There is nothing sadder or more tragic than standing beside the bed of a dying person who has rejected Christ and the Gospel.
I think back to a man who’d been attending church for a few months. He had heard the Gospel loud and clear. It was obvious to me that the Holy Spirit had been working on his heart. When he ended up in the hospital because of complications due to diabetes, I went to visit him. With a captive audience, I took the opportunity to present Christ again. I asked the man, “What is keeping you from repenting of your sin and trusting in Christ today?” He replied, “I’m not ready to give my life over yet.” That man died just a few days later of an unexpected heart attack. I hope in his last hours he cried out to God, but as far as I know he went to a Christ-less eternity.
As terrible as it sounds, the truth is that not everyone wants to be saved. The problem is what the Bible calls, “the hardening of the heart.” A hard heart describes an obstinate and calloused spirit that refuses to respond to God or obey His commands. The Bible associates several sins with this condition such as—pride (Dan. 5:20), unbelief (Matt. 13:14-15) and rebellion (Heb. 3:8).
There are several examples of people in the Bible who hardened their heart against the Lord. Pharaoh is probably the most prominent example (Ex. 7:22), who witnessed ten judgments from God yet refused to let the Hebrew slaves go. Then there was Nebuchadnezzar who would not humble himself before God and was forced to live like a beast for 7 years (Dan. 4:31-33). Judas also suffered from a hard heart. He was in the presence of Jesus and still turned away from the truth (John 13:27). Amazingly, the Bible predicts that the people on the earth during the Tribulation will suffer under God’s judgment, yet they will clench their fist in rebellion even tighter (Rev. 16:10-11).
The Puritans had a saying to describe God’s unbending nature and man’s response, “The same sun that melts the snow, hardens the clay.” In other words, God’s holiness will either cause us to repent or rebel, to humble or harden. The deciding factor is how we choose to respond to God’s Word. That is why in Hebrews 4:15 we are warned, “Today, if you will hear His voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.”
I think Adrian Rogers gave an apt illustration. “Have you ever seen the charred stump of a pine tree? What do you think happened? Probably someone cut down the pine tree. Then a fire burned the area and caught the stump aflame. After a while it burned itself out. In a year or so the underbrush grew up again. Then there was another fire. And this time, that stump did not burn as bright or as long. One day, there came a time when no matter how hot the fire was, it simply jumped over the stump. That’s the danger of hardening our heart to God’s Word. If we do it long enough, the day will come when we have a “seared conscience” and nothing can break through to us.
Notice that very important word in Hebrews 4:15—“Today.” If God speaks and we allow time to elapse before we respond, we give over that time to the Enemy and he tries to discourage us from obeying God. The longer we delay the more our heart hardens. Keep a responsive heart by obeying God today in whatever He has asked you to do. –DM