“You stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears! You always resist the Holy Spirit; as your fathers did, so do you.” (Acts 7:51)
Ouch; the message delivered by Stephen cut deep— the truth often does, for we are like sheep and want to do our own thing (Isaiah 53:6). From the beginning of his inspired sermon in Acts 7:1 to its conclusion in 7:53, Stephen was speaking the truth in love, and, like the crowd listening to Stephen’s sermon, we have a hard time receiving the truth no matter how it is delivered— if we are guilty or immature. The problem is; we are naturally both, for we were each born into a fallen world (Psalm 51:5). We are guilty and immature by nature and by choice, and we have a propensity to resist good and embrace evil. If the Apostle Paul and other historical and biblical figures struggled with making choices to pursue the true, good, and beautiful, we should expect no less.
The difference in life outcomes often points back to single or multiple opportunities to receive or reject truth when it is presented to us. The good news is, we will never regret embracing the truth in the long run—even if doing so stings for a season. Life and flourishing come about by alignment with the God of Nature and Nature’s God, and, as Christians, we celebrate Jesus— for He is the fulness of the Godhead bodily (Colossians 2:9). The problem of being stiff-necked is often of a deep spiritual nature manifesting through our emotions, personalities, and habits. Being stiff-necked means we are giving ourselves license to practice rebellion and avoiding being corrected or embracing God’s boundaries.
For example, if we know our bodies are a temple of God but we still choose to abuse them with gluttony instead of temperate eating, we could rightly be called stiff-necked. If we know the borrower is a servant to the lender and still choose to max out credit cards and live beyond our means, we are being stiff-necked. If we know we should love our neighbors as ourselves, but we choose to harm through slander, gossip, theft, lies, or taking advantage of them, in countless ways, we are being stiff-necked. If we know God’s standard for sex and relationships yet ignore the promptings of His Spirit correcting us, by consuming pornography, having sex outside of God’s boundaries of marriage, or making another person an idol, we are being stiff-necked. Being so is not limited to those things we commit to; omission is also an indicator of being stiff-necked. “Therefore, to him that knows to do good and does not do it, to him it is sin.” (James 4:17) If we continuously avoid reading scripture, praying, going to church, educating ourselves, or helping widows, orphans, and the hurting, we are likely being stiff-necked.
The flesh and the Spirit compete for our free wills, so we should practice obedience to God’s Kingdom agenda every chance we get; so, we are ready to receive correction and instruction in righteousness when opportunities come. Without practicing obedience to the Spirit’s gentle correction when the skies are blue, we will be unprepared when the storms come. We should resist the impulse to be like a rebellious child who pulls away from a parent’s safe hand and darts headlong out into traffic. Like Job, we too can question God, but he wants us to trust him. To obey is better than sacrifice (1 Samuel 12:22).
– Richard Harwood from The Guild