Unbelief and the Hard Heart


by Mike Ratliff

20 Then He began to denounce the cities in which most of His miracles were done, because they did not repent. 21 “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the miracles had occurred in Tyre and Sidon which occurred in you, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. 22 Nevertheless I say to you, it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon in the day of judgment than for you. 23 And you, Capernaum, will not be exalted to heaven, will you? You will descend to Hades; for if the miracles had occurred in Sodom which occurred in you, it would have remained to this day. 24 Nevertheless I say to you that it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment, than for you.” Matthew 11:20-24 (NASB) 

Compromise and tolerance in our day are seen as ultimate virtues. While our flesh-bound reason agrees with this, there is the problem of our Lord’s own words from Sacred Scripture which say the very opposite. In the 21st Century, the mindset seems to be that we must never take a stand if it can be criticized by anyone. Several years ago I was writing some doctrinal things on this blog which caused many to no longer read or comment here. One of the comments I received at that time caused me to pause and reflect on my motives for doing what I was doing. The comment went something like this, “If you take stands in your articles, like you are doing now, in which you say this or that is the truth then you are opening up yourself to criticism.” Now, what was this person really saying?

It would be so easy to simply write sweet and/or challenging devotions here to be positive and tolerant of everyone, even those who deny the deity of Christ. Yes, it would be much easier, but would I be obedient in that to the calling God has given to some of us to stand in the gap and proclaim what is true even to those who demand compromise and tolerance at all costs? It can be quite discouraging to strike the anvil a full blow, but find a heart that is harder than steel.

Unbelief is a product of both a hard heart and deception. The person in this horrible state has been deceived with idolatry and has incurred a form of spiritual blindness that can only be broken through by God. These folks can be quite religious and appear to be Christians, but they are really all about serving their idols instead of God. For instance the idols of the emergents, the Neo-Evangelicals, and the Woke are people. The alternate form of the Gospel that serves this idolatrous form of Christianity is the Social Gospel or the positive, feel good Gospel. It is the man-loving Gospel that makes it all about people instead of God and His glory. It is Christianity on one’s own terms.

Debating these folks is quite an experience. They demand that we stop exposing their doctrinal errors. They call those who won’t stop doing this“hypocrites” by taking Jesus’ command to Judge Not out of context. I saw an article on a friends blog once in which someone blasted him for warning his readers about a false teacher. What was the argument the commenter used? She said, “You are a hypocrite, after all you are not perfect so how can you judge this person?” Well none of us are perfect, but we must judge because our Lord tells us too. We are not to judge hypocritically, but it is commanded that we discern what is true and what is false. We are to shun those who preach what is false and we are to warn our brethren as well. The Word of God gives us the standards of what is true and what is false and all genuine believers have the Holy Spirit.

What creates a lot of this contention is the false view that all professing Christians should just try to get along despite huge doctrinal differences. Unity is the cry. However, this is a call to unify what is true with what is false. My brethren, we cannot do this. We must not do this. Jesus warned us of what would happen when we preach and teach the truth as the truth.

34 “Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. 35 For I came to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; 36 and A man’s enemies will be the members of his household.
37 “He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; and he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. 38 And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me. 39 He who has found his life will lose it, and he who has lost his life for My sake will find it. Matthew 10:34-39 (NASB)

The genuine Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ divides people. It does not bring everyone together. The peace that is preached is peace between God and those whom He saves, not between them and those who reject the truth. Jesus said that when we obey Him in standing on His truth that it will cause conflict in every sphere of our lives. However, what is His command to us here? We are to love Him more than those whom are offended against us. We are to love Him more than the possible peace would have if we unified with those who do not hold to His truth. We are to die to self, take up our crosses and follow Him despite the high cost of this conflict.

There is nothing wrong with debating those who express doubts. However, it is a complete waste of time to continue to cast pearls before swine. Who is this? These are those in unbelief. We must give them the truth, the Gospel, but when they reject it, it is time to move on. Did our Lord do this?

