Hebrews 3:12

Sermon preached on September 10, 2017 by Laurence W. Veinott. © Copyright 2017. All rights reserved. Other sermons can be found at http://www.cantonnewlife.org/.

Unless otherwise noted, quotations are from The Holy Bible: New International Version (NIV). Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Publishing House.

Not long ago on a social media site I saw a video conglomeration that was about close calls. One of the videos should have been called, "Be careful" because it showed a guy walking on a hiking path that was very dangerous. It was on the side of a steep cliff. He was walking casually when suddenly one of his feet slipped. He almost fell to his death but he just managed to regain his footing and step out of danger.

As Christians we have to be careful. Our text says,

"See to it, brothers,
that none of you has a sinful,
unbelieving heart that turns away
from the living God."

We have to watch our hearts. This reminds me of Proverbs 4:23 which says,

"Above all else,
guard your heart,
for it is the wellspring of life."

Here we are told a specific way we are to watch our hearts. We are to watch that our hearts do not become evil and unbelieving. Our translation (NIV) says,

"See to it, brothers…"

The Holman Christian Standard Bible has it,

"Watch out, brothers,"

The ESV renders it,

"Take care, brothers,"

The KJV and ASV have it,

"Take heed, brethren,"

The NKJV has in,

"Beware, brethren,"

William Lane (Hebrews) tells us that the way the first part of the sentence is constructed in the Greek, (imperative, followed by the negative particle and the verb in the indicative mood),

"introduces a sharp warning".

As Christians we have to watch ourselves. What we have here is

a warning against apostasy.

It's directed at professing Christians. Philip E. Hughes quotes Thomas Aquinas, (Hebrews, p. 145)

"The 'unbelieving heart' mentioned here is not a heart that has not yet come to belief, but a heart that departs from belief, a heart not firm in faith (Aquinas)".

I believe that Jesus is the Good Shepherd, that He will lose none of His sheep. As He said in John 10:27–30,

"My sheep listen to my voice;
I know them,
and they follow me.
I give them eternal life,
and they shall never perish;
no one can snatch them out of my hand.
My Father, who has given them to me,
is greater than all;
no one can snatch them out of my Father's hand."

Jesus and the Father will keep us through the work of the Holy Spirit. We are ultimately kept because of God's faithfulness, He is the One who keeps us. We are kept by His power. As Jude said near the end of his epistle, (Jude 1:24–25)

"To him who is able to keep you
from falling and to present you
before his glorious presence
without fault and with great joy—
to the only God our Savior
be glory, majesty, power and authority,
through Jesus Christ our Lord,
before all ages,
now and forevermore! Amen."

Jude opened his epistle with those words, (second half of verse 1,

"To those who have been called,
who are loved by God the Father
and kept by Jesus Christ:"

We are kept by God.

But having said that, we have a great duty to work hard to keep ourselves. Just before Jude wrote those great words about God keeping us at the end of his epistle, he wrote, (Jude 1:21)

"Keep yourselves in God's love
as you wait for the mercy
of our Lord Jesus Christ
to bring you to eternal life."

Philippians 2:12–13 told Christians,

"work out your salvation
with fear and trembling,
for it is God who works in you
to will and to act
according to his good purpose."

We can work and be successful in perseverance because God is working in us.

But we have a great work to do in this endeavor. Not everyone who thinks he is a Christian is a Christian. In Matthew 7:21 Jesus said,

"Not everyone who says to me,
'Lord, Lord,'
will enter the kingdom of heaven,
but only he who does the
will of my Father who is in heaven."

In 2 Corinthians 13:5 the apostle Paul wrote,

"Examine yourselves to see
whether you are in the faith;
test yourselves.
Do you not realize that
Christ Jesus is in you—
unless, of course,
you fail the test?"

And in Romans 9:6 the apostle Paul wrote,

"It is not as though
God's word had failed.
For not all who are descended
from Israel are Israel."

Paul went on to say that it was not the natural children of Abraham who were God's children, but the children of promise.

The book of Hebrews is filled with warnings for professing Christians not to go astray. Hebrews 2:1–3 says,

"We must pay more careful attention,
therefore, to what we have heard,
so that we do not drift away.
For if the message spoken
by angels was binding,
and every violation and disobedience
received its just punishment,
how shall we escape if we ignore
such a great salvation?"

Hebrews 10:26–31 says,

"If we deliberately keep on sinning
after we have received
the knowledge of the truth,
no sacrifice for sins is left, but only
a fearful expectation of judgment
and of raging fire that
will consume the enemies of God.
Anyone who rejected the law of Moses
died without mercy on the testimony
of two or three witnesses.
How much more severely do you think
a man deserves to be punished
who has trampled
the Son of God under foot,
who has treated as an unholy thing
the blood of the covenant
that sanctified him, and
who has insulted the Spirit of grace?
For we know him who said,
'It is mine to avenge;
I will repay,' and again,
'The Lord will judge his people.'
It is a dreadful thing to fall
into the hands of the living God."

Hebrews 10:35–39,

"So do not throw away your confidence;
it will be richly rewarded.
You need to persevere so that
when you have done the will of God,
you will receive what he has promised.
For in just a very little while,
He who is coming will come
and will not delay.
But my righteous one will live by faith.
And if he shrinks back,
I will not be pleased with him.
But we are not of those who shrink back
and are destroyed,
but of those who believe and are saved."

Our text is a warning not to be like those who perished in the wilderness. In particular, we have to watch that we

don't have a sinful, unbelieving heart.

