Do you ever feel like your heart is hard like stone? Cold, unfeeling, unmoved by God? The Bible talks about this spiritual condition and how God can give us new hearts that are soft, tender, and responsive to Him. Let’s explore what Scripture says about the hardening and softening of our hearts.
- A heart of stone is unrepentant, unresponsive to God. A heart of flesh is soft, tender, and responsive to God.
- God removes our heart of stone and gives us a heart of flesh when we come to faith in Christ.
- A hard heart leads to rebellion and distance from God. A soft heart leads to obedience and intimacy with God.
- Signs of a hard heart include lack of spiritual insight, unbelief, disobedience, ingratitude, indifference. Signs of a soft heart are faith, repentance, love for God.
- We can pray for God to renew and soften our hearts. Examining Scripture, repenting of sin, and practicing spiritual disciplines also help to soften our hearts.
The Heart of Stone
In Ezekiel 36:26, God makes this promise about the new covenant: “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh” (NKJV). What is the “heart of stone” that God wants to remove from us?
Several other passages describe the spiritual condition of the unrepentant heart apart from God. Take Jeremiah 17:9: “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it?” (NKJV) In its natural state, the human heart is hardened by sin, rebellious against God. It lacks spiritual understanding and desires wicked rather than godly things.
Jesus rebuked the religious leaders of His day for having hard hearts: “Harden not your hearts, as in the provocation, in the day of temptation in the wilderness” (Hebrews 3:8, NKJV). The Pharisees likewise judged the condition of people’s hearts based on their actions. Jesus told them, “Out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies” (Matthew 15:19, NKJV).
From these passages, we can summarize some characteristics of the hard heart:
- Unbelief and lack of spiritual understanding: 1 Corinthians 2:14 states, “The natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned” (NKJV). Apart from God’s intervention, human hearts lack spiritual insight.
- Disobedience to God: A hard heart leads to rebellion against God’s ways. In Christ’s parable of the soils, some seed “fell by the wayside; and the birds came and devoured them … When anyone hears the word of the kingdom, and does not understand it, then the wicked one comes and snatches away what was sown in his heart” (Matthew 13:4,19, NKJV). Their hard hearts prevent God’s Word from taking root.
- Ingratitude and indifference: Despite God’s kindness and blessings, hard-hearted people remain unmoved to thankfulness or worship. Jesus healed ten lepers but only one returned to glorify God and give thanks (Luke 17:15-18).
Clearly, Scripture paints a dire picture of the unregenerate heart as cold and lifeless toward spiritual things. Left in this condition, we would be eternally separated from God. But by His grace, God gives us a heart transplant!
The Heart of Flesh
When God removes our heart of stone and gives us a heart of flesh, we become soft, tender, and responsive to Him. Ezekiel 36:26 describes this transformation: “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh” (NKJV). What are the characteristics of a heart made spiritually alive?
- A heart of faith: Whereas the hard heart is plagued by unbelief, the heart of flesh trusts in Christ. Paul says, “With the heart one believes unto righteousness” (Romans 10:10, NKJV). The Lydia’s heart was opened by God “to heed the things spoken by Paul” (Acts 16:14, NKJV).
- A heart of repentance: The stony heart clings to sin, but the tender heart turns from it. After Peter’s sermon at Pentecost, people “were cut to the heart, and said …’What shall we do?'” (Acts 2:37, NKJV). Their hearts were pricked with conviction over their sin.
- A heart of love: God’s commands can only be fully obeyed from the heart (Deuteronomy 6:5-6). As our hearts grow softer toward Him, we genuinely love God and others.
- A heart of gratitude: When we fully appreciate Christ’s sacrifice for us, praise and thanksgiving flow freely from regenerated hearts. The psalmist declared, “I will praise You, O Lord, with my whole heart” (Psalm 138:1, NKJV).
As we yield ourselves to the Holy Spirit, our hearts become more inclined to God’s truth and walk in His ways. Though pockets of resistance remain, He faithfully directs us into greater Christlikeness.
God Removes and Renews Our Hearts
This miraculous heart transplant happens when we come to faith in Christ. Paul describes this regeneration as God shining His light into our hearts: “For it is the God who commanded light to shine out of darkness, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:6, NKJV).
Through the Holy Spirit, God convicts us of our sin and need for salvation (John 16:8). As we put our faith in Christ’s atoning work on the cross, God replaces our heart of stone with a living heart sensitive to Himself. Ezekiel prophesied this about the New Covenant:
“I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will keep My judgments and do them” (Ezekiel 36:26-27, NKJV).
