One of the greatest dangers of Christians today is the development of a hardened heart and a calloused conscience. Indeed, Paul warned us: “Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils; Speaking lies in hypocrisy; having their conscience seared with a hot iron” (1 Tim. 4:1-2, emp. SW). When we think about the danger of developing a hardened heart, certainly Pharaoh, ruler of Egypt, comes to mind in Exodus 7-9 (as a matter of fact, we could look at many of the Egyptians themselves in the same situation—Ex. 14:17-18). Yet, when we see the context of such, and know that Pharaoh declined to know the God of Joseph (cf. Ex. 1:8), then we truly see that he and others who follow his example are without excuse (cf. Rom. 1:18-32). How serious of a problem do we really have? Am I simply being an alarmist? How may one be in danger of developing such?
One may develop a hardened heart and a calloused conscience when he knows to do something, but resists in doing so. Every preacher struggles with the conclusion of every sermon, wherein he offers an invitation. Every preacher knows that there are often individuals in the assembly who need to respond to the divine invitation but resist doing what they know they ought to do. James said it succinctly, “Therefore to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin” (James 4:17). Every single time I resist doing what I know I ought to do, my heart becomes a bit more hardened, and my conscience becomes a bit more seared. Then, every successive time I resist doing what I know I ought to do, I feel a little less guilt. Such is the great temptation to every Christian! In speaking concerning the Jews, Paul exhorted,
Or despisest thou the riches of his goodness and forbearance and longsuffering; not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance? But after thy hardness and impenitent heart treasurest up unto thyself wrath against the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God. [Rom. 2:4-5]
In other words, instead of repenting, which was the intended response of the goodness, forbearance and longsuffering of God (cf. 2 Pet. 3:9), they refused to do what they should and thus developed hardened hearts.
One may develop a hardened heart and a calloused conscience when he knows not to do something, but persists in doing it. By its very nature, sin is addicting (cf. John 8:34), and oftentimes, Christians get caught up in sins that they know are wicked and unrighteous, but the light of the word does not shine through to motivate them to quit as it should (cf. Psa. 119:11). Thus, with each and every occasion, as long as the person fails to quit, the feelings of guilt will diminish with every occurrence, and the heart begins to harden and the conscience becomes more calloused. Thus, God wants soft and tender hearts and consciences that respond appropriately. This is the major difference between King Saul and David—Saul repetitively sinned through rebellion against God (his apologies never meant anything), but David sincerely stopped when presented with guilt (cf. 2 Sam. 11-12; Psa. 51). We all sin (1 John 1:7-9), but will we repent, confess and change our lives? If not, then our persistence to sin will be detrimental to our souls!
One may develop a hardened heart and a calloused conscience when he lives hypocritically. One cannot read the accounts of the gospel of Jesus Christ without seeing the hardened hearts and calloused consciences of the Jewish leaders of His day. Yet, one of the primary reasons for such was their hypocrisy, which Jesus infamously took to task in Matthew 23. Anytime we become hypocritical—saying one thing but living differently—we only continue the process of hardening the heart and searing the conscience with callouses. Parents who think that they can rear their children with the attitude, “Do as I say, but not as I do,” will have a rude awakening should their children become adults. Hypocrisy quickly leads to hardened hearts and calloused consciences.
One may develop a hardened heart and a calloused conscience when he judges hypercritically. Jesus addresses this in Matthew 7:1-5:
Judge not, that ye be not judged. For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again. And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye? Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye? Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye.
Anytime one attempts to correct the faults of others through hypercriticism, extracting a speck with a beam of his own protruding forth, he is showing his own neglect for his own life, and his heart will harden and he will sear his own conscience. His attention is only on the faults of others and not himself. David is a great example of this in his condemnation of a fictitious rich man from Nathan’s story (2 Sam. 12), in that he failed to see the exact fault of which Nathan was addressing by God in his own life, but was quick to judge so in others!
Rather than developing hardened hearts and calloused consciences, may we all seek to mold tender hearts and consciences (cf. 2 Kings 22:19; 2 Chron. 34:27) by allowing the word of God to become active in our lives—we will do what God says and we will refuse to do what God says not to do; we will not live hypocritically, neither will we judge hypercritically. In this way, we will all draw closer to God!