Beware of Sin’s Hardening Effects!
SHE was well liked by her Christian brothers and sisters. Friendly and outgoing, she and her bright little daughter were constant companions in field service and at meetings. But then the congregation’s elders received reports that she was brazenly smoking at her job—right in front of fellow Witnesses! Confronted with this accusation, she confessed both to smoking and to fornication, calmly saying: “I don’t think I want to be in the truth right now.” Sin had hardened her.
At Hebrews 3:13 the apostle Paul warned that one could “become hardened by the deceptive power of sin.” This proved to be true with our first parents, Adam and Eve. Called to task for his disobedience, Adam gave this callous excuse: “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit from the tree and so I ate.” How Adam had changed from that day when the first sight of his lovely bride had stirred him to say: “This is at last bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh.” Now Eve was “the woman whom you gave to be with me.” Eve weakly blamed the serpent.—Genesis 2:23; 3:1-13.
Another man irreparably hardened by sin was Judas Iscariot. He must have had a good heart to begin with, since Jesus would not otherwise have chosen him as an apostle. But after being reproved by Jesus on one occasion, Judas resentfully plotted his Master’s betrayal. (Matthew 26:6-16) When Jesus revealed that one of the 12 would betray him, Judas, the very picture of innocence, asked: “It is not I, is it?” (Matthew 26:25) Only a deliberate sinner could maintain such a brazen pretense. And when the soldiers came to arrest Jesus, Judas chose, of all things, that ancient sign of warmth and friendship—the kiss—as the sign of identification. “Judas,” asked Jesus, “do you betray the Son of man with a kiss?”—Luke 22:48.
How Sin Hardens
How does sin gain such control over a person? At Hebrews 3:7-11 Paul shows how the sin of lack of faith infected the nation of Israel. Quoting Psalm 95:7-11, Paul there says: “For this reason, just as the holy spirit says: ‘Today if you people listen to his own voice, do not harden your hearts as on the occasion of causing bitter anger, as in the day of making the test in the wilderness, in which your forefathers made a test of me with a trial, and yet they had seen my works for forty years. For this reason I became disgusted with this generation and said, “They always go astray in their hearts, and they themselves have not come to know my ways.” So I swore in my anger, “They shall not enter into my rest.”’”
“The occasion of causing bitter anger” occurred at a place called both Meribah and Massah. (Psalm 95:8) There, shortly after their miraculous deliverance from Egypt, “the people fell to quarreling with Moses and saying: ‘Give us water that we may drink.’” (Exodus 17:2) Remember, they had already seen ten devastating plagues on Egypt, the surging waters of the Red Sea split apart, and manna falling from heaven. Yet they went “astray in their hearts.” They were absorbed too much by their own selfish desires to reflect on Jehovah’s works. So they did not ‘come to know God’s ways’ and develop confidence that Jehovah could provide for them under any circumstances. “Give us water!” they demanded, as if the God who split the sea were powerless. No wonder, then, that they later chose to believe the bad report of ten fearful spies who inspected the Promised Land. (Numbers 13:32–14:4) Because of such faithlessness, Jehovah declared: “They shall not enter into my resting-place.”—Psalm 95:11.
Drawing a lesson from this, Paul warned: “Beware, brothers, for fear there should ever develop in any one of you a wicked heart lacking faith by drawing away from the living God; but keep on exhorting one another each day, as long as it may be called ‘Today,’ for fear any one of you should become hardened by the deceptive power of sin.” (Hebrews 3:12, 13) The “sin” of the Israelites was lack of faith. (See Hebrews 3:19; compare 12:1.) It caused them to ‘draw away from the living God,’ to lose all confidence in Jehovah, in spite of all the miracles he performed. A lapse into moral delinquency was inevitable.
Lack of faith could similarly cause a Christian today to ‘go astray in his heart,’ to succumb to the heart’s natural inclination. “The heart is more treacherous than anything else and is desperate. Who can know it?” (Jeremiah 17:9, 10) Wrong thoughts and desires start to fill the heart, triggering a deadly chain reaction. “But each one is tried by being drawn out and enticed by his own desire. Then the desire, when it has become fertile, gives birth to sin; in turn, sin, when it has been accomplished, brings forth death.”—James 1:14, 15.
