I was a teenager once: and I had a father and a mother who were, of course, not anywhere near as smart as I was. At least that’s what I told myself. And I was pretty convincing. Truth be told, when I was 18, I didn’t really see the point of parents even being around.
Of course, I had yet to experience ordinary things like mortgages and 40-hour work weeks, cooking or laundry, but that’s beside the point. The point is I didn’t see any reason to listen to their advice. And so I didn’t. Even when I should have been a little more open to some instruction.
Like the time I went to pick up my friend Mark Vialpando. He has the sweetest mother and I remember distinctly her telling us, “Now don’t you boys go getting into any trouble tonight.”
“Oh no, Mrs. Vialpando, we won’t,” I said, probably rolling my eyes. Trouble was the only agenda item on the itinerary as I recall.
“I don’t want to get a call from the police at 3 a.m.,” she said. I smiled and nodded. I don’t think I heard a word.
And to be fair, I think we actually called around 2:45.
That was a really bad night and I made some really bad decisions, but not because I had a lack of information or bad counsel. I acted like an idiot, because I didn’t think anyone else had anything to teach me. I was arrogant, unteachable; in short, I had a callous heart.
And my life reflected that to a large degree. We make bad decisions, because our hearts get hard and calloused. And that’s a bad place to be. I think this is what happened to the Israelites in the desert, when they got hard towards God and started drifting, worshipping golden calves.
And I think this is what Paul is getting at in his letter to the Ephesians:
So this I say, and affirm together with the Lord, that you walk no longer just as the Gentiles also walk in the futility of their mind, being darkened in their understanding, excluded from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the hardness of their heart; and they, having become callous, have given themselves over to sensuality for the practice of every kind of impurity with greediness (Ephesians 4:17-19).
It is their hardness of heart, their callousness, that excludes them from the life of God, that leads to a life of impurity, greed and what he calls “futility.” I think the implications are far-reaching, but the root of what he calls the futile life is a hard heart. That alone excludes one from a life of truth, wisdom and understanding: the life of God.
But Paul offers some hope, an alternative. If we will listen, allow Christ to teach us, then that old futile self will be replaced by a new self. With Christ we are given a new mind, when we lay aside our hardness of heart, and that leads us to truth and to good decision-making. Paul puts it this way:
But you did not learn Christ in this way, if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught in Him, just as truth is in Jesus, that, in reference to your former manner of life, you lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit, and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth (Ephesians 4:20-24).
I struggle sometimes with a hardness of heart, with being stubborn and set in my ways. And I think I make bad decisions when I get that way. I think my judgment gets clouded. Maybe, I’m not alone and maybe knowing this about myself is half the battle.