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John Piper identifies key signs of a 'hardened heart,' how to overcome 'deceitfulness of sin'

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Author John Piper has identified the key signs of a “hardened heart” and shared how to overcome such a sin and avoid reverting to hardness in a recent episode of his “Ask Pastor John” podcast. 

The 78-year-old chancellor of Bethlehem College and Seminary in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and founder of Desiring God made his comments in response to a reader who asked: “How would I know if my heart was hardened against God? What does this mean? And how can I ensure that I don’t have a hardened heart toward God?”

At its core, a hardened heart is characterized by a lack of ordinary feelings of tenderness and compassion, Piper said. He cited instances from the Bible, such as the commandment in Deuteronomy 15:7–8, to show compassion toward the poor, and Jesus' reaction to the indifference of people toward a man with a withered hand in Mark 3. 

“So, the most common meaning for ‘hardness of heart’ is a heart that cannot be touched and moved and made to feel tender emotions — empathy, sympathy — toward suffering. It’s like a stone; it can’t feel what it ought to feel,” Piper said. 

Piper emphasized that overcoming a hardened heart is ultimately a divine work, a miraculous gift from God as described in Ezekiel 36:26–27. This transformation is akin to being born again, where God replaces the heart of stone with a heart of flesh, capable of feeling and responding to God's statutes and grace, he stressed. 

“It’s a gift, it’s a miracle, it’s a work of God, and we should receive it as a gift,” he said. 

The author suggested engaging in a healthy community of believers who offer mutual exhortation against the deceitfulness of sin. As Hebrews 3:13 advises, he said, daily encouragement within the Christian community can protect against the hardening effects of sin's lies. 

According to Piper, Christian fellowship is crucial in maintaining a responsive heart toward God.

“Sin is deceitful. It tells lies, and those lies harden the heart. If we don’t counter the lies of sin with the truth, our hearts are going to grow hard. And God has designed fellow Christians to remind us of this truth — the beauties, the preciousness, the worth, the satisfying nature of God and his ways, and the lies of sin. People need to speak that into our lives,” he said. 

“[Confirm] your calling, confirm your election. Show that you are a true Christian. How? By both exhorting and receiving exhortations every day ‘that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.’”

The concept of a “hardened heart” appears repeatedly in the Bible, particularly in the Old Testament within the context of Pharaoh's heart being hardened during the Exodus story, as well as in other references to individuals or the people of Israel turning away from God. 

Additionally, the New Testament also discusses the hardening of hearts, especially in relation to the rejection of Jesus' teachings and the refusal to turn to God. 

In an op-ed for The Christian Post, Dan Delzell, pastor of Wellspring Lutheran Church in Papillion, Nebraska, shared some additional signs of a hardened heart: excessive hurry, paranoia, anger, living in the flesh, avoiding biblical counsel and godly wisdom and a lack of thirst for spiritual food. 

“An open heart toward Christ is the path to godly wisdom. And the opposite of an open heart is a hard heart,” he wrote. 

“If you are experiencing any or all of these seven consequences of a hard heart toward God, there is only one remedy. ‘Come near to God and He will come near to you’ (James 4:8). As the Lord told His people through the prophet Ezekiel, ‘I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you. ... I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws’ (Ezekiel 36:26). And it all begins when you repent of your sin and call upon the name of the Lord for salvation (Romans 10:13).”

Leah M. Klett is a reporter for The Christian Post. She can be reached at: leah.klett@christianpost.com

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