Signs of a Hard Heart

Pharaoh-Tutankhamun-3I will harden Pharaoh’s heart and though I multiply my signs and wonders in Egypt, he will not listen to you (Exodus 7:3-4).

Have you ever met someone who was just plain stubborn? You might know people within your circle of friends who insist on having their way. They are hardheaded and obstinate about what they want. A moment of reflection may cause you to feel uncomfortable at the thought (you know, personally). God calls it a heart problem. This problem of self-centeredness has existed from the beginning of time, documented in the lives of people we read about in Scripture as well as people we live with today.

Pharaoh is probably the best illustration in the Bible of a person with a hard heart. He was exposed to the truth over and over again, yet refused to respond accordingly. Notice God said, “I will harden Pharaoh’s heart.” God engineered the situation we read about in Exodus. In doing so, God displays His power and provides a blueprint for what happens when a person refuses to accept and bend the will to the truth.

Pharaoh was presented with overwhelming evidence. Plague after plague, sign after sign, miracle after miracle, but still he refused to accept God’s warnings and let the Israelites go. God repeatedly presented Pharaoh with the truth of who He was, yet Pharaoh wouldn’t bow. Even when faced with undeniable evidence that he was wrong, Pharaoh wouldn’t give in. He refused to acknowledge that another kingdom was greater than his. His pride, stubbornness, and hard-heartedness caused him great grief and distress. His overexposure and under response to truth proved to be extremely costly for him, his family, and his kingdom.

All of us have experienced the stubborn desire to have things the way we want them, even when “our way” isn’t God’s way. That’s what Pharaoh was doing. If we are wise, we will learn from his experience. Every time we say no to God, we live in rebellion, stubbornly asserting our selfish will over His will for our lives. Just as Pharaoh stubbornly clenched his fist and said no repeatedly to God, we too cannot do that for long without developing a hard heart that will lead to destruction. We stand in danger of following in the footsteps of Pharaoh if we refuse to submit to God’s standard. The more we can be fooled into believing we’re right and God is wrong the more we are in danger of developing a hard heart.

While we must be careful, we need not despair. One of the primary reasons I believe God initiated this entire sequence of events was to provide us with a lesson plan for not following the way of Pharaoh. God wouldn’t leave us without a way to experience victory over our tendencies to assert our rights over His truth. We can rejoice in the graciousness of God as we study the lesson He gave us and apply its truth to our lives.

Let’s be honest. We all want things the way we want them. We all want what we want when we want it. I’m more comfortable when things are the way I like them. All people are. The tension comes into play when what we want is not what God wants, when the two conflict. Refusal to act on the truth time and time again will corrode the heart of man until nothing can melt the hardness.

Paul wrote, “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” (Romans 1:21). It’s dangerous to say no to the truth because there will come a time when God allows us to have our own way: “Since they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, He gave them over to a depraved mind” (1:28). Paul clearly portrays the inevitable downward spiral into sin when a hard heart develops. God does not cause this steady progression towards evil. Rather, when we reject Him, God allows us to live as we choose. He gives us over or permits us to experience the natural consequences of our sin.

We can count on this: frequently saying no to God will eventually result in God letting us have our own way. Sounds pretty good? Don’t bet on it. How many children have cheered their independence from mom and dad only to weep in the dark of the night because they discovered having their own way was not always as appealing as it seemed?

To avoid the pitfalls that are sure to occur in our paths, we must understand the danger signs of a hard heart. Otherwise, we can and will rationalize ourselves into disaster! The saga of Pharaoh supplies us with six signs to use as a checklist for a hard heart.


Pharaoh was eaten up with a stubborn spirit when confronted with God’s truth. All of us have been here. It’s the way we react when we know we shouldn’t do something. We respond, “I know I shouldn’t, but I’m going to do it anyway.” When we are confronted with truth repeatedly and ignore it, our lack of response to God demonstrates a hard heart that no doctor can fix.

