"Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called 'today,' that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin." (Hebrews 3:12-13)
Creeping, slowly and steadily, unbelief was ready to pounce on the early Jewish believers. They were, after all, outcasts in their culture, for their acceptance of Jesus as Messiah made them different, societal pariahs. So the author of Hebrews compared their generation to Moses'. When Moses took the Hebrew people out of Egypt, it was with God's plan to bring them into the Promised Land. But, on their way to the new territory God had promised them, unbelief took hold of their hearts and, sadly, they were kept from God's land. God still loved them and worked in their midst -- he gave them the law, the priesthood, and the manna -- but for forty years they lived outside of God's best. Only the next generation, led by Joshua, filled with belief, would experience God's desire and enter the Promised Land.
The author of Hebrews used that Exodus generation to exhort the believers of his day. He wanted them to guard against creeping unbelief which would lead them to fall away from the living God. He does not mean a loss of salvation, for Israel's wilderness-generation was still in covenant with God, but the loss of victory and blessing. Their unbelief was a lack of trust. When a believer is hesitant to lean on God, to trust him, their lives, like that Exodus generation, are only a shadow of what they could be. So, here, Hebrews gives us four main ways to combat creeping unbelief.
1. Take Care to Avoid the Unbelieving Heart (3:12)
It was the evil heart of unbelief which kept the wilderness-generation out of the promised land. Moses sent twelve spies into the land for forty days. Upon their return, they reported that it was a good territory, but filled with giants. Two of them dismissed the giants as small obstacles for God, but the other ten spies told the people to tremble because of them. "We are as grasshoppers in their sight," they said, and this grasshopper speech filled the consciousness of the congregation. Soon, they refused to go in. Unbelief kept them from God's best for their lives.
We must take care to cultivate environments of belief, rather than mistrust in the living God. He is worthy of our trust, for he is always good and faithful, but our bodies of sin will often feel otherwise about him.
Watch out for this halfway spirit, the one which has been delivered from slavery to sin, forgiven by God through the blood of Christ, but never able to go further. Don't let career pursuits or philosophical questions stop you from going all the way into God's best by trusting him. He is sturdy, worth leaning the weight of our lives upon. Though we might quickly trust our own mindset over God's revealed word, we must work hard to remind ourselves how our view is limited. A sheep does not know the plans and strategies of his shepherd. Livestock is incapable of the advanced thoughts of a human. Nor can we always understand God and his ways. We must lean on and trust in him more than our own senses.
2. Exhort One Another Every Day (3:13)
We must deal with the heart of unbelief, and we need a community to do so. It is in a relationship with other believers that we find the encouragement and grace we need for the fight. We need to speak into one another's lives, building up the other for the life of endurance.
Daily exhortation requires honesty. We must allow room for difference in our brothers and sisters in Christ, of course, and we must approach one another with total humility, but we must also use tactful, yet frank, honesty. Paul said, "Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently" (Galatians 6:1 NIV). Sometimes a good and honest word is in order.
Daily exhortation requires frequency. It says, "Exhort one another every day." Hebrews 3 uses the word "today" eight times. The idea is that we need daily encouragement. A community is not a convenience to fit in, but a commitment. If you only pursue Christian community when you feel you need it, you're making a mistake. What about pursuing it because someone else needs it? What about pursuing it because you can't see your blind spots? The believing community is worth pursuing every day.
3. Combat the Deceitfulness of Sin (3:13)
Hebrews continues, "that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin." Sin is a brutal and nasty liar. It contains "passing pleasures," but once they dissipate all that remains is a crater of the nuclear waste it leaves behind (Hebrews 11:25). The Proverbs spoke of the man who, after giving himself to adultery during his life, ended his days with groaning (Proverbs 5:11). Though we know sin causes pain in the long-run, it lies to us in the moment. Adultery is an easy example, but permissive parenting, fudging clear biblical teaching on human sexuality, and allowing work and play to edge out Christian life and activity are also examples of the deceitfulness of sin. All feel good in the moment but will kill in the long-run.
What do we need to help us defeat the lies of sin? Many things, but in this passage the author holds out Christian fellowship. When we exhort one another daily, we are better inoculated against the deceitfulness of sin. We believe sin's lies less often when we get in each other's faces a little bit.
4. Partake Fully of Christ (3:14)
But he went on to write, "For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end" (Hebrews 4:14). The word "share" means "to partake fully of." Every believer should want this -- a-nothing-left-on-the-table-experience-of-Christ -- with their whole heart. When we hold our original confidence in Christ firmly to the very end, we partake fully of Christ. But when we drift from Christ's preeminence and begin to belittle the magnificence of his being, we miss out on the life he offers us.
But we want that Promised Land! We want everything he has for us! We don't want to experience the terrible reality of falling short of his best for our lives! "Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion!" Give yourself entirely to him and the community he provides. When you do, the creeping unbelief which prowls to destroy and defeat you is kept at bay, and victory flows. The fullest and richest life of promise is ours!