The Hardening of the Heart – Ephesians 4:17-19

Published January 17, 2010 by Ron Latulippe in Messages


Careful Living in 2010 (Ephesians 5.15)

The Hardening of the Heart Ephesians 4.17-19

They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts.           Ephesians 4.18


> From Ephesians 4.25 to the end of the book Paul will teach us how to walk carefully

> 4.17 the general condition of the unbelieving world – they are futile in their thinking. No eternal perspective

> Psalm 73, Christian do not become futile in your thinking. Keep God’s perspective on this world

Ephesians 4.18

> v18, the cause which produces ignorance, darkened    understanding and separation from God is a hardened heart.

> heart is the center that directs man’s spiritual life and the way he thinks about life. Proverbs 4.23

> hardened is the Greek word for stone and by extension hardening,  like a callus, arthritis, new bone

Sin Hardens the Heart

> Adam’s sin brought hardness of heart and spiritual blindness to all men. We are all born with a sinful nature. Jeremiah 17.9; Psalm 51.5; Matthew 15.10, 16-20; Titus 1.15

> When man sins he continues to harden his heart. Romans 1.18, 21, 24, 28, 32; 2.5

> Mankind has a very serious hardened heart condition and cannot change that condition

The New Covenant

> God promised a new heart and a new mind. Jeremiah 31.33; 24.7; Ezekiel 11.19-21, 36.24-27; Hebrews 8.7-13

> God draws mankind to Himself. Man does not come to God on his own. John 6.44; Acts 16.14, 13.48; 2 Corinthians 4.4-6


> Humbly thank God for your salvation

> Respond to God if you are not yet saved

> Christian, do not be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness. Hebrews 3.12-13

> Walk wholeheartedly in the teachings of God. Romans 6.17


Careful Living in 2010 (Ephesians 5.15)

The Hardening of the Heart Ephesians 4.17-18

-We began 2010 with the command found in Ephesians 5.15, “Be very careful how you live/walk”. This is my challenge to all of you this year.

-In order to understand more about how to live carefully we have been looking at the word walk in the letter to the Ephesians. We have learned how we once walked, following the ways of the world, serving the kingdom of the Devil, compelled by the cravings of the flesh, and under the wrath of God. (2.1-3) But God saved us from our old walk and has prepared a new walk for us in Christ. (2.10) We are to walk in a way that is worthy of God’s grace. (4.1)

-From 4.25 Paul tells us in detail how we are to walk in this new life in Christ, but before he does that he describes the dark and empty life we once lived apart from Christ. Paul wants us to appreciate what God has done for us and in us. Paul wants us to see the contrast between what we were in sin, and what we now are in Christ. Paul wants to show us the thinking and the attitudes and actions that need to change because of the new life that is now in us.

-In verse 17, Paul describes the general condition of an unbelieving world, “they are futile in their thinking”. In other words they do not perceive the meaning and the purpose of life; they do not view life with the right goals and aims. Therefore how they choose to live accomplishes nothing of eternal value and leaves them without God in eternity. Someone has said that, “for the unbeliever this world will be the only heaven they ever experience; and for the believer this world will be the only hell they ever experience”. The futile thinking of unbelievers pursues lies, false hopes, and deceptive peace. One day all that the unbeliever has built will come crashing down and his futile thinking will be evident to everyone.

-As Christians we are not to get caught up in the futile thinking of the world. We are not to build houses on foundations of sand that will one day fall down with a great crash. Let me encourage you to read Psalm 73 this afternoon. Here is a believer who looked at the world and began to think that the world was doing very well without following after God. He said, “But as for me, my feet had almost slipped; I had nearly lost my foothold. For I envied the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.” After describing how great he thought the life of the wicked to be without God he says, “When I tried to understand all this, it was oppressive to me, till I entered the sanctuary of God; then I understood their final destiny.” There you have it. Christian take hold of God’s perspective on this world so that you do not become futile in your thinking. That is why God’s Word is so important to read every single day.

-In verse 18, Paul goes on to describe the cause of this futile thinking in the unbeliever. We will be looking at this verse this week and next week.

-Then in verse 19, Paul describes the lifestyle that results from man’s lost condition. We will be looking at this verse next week as well.

-Verse 18 has four descriptive statements, “They are darkened in their understanding, they are separated from the life of God, the ignorance that is in them, and the hardening of their hearts”. The progression in these verses is that darkened understanding and separation from the life of God are because of the ignorance that is in them, and these three conditions have their source in the hardening of their hearts. The cause of man’s darkness and separation from God and his ignorance is a hardened heart.

-What does the Bible mean when it talks about the heart of man? Sometimes it means the physical heart but that is not how it is used here. Because the heart was seen as the chief organ of physical life and occupied the most important place in the human body, heart came to describe the center that directed a man’s spiritual life and the way he thought about life. Heart is a figurative term used for the inner man with his deepest desires, conscience, reason, and will. The heart is where God reveals Himself to man and where man responds to God.  The heart is the control room of man, the central processor out of which comes a man’s thinking, morals, choices, and living. In Proverbs 4.23 we read, “Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life”. What a man thinks and how he lives has its source in his heart. The condition of a man’s heart is manifested in his thinking and in his lifestyle.

-The Word of God teaches us here that the heart of the unbeliever is hardened. The Greek word used here is from a noun which means stone and was used to describe hard marble. When used medically this word described a callus which is hardened skin, or the build up of calcium on the bones that produced arthritis, or the growth of new bone or cartilage on a broken bone. The idea here is that a hardening has taken place in the heart. At the center that directs man’s spiritual life and man’s thinking, hardness has taken place and has influenced man’s understanding of God, his relationship with God, and his moral behavior before God.

