Heart Exam: A Hardened Stone
When you hear the words "stubborn" or "steadfast," it is common to have some image comes to mind related this character trait. Whether it is a personal experience, a mule, an ox, an immovable stone, or a green ogre’s irritatingly talkative companion, these are all objects known for a common theme. They all carry out actions that they do in an unrelenting manner. While being steadfast for God can have a positive effect, being stubborn against God can have negative physical and spiritual consequences, and these can be seen throughout the Bible.
Stubbornness in the Bible shows the choice to stubbornly follow the ways of sin (Romans 2:5). Steadfastness in the Bible shows the choice to unwaveringly follow the ways that God has laid out for us (1 Corinthians 9:24-27). When it comes to stubbornly following the ways of sin, one story comes quickly to mind: this is the story of Pharaoh and Moses.
Moses was born at a time where the Egyptians had enslaved and tormented the Hebrews out of fear of their growing population. God had heard the plight of His chosen people, and with some persuasion God was able to give Moses the courage to be the voice for the Hebrews. Moses and Aaron's duty from God was to go to Pharaoh and demand that Pharaoh let the Hebrews go on a three-day journey into the wilderness to sacrifice and feast in the name of God. With miracles and subsequent plagues that follow, the Scriptures say, “He hardened pharaoh's heart” (Exodus 9:12). Or, “…So Pharaoh’s heart remained hardened.”
One common question people will ask is, “Why did God harden Pharaoh’s heart only to punish him?” But, this is not a correct statement because God did not personally harden his heart to punish him. Pharaoh hardened his own heart by not listening to God. God merely gave him the freewill of choice to heed the warning of the plague and obey God or to continue his own selfish reign of sinning against the Hebrews. This is proven in Exodus 8:15 where it says, “But when Pharaoh saw that there was respite, he hardened his heart…..” In the end Pharaoh died and God’s righteous judgment was revealed, as the Scripture says to Pharaoh in Romans 9:17, “I have appointed you for the very purpose of displaying My power in you, and that My name be proclaimed in all the earth.” Pharaoh definitely stored up a lot of wrath by living with a stubborn heart against God, sinning against the Hebrews, and not obeying God’s words (Psalm 28:14-28).
Today you won’t have seven plagues or any physical badness set upon you from God thanks to the death and sacrifice of Jesus Christ for our sins. As it is written, “For God did not send his Son into this world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through Him” (John 3:16). Though we don't experience immediate physical consequences from God's, living with a hardened heart against God can make you feel like He is against you. That is why from personal experience I have learned that it is very important to study the Scriptures to get to know God, because it can have an everlasting positive effect on how we look at this world He created, this life He made us, and situations that occur in it.
Even more important than this life He created, God can positively affect our spiritual soul and its eternal life when our physical bodies pass. This life seems long already with a world average lifespan of 67 years; just imagine what eternity would feel like! We are taught that the way to earn the blissful reward of eternal heaven is through the steadfast love we should have for each other, for our Lord, and the Bible (Ephesians 4:17-32, John 5:24).
As it can be seen from Pharaoh having a hardened heart toward God, a steadfast heart for sin does not yield a fruitful life or the rewards of heaven. Let’s see what happens if we as people lead a life with a heart hardened heart toward sin and a steadfast heart toward God. Two people who did an excellent job at this are Jesus and the apostle Paul.
While Jesus was humbling and proving to himself that he was fit for God’s bidding by fasting in the wilderness for forty days and nights, Satan approached him. Satan was trying to directly tempt Jesus with food, power over death, and the whole world itself. Satan wanted Jesus to use his heavenly powers in selfishness and thereby stop God's plan for saving us from our sins. But Jesus, knowing that the eternal reward of heaven was the greatest prize compared to anything in this world, was able to resist Satan’s temptations with a steadfast heart for his Father and a hardened heart to the world (Matthew 4:1-11).
The apostle Paul did not start out as a steadfast follower of Jesus. In the beginning of Acts Paul went by his Hebrew name Saul and was being groomed to become an important person in the religious hierarchy of the Jews. As Saul, he condoned the stoning of the deacon Stephen and was going about ravaging the church (see Acts 8). In Acts chapter 9, Saul is on his way to Damascus and on the way the Lord blinded him with heavenly light as He spoke, telling him to await His command in Damascus. In the city the Lord arranged a disciple named Ananias to heal Saul’s eyes to see. After all he had been through, Saul was baptized and born anew under his Christian name Paul (Acts 9:17-18).
Paul is a great example because he was once a stubborn sinner but, after being baptized and having his past sins forgiven, his steadfast love for the Scriptures of the Lord helped him save so many souls (Ephesians 3:7-11). Paul was imprisoned multiple times, was tortured and beaten, but still he stayed true to God and preached His Word to so many. He traveled to towns like Antioch and Iconium to preach in synagogues and to convert Gentiles (Acts 13, 14). He also wrote letters to and visited many churches such as the Galatians and the Ephesians and the Philippians. He did this to encourage fellow churches to ensure that they stayed along the true path God wants us all to take. That is proof of how powerful God’s Word can be in our lives: a man who committed horrible acts could be forgiven so that he can be given eternal bliss. That is God’s promise to us of heaven. Following God's Word gave Paul such a strong sense of passion and steadfastness for God, and in doing so he saved many others' souls. Even though he was imprisoned and tortured, he could even forgive and love those who persecuted him as much as his neighbors.
Some verses showing Paul's example and the power of Christ in his life:
Philippians 1:9, 12-14, 21-25
"And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.”
"I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ. And most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear.”
“For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account. Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith…”
1 Corinthians 13
"If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known. So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love."
It isn’t easy, but if we learn to live steadfast lives like Paul and Jesus did through the teachings of the Bible, not only will our physical lives be more blissful but we will be eternally happy as well.