A lack of concern for spiritual things

This is made evident when God’s work becomes second to our own. Insensitivity to God’s work is a sure sign we are developing a hard heart. A lack of concern for spiritual things means we are more concerned with our business than with God’s. The selfishness of that attitude is evidenced when God gets in the way of our plans, yet we choose to do things the way it works best for us anyway.

Ignoring the testimony of other people

Similarly, if we ignore undeniable evidence over and over again, there is no doubt we are developing a hard heart. Whether the evidence comes from a person or event, ignoring it can result in tragic consequences.

Recognizing sin, but refusing to deal with it

We know cheating is wrong, but we do it anyway. We know lying is wrong, but we do it anyway. We understand there is a speed limit for a good reason, but speeding is just something we do. We may feel bad for a time (feeling bad relieves some of the guilt), but that’s as far as it goes. If we are honest, some of us have no intention of doing anything about our sin.


The prideful person says, “I know better than anyone else.” Men suffer from this disease quite often. We pretend to be experts about everything. No matter what anyone else says, our way is the right way. Often, it is hard for us to take instruction from anyone. Even when we know we are wrong, we argue instead of facing up to it. And the tragedy is everybody knows our problem is pride. The root of Pharaoh’s hard-heartedness was pride. He considered himself a god. He wasn’t about to let some other God get the best of him.

Acknowledging sin, but attempting to make a deal with God

Instead of turning from sin, we rationalize it and try to make deals with God, so we can continue sinning and not be plagued by our consciences. Think about the college student who is scared he has gotten his date pregnant. I can just imagine listening in and hearing him try to make a deal with God: “God, if You’ll just fix it where she’s not pregnant, I’ll go to church on Sunday and I’ll even volunteer to help out in the nursery. After all, it takes two to make a baby!” Do you think God is impressed one bit with his excuses? A woman who plays the same game, blaming her plight on the man she chose to be with, is just as guilty of the attempt to bargain with God. While we may attempt to make deals with God, our efforts lead to more problems, and the gap between God’s truth and our desires get wider and wider as our hearts harden.

The signs for developing a hard heart are made unmistakenably clear to us in Scripture. We don’t have to wonder and assume things because God has already given us a description of the problem and what we must do to fix it. We can promise, bargain, and rationalize all we want, but unless we come to an accurate understanding of God and His will for us, we will fail miserably in our efforts to succeed. It’s not so much our behavior that needs to change (although it certainly needs to change!) as it is our hearts that need restoring. Once that happens, our behavior will change, and we will know what is right and wrong. We sometimes focus too much on changing behaviors when we should be focused on doing what will result in changed hearts.

As we grow as Christians, sin should bother us more, not less. Yet every day we spend hours being entertained by the very sin Christ died for! We rent it at Red Box, view it online, watch it on television, and read it in books. “But I never thought if it that way,” you say. Over time, we have changed the rules and our hearts have come to accept things we wouldn’t have dreamed of accepting a few years ago. Do you remember when bad language really bothered you? Perhaps now it hardly affects you.

We must be sure of two things when we contemplate the problems of a hard heart: (1) the warning signs or red flags God has given us through Scripture, and (2) how to avoid taking the same road Pharaoh did. Our response to truth determines whether our hearts will be hardened or remain pliable and ready to have God make them after His own. Applying the truth we’ve obtained through study is the key to victory in any situation. Unless we allow God to apply the truth to our lives, we will continue to go our own way and that’s a sure sign of a hard heart.

There’s only one absolute answer to the problem of a hard heart. Nothing short of honest repentance will bring about the change needed. I don’t mean rededicating our lives. I’m talking about allowing God to change our hearts to the point where our no becomes a yes to His truth. True repentance manifests itself in a changed life.

