“This I say therefore, and testify in the Lord, that ye no longer walk as the Gentiles also walk, in the vanity of their mind, being darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the hardening of their heart…”1
For several reasons, I’d venture to say that few church-goers have really examined this passage. But it really jumped out at me recently and I knew I had to look at it closer. Paul prefaces this statment by saying he is “testify(ing) in the Lord.” I was surprised to discover that in all his writings, this is the only time he uses this phrase! I believe this means that what Paul is about to say is something extra pressing upon God’s heart, something he is especially concerned we hear. Here it is again:
“…ye no longer walk as the Gentiles also walk, in the vanity of their mind, being darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the hardening of their heart…”1
A “walk” is a common idea in the New Testament, which refers to one’s manner of inward and outward life. Many “walk” based on a mind and understanding that is vain and darkened, and the terrible outcome of this is being “alienated from the life of God.” As I wrote about in my last post, God’s life, which is in Jesus Christ, is the only means of our salvation. If we are alienated from this life, we cannot produce anything of value to God and cannot be “saved.” This is actually very sobering.
If you look closely, a “hardened heart” seems to be the root cause of this alienation, so we must be careful to understand what that is. The “heart” could be said to be the core of one’s being where information is processed and where beliefs and ways of perception are formed and established. The word “hardening” here literally translates “covered in a callous,” thus meaning impenetrable and unresponsive to stimulation. In a nutshell, a hardened heart is a mindset that cannot receive or incorporate spiritual revelation. This is what God is primarily warning against.
Check out these verses as well: “He hath blinded their eyes, and hardened their heart; that they should not see with their eyes, nor understand with their heart, and be converted, and I should heal them.”2
“And when Jesus knew it, he saith unto them, Why reason ye, because ye have no bread? perceive ye not yet, neither understand? have ye your heart yet hardened?”3
Christianity has perpetuated the mistaken notion that a hard heart is a lack of compassion. This mistaken idea has taken root because our natural mind ALWAYS dumbs down deep, spiritual concepts in order to deal with them using the non-spiritual intellect. What’s scary is many pious and well-behaved Christians unwittingly have hardened hearts; they cannot and will not receive anything that doesn’t fit in with their current understanding. If you’ve been around Christianity very long, you’ve probably seen this. Don’t forget this sober warning is given to believers. Similar terms used in scripture are “stiff-necked,” “uncircumcised in heart,” “deaf,” “blind,” “stubborn” and “foolish.”
I hope we comprehend how important this is. Adherence to rigid doctrines and creeds is so dangerous, because they tend toward hardening our heart and alienating us from God’s life! Also mentioned in this passage are ignorance (absence of knowledge/perception) and a darkened understanding. Both are results of a hardened heart. A darkened understanding is very simply an understanding that is without a basis in (spiritual) reality as exposed by “light,” which is always used in scripture to represent inward, spiritual revelation and truth from God. Just as natural light exposes and reveals things, so does spiritual light. In the spiritual realm, only what is revealed by light is properly called “truth.” We see much evidence of this in scripture, including Jesus saying “I have come as light into the world, so that everyone who believes in Me will not remain in darkness,”4 and Paul writing “…all things become visible when they are exposed by the light, for everything that becomes visible is light. For this reason it says Awake, sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.”5 Let us seek God’s light to shine on us and be brave enough to admit our absolute need for it. I hope some light is dawning within us right now. Let’s ask Him to teach us, seek to learn His voice, to rely opon Him. God, who is Spirit, will do it. It’s a process.
I want to look at the rest of this passage next time, which looks at the other side of the coin, focusing on what TO do instead of what NOT to do.
- 1. Ephesians 4:17,18 ASV
- 2. John 12:40
- 3. Mark 8:17
- 4. John 12:46
- 5. Ephesians 5:13-14