Beware of the Hardening Effects of Sin
MANY persons today scoff at the term “sin.” They hold the same as do the Buddhists, namely, that an act is wrong only if it harms oneself or another. Thus they hold that fornication, if it does not harm those engaging in it, is not wrong.
But the Word of God proves them mistaken on two counts. On the one hand, it makes plain that as the Creator and universal Sovereign, Jehovah God has the right to dictate to man what is right and what is wrong. He is man’s King, Lawgiver and Judge. (Isa. 33:22) Therefore, to go contrary to his law is to “miss the mark,” which is what the word “sin,” as used in the Bible, literally means. And on the other hand, since the Creator not only has all authority, but is also omniscient, all-wise, as well as loving, and so knows what is best for mankind, to violate his laws not only is wrong and bad, but is bound to bring harm, eventually if not immediately.
Among the things that make it plain that going against God’s laws is wrong is the hardening effect of sin. Take, for example, our first parents, Adam and Eve. Because Jehovah God had explicitly forbidden them to eat of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and bad, their doing so constituted sin. Did it have a hardening effect upon them? It most certainly did.
When asked by his Maker if he had eaten of the forbidden fruit, Adam callously blamed both God and his wife, saying: “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit from the tree and so I ate.” In effect he said, ‘She gave me the fruit; she is to blame. And so are you, God, for you, in the first place, gave this woman to be my wife.’ How lonely he had been before God gave him Eve! When he at last received her, he exclaimed, “This is at last bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh.” But now Eve was “the woman whom you gave to be with me.” And Eve, instead of expressing sorrow and showing repentance, likewise tried to shift the blame, to the serpent.—Gen. 2:23; 3:1-19.
No question about it, their sinning had a hardening effect upon the hearts and consciences of these first two sinners. And did it work harm to them? It most certainly did, bringing them unhappiness, sorrow, suffering and death.
Cain, their firstborn son, likewise illustrated the principle that sin hardens. Out of envious hatred he had murdered his brother Abel. When Jehovah God asked him where his brother was, did he feel sorrow or regret? No, but hardheartedly he replied: “I do not know. Am I my brother’s guardian?” He not only betrayed hardened indifference but also lied, showing utter disregard for the truth. Cain’s sin also worked harm to himself, for he was separated from his family and ever after had a guilty conscience.—Gen. 4:8-16.
KING SAUL AND JUDAS THE APOSTLE
And then there was the first king of Israel, Saul. He so allowed an envious hatred to take possession of him that to murder David became the consuming passion of his life. How hard this made him can be seen from the fact that he ordered the slaying of the entire priestly community at Nob, eighty-five priests together with all their families. And why? All because their head priest had befriended David, not knowing that David was fleeing from the wrath of Saul. How his hatred of David had hardened his heart! No respect for Jehovah’s priesthood! No regard for the lives of the priests nor of their families! In the end it cost Saul his kingdom and his life.—1 Sam. 21:1-9; 22:6-23; 31:1-6.
Judas Iscariot, one of the apostles of Jesus, furnishes another example. He must have had a good heart to begin with or Jesus would not have chosen him. But then he let selfishness take over. He hardened his heart by a practice of sin, stealing from the treasury of Jesus’ group, the money box being in his charge. Thus it appears that when Jesus approved of the costly ointment being used to anoint him, to which Judas had strenuously objected, Judas went out and betrayed his Master for thirty pieces of silver. Further indicative of his hardness of heart was his brazenly asking, “It is not I, is it?” when Jesus said that one of the twelve would betray him. How that sin harmed him! It made him a suicide with no hope of a resurrection.—Matt. 26:6-25; John 12:3-8; 17:12.
That sin hardens, the Word of God also makes clear in so many words: “Here is the way of an adulterous woman: she has eaten and has wiped her mouth and she has said: ‘I have committed no wrong.’” “Did they feel shame because it was something detestable that they had done? . . . they positively do not feel any shame; . . . they have not come to know even how to feel humiliated.” Yes, “the unrighteous one was knowing no shame.”—Prov. 30:20; Jer. 6:15; Zeph. 3:5.