God’s priority for us is that we take Him seriously when He says, “Go into the world and change it!” When we lead people to trust Christ as Savior, we change the world. Recognizing this puts our response to truth in a totally different perspective. We’re not in this world just for our pleasure or well-being. God put us here for a purpose and it was not to spend our days fulfilling selfish needs at the expense of those He would have us bring to know Him personally.

We have to understand the big picture to understand why developing a hard heart will bring about disaster. Putting all things into perspective, if we continue to insist on our way, there will come a time when God’s truth no longer matters to us at all. When Paul wrote, “God gave them over to a debased mind,” he was making sure we understood what would happen to us if we continued to insist on our way long enough: God will back off and let us have what we think we want. Sounds great until the reality of our depravity destroy our life!

Humbling ourselves before God is a proven cure for the hard heart. Christ can transform a hard heart into one that responds cheerfully and obediently to Him.

* Read more in my book, Back to the Basics: A Guide for Christian Living.

Cover (woods)


  1. Father,
    Please forgive my hard heart and the hearts of our nation and world. Help us to have true repentance and to follow your way with soft and tender hearts. Forgive us all Lord Jesus. Amen

    1. Are the extremes Pharaoh went to so far-fetched to us today? Certainly not! Forgive us all Lord!

  2. Hi. Just popped over to say thank you for visiting my site and clicking the “like” button. But naturally I stayed to read a little. Didn’t have a lot of time, but I did read this article and the one on wisdom. You are sharing some super important things here. I especially liked your point about the fact that feeling bad removes some of the guilt when we know we’ve been disobedient. Most people never realize that truth.

    Very nice site. Keep up the great work. I’ll be back to visit again.
    May the Lord make His face to shine on you today!

  3. Wonderful words of wisdom. Thank you for breaking this topic down for me. I intend to read and digest this one repeatedly for many years to come!

    1. Thanks! God gave Pharaoh the ability to act on what was in his heart. You and I have the same freedom today. Let’s be careful! Thank you, Lord, for forgiving us when we stumble!

  4. Many great words of wisdom are included in these truth. Thanks for sharing and may God keep lifting you higher and higher, and allow all truth to manifest themselves in your life and the lives of those he has placed in your pathway. May His grace and mercy reside in your space and time always.

  5. Thanks Joe for this message. We must beware of the signs you outline. It isn’t easy, but He shows us the way when we trust Him and seek His presence.

  6. For the Lord to allow sin to harden our heart places us in a very dangerous condition. We need to constantly seek HIs face in prayer asking that He might actively intervene and stop any hardening that would take place in our hearts Along with our prayer, we need to be actively resisting the influences of Satan, this world and our flesh. By resisting the sin of this world we are actively working against developing sin-hardened hearts through the gracious intervention of our Lord.

    Lord bless. Thank you for posting on a very important subject..

  7. Funny, I always read that verse about Pharoah and assumed that he didn’t have a choice in his response; God had hardened his heart. Could it be that God forced Pharoah to be hard-hearted so that he wouldn’t give in at the first miracle, so that God could display his full retinue of signs and wonders?

    1. This is a topic I have wondered about. I know from my own experience, that God chose me, and He spoke to me and He walked with me through the terrible, lonely, lost and dangerous times. He cast out demons and saved me.
      The circumstance surrounding my being born again was God directing the path of a person who is hard-hearted and preaches false doctrine. That very person, opened up the Gospel of Jesus Christ and ask me if I believed in Jesus Christ and His Gospel. I immediately said “yes!.” A few weeks went by and BAM, I was driven to find something more about the Bible, God, Jesus Christ. I went to book stores, I went online, I found a new Bible and I was on my way.
      Now, when I look at the world, I see it in a different light. I am more conscience of evil.
      Read this and see what you think
      There are plenty of false teachers to keep the lost blinded and aid them in their flight from God (Matthew 24:10-11; 2 Timothy 4:3; 1 John 4:1). The sad truth is that most people do not see the Bible as the absolute authority anymore. As God’s Word continues to be marginalized, unbelief will continue to increase around the world.

