What would it take for you to give up your faith in Christ? Someone could easily respond, “Give up my faith? NEVER! There’s nothing that would cause me to do that. Or, perhaps you may struggle with faith, and you aren’t sure you believe in the first place?
Whatever your answer to our question may be, I propose that within each one of us there is the seed, the potential, for unbelief. How can that be true? Because we all have one thing in common that can lead us away from Christ, and even to doubt the existence of God. That one thing is sin.
Our text in Hebrews makes this very plain: “But, see to it that none of you has an evil and unbelieving heart that forsakes the living God. But exhort one another each day, as long as it is called “Today,” that none of you may become hardened by sin’s deception.” (Heb. 3:12-13)
Some want to argue that the author of Hebrews is speaking to potential believers, but this passage makes it very clear that he’s speaking to believers. The warning in verse 12 is clear and very pointed: don’t forsake the living God. I cannot forsake something that I don’t have in my possession. I cannot abandon something that I don’t have control of. Rather, to forsake is to leave behind; to neglect something willfully.
Following the warning not to willfully neglect our faith in God, is a much needed word of encouragement, or “exhortation” (a word we seldom use these days). We are encouraged to exhort one another “Today”! Don’t put it off. Don’t neglect to do it. Encourage your brothers and sisters in Christ to remain faithful “today”! Every day we must be on guard against sin’s deception.
The danger of allowing sin to remain in our lives is that it hardens one’s heart. And a hardened heart leads to rebellion and unbelief.
Now, this is the exact opposite — really the reverse — of what we ordinarily think with regard to sin and unbelief. Generally, we believe unbelief precedes sin, and that unbelief is primarily an intellectual problem, faulty thinking, that leads one into willful sin.
But, the author of Hebrews, and the rest of Scripture for that matter, teaches us the opposite: unbelief is primarily a sin problem! When we willfully sin, or allow sin to reside in our lives, it leads to unbelief.
Romans 1: 21 states, “For although they knew God, they did not glorify him as God or give him thanks, but they became futile in their thoughts and their senseless hearts were darkened.” The pattern is clear: sin leads to rebellion and unbelief.
Likewise, Romans 1:28 says, “And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what should not be done.” Again, sin leads to rebellion and unbelief.
If we diagrammed sin and unbelief it would look like this:
sin -> hardened heart -> rebellion -> unbelief
In Hebrews 3, the example that surrounds verses 12 and 13 is a textbook study of this pattern of unbelief from the Old Testament. The Israelites witnessed first hand God’s power and redemption when he led them out of Egypt. With a powerful hand he led them through the waters of the Red Sea, as though on dry ground, and then destroyed the armies of Pharaoh with those same waters. While traveling through the desert of Sinai he provided them with manna, quail, and water in abundance. Then, when they arrived at Mt. Sinai he spoke directly to them, giving them the 10 Commandments, as the mountain quaked and fire and smoke consumed the top of the mountain. In fear, they begged Moses to intercede for them and receive the remainder of God’s Law, which Moses did.
But, these same people refused to give up their sinful ways. They even took part in the sins of the nations they were to drive out of Canaan! They worshiped the gods of the Moabites, and took part in their pagan sexual rituals. Ultimately, they died in the desert, in unbelief, due to their unwillingness to give up their sin.
I want to challenge you to do some serious introspection. Is there some sin that you allow to continue in your life, unchecked? Could it be that is the very sin that could harden your heart and lead you away from Christ, ultimately doubting the very existence of the God you profess?
If you struggle to believe, is it possible that your greatest struggle isn’t actually intellectual, but that there is some sin, or sins, that you just don’t want to give up? Is it possible you know that acknowledging God will require that you give it up, so it’s more convenient to hold onto your unbelief?
If you are struggling, keep struggling! Don’t give up! Don’t allow Satan to win. Fight for all you are worth! As a good friend once said, “There’s a vast difference between the moral struggler and the moral rebel!”
As you battle sin, realize you’re not alone. Immediately following the exhortation in Hebrews 3:13 the author says, “For we have become partners with Christ, if in fact we hold our initial confidence firm until the end.” Jesus Christ is your partner in overcoming sin. You’re not waging this battle on your own. You have the very Son of God himself, fighting on your behalf!