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Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Can a Hardened Heart toward God be Softened?

Awhile back I received a response (a comment) on an article I had posted online entitled "The Hardening of the Human Heart" from an individual who seemed to be truly troubled after reading the article.  I quote the comment I received in its entirety below.

"The sermon i heard was true hard and direct from god i long disobeyed now its too late there is no way to easily deal with this how do i how can i simply ignore what i was told knowing what i choose to do without the power of repentence you can't simply repent i don't want to accept its too late for me to be saved i feel fear and terror knowing its too late for me knowing there is nothing in heaven i can do or anyone can do to help me i am trying to grasp it but its hard for me to understand even i honestly i don't have any words but the pain i am left with . what do i say god remember me"
The above paragraph is a direct quote but it will be easier to understand if you put in the proper punctuation as I take it that English is a second language for the commentator.  First of all I want to say that while I always try and write the truth from God's word, or about God's word, nothing I write is "direct from God" as per the commentator's words.  I hope I write the truth and try my best but in the end only the Bible can be relied upon.
With that out of the way it is obvious the writer is in turmoil and needs help.  Since the writer publicly used his/her name in commenting on my article I will use it here as well since it is easier than referring to him or her, he or she.  The name was Jamie.  Is Jamie's case hopeless?  Jamie seems to feel as though it is.  I do not. 
A case is hopeless when one has totally rejected Christ, is no longer a believer, and is not the least bit concerned or worried about sin or his ultimate destiny.  Even then some tragic event or experience in life may turn him or her back to Christ and the gospel.  The parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32) gives us some insight to how such a thing can happen.  I think we all know that the father in the parable represents God and the younger son who goes off into prodigal living represents sinful man who, at least for a time, rejects God.
Jesus in giving the parable says in verse 13 of this prodigal that he "wasted his possessions with prodigal living." (Luke 15:13 NKJV)  The word "prodigal" (Luke 15:13) is used to describe his manner of life in the New King James Version but other translations use words like "riotous living" (ASV, KJV), "wild living" (NIV, NLT, CEV, ISV), "reckless living" (ESV), "loose living" (NASB), "dissolute living" (NRSV), and the NET Bible says "wild lifestyle."  His older brother says he had devoured the father's money with harlots (Luke 15:30 NKJV).  This gives us a pretty good idea of the kind of life he had chosen to lead.
We all know the story if we are familiar with the Bible.  The son becomes destitute to the point of hunger (Luke 15:16) but the Bible says "when he came to himself" (Luke 15:17 NKJV) and began to reason he determined to return to his father and confess his sins with the implication being he had repented.  This took a great deal of humility and involved shame.  All pride was destroyed and gone from his life.  He had nothing to be proud of and he knew it.  He had played the role of the fool and had made a complete failure of things but in doing so it brought him to his senses—"he came to himself."  He went back to where he belonged—with his father.
We thus have a parable that shows people like Jamie that there is hope of going back to God from a sinful lifestyle.  In fact Jesus says, "I say to you that likewise there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine just persons who need no repentance." (Luke 15:7 NKJV)  He again says, "There is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents." (Luke 15:10 NKJV)  Man has it in his power to bring joy to heaven.  Jamie has power to bring joy to heaven.  Heaven cares about us.  Just thinking about that is powerful, someone cares.  That is powerful for sometimes we all are inclined to get to thinking who cares.  Well, heaven cares.  God the Father, Christ the Son, the Holy Spirit, the angels, all of heaven cares.  The creator cares.
Hear the Holy Spirit as he spoke in the Psalms:
"The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, a broken and a contrite heart-- these, O God, you will not despise." (Psalm 51:17 NKJV)  From the tone of Jamie's comments I think he/she has just such a heart, one God will not despise.
"The Lord is near to those who have a broken heart, and saves such as have a contrite spirit." (Psalm 34:18 NKJV)
I would say to Jamie it is not too late.  God cares about you and you care or else why are you reading religious articles?  You even say, "i don't want to accept its too late for me to be saved."  You care and for anyone who still cares it is not too late.  The person who is lost because of a hardened heart does not care.  You are not in that category.
Jamie seems to think he or she, as the case may be, cannot repent.  Anyone can repent who wills to do so badly enough.  If we are honest we all know sin can be addictive and pleasurable, at least for a season (Heb. 11:25), and very hard to quit.  Add to that the circumstances in which we can at times find ourselves in can make it additionally hard to repent.  Let us give some examples.
Drunkenness is a sin but it is also an addiction for some, a physical addiction and quite possibly a psychological one as well although I am not a psychologist.  Gossip, a sin, can be addictive.  What would life be for some without being able to gossip?  Some are addicted to adultery (they are in an adulterous marriage they refuse to repent of and leave and admittedly it would not be easy to do); some have their own personal idols they are addicted to whether it be money, pleasure, or whatever; some are addicted to "selfish ambitions" (see Gal. 5:20 NKJV); some seem to be addicted to judging others and the list could go on and on. 
I think most of us have a sin or set of sins that tempt us greatly, our own particular weaknesses, that are a real battle to deal with.  They are sins we are drawn to.  I think the Hebrew writer may be talking about this when he says, "Let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us." (Heb. 12:1 NKJV)  Note the writer says of this sin or sins that it "easily ensnares us."  The CEV translation says, "So we must get rid of everything that slows us down, especially the sin that just won't let go." (Heb. 12:1 CEV)  The Bible commentator Albert Barnes says in reference to this verse, "Every man has one or more weak points in his character; and it is there that he is particularly exposed." (Albert Barnes, Commentary on Hebrews, 12:1)  I believe Barnes is right.  The sin that just won't let go, as per the CEV translation, is the sin we are drawn to that tempts us continually and which because of that we have to battle against day in and day out.