      The Bible warned against apostasy nearly two thousand years ago: “[People] will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths” (2 Timothy 4:4). Along these lines, John MacArthur has stated, “Our society has grown steadily darker; and the message the church is now giving to the world is more confused and confusing than perhaps any time since the Dark Ages.” His conclusion: “the church needs to get back to the Word of God.” Indeed, getting back to the Word is the only solution; to do anything less is to hide our light under a bushel (Luke 11:33). If we want people to believe, we
      must give them something to believe in. Our job as Christians is to help others to see the truth. Not by badgering and judging them. By setting an example of how we live our lives and witnessing. I loved God for as long as I can remember and I wanted to know more, but until God brought forth His word, I was in the dark.

  8. A Great article!! You define what a hard heart is so that anyone who reads this article can really examine themselves to see if they have a hard heart. I agree totally about the media today–it is more and more wicked all the time and I don’t think we always realize it unless we are in the Word and have our hearts and lives yielded to God so that His Spirit makes us sensitve to it. And Yes! winnning souls is the bottom line!! We must be vigilant and on guard of sin in our lives and vigilant to get out there and witness to a lost and dying world. We get so lazy here we forget that time may be short and when time is gone it’s gone.

    1. You hit the nail on the head! “Vigilant” is the perfect word to describe what we need to do!

  9. Great post! You speak the truth concerning humanity overall possessing a “heart problem.” This is one of the issues with abusive folk – they need a heart change desperately.
    Thank you for liking my post, “Father-Please Open Our Eyes.”


    1. Thanks, Terry! I think the more clearly we can see our own tendencies toward sin and a narcissistic sense of entitlement the better we will be able to identify those areas in our lives in need of improvement and growth.

  10. Great post! The paragraph “Yet every day we spend hours being entertained by the very sin Christ died for! We rent it at Red Box, view it online, watch it on television, and read it in books. ” really got me.

    We can’t forget music, either. I was shocked to hear my kids singing a very inappropriate song – they heard it on the radio or at school (they haven’t heard it when I’m around because the station would have been changed.) It’s so easy to become like the world around us if we have hardened hearts.

    1. Thanks! I was actually a little uncomfortable posting that paragraph because I didn’t want it to be taken the wrong way (as if I am super spiritual and am looking down on everybody else), which I am not. We are all in need of growth (myself included). I agree listening to music is a big one too!

  11. This is something I want to refer back to throughout my life. This is very convicting and helps me understand a passage of Scripture I’ve always thought to be difficult to understand. This post reminds me that, when I have something in my life that I know is sin, my first response should not be to try to fix the behavior–which is so often where I go–but instead to ask God to change my heart. Humans can “fix” behaviors, for a time, but only God can transform the heart. This post was very introspective for me. Thank you for letting God use you to write this post.

    1. Thanks! God gave Pharaoh the ability to act on what was in his heart. It is no different for people today (including myself), so we must make sure our hearts are in the right place.

      1. So often we focus on external behavior instead of internal motivation. God wants to change us from the inside out.

  12. Joe, thanks for addressing an extremely important, but often ignored topic! I teach a message along these lines in relation to our ability to understand God’s ways. I’d love to hear your take on many of the causes of a hardened heart. I had to actually condense my list because it got too long, but one thing is for sure, Christians in our day have fallen into the trap of hardened hearts with regard to how they respond to personal mistreatment and frustrations with the difficult issues of our day (i.e. politics, economy, immorality, etc.). How we need to process everything by faith and respond in love!

