, on his resurrection: “(Jesus) opened their mind to understand the Scriptures.” (Luke 24:45). This was also the case with Lydia: “The Lord opened her heart to heed the things spoken by Paul.” (Acts 16:14).
In effect, without God, we cannot lead anyone to Christ. Jesus says: “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him; and I will raise him up at the last day.” (John 6:44).
According to the scriptures, a hardened heart is a heart that the Lord opened, but which became closed again. It is a heart closed by disobedience. It is a heart that receives the truth, then rejects it. It is a heart where truth does not make an impression. It is a heart where religious piety is not produced by afflictions. It is a heart that is immune to the preaching of the gospel.
Jesus used five loaves to feed 5,000 people. Then he used seven loaves to feed 4,000. Nevertheless, his disciples were still concerned about not having enough bread. He says to them: “Why do you reason because you have no bread? Do you not yet perceive nor understand? Is your heart still hardened? Having eyes, do you not see? And having ears, do you not hear? And do you not remember?” (Mark 8:17-18).
If the heart of the disciples were not hardened, they would know from the miracle of the loaves that they never have to worry about bread ever again in their lives. This principle is of primary application to those who have received a new heart from the Lord. If we ensure that our hearts are not hardened again, then we never have to worry about anything ever again because of Jesus.
However, sin desensitizes the conscience. If we return to habitual sin, our hearts become calloused. As one sin is piled upon another, our conscience becomes weak and gradually becomes seared. If we are of good conscience, God himself becomes our conscience. But if we are disobedient, it becomes harder and harder for us to hear the voice of God until we reach the point where we don’t hear him again.
If you advise someone against doing something, and he still does it, and you advise him again, and he still goes against your advice again, after some time you stop advising him and just leave him to his own devices. So it is with the Holy Spirit of God. After many admonitions, he simply leaves us to our own devices: “Ephraim is joined to idols, let him alone.” (Hosea 4:17).
“(Therefore) be careful then, dear brothers and sisters. Make sure that your own hearts are not evil and unbelieving, turning you away from the living God. You must warn each other every day, while it is still ‘today,’ so that none of you will be deceived by sin and hardened against God. For if we are faithful to the end, trusting God just as firmly as when we first believed, we will share in all that belongs to Christ. Remember what it says: ‘Today when you hear his voice, don’t harden your hearts as Israel did when they rebelled.’” (Hebrews 3:12-15).