In the first half of chapter 3, which we studied last week, the writer of Hebrews compares Jesus with Moses. He reasons that both men were used by God to deliver people. While Moses led the exodus which brought the descendants of Jacob out of Egyptian captivity, Jesus died on the cross to deliver sinners from the bondage of sin and death.
Though their missions were similar, Jesus is worthy to receive more glory than Moses. Jesus’ superiority is shown in 2 ways. First, Moses is described as merely a servant of God while Jesus is named the only begotten Son of God. Obviously, a son is greater than a servant. Second, as a human being Moses led as a faithful member in God’s house while Jesus, who is both God and man, rules faithfully over God’s house. The house of the Lord is also called the Body of Christ or the church, and Jesus is its head. Being over is better than being in.
When we consider the story of Moses, we remember that despite having been freed from Egyptian slavery the Hebrew children doubted God and refused to enter the Promised Land. As a result they died in the wilderness and missed out on the glorious rest that God had set aside for them. The tragic ramifications of their actions serve as the basis for the warning given in the second half of chapter 3.
A few weeks ago I told you that the writer of Hebrews occasionally breaks from his discourse on the superiority of Christ to offer his readers a warning. The first of these, which we encountered back in chapter 2, cautioned Christians against drifting. In today’s message we’ll examine the second warning passage of Hebrews with a sermon titled “Don’t Doubt”.
I. TAKE CARE OF EACH OTHER (verses 12-13)
Notice that these verses have both an individual and corporate application. The writer urges the group to ‘take care” that no individual among them, including themselves, has an “evil, unbelieving heart”. The congregation is called to “encourage one another” constantly in hopes of preventing any one from becoming “hardened by the deceitfulness of sin”. In other words, the whole is to take upon itself some degree of responsibility for the spiritual well-being of each of its members. Mature and healthy Christian congregations encourage, pray for, and caringly support one another. This is one of the major functions of the local church.
The warning to the group is to watch out for “evil, unbelieving” hearts that fall “away from the living God”. This phrase must be viewed through the entirety of Scripture which teaches that once a person has been truly saved they cannot lose their salvation. Thus, falling away from God as used in this passage must be understood to mean either that a Christian has become backslidden and out of fellowship with God (though still saved) or that a non-Christian who for a time may have mimicked the appearance of a saved person has reverted to their previous sinful ways. Either of these types of individuals would have a negative impact on the congregation.
Everyone experiences occasional moments of doubt. Hopefully, as a believer grows in their personal walk with Jesus such doubts decrease while their faith increases. These seasons of doubt are common to all Christians, and are not the subject of these verses. The doubt being described in this passage is deep, consistent, and chronic. The writer also uses the adjective “evil” to describe this type of “unbelieving” heart. It is diametrically opposed to the goodness of God. It persistently doubts God’s character, His motives, His abilities, and perhaps even His existence. This degree of doubt is evil.
Christians should lovingly identify and encourage lost people in their midst to put away their doubts and to accept Jesus and their Lord and Savior. Likewise, they should look out for fellow believers who are struggling with doubts and seek to encourage and strengthen them in their faith. Also, they should guard their own hearts against doubt and place their trust fully in God.
II. HOLD FAST TO THE FAITH (verse 14)
By using the pronoun we, the writer includes himself in the statement “For we have become partakers of Christ”. Though his identity is unknown, as an accepted and credible author of a Holy Spirit inspired book of the Bible, it seems safe and reasonable to assume that he is a born-again believer. Seeing that he identifies with this group, the phrase “partakers of Christ” most likely refers to repentant sinners who have trusted in Jesus Christ for salvation.
True believers “hold fast the beginning of our assurance firm until the end”. In other words, their faith and confidence in Christ is sustained from the moment of their salvation until their death. This perseverance of faith is not the reason for their salvation, but rather a mark of their salvation. Sinners are not saved by their faithful allegiance or obedience to God, however saved people will exhibit faithful allegiance and obedience to Him. Perseverance is a sign of redemption. Those who have made genuine professions of faith in Jesus and have been regenerated by the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit are eternally secured by the almighty hand of God.
As mentioned earlier, even Christians sometimes experience seasons of doubt. But if they are genuinely saved, they will always eventually repent and return to the LORD so that their faith “in the end” is restored to that which it was in ‘the beginning”. On the contrary, those who fall away from the faith and never repent or return do not show this unyielding perseverance. Because true faith always endures, such deserters couldn’t have been authentically saved to begin with.
Only God knows the condition of a person’s heart. Therefore, when someone strays from the Lord it is impossible for others to know whether or not they might someday repent and return. For this reason, believers should never give up on the prodigals. Perhaps they might still come home and thereby demonstrate the perseverance of a saving faith, and if not, perhaps there is still time for them to be truly saved before it is eternally too late.
III. LEARN FROM THE PAST (verses 15-19)
The writer first introduced a passage from Psalm 95 earlier in this chapter, but now refers to a portion of it again. He reminds his readers through a series of questions that the children of Israel whom Moses led out of Egypt provoked the LORD, causing Him to become angry with them for 40 years. Because of their sin and disobedience, God swore that they would not enter the Promised Land and they instead fell dead in the wilderness.
This chapter ends with a sentence that summarizes what happened to the Hebrew children - “they were not able to enter because of unbelief.” It was their doubt that prevented them from receiving that which God had reserved for them. This is the peril of unbelief… doubt will cause people to forfeit the things which God desires to give them.
We have now read and discussed the first 2 warning passages found in the book of Hebrews - “Don’t Drift” and “Don’t Doubt”. Those who drift away from God will be unable to escape the penalty that comes from neglecting His great salvation. And those who doubt Him will miss out on the blessings that He has lovingly prepared for them, perhaps even salvation itself.
Next week, we will return to our conversation regarding the supremacy of Christ. Due to their unbelief, the sons of Jacob were not permitted to enter into God’s “rest”. While this obviously and literally refers to the Promised Land, which flowed with milk and honey, might it also carry a deeper symbolic meaning? What exactly is meant by the phrase “God’s rest” and how can we access it? We will explore the believer’s rest thoroughly in chapter 4.
As we close, is there anyone present this morning who is struggling with doubt? Perhaps there is someone who has never truly believed in God or trusted in Jesus for salvation. The Bible teaches that faith in Jesus Christ is the only way to receive forgiveness of sins and secure the promise of eternal life in Heaven. If you have never accepted Jesus as your Savior, though you might have been a church-goer for years, I plead with you to receive Him today.
Maybe there is a Christian here this morning who is wrestling with doubt. Though your salvation is certain, this doubt is presently robbing you from experiencing God’s best. During this invitation I encourage you to place your doubts on the altar of God and to leave them there. Ask Him to quell you doubts while restoring and strengthening your faith. Trust in Jesus… because He is better!