The Holy Spirit takes up residence within us to sanctify us. Over time, we become more aware of residual sin and hardened areas. As we yield to God’s pruning and refining work, our hearts grow increasingly pliable (John 15:2).
Paul urges followers of Jesus to be “transformed by the renewing of your mind” as part of our spiritual worship (Romans 12:2, NKJV). Just as we devote time to physical exercise, we must also regularly expose our hearts to God’s Word to stay tender. The Holy Spirit uses Scripture to convict, instruct, and encourage us in the faith.
Signs of a Hard Heart
Unfortunately, a hard-hearted tendency still lurks within believers. If left unchecked, our hearts can grow callous and unresponsive again. That’s why Scripture exhorts Christians to regularly examine the condition of our hearts.
Signs that your heart may be growing hardened include:
- Resisting conviction of sin
- Justifying disobedience to God
- Criticizing or ignoring preachers who challenge your complacency
- Drifting from prayer, Bible reading, church attendance, or other spiritual disciplines
- Assuming you’re spiritually “good enough” already
- Growing cynical, resentful, indifferent, or bitter
- Becoming overly enamored by worldly entertainment or possessions
- Idolizing your comfort zones, reputation, or success over serving God
Take such symptoms seriously. The prophet Jeremiah warns, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it?” (Jeremiah 17:9, NKJV). Pray for God to reveal the areas of your heart not fully surrendered to Him.
Prolonged hardness of heart can lead to spiritual disaster. The book of Hebrews strongly cautions:
“Beware, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God; but exhort one another daily, while it is called ‘Today,’ lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin” (Hebrews 3:12-13, NKJV).
Regular heart checks and repentance keep our hearts soft and responsive.
Signs of a Soft Heart
In contrast, a soft heart is characterized by:
- Quick repentance when convicted by God’s Spirit
- Willingness to obey God even if costly or difficult
- Openness to biblical teaching that challenges your status quo
- Protection of time for regular prayer, Scripture reading, and other spiritual disciplines
- Gratefulness for God’s forgiveness and grace
- Compassion, kindness, and mercy for others
- Selfless living for God’s Kingdom rather than earthly gain
- Humility instead of pride or self-absorption
These qualities indicate your heart is tender and alive toward God. But beware of complacency. None of us fully “arrive” this side of eternity. Our hearts must remain receptive as God continues mending every crack and crevice.
The faithful pursuit of Christ transforms not just our outward behavior, but our core desires, thoughts, and motivations. As D.L. Moody once said, “We need a regeneration of conduct as well as a reformation of theology.” Keep seeking a heart that beats in rhythm with God’s.
How to Soften a Hardened Heart
If you recognize your heart growing distant and insensitive to spiritual things, take action now. Here are some practical ways to soften a hard heart:
1. Repent of any known sin.
Bring it before God, ask His forgiveness, and turn away from it. Even small compromises with sin callous the conscience over time. The Holy Spirit can only work with a willing, yielded heart.
2. Examine your heart in Scripture.
Ask God to reveal attitudes displeasing to Him like pride, unforgiveness, love of money, impurity, etc. God’s Word is “living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12, NKJV). Let it expose and cut away hard areas.
3. Intercede for spiritual revival.
Only God’s Spirit can truly soften and renew hearts. Pray for fresh outpourings on yourself, your church, and across churches worldwide. Revival starts with prayer! “Repent therefore and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord” (Acts 3:19, NKJV).
4. Practice spiritual disciplines.
Just as physical exercise strengthens muscles, spiritual disciplines like prayer, worship, fasting, Bible study, silence, solitude, journaling, and Scripture memory flex and shape your heart toward godliness. Keep engaging your heart with the Spirit.
5. Fellowship with other believers.
Hardened hearts tend to isolate. Satan loves to divide people. Commit to regular church participation, small groups, and time with mature Christians who can encourage spiritual growth. Their faithfulness can inspire your own.
6. Serve and minister to others.
Turn your focus outward by volunteering, caring for others, and sharing Christ’s hope. Guarding our hearts with gratitude and compassion keeps them soft. Nothing hardens a heart faster than self-absorption.
As you walk faithfully with God, cling to His promise of complete heart restoration one day:
“I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh” (Ezekiel 36:26, NKJV).
Stay open and pliable before the Potter’s hands. By His grace, the Master Craftsman keeps molding your heart into the image of Christ. And He assures us, “I will not turn away from doing good to you” (Jeremiah 32:40, NKJV).
May God continually revive and renew our hearts as we follow Him all the days of our lives!