When God Temporarily (or Permanently) Hardens the Heart


"Today, if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts" (Heb. 4:7c; see also Ps. 95:7c-8a).

Homosexual attractions, transgender confusion, a bondage to pornography or other intractable sins are some of the most difficult things from which to find freedom. They are a torment and a plague to those who seek to follow God. They consume people's lives and drive them in ways they know are against God's will.

Giving Them Over to Sin

As many are aware, the Bible teaches that those who yield to such temptations are engaged in the worship of the creature rather than the Creator. Romans 1:18-25 reads:

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The wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth through unrighteousness. For what may be known about God is clear to them since God has shown it to them. The invisible things about Him—His eternal power and deity—have been clearly seen since the creation of the world and are understood by the things that are made, so that they are without excuse.

Because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him or give thanks to Him as God, but became futile in their imaginations, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools. They changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man, birds, four-footed beasts, and creeping things.

Therefore God gave them up to uncleanness through the lusts of their hearts, to dishonor their own bodies among themselves. They turned the truth of God into a lie and worshipped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen.

The apostle Paul then describes homosexual acts of both males and females as examples of what he has just described; although, the principle applies to any form of idolatry (Eph. 5:5-7; Col. 3:5; Ezek. 23:48-49).

Giving Them Over to the Punishment of Idols

The idea of a person being given over to the idol that they choose can be seen in the hardening of Pharaoh's heart. God did not harden his heart the first time Pharaoh sinned, but He did so only after he repeatedly hardened his own heart and refused to do God's will (Ex. 4:21, 7:3, 10:20, 14:4).

In Ezekiel, God describes the giving over of sexual sinners to the idols that they have chosen. In so doing, the demonic powers that lurk behind those idols are allowed to exact their own punishment.

"I will also give you into their hand, and they shall throw down your shrines" (Ezek. 16:39a).

"Therefore I have delivered her into the hand of her lovers" (Ezek. 23:9a).

"And I will set the judgment before them, and they shall judge you according to their customs. ... Because you have forgotten Me and cast Me behind your back, now bear the punishment of your lewdness and your harlotries" (Ezek. 23:24c, 35b).

"Your own wickedness will correct you, and your backslidings will reprove you. Know therefore and see that it is an evil thing and bitter for you to have forsaken the Lord your God, and the fear of Me is not in you, says the Lord God of Hosts" (Jer. 2:19).

"There is no one who calls on Your name, who arouses himself to take hold of You; for You have hidden Your face from us and have delivered us into the power of our iniquities" (Isa. 64:7, NASB1995).

Why God Hardens the Heart

To the crowds, after doing many miracles in their presence, Jesus pointed to the principle of the "hardening of the heart" for those who obstinately refuse to believe in Him. We read in John 12:38-40:

"This was to fulfill the word of Isaiah the prophet which he spoke: 'Lord, who has believed our report? And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?'

"For this reason they could not believe, for Isaiah said again, 'He has blinded their eyes and He hardened their heart, so that they would not see with their eyes and perceive with their heart, and be converted and I heal them.'"

(See also Isa. 53:1 and Matt. 13:11-15.)

When God Permanently Hardens the Heart

It is important to note that there seem to be two kinds of circumstances where God "hardens" or "gives someone over" to blindness.

We see the first kind in the story of Pharaoh. God hardened his heart only after Pharaoh repeatedly hardened his own heart against God. In that case, the permanent hardening by God appears to be a judgment from which Pharaoh could no longer repent.

The same was true of the Pharisees who repeatedly refused to believe in Him, despite His performing miracles that could only have been carried out by the Messiah.

When God Temporarily Hardens the Heart

The second kind of hardening is redemptive in its intent. This could be what we see in Romans 1. It is a temporary hardening that forces the sinner to experience the temporal consequences of their sin so that they will come to their senses and repent before the Lord. It appears to be similar to the "giving over" of the Israelites to the idols that they had chosen instead of God (see Ezek. 23:24c above).

However, even with a temporary hardening of the heart, there may come a time when that hardening becomes permanent. This is a sovereign decision by God based on His ability to read what is in the heart (Acts 1:24; Heb. 4:12-13). He knows when a person has finally and permanently hardened their heart against Him (Zech. 7:11-14). Though longsuffering, He can tell what is in a person's heart, (Mark 2:8a; Luke 11:17a, 16:15b; John 2:25; Acts 15:8a) and will not allow the sacrifice of His Son to be trampled underfoot in such a way (Heb. 10:26-31).

