I played Donkey Basketball one time. After that experience, I can say I have firsthand understanding of what the phrase “stubborn as a mule” means (Yes, I know. A donkey and a mule are two different animals, but you get the illustration).
The whole reason “donkey basketball” is funny is because you can’t really make the donkeys do what you want. They are going to stop when you don’t want them to or go when you don’t want them to or buck you off when you definitely don’t want them to!
The Bible actually teaches us that when it comes to the human heart, we can be as stubborn as a mule.
Jeremiah and Stubbornness
I’ve been recently reading through the book of Jeremiah and 10 different times in the ESV the English word “stubborn” “stubbornness” or “stubbornly” is used. God consistently shows Israel that her disobedience was a direct result of her stubbornness.
3:17 – At that time Jerusalem shall be called the throne of the LORD, and all nations shall gather to it, to the presence of the LORD in Jerusalem, and they shall no more stubbornly follow their own evil heart.
5:23 – But this people has a stubborn and rebellious heart; they have turned aside and gone away.
6:28 – They are all stubbornly rebellious, going about with slanders; they are bronze and iron; all of them act corruptly.
7:24 – But they did not obey or incline their ear, but walked in their own counsels and the stubbornness of their evil hearts, and went backward and not forward.
9:14 – but have stubbornly followed their own hearts and have gone after the Baals, as their fathers taught them.
11:8 – Yet they did not obey or incline their ear, but everyone walked in the stubbornness of his evil heart. Therefore I brought upon them all the words of this covenant, which I commanded them to do, but they did not.”
13:10 – This evil people, who refuse to hear my words, who stubbornly follow their own heart and have gone after other gods to serve them and worship them, shall be like this loin cloth, which is good for nothing.
16:12 – and because you have done worse than your fathers, for behold, every one of you follows his stubborn, evil will, refusing to listen to me.
18:12 – “But they say, ‘That is in vain! We will follow our own plans, and will every one act according to the stubbornness of his evil heart.’
23:17 – They say continually to those who despise the word of the LORD, ‘It shall be well with you’; and to everyone who stubbornly follows his own heart, they say, ‘No disaster shall come upon you.’ ”
One of the things the Lord shows us through these verses is that one major reason so many do not follow Christ and His ways is stubbornness of the heart.
A Theology of Stubborn
When it comes to discussing one’s “inability” to come to Christ apart from effectual grace, people often get rather upset. In their mind, reformed soteriology is positing a view whereby people want to come to Christ but are unable to and thus eternally lost.
But this is not a correct understanding. The idea of a sinner’s inability to choose Christ is directly connected to their own stubborn heart. Just like unbelieving Israel, all lost persons follow their unbelieving, stubborn heart. Essentially they cannot come to Christ because they will not come to Christ (John 5:40).
The stubborn heart is wicked and perverse. It loves self supremely and absolutely refuses to recognize any other ultimate king. So, when the gospel is heralded and the King’s terms of peace are offered, the stubborn heart refuses to heed and the scattered seed is snatched away by the Evil One (Matthew 13:19).
Thankfully, God is gracious in not leaving us all to the stubbornness of our own will. Rather than letting us all run like stubborn mules headlong into the Lake of Fire we all deserve, He is constantly stopping people in their tracks with His grace.
John writes of Christ, “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:12-13).
It’s not that the stubborn heart decided to make itself unstubborn by its own will, but that God in His grace opened up the stubborn heart so that it would be able to now joyfully receive the truth about Christ and His gospel through saving faith (Acts 16:14).
What Must I Do?
In the words of James Montgomery Boice, “‘With God all things are possible’ (Matt. 19:26). And so they are! They are possible for you” (The Parables of Jesus, p. 21). Meaning, God is even able to break through your stubborn heart! But the call you must heed is repent and believe the gospel. Look to Christ! Come to Christ! Believe on Christ! Let God worry about fixing your stubbornness, while you trust Christ even now. Perhaps you ought to cry out to God even now, “Help my unbelief!” (Matt. 9:24).
And for those of you sharing the gospel, trust in the God grace. Keep sowing the gospel seed to the stubborn knowing that grace is still saving. You may encounter hard soil, rocky soil, and soil filled with weeds. But by grace, you’ll come across ground that will ultimately produce fruit (Matthew 13:23).
The solution to stubborn hearts is God’s grace through the glorious gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.