20 Then He began to denounce the cities in which most of His miracles were done, because they did not repent. 21 “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the miracles had occurred in Tyre and Sidon which occurred in you, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. 22 Nevertheless I say to you, it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon in the day of judgment than for you. 23 And you, Capernaum, will not be exalted to heaven, will you? You will descend to Hades; for if the miracles had occurred in Sodom which occurred in you, it would have remained to this day. 24 Nevertheless I say to you that it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment, than for you.” Matthew 11:20-24 (NASB) 

Sounds pretty rough doesn’t it? We don’t have Jesus walking amongst us today doing the mighty works of healing, raising the dead, and preaching the Kingdom. By the way, this should silence those who claim that the purpose of Jesus’ ministry was primarily to do these works and we should be doing them as well. No, these mighty works were evidence of who He is. What happened? Did those people believe? The vast majority did not believe. Only a few did believe. Nothing has changed here my brethren. Most people do not believe the Gospel as preached in the Bible. Why? It is a narrow gate that few find. Only the few find it while most either reject it outright or try to get into the Kingdom some other way. That other way is works or a false gospel or religiosity, et cetera.

The Reformers from the 16th and 17th Centuries gave us a method of understanding this exclusive Gospel. The Five Solas are the polemic, divisive, markers that are evidence of the genuine Gospel. They state that it is from Scripture Alone that we learn that Salvation is by Grace Alone through Faith Alone in Christ Alone to the Glory of God Alone. Any emphasis outside of this marks that form of the gospel as false. No part of it can be removed and used instead nor can they stand apart from the rest. These Five Solas together with nothing taken away and nothing added seems quite narrow doesn’t it? That is because the Gospel is narrow for it is the narrow gate. Christ is the only way to God and those whom He saves come to Him on His terms, not theirs. These terms do not include religiosity. No, there is nothing added. We come empty handed to the cross.

Therefore, I can fellowship with Presbyterians, Baptists, Lutherans, Reformed, not Reformed, or any other believer who holds to the Five Solas. This is what is essential to our understanding of the Gospel. The differences in denominational groups outside of the Five Solas is not a barrier to this fellowship. What will divide us? We divide only from those who refuse to accept the Five Solas in whole or in part. For example, if works are added as a requirement for salvation then we should not be united with those who hold to that. If some believe that the gospel is for the benefit of the Earth or mankind as a whole, et cetera, then they have corrupted the Gospel and we should not consider them as our brothers.

What we must never forget is that God is Sovereign. He is going to save His people, not by our efforts, but as we obey Him in making disciples wherever He has us. He saves His people from first to last. He preserves them eternally. He has graciously given us the opportunity to be part of this great work of bring people into the Kingdom. Let us obey Him in doing this while never forgetting that it is the preaching of the Word of God that He uses to accomplish this. Yes, we will encounter those who are hard of heart and full of unbelief. We must pray that God will open their hearts to the truth. We must not give people the false view that the fulfillment of their faith will be here on Earth by them being religious. Instead, we must teach everyone that we are to serve Him here as He wills, but the fulfillment of our salvation will be when we meet our Lord face to face.

Soli Deo Gloria!

28 thoughts on “Unbelief and the Hard Heart

  1. Some interesting thoughts here, though I would not agree with all you have to say. I do however, commend you for your desire to take a stand based on principles you believe to be true. I also agree it is difficult to argue with people over moral issues when all they really seek is harmony at any cost. Its also difficult to discuss things with anyone who believes they are free from all possibility of error.

    I was struck by your reminder that we are charged to discern the true from the false. You are right.

    The use of the word “discern” is very important. The roots of this word go back to a latin verb meaning to sift or separate. Now in sifting something you have the stuff being sifted (lets say in the case of conscience this is the question or issue placed before us) and you have the sieve (again, in the case of conscience I would imagine this is the gospel, the standard against which we sort right from wrong). But that is not all!

    There is also the one who does the sifting. It is the one who sieves who is doing the separating, the examination and making judgement. Because we are always a part of the process of discernment, there is always a chance for error. The sieve, that is the principles of the gospel, are true and set. They do not err, however, the one who sieves can and often does err.

    The reason I point this out is not to say you in particular are in error. I mean to convey a thought I often have when judging right from wrong. I know I can and do err, that is why I constantly ask God for guidance, with an honest and sincere sense that I could be wrong. I don’t think God preserves all people from error all the time, or else there would be no disagreement on moral issues between people of faith and good will.