WHEN SIN HARDENS ONE
When a person is overtaken by a weakness of the flesh, quickly repents and recovers, his sin may not harden him, although it may leave a scar. But it does harden him when it is committed repeatedly as in the case of Judas’ stealing money, or when it is done deliberately and willfully as in the case of Adam. It hardens in that it makes a person more selfish and insensitive to repentance. As a result he goes from bad to worse.
Our Creator endowed us with a conscience that can be trained to distinguish right from wrong. With proper knowledge it is a sensitive indicator. But if one deliberately, or carelessly or indifferently keeps violating it, it gradually ceases to make itself felt. Among such whose conscience is no longer sensitive is the hypocrite. As the apostle Paul expresses it: “By the hypocrisy of men who speak lies, marked in their conscience as with a branding iron.” Yes, just as the nerve endings are killed in a part of our body that is burned, so that it no longer is sensitive to pain and is without the protection that the warning of pain gives, so it is with the conscience of these people.—1 Tim. 4:2.
To illustrate: The first time a person does something he knows he should not do, yielding to temptation or pressure, his conscience may prick him and he may feel guilty. But if he does it again and again, his conscience will gradually fail to respond, for it does no good, and so he gradually becomes hardened by his sin. Not only that, but he may find himself committing ever grosser sins. Thus he may begin by stealing small amounts from his employer or by being negligent in little things. But as he continues to do so he will find himself stealing ever larger amounts or becoming ever more grossly negligent, loafing more and more.
Or it may be in relation to one’s marriage. Husband or wife may start gambling and not say anything to the other. Then that one keeps on gambling with ever larger amounts, finally bringing misery upon the family. Or one or the other may begin a flirtation. If unchecked it can lead to an infatuation, adultery and a broken home. It is even as Jesus Christ said: “The person unrighteous in what is least” hardens himself so that eventually he becomes “unrighteous also in much.”—Luke 16:10.
To take a true-life illustration of recent months: A certain youth professed to be a Christian minister. Yet he was carrying on homosexual acts with professed friends of his. When he found it expedient to travel to another part of the country he missed his homosexual friends. So he wrote one of them threatening to expose him if he did not come to where he lived so that they could continue their homosexual relations. But it was not long before this young professed Christian made some overt acts that exposed him and today he is under a ban of at least three years from any Christian congregation of Jehovah’s people.
GUARDING AGAINST SIN’S HARDENING EFFECTS
How can we guard against the hardening effects of sin? Most important is guarding one’s heart. “More than all else that is to be guarded, safeguard your heart.” How can one do that? By watching one’s thoughts. Wise counsel therefore is to keep considering ‘whatever things are righteous, chaste, virtuous and praiseworthy.’ What the mind dwells upon the heart desires, and it is easy to become enticed by desire. Then, as the disciple James warns, “desire, when it has become fertile, gives birth to sin; in turn, sin, when it has been accomplished, brings forth death.”—Prov. 4:23; Phil. 4:8; Jas. 1:14, 15.
Not without good reason did Jehovah say that “the heart is more treacherous than anything else.” Its sinful inclination is something we have inherited from our first parents: “The inclination of the heart of man is bad from his youth up.” We must keep guard, for the very fact that something is forbidden may tempt one to want to do it.—Jer. 17:9; Gen. 8:21.
We must acquire a hate for what is bad regardless of how pleasurable it might seem to be. “You lovers of Jehovah, hate what is bad.” (Ps. 97:10) Very helpful to this end is reading God’s Word regularly, giving particular attention to such admonition as relates to one’s own weaknesses. As the psalmist expressed it: “Owing to your orders I behave with understanding. That is why I have hated every false path.” Another great help is association with those who love what is right and hate what is bad. Important also is heeding reproof, letting oneself be corrected, for “a man repeatedly reproved but making his neck hard will suddenly be broken, and that without healing.”—Ps. 119:104; Prov. 29:1.
As the world gets more and more wicked, it becomes increasingly difficult for Christians to be on guard against sin. But you can protect yourself by taking to heart the counsel: “Blessed is the man who fears [Jehovah] always.” (Prov. 28:14, Revised Standard Version) Reading God’s Word, watching our thoughts and associating with good companions will aid us to fear Jehovah always and so to avoid the hardening effects of sin.