Before I became a Christian myself, I used to give my Christian friends a hard time, debating with them constantly on one point or another. I remember in particular a sophomore English class in which I particularly infuriated one of my Christian friends. I don’t remember exactly what I said, but I remember that he was so exasperated that he said to me this. “Art: One day you’re going to stand before God on the Day of Judgment. And you’re going to give account for your actions and words. And if you don’t change, God is going to send you to Hell.”
My reply: “Well, if God tells me to go to Hell, I’m not going.” The class seemed to think I had scored big. They certainly laughed, and my friend was more frustrated than ever. What I am sure he didn’t realize at the time was that, at least in terms of my own thinking, he was really the one who won the debate. And not just this debate, either. Gradually, my Christian friends answered every one of my intellectual objections to Christianity, convincing me that the Christian world -view was more likely to be true than any other.
But intellectual conversion is one thing. Heart conversion is something else, and it was a few years before Christianity was anything more to me than an attractive philosophy.
But then, right before the start of my sophomore year of college, I found myself stumbling forward to the altar to give my life to the Lord.
Now I had always been a bit annoyed at the lack of zeal of my Christian friends. If they had really been convinced that I was headed to eternal destruction and missing the path to eternal joy, wouldn’t they have been, well, a bit more insistent in their warnings? After all, I was their friend. Friends don’t let friends drive drunk, do they? Friends don’t let friends play with toxic waste. Friends don’t let friends go to SDSU. Friends don’t let friends play the trombone. Hey, true friends won’t even let their friends take Marmorstein history classes. Surely friends don’t let friends go to Hell, do they?
Well, I decided before I became a Christian that, if I was really convinced of the truth of Christianity, no one was ever going to shut me up. I was going to preach to every one of my non-Christian friends, every non-Christian in my family, and, basically, to everyone I met.
But a funny thing happened to me on the way to the altar—or rather, at the altar. The preacher was a pentecostal type. I didn’t even know what that meant at the time. Anyway, he led me in a typical sinner’s prayer. But then, he did something else. “Art,” he told me, “I’m going to lay my hands on you. And you are going to speak in a language you don’t understand. It will be the Holy Spirit speaking through you, so don’t worry about it.”
And there I was, in front of hundreds of people. Expected to do something I didn’t know how to do: speak in an unknown language.
Well, I helped the preacher out a bit. Muttered some phrases in languages I happened to know. “Quem quaeritis in sepulcro, o cristicolae.”
Yes. The first thing I did as a new Christian was an act of complete hypocrisy and deception. And I haven’t changed much, either. Hypocrisy may as well be my middle name.
But something weird happened to me at that altar. I did begin to do whatever it is that pentecostals do when they speak in tongues. I didn’t know what to make of it. And to this day I don’t.
But what it did to me at the time was that it made me shut up. For several weeks, I told no one about my conversion. I told no one about Christ. And when I finally did open my mouth about Christianity, it was not quite in the way that I had intended.
But soon I did find myself involved in theological debates once again, this time on the right side. And now I infuriated my non-Christian friends in the same way I had infuriated my Christian friends before.
One friend, in particular, found my arguments exasperating. Ed Sherry, a Stanford philosophy major and ardent foe of Christianity, tried constantly to persuade me that Christian theology involved logical contradictions.
“Can God do anything?” Ed would ask.
“Certainly,” I’d reply.
“Can God make a stone he can’t move?”
“Most certainly, Ed.”
“Can he move it?”
“Of course he can, Ed.”
And Ed would go into a rage at what he considered my extraordinarily stubborn refusal to accept obvious truth.
Stupid stuff. But years later, it occurred to me that there was something important in this interchange.
For, you see, God *has* made a stone he can’t move. That immovable stone? The human heart.
Consider Zechariah 7:8-12
The people of Israel made their hearts like adamant, the hardest of stones. And as we read the Old Testament, we seem them doing the same things over and over again. And we say to ourselves, “What idiots!”
The problem is: we’re just like them.
Our pastor just finished a series of messages on the nature and character of God. For a dozen Sundays, each message focused on a different aspect of God’s character. And at the end of each sermon, there was a bit of review, where the pastor would name one characteristic of God and we were supposed to reply, ‘Isn’t that just like God?” A great congregational response to these messages!
It’s a great response also whenever we read about God’s actions in the Bible. “Isn’t that just like God?” But there’s an even better response to many of the things we read in the Scripture. Whenever we see someone doing something really stupid, as Biblical figures so frequently do, we probably ought to say, “Isn’t that just like us?’
When Adam and Eve lose out on paradise because they disobey a very simple command from God. “Isn’t that just like us?” When David plunges his kingdom into confusion and brings tragedy to his own family because he can’t control his lust. “Isn’t that just like us?” When Jonah is told by God to go one way and then goes in exactly the opposite direction. “Isn’t that just like us?”
And when Paul writes in Romans:
“Isn’t that just like us?”
Well, there’s our immovable stone: the human heart. And can God move it? You bet he can. And what’s more, he will.
Ezekiel 36: 25-27
Then will I sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean: from all your filthiness, and from all your idols, will I cleanse you. 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, and ye shall keep my judgments, and do them.
Behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah: Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; which my covenant they brake, although I was an husband unto them, saith the LORD, but this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel. After those days, saith the LORD, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people. And they shall teach no more every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the LORD: for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the LORD: for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.
Now how does this transformation come about? How do our stony hearts get changed? Real simple. What can overcome something as hard as a rock? An even harder rock. Scissors cut paper, rock crushes scissors…and rock crushes rock…if it’s the right rock.
Jesus saith unto them, Did ye never read in the scriptures, The stone which the builders rejected, the same is become the head of the corner: this is the Lord's doing, and it is marvellous in our eyes? Therefore say I unto you, The kingdom of God shall be taken from you, and given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof. And whosoever shall fall on this stone shall be broken: but on whomsoever it shall fall, it will grind him to powder.
Jesus, the stone that was rejected, is the cornerstone, the key to the transformation of our stony hearts. And if you give your heart to him, he’ll transform it.
“But didn’t I do that when I became a Christian? When I recited the sinner’s prayer. Not necessarily.
Look,please, at Isaiah 8:13-15.
Sanctify the LORD of hosts himself; and let him be your fear, and let him be your dread. And he shall be for a sanctuary; but for a stone of stumbling and for a rock of offence to both the houses of Israel, for a gin and for a snare to the inhabitants of Jerusalem. And many among them shall stumble, and fall, and be broken, and be snared, and be taken.
Let Him be your fear. In other words, care only about God’s judgment, what God thinks of you. Think first about pleasing Him.
See, when I walked forward to the altar, my motivation wasn’t really to please God. The truth is that I wanted the approval of my Christian friends. I anticipated their congratulations and good opinion. And I thought I’d further win their approval by my zeal for their faith. But God had something different in mind. I am sure that it was God’s plan that I be thoroughly embarrassed in front of my Christian friends, so that my faith would not be based on trying to please them, but on trying to please Him.
And what will happen to you if your faith if based on trying to please other religious people? You’ll stumble, and be broken. Or the stone will fall on you, and you’ll be crushed.
But, if you please God, He’ll be for you a sanctuary—and nothing will be able to crush you. Want to be effective in your service for God? Want your life transformed? All you need to do is stop trying to please other people—even Christian people—and start trying to please God alone.
Do I do this myself? Well, of course not. As I told you, hypocrisy is my middle name. But that’s Dr. Art’s miracle cure for hardness of heart. Haven’t tried it myself. But I’m sure it will work just the same.