    1. Thanks for commenting, Bob! “Process everything by faith and respond in love!” I agree wholeheartedly! You asked, “What are the causes of a hard heart?” Good question! I am actually working on a bunch of articles related to the heart, pride, and humility as we speak. I don’t want to give away too much before I post my articles, but here’s my short answer: “The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart; the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For out of the overflow of his heart, his mouth speaks” (Lk. 6:44-45). First, people reject God; next, they make up their own ideas of what a god should be and do; then they fall into sin – greed, hatred, envy, murder, strife, deceit, malice, gossip, etc. Finally, they grow to hate God and encourage others to do so also. Those are a few thoughts for now. What are a few items on your list for the many causes of a hardened heart?

      1. Joe, I agree entirely with the causes you have listed. As mentioned above, I also focus on our responses to the world around us: hardness due to frustration with others or overwhelming demands on our lives, hardness because we allow bitterness toward others to set in, hardness because we become jaded and envious over our failure or lack of attention given to us, hardness because we’ve been immersed in a hard environment. The latter can involve putting up emotional walls of self-protection to avoid being hurt, or simply the numbing of our senses due to death and violence (even in entertainment). Like I said, the list is very long. Interestingly enough, I do a study on wisdom with one of the chapters titled, The Heart of Wisdom, in which I deal with this issue. My plan is to produce this study as a book sometime next year if all goes well.

        Joe, I have one other thought for you. Based on what you’ve written and commented, I think you would really enjoy a study (The Search for Me) that I’ve done on identity–especially the 2nd chapter (The Problem with Cain) where where I unpack an understanding of sin. The audio files can be streamed from my blog site ( If you’re interested, I’d also be glad to send you a free MP3 audio download of the entire series. And this isn’t a thinly veiled attempt to promote my material–I really do believe you would find it extremely relevant to the material you are developing. Thanks for your devotion and hard work for the kingdom! 🙂 Bob

        1. I checked out your website, Bob. I just love what you are doing! As I was watching the video for Search for Me Ministries, I was reminded of the youth group I pastored ten years ago. Back then, I interviewed a bunch of teenagers with my big VHS video camera. The video was similar to yours and I even asked the same question: “What is your identity?” I will admit, though, you did a much better job than I did. I am sure your 12-week study goes into much further depth than my 40 minute lesson did. Is the MP3 audio you referenced the exact same audio as the files online or something different? I want to stay in touch, Bob.

          1. Joe, the content of the MP3 file is the same as what’s online. The only difference is the convenience that comes with the ability to download the file. It really does sound like you’d love this study. More than anything, it is an interweaving for the Gospel and the issue of identity. The bottom line is that I see the Gospel as an identity message, not a separate concept from the good news of living in victory over sin.

            1. Joe, I was not aware of your search. I sent the MP3 link and I’ll follow up with a few questions. Bob

            2. Thanks Bob! I just posted a new article: “Humility vs. Pride.” It goes along with what we are discussing.

        1. Hey Joe, thanks for checking in! Doing well overall. I’m trying to keep my nose to the grindstone as I complete the first draft of my upcoming book. It will be a devotional and I’m pretty sure we will title it “Champions in the Wilderness.” There is a lot of work involved, of course.

          What’s happening with you and your family? Have you found a church yet?

          1. Great to hear, Bob! I’m teaching Sunday School at church and am also in the process of finishing a devotional book. It is called, “Building a Biblical Lifestyle.”

            1. Joe, any options on the horizon regarding a church?

              The book sounds great. What’s your timetable for release?

            2. No pastor job yet, although, I might be hired at a local rescue mission as a chaplain. I’m still waiting to hear back from them.
              I am hoping the book will be finished by the end of September. I’ll let you know. Please also let me know when your book is finished, so I can order a copy.

  13. Great post and yes I have meet people who have such a hard heart…but it was a reason why Pharaoh’s heart had to be harden…

  14. Thanks for coming by and liking my latest posting.

    In your post you’re right in that it’s all based on pride. We don’t have to be taught to be prideful, we need that broken so that God can come in and create in us a heart made of flesh instead of stone.