How does this hardening of the heart of the unbeliever take place? The hardening of the human heart takes place in two steps and both steps are the result of sin. First man is born into this world with a sinful nature. This means that a man’s heart is hardened toward God and truth from birth. Second a man sins. Sinful acts add to the hardening of man’s already hardened heart.

Sin hardens and blinds the heart of man to God and to God’s truth, and leads man to follow the world, the Devil, and his own desires. When Adam sinned against God he brought hardness of heart and spiritual blindness to all men and women that came after him. This hardness of the heart is called the sinful nature. All of us were born with a sinful nature. Man is born with a bent toward sin because his heart has been hardened by Adam’s sin. Jeremiah writes, “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17.9) David writes, “Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.” (Psalm 51.5) Jesus in a dispute with the Pharisees over washing their hands before eating in order to make their food ceremonially clean said, “Listen and understand. What goes into a man’s mouth does not make him ‘unclean’ but what comes out of his mouth, that is what makes him unclean”. Then Jesus went on to explain the source of man’s uncleanness before God, “Don’t you see that whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and then out of the body? But the things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and these make a man ‘unclean’. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. These are what make a man ‘unclean’; but eating with unwashed hands does not make him ‘unclean’”. (Matthew 15.10, 16-20) Paul wrote to Titus these words, “To the pure, all things are pure, but to those who are corrupted and do not believe, nothing is pure. In fact, both their minds and consciences are corrupted.” (Titus 1.15) Man is born with a heart that is hardened to God and God’s truth. Man’s reason, man’s desires, man’s conscience, and man’s will have all been desensitized to the light of God’s Glory and to the truth of God.

-Not only is man’s heart hardened from birth because of the sin of Adam but by sinning man continues to harden his heart to God and God’s truth. Romans chapter 1 gives us enough evidence to make this point clear. Verse 18 says, “the wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness.” Because of man’s natural hardness of heart he suppresses the truth of God and does not worship God or follow God’s ways. Let me remind you again that all of us once followed the ways of the world, the way of the Devil, the way of our cravings, and therefore were under the wrath of God. Verse 21 goes on and says, “For although they knew God, they neither glorified Him as God nor gave thanks to Him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened.” This is exactly what we are taught in verses 17 and 18 of Ephesians. Their thinking became futile and their hearts hardened. Verse 24 continues by saying, “Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshipped and served created things rather than the Creator. …Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts”. That is what we find in verse 19 of Ephesians 4. Finally in verses 28 and 32 we read, “Furthermore, since they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, He gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done. …Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them.” In Romans 2.5 Paul writes, “Because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God’s wrath, when His righteous judgment will be revealed”. Not a hopeful picture.

-Mankind has a very, very serious condition of hardness of the heart because he is both born corrupted by sin in Adam and hardened by his own sinful actions. Man is described in the Bible as a slave to sin. Because of man’s hardness of heart he is without hope and without God in this world. (Ephesians 2.13) Man has no power to save himself and cannot change his heart, and the attitudes and actions that come out of his hardened heart. Man is helpless under the power of sin and has been helpless since birth and man only makes his heart condition worse with every passing day of sin.

-In a number of places in the OT, God promised His people a New Covenant. Here is what God says in Jeremiah, “This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time, declares the Lord. I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God and they will be my people”. (Jeremiah 31.33) I have added more Scriptures on this promise in your bulletin. (Jeremiah 24.7; Ezekiel 11.19-21; 36.24-27; Hebrews 8.7-13) The essence of the New Covenant was that God would give His people a new heart that would be tender and sensitive to God, and a renewed mind alert to the truth of God.

-When Jesus died on the cross and shed His blood it was to establish the New Covenant. Jesus made the new birth possible. The indwelling of the Holy Spirit inside the believer became a reality.

-Because man’s heart is hardened to God it is God who must take the first step in drawing man back to Himself. Man in the hardness of His heart cannot and will not submit to God. Jesus said, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him”. (John 6.44) We read in the NT about Lydia, that “The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message.” (Acts 16.14) We read in the book of Acts that “all who were appointed for eternal life believed”. (Acts 13.48) Listen to how Paul puts this truth, “The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For we do not preach ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who made His light shine out of darkness, made His light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.” (2 Corinthians 4.4-6)

-Man, by birth and by choice, has a hardened heart toward God and will not come to God unless God calls him and opens his eyes to his sin and leads him to repentance. If you know God this morning you need to get down on your face before God and worship Him for giving you eternal life, for in your sin and the hardness of your heart, you would never have come to faith in Christ. If you are not yet a believer this morning and you feel God tugging at your hard heart then run toward God for all you are worth because God does not call everyone to Himself. You are being given an opportunity for eternal life which only God can grant.

-One last verse to you who belong to Jesus Christ. Hebrews 3.12-13 says “See to it, brothers, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.” God wants to fill your heart with His love and he wants you to worship Him, but sin is out to harden your heart toward God. Sin is powerful and deceitful and ready to harden every the believer’s heart. Stay close to God in prayer. Read God’s Word constantly. Encourage and be encouraged by other believers in these last days. Life for the Christian who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus is only going to get more difficult. Learn to walk in the Spirit with a clear conscience that is sensitive to sin. God has delivered you from a hard heart and has given you a new heart for Him. “Thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you wholeheartedly obeyed the form of teaching to which you were entrusted”. (Romans 6.17) May you be wholeheartedly devoted to God and His truth.

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