    Discern? Yes! Judge? Yes (if it means right from wrong), to the best of your abiltiy. Believe you are free from all possibility of error? I think the Papacy has fairly well proven that one to be dead wrong. Discern, but be humble in your discernment. This is how I separate the honestly faithful trying to help, from the merely bombastic, trying to shine up their own sense of righteousness.

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  2. grinningthorn,

    Yes, I agree with you. That is why I mentioned that we have the Holy Spirit. I did neglect to mention that we must pray for wisdom and discernment here. I don’t think it is wise to judge from the motivation of emotion. In fact, we should never do that. Yes, we must seek God first.

    One think I did not speak of much here because I have done it so much in previous posts is that we should argue these things from the basis of Scripture from an exegetical study, not Scripture taken out of context. If we are careful to follow exegetical rules then God does give us His truth and it cuts like a sharp two edged sword.

    In Christ

    Mike Ratliff


  3. Mike, You are teaching the truth. It is amazing to us how God grows us up. Since most of us have taken the long way around we have had it reveiled to us what is not truth. We learned the hard way. That seems to be part of the walk. We have been where ‘they’ are now. We pray for them too. Its a hard hit when you realize you’ve been wrong and taken. We felt like we were violated by the demons themselves and it made us mad. I actually feel sorry for people who are in the worldly churches. Well no more compromising for us. Its really not popular at all is it? Unfortunatly the Lord says its going to get much worse too. One day this will all be made right and we can hardly wait!


  4. oh i don’t know man i mean…it is like..

    by this alone…
    and by that alone…
    and the other thing alone…

    i mean like…

    how is it any of them are alone if there are five different ones that go together….?…


  5. It is so very hard to take a stand for truth sometimes. We left a church in the early days of the ’40 days of purposelessness’. We saw that it was wrong, though in those early days we didn’t know just how much it was wrong. Anyway, we lost most of our friends because they thought it was wonderful, and that we were being much to judgmental. But I wonder if they still think that in light of all that’s come out in the open about it.

    Anyway, good post. Much food for thought.


  6. Well said brother, an encouragment to my timid heart. The Gospel that is revealed in the Scriptures is nothing like the gospel of the modern church. It is uncompromising and exclusive, it has to be, since it points to a narrow gate via a narrow road. Much opposition will be found on that road, the Lord describes it a hard road, but what other road is there? The road of the modern gospel is easy, comfortable, not offensive to anyone, many people on that road, but to what destination? Destruction. Tremble before God’s word (Isaiah 66:1-2) the message of the Kingdom has been entrusted to us, we are Ambassadors for a King of a different country, with a message of reconcillation, “We implore you on behalf of Christ be reconciled to God, for our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin so that in him we might become the righteousness of God”. ( 2 Cor. 5:20-21)

    Brothers and Sisters, be faithful to your King, you are His Ambassadors with His message to the World.

    Keep faithful to the Lord Brother.

    John in Toronto.


  7. I have learned many things from your writings, Mike. One thing is that when you teach the Word, even without histrionics, without personal invectives, and without hyperbole and still draw strong attack.

    That should show us that the Word itself brings attack.


  8. Thanks Jen, I know you decision to take that stand was costly, but God knew you did it and that is part of your record of faithfulness in the books that will be opened when we stand before Him. To God be the glory!


  9. John,

    That’s a very important point my brother. These compromisers overlook the fact that this gate is narrow and hard to find. Since they are on a different road via a different gate, where do think they are headed? Did God change the rules just for them?

    In Christ

    Mike Ratliff


  10. I like the discussion … but a warning. In some personal experiences of mine … Truth is hard word. Christians want to be seen as in the truth. However, having the truth can also give us a sense of superiority since we have this truth. I think you said it under the solas of scripture. Jesus showed humility and came to serve. He came to demonstrate a power under not power over. As long as we can keep the meaning of the Cross in focus and it prevents us from using “truth” to have this sense of superiority.

    Anyhow a couple personal long stories are embedded in this thought of mine.

