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Hebrews 3:7-19: The Trouble with Unbelief Print E-mail
Sunday, 09 October 2016

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Our lives are shaped by what we believe. Every day we make a thousand decisions based upon our belief that something will or will not happen. We turn the key in the morning believing that the car will start (and believing that someone did not secretly hide a bomb in the engine). We go to work believing that we still have a job. We work all week believing that we will get paid at some point. We text and call and schedule lunch with friends and family members believing that they will continue to love us. We turn on the TV, log on to the internet, unlock our cell phones, believing that they will entertain us or connect us. We believe and so we act. Unbelief shapes us as well. We do not believe that our car will blow up. We do not believe that our job will refuse to pay us. We do not believe that our friends and family will ignore or abandon us or that our technology will fail us. Yet, what happens when our belief or unbelief is wrong? What happens when life and experience teaches us to believe what is false and deny what is true? What happens when persecution tempts us to look for an easier path? In particular, how do we fight against unbelief in the gospel?

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The author of Hebrews is writing to a group of people who are wrestling with these very questions. They belong to a community of followers of Christ. But their belief in Him is being put to the test, perhaps by persecution and difficulty. They are struggling against unbelief. In order to encourage them, the author quotes and comments on Psalm 95 (running from 3:12-4:13). Look at verses 7-11. We should note that the author begins this quote by identifying the author as the Holy Spirit. In other places it is God the Father who is speaking through the Old Testament. If you put this together with what the author has already said about Jesus, then you get a picture of the doctrine of the Trinity: three distinct persons (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit), one God. The psalm that is quoted references Israelís refusal to enter the Promised Land after they heard the spies and their rebellion during the forty year wilderness wanderings. The psalmist is condemning them for their unbelief and rejection of God. The author of Hebrews will use this warning to encourage his readers to fight against their own unbelief. He gives them three ways to do this in our passage this morning.

Fight unbelief by taking care of your heart (v. 12)

The psalmist tells his readers to not harden their hearts like they did in Mosesí generation. The author of Hebrews gives the same warning. Look at verse 12. The warning here is similar to what we have already seen in the book of Hebrews. The readers need to pay much closer attention to what they have heard (2:1). They need to consider Jesus and hold fast (3:1, 6). Now they are told to take care. They need to keep watch over their own soul. They need to be actively fighting against unbelief. A person may not wake up one morning and decide not to believe in Jesus anymore. But slowly and surely they can drift away from faith in Christ. In order to avoid this, a person must take care.

Why is it so important that we avoid unbelief? The author answers: lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. Once again we see a strong warning. If we do not take care of our hearts and they drift to unbelief, then we will simply be showing that we do not belong to Christ. Some want to dismiss this warning as hypothetical, but we should not make that mistake. If we do not persevere in our belief in Jesus, then we do not have saving faith. Many erroneously believe that they can neglect their souls and be fine. Perhaps you have struggled with that. The author of Hebrews encourages us to take care of our own hearts, to be on guard against unbelief.

Fight unbelief by exhorting one another daily (v. 13-15)

Not only are we charged with caring for ourselves but we are also called to fight for one another. Look at verse 13. We have to acknowledge the deceitfulness of sin. Any person in this church can be misled and taken in by the allure of sin. It lies to us. We believe that we are fine. We are convinced that what we are doing is not that bad. We think we still have control. But we are deceived. How can we help one another? We commit to consistent encouragement. We daily look for ways to exhort one another in the faith. We pray for each other and with each other. We let go of individualism and covenant together to fight unbelief. We invite our brothers and sisters into our lives and plead with them: ĎWill you help me fight against unbelief? Will you help me see through the deceitfulness of sin? Will you love me enough to encourage and confront me when I need it?í We need each other to fight against unbelief.

We again see the call to perseverance in verses 14-15. Look at those with me. The theme of perseverance continues to run through the authorís argument. The people of Israel did not persevere in their belief in Yahweh. They rebelled and they grumbled and they did not make it to Promised Land. They hardened their hearts and gave themselves to unbelief. The author does not want this community to make the same mistake. If individuals begin deciding to abandon their faith in Christ, then others will follow them, just as they did in the days of Moses. Although our faith in Christ is personal, that does not mean that it does not involve our faith community. Your belief (and unbelief) impacts the people in this Church. Such is a burden and a privilege. Yes, we need to realize that lack of faith will discourage others. But we also need to see the great reward of being a part of a community of faith that is fighting for one another. The warning is serious and the responsibility is great, but the privilege is a blessing as well.

Fight unbelief by learning from the mistakes of others (v. 16-19)

This whole passage is a warning from the author of Hebrews to avoid the mistakes of Israel. He will continue to do this in 4:1-13 as well, when he turns to the discussion of rest that Mosesí generation missed because of unbelief and disobedience, which we will consider next week. He drives the warning against Israelís mistakes home in verses 16-18. Look at those with me. The author asks several rhetorical questions in these verses all pointing to the same answer. The people who heard and rebelled were those who left Egypt with Moses. The people that provoked the Lord for forty years were those who sinned and died in the wilderness. And the ones that God told would not enter His rest were those who were disobedient to Him. All of these questions point to the rebellious generation of Israel that is being discussed in Psalm 95. They refused to go into the Promised Land because they were scarred by the reports of the spies. They grumbled and rebelled for forty years until the whole generation died in the wilderness (minus Joshua and Caleb). For such rebellion and unbelief, they did not make it into the Promised Land.

The author draws his point in verse 19. Look at that with me. These people died in the wilderness and were kept out of the Promised Land because of their unbelief. They let their hearts get hardened, they did not encourage each other to follow the Lord, and they paid a terrible price. The author is quoting this Psalm and reminding them of this story so that they can learn from the mistakes of Israel. He does not want his readers to be so arrogant as to think that it will be alright for them to walk away from faith in Jesus. It was not alright for Mosesí generation so why should they think that it will be alright for them? Their unbelief serves as a warning to us. We must learn from their mistakes and persevere in our faith in Jesus.

The author is once again using an Old Testament passage to teach and encourage his readers to keep following Jesus. They must not give in to the temptation of unbelief. They must take care of their own hearts and encourage each other daily. They must learn from the mistakes of others. We need to do the same thing. Jesus has come and lived a perfect life for us. He left glory and put on flesh to save us from our sins. He died a cruel death on the cross, offering Himself as our sacrificial lamb. And He rose victorious over the grave so that we might repent and believe in Him. The author wants his readers (and us) to hold fast to that faith in Jesus.

How does he tell us to do it? First, we must take care of our own hearts. We must spend time in the Word and in prayer. We must identify any areas of fear and doubt. We must know where we are tempted by sin and rebellion. Second, we must exhort one another daily. If you are not a member of a local church, then you need to join one. Make a commitment to your brothers and sisters in Christ to fight for the soul and ask them to do the same for you. If you are a member, then look for ways to encourage each other daily. Pray for one another and encourage one another. Find an accountability partner who will help you fight against the deceitfulness of sin. Third, keep learning from the mistakes of others. The stories of Israel were written down as examples for us. We need to read them and learn from them. We need to let them point us to our need for Jesus. We need them to help us fight against our own unbelief. Brothers and sisters, lets make war on unbelief! By Godís grace and the power of the Spirit, letís fight hard for ourselves and for one another to hold fast to Jesus. Amen.

~ William Marshall ~

Last Updated ( Thursday, 20 October 2016 )

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