When Sin Hardens a Person
One man enjoyed extensive privileges as an elder, although cleverly concealing his guilt as a fornicator. Even after getting married, he carried on immorally. Yet, he had no trouble maintaining a facade of innocence, even serving on judicial committees in judgment of others. Sin had begun to harden him. Soon he began to doubt even the basic teachings of the Bible. Finally forced to confess his wrong, he could only shrug his shoulders and say, “What difference does it make now?”
The course of hypocrisy can desensitize one’s conscience as if searing it “with a branding iron.” (1 Timothy 4:2) The Proverbs illustrate this by saying: “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.’” (Proverbs 30:20) The hardened sinner even imagines: “God has forgotten. He has concealed his face.” (Psalm 10:11) And the longer one persists in sin, the more one risks having his heart become “unfeeling just like fat.” (Psalm 119:70) One youth admitted: “The first time I committed fornication, it just tore me up inside. But every time after that, it got easier, till I got to the point where it didn’t bother me much at all.”
Indeed, the heart searches for ways to rationalize the wrongdoing. One young man, after committing fornication with his girlfriend, restrained her from going to the elders for help by saying: “We’re going to get married! And you know, the Bible does say that when two people decide between themselves that they’re the ones for each other, then in Jehovah’s eyes they’re almost married.” What selfish, deceptive reasoning! Sadly, a practice of sin developed that, in turn, led to murder—abortion! The young girl later admitted: “You start really getting very callous, and you start feeling that you can reprove yourself.” A young man who similarly fell into a practice of fornication confessed: “It’s like being an alcoholic who says, ‘I can stop anytime I want. Let me have just one more drink.’ So you keep putting off going to the elders.” The sinner becomes so adept at deceiving others that he begins to deceive himself. “For he has acted too smoothly to himself in his own eyes to find out his error so as to hate it.”—Psalm 36:2.
Avoiding Sin’s Snare
Since “with the heart one exercises faith,” a Christian must do his utmost to safeguard it. (Romans 10:10; Proverbs 4:23) Prayer, meetings, and personal study help us fill our hearts with upbuilding thoughts. True, bad thoughts will enter our minds from time to time. But when they do, we can simply refuse to dwell on them. We should go to Jehovah in prayer immediately if we ever find ourselves tempted to do what is wrong. (Psalm 55:22) And ‘let fornication and uncleanness of every sort or greediness not even be mentioned among us, just as it befits holy people.’ (Ephesians 5:3) In this way the chain reaction that “gives birth to sin” and death is stopped before it begins.
Remember, too, that sin’s enjoyment is only “temporary.” (Hebrews 11:25) Sooner or later “your sin will catch up with you,” and there will be bitter consequences to face. (Numbers 32:23) Ask yourself: ‘Do I really want to become hardened by sin? While this may be pleasurable now, how will this affect me in the long run?’
What, though, if one presently finds himself trapped in a course of wrongdoing? Do not conclude that one can “atone” for sin by a spurt of Christian activity. “The sacrifices to God are a broken spirit,” said repentant King David. (Psalm 51:17) The Bible’s advice to spiritually sick ones is: Go to the elders! (James 5:14, 15) These mature men will do all they can to help an ailing one back to spiritual health. It is as the Bible states: “He that is covering over his transgressions will not succeed, but he that is confessing and leaving them will be shown mercy.” (Proverbs 28:13) Said one man after finally confessing his sin to the elders: “It was as if an enormous weight had been taken off my shoulders.”—Compare Psalm 32:1-5.
As this world gets more and more wicked, it will become an even greater challenge for a Christian to keep his integrity. Remember, though: “Although a sinner may be doing bad a hundred times and continuing a long time as he pleases, . . . it will turn out well with those fearing the true God.” (Ecclesiastes 8:12) So fear Jehovah God! He will provide you with escape from the hardening effects of sin.
[Picture on page 24]
The Israelites showed a hardened attitude when they demanded water of Moses