Arteriosclerosis is a physical health condition brought on when plaque and cholesterol form in our arteries and cause them to harden and lose their elasticity. Over time, arteriosclerosis can completely close an artery, thus depriving the body of vital oxygen-rich blood and leading to physical death. However, if discovered in the early stages, the condition can be slowed or corrected through diet, medication, exercise, or open-heart surgery. Sometimes a combination of those four options is recommended.
Then there is spiritual arteriosclerosis. As the term implies, it’s a condition that can deprive us of the vital life-giving Spirit, leading to our spiritual death. The Bible calls this a hard heart and gives two main causes of it.
Divine and human
Our sovereign God brings hardening on a particular person or nation for a specific purpose. One well-known example is Pharaoh (Exodus 5:2), whose heart God hardened so that His name and power might be proclaimed throughout the whole earth (9:16; Romans 9:15-18). Another example is the partial hardening of the physical nation of Israel, which has happened until the fullness of the Gentiles has been accomplished (Romans 11:25).
More to the point of this study, hard-heartedness is brought on by an individual when they persist in partaking of a harmful spiritual diet of deceit and darkness. A good example of this is when Adam and Eve knowingly and willingly rejected the God-approved and perfect diet of the Tree of Life. They chose instead to partake of the harmful and deadly Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, offered by the crafty serpent, Satan (Genesis 2:9, 16, 17; 3:1-7; Revelation 12:9). That fateful decision opened their eyes but also immediately clogged and cut off their lifeline to their Creator (Genesis 3:7, 17-19; Romans 5:12,15-19; 1 Corinthians 15:21-22).
This first hardening led to hard hearts in Adam and Eve’s descendants, for people in general, and even for Israel as a nation. Psalms and Proverbs warn of the condition:
Do not harden your hearts, as in the rebellion, as in the day of trial in the wilderness (Psalm 95:8).
Happy is the man who is always reverent, but he who hardens his heart will fall into calamity (Proverbs 28:14).
Jesus encountered and confronted this human state in Israel, and even in His disciples to varying degrees of seriousness (Mark 3:5; 6:52; 8:17; 10:5; 16:14). We see it when people, or groups of people, fail to understand — or totally reject — the call of God to them (Matthew 11:28-30; Hebrews 4:6, 7). For example, in John 5:39, 40, the Jews rejected Jesus along with the eternal life that only He could offer (cf. John 6:63; 14:7; Matthew 11:27). In Matthew 19:21, 22, a young rich man, because of his riches, rejected the calling from Jesus to follow Him.
While hard hearts are evidence of the fallen human condition, we need not despair. The cure for spiritual arteriosclerosis, or hardening of the heart, has been revealed in the incarnation, perfect life, sacrifice, and resurrection of Jesus Christ himself (Romans 5:1-11).
By the grace of God, those precious events grant us the vital redemption, vital reconciliation, vital justification, and vital sanctification necessary for true and lasting spiritual life and health. They forever remove any and all obstructions that clog or cut off our lifeline to God (John 3:16, 17; Acts 4:10-12).
While the New Testament delivers this great remedy in Christ and the Spirit, it also continues to caution believers to not neglect their salvation, their faith in Christ, nor grieve the Spirit (Hebrews 2:1-3; Ephesians 4:30). We should experience life as we walk in faith and the Spirit (Romans 4:12; 8:1).
Our new and open spiritual relationship (arteries) with God our Father and Jesus Christ our Savior requires maintenance as we run the race of life that stretches out in front of us. We must continually keep our eyes open and focus on Jesus Christ and the spiritual things above (Hebrews 12:1, 2; Colossians 3:1-4). We need to eat and digest a balanced spiritual diet centered on the perfect Bread of Life, Jesus Christ (John 6:27, 32-58; Matthew 26:26-28; Mark 14:22-25; Luke 22:17-20; 1 Corinthians 11:23-29). We should not forget about daily exercise, which revolves around walking in the love and light of God (Ephesians 5:1, 2, 8; 1 Corinthians 16:14; John 13:34, 35; 8:12; 1 John 1:7; Ephesians 5:8).
Just as He asked His disciples, Jesus asks us, “Do you have a hardened heart?” (Mark 8:17, NASB). If we have this spiritual arteriosclerosis, we can find the one and true cure in Jesus. We can diligently heed God’s divine prescription, guaranteed to be spiritually energized and feel like brand new people in no time (2 Corinthians 5:17; Ephesians 4:22-24; Colossians 3:10).