It is not at all easy to resist the temptation directed toward our weakness but we can gain the victory over temptation and sin through faith in Christ and his strength.  While it is very hard we all know that there have been many who were drunkards, addicted to alcohol, who have successfully been rehabilitated but they fight the battle continually against the urge to drink.
I personally know of a Christian couple who ended their adulterous marriage because of their dedication to Christ and doing what is right.  I think they were married before becoming Christians and one or the other of them did not have a scriptural divorce thus when they married they entered into a state of adultery.  Upon learning the truth about marriage and what constitutes adultery they saw what they must do and did the right thing unlike Herod and Herodias.  They remain friends and are members of the same congregation.  They no longer are married nor do they live together.
Repentance can certainly be very hard.  It had to be terribly hard for the two Christians I just mentioned but here is another example, a Bible example, showing how difficult repentance can be.  Remember the rich young ruler of Mark 10:17-22 (see also Matt. 19:16-22 and Luke 18:18-23)?  He truly wanted to inherit eternal life.  The Bible also says Jesus loved him (Mark 10:21).  Even so when Jesus told the young ruler he lacked one thing (knowing the young man loved his wealth) and told him to sell his possessions, give to the poor, and then come follow him the Bible says this made the rich young ruler sad and he went away grieved.  It is or can be very hard to make God number one in our life.  Money had become an idol for this young man and in the end he loved it more than Christ, even more than acquiring eternal life. 
We do people a disfavor when we say or imply that repentance is easy and that it is easy to resist temptation and sin.  If it was easy to resist temptation and sin we could live sinless lives once we acquired the proper knowledge and yet we all do things on occasion that trouble us for we know we were in the wrong and did that which was not right in God's eyes.  Neither Jamie nor anyone else is ever going to live sinlessly no matter how dedicated they may be to living a holy and godly life.  We all sin (1 John 1:8) and chances are when we do most of the time it will be in the realm where we are weakest and most prone to sin.  Those sins that don't ever tempt us, say murder for example, are not the kind of sins we are going to commit.
Jamie says "without the power of repentence you can't simply repent."  I am not sure what is meant by the power of repentance but suspect what is meant is the will to repent.  There is no magical power of repentance given to anyone by God.  He gives motives for repentance, encouragement for repentance, blessings for repentance, but does not give one person a power to repent that is not available to all persons.  The power of repentance lies in the will of man.  Repentance is a personal choice; it is an individual decision.  As I have already said it can be a real battle to repent but it is not impossible for any of us.  It is a choice.
We must all forget our past.  It doesn't matter what a no account you may have been.  It doesn't matter how sinful your life has been.  It doesn't matter what the world may think of you.  None of that matters.  God made each of us in his own image and wants us all to be saved (see 2 Peter 3:9).  He wants us all to come to repentance.  He "desires all men to be saved." (1 Tim. 2:4 NKJV) 
Even Christians must continually be repenting of sin.  David Lipscomb once said he doubted that any man ever lived a single day without sin.  Without trying to make myself a judge of men I suspect he came very close to the truth in that statement.  In fact, the better Bible student you are, the more knowledge you have, the more you realize how short you come in being what God wants you to be and the easier it is to see the sin you do have and must overcome.
I also want to rid Jamie of any idea that if you truly repented of a sin that once you did so you would never ever again commit that same sin.  It doesn't work that way even though that is the ideal.  The difference between the person who has repented and the one who has not is that the one who has repented fights the temptation and resists committing the sin.  He or she is not always successful in doing so but they fight the fight.  The one who has not repented does not battle temptation at all but readily gives in and engages in the sin.
God does give the Christian help.  "No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it."  (1 Cor. 10:13 NKJV)  Most translations use the term "endure it" rather than "bear it" at the end of the verse.  I like that better for not only is it true to the Greek (both terms are) but it also tells it like we experience it.  Temptation to sin is something we endure, not something we like or enjoy, for we know when we are tempted it is no fun.  Our spirit is telling us to resist while our flesh is telling us go ahead and do the sin.  However, the main point of the verse is that there is a way of escape, of getting away if we will take it, so it becomes a matter of our own will.  We can escape if we are willing.  We can win the battle of temptation.
Finally, what does one do if he fails and gives into temptation?  He gets up, dusts himself off so to speak, and says I will not give up but try again to live faithfully.  Of course, he must seek God's forgiveness for the sin he has committed by a true repentance and complying with God's other demands for forgiveness which vary with whether one has never obeyed the gospel or has obeyed and has sinned as a Christian. 
Well, what if after doing that he commits the same sin again?  The answer is he does the same thing again as he did the first time in seeking forgiveness.  One only obeys the gospel once but one seeks through repentance and confession of sin God's forgiveness many times throughout one's life.  The one thing you never do is give up.  Never ever give up.  (See my article entitled "Never Give Up" on my web site.)  Once you give up you are done and lost.
In closing I would say to Jamie and all who may feel like he or she does that God is saying to him/her what he says to all:
"For He says:  'In an acceptable time I have heard you, and in the day of salvation I have helped you.'  Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation." (2 Cor. 6:2 NKJV)
Jamie, now is the day of salvation for you, now while you have life and breath.

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