    The Gospel is…
    We are more sinful and weak than we ever dared to admit and… (Total depravity)
    We are more loved and accepted than we ever dared to hope. (Jesus sacrifice on the cross).

    By remembering this we don’t abuse the truth so we can walk among sinners in some understanding way but yet simultaneously want to remove and struggle against sin.

    For more details into this thought process look here:


  11. Mike, Here is something for FishHawk, Halpin and anyone else who comes with a false doctrine taught by false teachers.

    Secretly, quietly, insidiously, plausibly

    “Watch out for false prophets! They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves!” Matthew 7:15

    “For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, masquerading as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light!” 2 Corinthians 11:13-14

    False doctrine does not meet us face to face, and proclaim that it is false. It does not blow a trumpet before it, and endeavor openly to turn us away from the truth as it is in Jesus. It does not come before us in broad day, and summon us to surrender. It approaches us secretly, quietly, insidiously, plausibly, and in such a way as to disarm our suspicion, and throw us off our guard. It is the wolf in sheep’s clothing, and Satan in the garb of an angel of light–who have always proved the most dangerous foes of the church of Christ.

    Let us be on our guard against the “insidiousness” of false doctrine. Like the fruit of which Eve and Adam ate–at first sight it looks pleasant and good, and a thing to be desired. “Poison” is not written upon it, and so people are not afraid. Like counterfeit coin, it is not stamped “bad.” It passes for the real thing, because of the very likeness it bears to the truth.

    Let us be on our guard against the “very small beginnings” of false doctrine. Every heresy began at one time, with some little departure from the truth. There is only “a little seed of error” needed to create “a great tree of heresy!” It is the little stones, which make up the mighty building. It was the little pieces of lumber, which made the great ark that carried Noah and his family over a deluged world. It is the little leaven, which infiltrated the whole lump. It is the little flaw in one link of the chain cable, which wrecks the gallant ship, and drowns the crew. It is the omission or addition of one little item in the doctor’s prescription, which spoils the whole medicine, and turns it into poison!

    Let us never allow a little false doctrine to ruin us, by thinking it is “but a little one,” and can do us no harm.

    There are three things which we never ought to trifle with:
    a little poison,
    a little sin, and
    a little false doctrine.

    Let us read the Bible regularly, daily, and with fervent prayer. Let us receive nothing, believe nothing, follow nothing–which is not in the Bible. Let our rule of faith, our touchstone of all teaching–be the written Word of God. “To the law and to the testimony! If they do not speak according to this Word, it is because there is no light in them.” Isaiah 8:20


  12. Oh Lord help us to hear the serpents rattle before we feel its fangs!

    Mike, You get to hear the rattles everyday from what we read on your blog site. But we also can see that the Lord has given you wisdom, His wisdom. Worth more than gold 🙂


  13. Mike, all of the wrangling and hatred that you have experienced here on your blog and shared with us reminds me of a current situation that I have with some unbelieving family members. They have taken offense (and some of that may be due to my being a Christian) and there is just no working it out with them. They are are hateful, vindictive and not content with just breaking the relationship. No, they go even further with false accusations and hateful words and with terrible character assasination even of others in the family (some of whom died years ago and whom either they never met or scarcely remember). It is only done to cause further emotional pain and to take the focus off of themselves. Thank you modeling perseverance and endurance. Please continue to be biblical and to help us. You are not only providing good teaching, but also providing a living example of how a Christian responds to hateful attacks, and how one perseveres in the face of unbelieveable opposition. For some of us, this is not just theory, or what’s happening in the blogosphere, but right in our own family.


  14. Most people I meet who call themselves ‘Christians’ and are clearly in error, make that error by not paying any attention to context. Today was “Jesus loves me SO much…” and “I am the apple of His eye” I tried to explain that we are not worthy of His love, nor will we ever be and that His display of love was for His glory, not for a better life, not that He needed or needs us.

    But my babbling will never save anyone. Only God can change that man to His glory. He has chosen the foolishness of His Gospel to save men, we, as His bondservants can only do His will, and pray that He will be glorified, whether or not there is a result.

    Keep expositing His Precious Word. You have helped edify the saints, and by this built them up.