Hardening the Idolatrous Heart Reveals God's Justice

When God causes a final hardening of someone's heart, the righteousness of His judgment is made clear in the ample time that was given for that person to repent. The impenitent sinner is without excuse (John 15:22; Rom. 1:20).

In a blog on pornography, Tim Challies writes:

"All sin is idolatry, an attempt to find joy and satisfaction not in God Himself but in what God forbids (Ex. 20:3-6). Matt Papa says it well: 'An idol, simply put, is anything that is more important to you than God. It is anything that has outweighed God in your life—anything that you love, trust, or obey more than God—anything that has replaced God as essential to your happiness.'

"In the moment you begin to look at porn, you have allowed it to replace God as essential to your happiness. You've committed the sin of idolatry."

It is a sobering thought to realize that our sins put Jesus on the cross and that when we ignore His sacrifice in this way, we are crucifying the Son of God all over again (Heb. 6:4-8). That is why there is a day when the heart of someone who keeps rejecting Christ and His commands must be hardened.

Every Life on Earth Has an Expiration Date

It is important to note that our life in this world is but a vapor, here today and gone tomorrow (James 4:13-14). In fact, God has already determined the places we should live and the number of our days (Acts 17:26-28, Job 14:5, Psalm 139:16b). Our earthly "expiration date" may be early in life, late in life or somewhere in between. No one knows the day or the hour.

It is true that King Hezekiah begged the Lord to extend his life. In response, God gave him 15 more years. But those years were not good ones for Hezekiah or the nation of Judah (2 Kings 20:6; Isa. 38:5). During the extra 15 years, a son named Manasseh was born, who turned out to be one of the wickedest kings in the history of Israel. His evil deeds included idolatry, human sacrifices and the pursuit of demonic powers. If Hezekiah hadn't lived those additional 15 years, none of that would have happened.

Jesus told a parable to a large crowd one day about a man who was obsessed with trying store up treasure on earth.

God said to him, 'You fool! This very night your soul is required of you'" (Luke 12:20a).

No Man Knows the Day or the Hour

The good news is that we still have time to repent and turn to the Lord for both salvation and sanctification. But we must be sober and alert, for we do not know the time of the Lord's return—or of our death (Mark 13:32-37). Let us no longer live as the Gentiles (or those who do not know God) do (Eph. 4:17-24).

If you are a believer and have fallen, return to Him, confess your sins and be cleansed (1 John 1:9). Such a response softens the heart.

Tim Challies concludes:

"Those who have trusted Jesus Christ can have confidence that Christ has satisfied our account, that He has satisfied God's wrath against our sin, that He has provided us with His own righteousness. Yet we must also know that He has done this not so we can remain in our sin, but that we can 'put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness' (Eph. 4:24)."

No one knows the day or the hour when Jesus will return—a time when the hearts of everyone who have rejected Him will be permanently hardened. That is why the Scriptures say:

"How shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation, which was first declared by the Lord, and was confirmed to us by those who heard Him? God also bore them witness with signs and wonders and diverse miracles and with gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to His own will" (Heb. 2:3-4, MEV).

"As workers together with God, we ask you not to receive the grace of God in vain. For He says: 'In an acceptable time I have listened to you, and in the day of salvation I have helped you.' Look, now is the accepted time; look, now is the day of salvation" (2 Cor. 6:1-2).

God Has Set Eternity in Our Hearts

We don't even know our own hearts (Jer. 17:9-10), which makes any delay in giving ourselves into His hands a precarious matter indeed (Luke 8:15, 12:20a, 12:34).

The Bible says that God has set eternity in our hearts (Eccl. 3:11). We know that He exists (Rom. 1:18-20), and so we are without excuse if we ignore so great a salvation (Heb. 2:1-3).

Jesus is worth it! He is not asking for sinless perfection. He is asking us to value His sacrifice for our sins—to value it so much that we soften our hearts toward Him and allow Him to truly be the Lord of our lives (Eph. 4:1; Phil. 1:27a; Col. 1:10; Heb. 3:1-3, 7-15). You have everything to gain or everything to lose. Do it today!

Dr. David Kyle Foster is the author of Transformed Into His Image and Love Hunger and is the founder and director of Mastering Life Ministries (MasteringLife.org). Read more of his take on sexual sin and brokenness in his newest book, The Sexual Healing Reference Edition. You can also listen to his twice-weekly podcast at charismapodcastnetwork.com/show/purepassion.

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