  15. Hi Joe,
    I find the only way I can put sin away is for me to focus my view squarely on Christ and Him crucified. If I do it for any reason but the wonder and greatness of His love for me I find myself drifting into legalism. Graeme

    1. Thanks! You remind me of Hebrews 12:1-3: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider Him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.”

  16. Thanks for coming over to our site, Mr. Joe. And for the like of my Novel.
    I hope you get time to read it on your free time, the completed version, that is.

    God bless you and your family.

  17. What a head for truth and knowledge! I will add your blog to my blogroll, thanks for checking my blog out as well! Stay blessed!

  18. Thank you for this article. The path to Our Heavenly Father is one that is straight and narrow and sin is what is likely to lead us astray. May many turn towards thou Heavenly Father.

  19. I’m new at the blogging technology, so I’m glad you liked my post “Unspoken Prayer” and told me so. Then I know where to find you.
    I add, if I may, as a scholar in Old Testament, that in Hebrew thought the heart almost always refers to the thought process, the mind. (Kidneys come up as the metaphor for emotions.) A hard heart then, is as you strongly hint at, a closed mind, not a toughening of emotions. People with a closed mind reject evidence, facts, truth (and The Truth John 14:6). Our mission, “If you choose to accept it” involves speaking truth in humility under the Spirit (Paraclete) and pray that a chance may arise in which “Christ can transform a hard heart into one that responds cheerfully and obediently.”
    I believe your blogs lead people to the Truth, and for I am grateful.

    1. Amen! You are certainly a scholar. I just love your definition of a hard heart: a closed mind. As far as I’m concerned, you hit the nail on the head perfectly. You express it all so very clearly and concisely too. You have a wealth of knowledge and wisdom, my friend!

  20. Indeed! The Israelites did not want to go into the Promised Land. God is a gentleman. He let them wander in the desert until all but Caleb and Joshua were dead! Lord, renew my mind daily, so that Your wishes are my wishes, and I walk the path You want me to walk.

  21. This piece is dead on. Brings to mind Ezekiel 36. “A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh. And I will put my spirit within you, and CAUSE you to walk in my statutes . . .” Keep stirring the fire.

    1. Thank you, my friend. After repeated warnings, Pharaoh still refused to obey God. Sounds like people today. Stubbornness towards God is always disobedience.

  22. Hi Joe, I enjoyed your post about Pharaoh and his hard heart. That is one of my favorite stories and I believe that the story shows just how patient God is with us.

    I have just written a book about The Power of Humility, and was wondering if you like to receive a pre launch copy that you could review for your blog followers.

    Thanks and keep up the good writing.

      1. Wow, I understand that. The thought of pastoring a church is overwhelming to me. I glad there are those like you who are equipped to this work.

  23. Good post. I liked this: “We can count on this: frequently saying no to God will eventually result in God letting us have our own way.” That’s pretty eerie! I worked with homeless addicts (men) for 7 years, downtown Denver, at the Mission. Thanks, by the way … for stopping by my blog. Peace, to you. T

  24. There was a lot i wondered about the bible, even more so once i started realizing how certain people would warp and distort the scriptures, reading it for myself helped a lot but there was still certain things unanswered… in some of your posts i have read you completely answered it pastor Joe… especially this one, it answered all of what i was confused with…
    Thank you….

  25. I’m truly concerned that I am becoming hard hearted. Last night, I cried and asked God to please save me from my sins and deliver me of my despair. You see, I find myself angry with God when things don’t work out the way I expected them to even if I’m doing those things he wants me to do, I end up cursing him. It’s becoming a pattern, I’m becoming bitter, I don’t want this, because I always ask for forgiveness after my rant.

    Please God save me from certain disaster, I don’t want my heart hardened towards you, I want my heart to respond to your truth and trust you with my life and not just go through the motions and God deliver me from the bondage of enemy has on my life, make me whole again so I can give you thanks in all things and trust you with all my heart. In Jesus name, amen.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s