    Stand firm in this faith, and no other.


  15. Julie,

    What about these names? Familiar with party pooper, Bible thumper, fundamentalist, goody-goody, or Jesus freak? Be glad that you are called these names. We are not worthy to be refined are we?

    The funniest name that I can remember being called was, “Angel Boy.” They made fun of me for not wanting to talk trash. They can laugh all they want.

    One of the most common forms of persecution comes from unsaved family members. Unsaved family members don’t usually invite you on their vacations because they know that you don’t party like they do. They love their sin because they take pleasure in unrighteousness. Gambling, drinking, and who knows what…..usually takes place everyday or night for most of the individuals which I know. I am not ashamed to take a stand and forsake that nonsense for the Lord. As Christians, we are commanded to be holy and seperate ourselves from corruption. It will certainly cost us some relationships.


  16. Ok this topic is digressing … what was the individual point here :-).

    I think its important to always find our identity deeply on the cross and to use Pauls terminology find our identity “in Christ. ” To be honest if you angle your viewpoint toward Gods love or Gods wrath or try somewhere in the middle we as sinners somehow seem to mess up — even if we think we are in the truth.

    To find yourself in Christ…

    Your self-view is not based on a view of my or yourself as a moral achiever. In Christ I am simul iustus et peccator—simultaneously sinful and lost yet accepted in Christ. I am so bad he had to die for me and I am so loved he was glad to die for me. This leads me to deeper and deeper humility and confidence at the same time. Neither swaggering nor sniveling.

    My identity and self-worth are centered on Jesus … the one who died for His enemies, who was excluded from the city for me. I am saved by sheer grace. So I can’t look down on those who believe or practice something different from me. Only by grace I am what I am. I’ve no inner need to win arguments.

    No matter where we angle our thoughts (Love, wrath, works) our human nature will find idols. The Gospel message gives us a third way different from the religious pharisees and differnt from the irreligious. The Gospel says that both the religious works-morality-based pharisees and the irreligious are alike in their need for a savior.


  17. …”simultaneously sinful and lost yet accepted in Christ”..

    please provide scripture that one is simultaneously lost and at the same time accepted in CHRIST…thanks…


  18. Seldom,

    I believe this is a statement from John Calvin that states believers are righteous in God’s eyes because they have Christ’s righteousness imputed to them, however, the flesh is still present so believers still sin.

    In Christ

    Mike Ratliff


  19. Mike has it right in his own words. The exact verse is Romans 1:16-17 that says for in the Gospel a righteousness is revealed and it a is a righteousness that is by faith [In Christ] from first to last. It is an imputed righteousness meaning we only receive it through Christ.

    This verse was Martin Luthers (of the 1500s) mountain top experience.

    Also, the entirety of why Jesus went to the cross says that we are absolutely sinful and abosulutely loved

    Also. exactly from scripture
    1 John 4:16-18

    God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him. 17In this way, love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment, because in this world we are like him. 18There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.

    Accepted in Christ comes exactly, like Mike said, from the imputed Righteousness in Christ in Romans. Imputed basically means its a gift from God through faith in Christ. Through Christ we are accepted.

    Our desire for obedience then comes in view of Gods mercy and what he did on the cross as stated in the first few verses of Romans 12


  20. Less posting today Mike. Yesterday I was home sick :). I think I am feeling well enought to go to work today. And Mike said it well.

    The sinful nature of the religious remain points to our constant need to remember Gods sacrifice on the Cross. I believe, as did the great reformer Martin Luther, that as Christians we always need to be re-reminded about the Cross. I hope we do that more than just at communion but also make our remembrance of Christ and the Cross something that is part of our daily thinkology. The cross is a radical, life-changing concept.

    In Christ,


  21. This is such a neglected, however crucial subject in our churches of the 21st century! Not popular and often rejected.
    C.H. Spurgeon was aware of its importance. I am just remembering his thoughts:

    “Pride cannot live beneath the cross!”

    Let us remember the Lord’s sacrifice
    God’s hatred regarding human pride often comes together with human unbelive.
    And let us preach a clear, “full” Gospel, as CHS did it – although being blamed therefore.


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