Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says, “Today, if you will hear His voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion, in the day of trial in the wilderness, where your fathers tested Me, tried Me, and saw My works forty years. Therefore I was angry with that generation, and said, ‘They always go astray in their heart, and they have not known My ways.’ So I swore in My wrath, ‘They shall not enter My rest’.” Beware, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God; but exhort one another daily, while it is called “Today,” lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin. For we have become partakers of Christ if we hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast to the end, while it is said: “Today, if you will hear His voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.” For who, having heard, rebelled? Indeed, was it not all who came out of Egypt, led by Moses? Now with whom was He angry forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose corpses fell in the wilderness? And to whom did He swear that they would not enter His rest, but to those who did not obey? So we see they could not enter in because of unbelief. (NKJV)
Once more, we see the word, “therefore.” As we’ve mentioned before, we need to see what it’s “there for.” It continues the author’s pleading with his audience to persevere in the faith, and not to be tempted to go away from faith in Christ. It follows immediately after his comparison of Christ and Moses, where he says that we belong to Christ if we hold fast the confidence and the rejoicing of the hope firm to the end.
We said last time that this statement has nothing to do with our holding on to salvation for fear of losing it. Rather, perseverance in the faith is evidence that our faith is genuine, that we truly do belong to the Lord Jesus.
Just recently, I heard a sermon on v. 5 in which the speaker taught that what was being discussed was not a loss of salvation, but rather of a part of our inheritance. While it is true that the writer does speak of “inheritance,” as in 9:15, and it definitely isn’t about losing our salvation, I think the speaker missed the point of the verse. In this verse and in v. 14, the writer speaks of our having become partakers of Christ. It’s about evidence that our salvation isn’t just about something we’ve done. It’s about evidence that we’re truly saved.
There are many people, like Israel coming out of Egypt, who “start” very well. This is especially true in those disciplines where infants are baptized in order to make them part of the church, then later on are “confirmed” in that faith. Then there are those groups which emphasize “soul-winning”. I’ve written about this before, with many folks, in one way or another, being led into “praying the prayer” or walking an aisle. They’re assured that they’re “saved,” even though there’s never any evidence that such is truly the case. Great “crusades” are held in which people are urged to “come forward,” to “make your decision,” as if being saved were simply a matter of psychological or physical movement.
But the Christian life isn’t just about the starting line. Our Lord warned about this in Matthew 7:13-14, 21-23. There are multitudes who will stand before God at the last and will be astonished and horrified beyond measure because they’ve done what their preacher or rabbi or priest or imam or guru or whatever has told them to do, only to find out too late that it’s not what God told them to do.
Even the Apostle Paul expressed concern about this. Writing to the Galatians, he said, My little children, for whom I labor in birth again until Christ is formed in you, I would like to be present with you now and to change my tone; for I have doubts about you, Galatians 4:19, 20. Writing to the church at Corinth, he said, Examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Do you not know yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you? – unless indeed you are disqualified, 2 Corinthians 13:5.
Salvation is about “life,” not from the womb of our mother, but from the working of the Holy Spirit, John 3. My wife and I have been privileged these last couple of weeks to travel to see our grandchildren which don’t live nearby. That’s one reason it’s been so long between posts. It’s been a joy the last 14 years to see some of our grandchildren grow from infancy to the place where two of the boys are taller than I am, and one of them is thinking about College. But we have more recent grandchildren living in other states, and have taken the opportunity to visit them. I write part of this from the living room of one of our kids, with evidence of their little one scattered all over the floor.
I’ve had fundamentalist preachers tell me that they think that 90% of their congregations aren’t saved. They use the example of the ten lepers who were healed, but only one returned to thank the Lord. For some reason, it doesn’t seem to bother them that there’s no evidence of life in most of those who sit under their ministry. I can’t understand it.
Our Lord had something to say about this. Talking to a group of Jews who “believed in Him,” John 8:30, 31, He said, “If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed.” He wasn’t saying that if they continued in Him, they would remain His disciples and if they didn’t, they would lose their salvation, as some use these verses to teach. He was saying that their continuance would be evidence that they were truly His disciples. Before that chapter is over, those “believers” tried to kill Him. Apparently, they weren’t true believers.
The early church had the same view. Acts 13 gives an account of some of the early travels of Paul and Barnabas. Vs. 42-44 tells of some folks who followed them, and they, speaking to them, urged them to continue in the grace of God.
As we saw above, Paul was concerned about the lack of evidence of spiritual life among those he ministered to.
Preachers will sometimes tell their people to look to the time when they made their profession of faith for assurance of salvation.
A young mother soon learns how long her little one will nap. When the usual time passes and she becomes concerned about him or her, she doesn’t dig out the birth certificate; she goes to check, to make sure things are ok. It’s important to make a profession of faith, yes, but that’s only the beginning, not the totality, of our salvation.
While it’s true that we aren’t to live like Israel, we are to learn from them, 1 Corinthians 10:1-11. Israel “started” well, but never “finished.”
And why does the writer emphasize “today”? Why does he think it’s so important? There are a couple of answers.
For example, we learn from Israel that “tomorrow” may be too late. In Numbers 13, 14, we have the story of what happened the first time Israel came to enter the land, to which the writer of Hebrews is referring. First, they sent spies throughout the land to see what it was like, one man from every tribe, or 12 altogether. They came back with a glowing report of how fertile it was, carrying as proof one cluster of grapes carried on a pole between two men. However, ten of them insisted that it wasn’t possible for Israel to conquer the land because the cities were well-fortified and the people was gigantic and strong. Only two men, Caleb and Joshua, insisted that they were well able to do that because the Lord was with them and would give them the victory.
The congregation sided with the ten and were about to gang up on Caleb and Joshua when the Lord intervened. He told them to turn around and head back into the wilderness until all the men over the age of 20 had died. So it wound up taking 38 years to complete what should have been an 11-day journey, Deuteronomy 1:2.
However, Israel didn’t want to do that, and the next day decided that they would go ahead and take the land. Moses told them not to try. They did anyway, and were soundly defeated, Numbers 14:39-45.
Tomorrow was too late.
The other reason we should consider “today” to be important is because we might not have “tomorrow”. In Luke 12:16-20, the Lord told a parable of a man who was planning for the future. He had run out of storage room and was planning on how to make more room for his crops. Having do so, he thought to himself, he would have security “for many years,” v, 19. But God told him that he would be required to give an account of his life to God that very night. God didn’t scold him for planning for the future, but for not taking into account the fact that he might not have a future.
Tomorrow might never come.
The writer, though, wasn’t just concerned about the history of Israel. He was concerned about his readers. He warned them to be careful, to beware of the deceitfulness of sin, of the hazards of not following God closely, vs. 12-15.
These are words we should pay attention to. We live in times of great wickedness. I can’t say “unprecedented times,” because history shows us that human civilization pretty much follows the same line, and there have been other times as bad or worse in some ways than ours. Those civilizations fell, and I’m afraid our civilization is near the tipping point to destruction, if we haven’t passed it already. Even churches, for the most part, don’t really preach the Word of God. They’re more concerned about personalities or programs than they are with preaching. They’re more concerned to have the right kind of music than the right kind of minister. Things that were scorned by ordinary society in my youth are now accepted and promoted by many churches, and have even become “legal”.
These things are a warning to us.
“if you will hear His voice….”