A lot of translations render it,

"an evil, unbelieving heart"

William L. Lane says that this this phrase, (Hebrews 1–8, WBC 47A; p. 86)

"interprets the expression in v 10, 'their hearts are always going astray,' which in OT terms is described as 'turning away from the living God.'"

Let's look at these two things.


you are not to have an evil heart.

Evil hearts? Who has an evil heart? Not long ago our society was telling everyone that basically no one had an evil heart. You'd hear it in educational circles. They would tell you that there's no bad children, only bad behavior. It was the same with adults. They would tell you that we're all basically 'good people'. But that has changed recently. Now many are calling Christians people of hate. They are attacking the core of Christianity and are referring to Christians who hold to the teachings of the Bible as people of hate.

Then when something bad like the flooding in Texas because of the recent hurricane, or the hurricane currently going through Florida, some people will use it as an excuse to criticize God and Christianity. They will ask?

"What is your God doing? Why is your God allowing these things?"

Now we don't want to fall into the trap of thinking that Texas and Florida are the most sinful states in the union and think that we understand God's providences. (See Luke 13:1-5)

However, we do know that it's because of sin that things like that happen. If Adam hadn't fallen into sin and if we hadn't all following his lead, these things wouldn't be happening. In Jeremiah 16:10–13 the prophet spoke of the disasters happening to the kingdom of Judah.

"When you tell these people
all this and they ask you,
'Why has the Lord decreed
such a great disaster against us?
What wrong have we done?
What sin have we committed
against the Lord our God?'
then say to them,
'It is because your fathers forsook me,'
declares the Lord,
'and followed other gods and
served and worshiped them.
They forsook me and did not keep my law.
But you have behaved
more wickedly than your fathers.
See how each of you is following
the stubbornness of his evil heart
instead of obeying me.
So I will throw you out of this land
into a land neither you
nor your fathers have known,
and there you will serve
other gods day and night,
for I will show you no favor."

When God destroyed Judah it was because of the evil hearts of the people. People's hearts are not naturally good. Jeremiah 17:9 says,

"The heart is deceitful above all things
and beyond cure."

We see the same thing in Jeremiah 18:12. God told Jeremiah to tell the people that He was going to bring disaster on them unless they repented. But God told Jeremiah that they wouldn't listen to him but would say to him,

"It's no use.
We will continue with our own plans;
each of us will follow
the stubbornness of his evil heart."

People naturally have evil hearts. It's only through the grace of God, through the power of Jesus that our hearts can be changed. Ezekiel 36:25–28 spoke of what God would do for the people when he brought them back to the land,

"I will sprinkle clean water on you,
and you will be clean;
I will cleanse you from all your impurities
and from all your idols.
I will give you a new heart
and put a new spirit in you;
I will remove from you your
heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.
And I will put my Spirit in you
and move you to follow my decrees
and be careful to keep my laws.
You will live in the land I gave your forefathers;
you will be my people, and I will be your God."

We need new hearts. We only get new hearts in Jesus.

As professing Christians we need to make sure that we have indeed gone to Jesus for a new heart. We need to make sure that we have the Holy Spirit who gives us new life.

The second thing we have to beware of is having

an unbelieving heart.

Here, again we need to remember that the author of Hebrews is using Numbers 14 as a background. We are not to be like those who heard the spies report and who refused to go up and take the land.

What was wrong with them? They had all seen the 10 plagues that God inflicted on Egypt. They had seen the Red Sea open and they escaped on dry ground. They had seen God give them water from a rock. They had seen so many miracles.

Yet they did not believe that God would give them the promised land.

This is incredible. R. Kent Hughes writes, (Hebrews Volume 1: An Anchor for the Soul, Preaching the Word; p. 101)

"The unbelief of God's people is even more amazing than belief!"

How could they not believe? William L. Lane makes a good point here. He writes, (Hebrews 1–8, WBC 47A; p. 86)

"The allusions to Num 14 are significant because they indicate that unbelief is not a lack of faith or trust. It is the refusal to believe God. It leads inevitably to a turning away from God in a deliberate act of rejection."

A lack of faith in God is bad. A lack of trust in God is bad. But what we have here is even worse. These people had seen God's power. They had seen miracle after miracle and yet they still didn't believe God. They knew He could give them the land—but they didn't believe that He actually would do it.

I've often heard people say that if they saw a miracle they'd believe in God. Or if God appeared to them and spoke to them they'd believe in God.

But the point is that there's more to belief than seeing a miracle. You could see a miracle and still not believe God in the sense of believing what He says and placing your confidence in Him.

Let me illustrate. The area I grew up in was big on boxing at that time. It was very popular. Now pretend I knew a boxer who was better than anyone else in the area. Imagine that I saw him beat other boxers so badly that he would toy with them in the ring before knocking them out. Imagine that I also knew that this guy was unethical. Imagine I knew that some gangster had offered him a great deal of money to lose the fight in the first round. Now, he's the best fighter. But I know he's not trustworthy. Would I bet money on him in that fight? No. I don't believe he would win. I have faith and trust in his ability—but not in him.

The Israelites at the gates of the promised land were like that—only they had no reason not to believe God. God is absolutely trustworthy. He is faithful to His promises. He is faithful to His people. He is absolutely committed to them.

But the Israelites did not believe Him. They did not have confidence in Him. R. Kent Hughes says of their faith, (Hebrews Volume 1: An Anchor for the Soul, Preaching the Word; p. 100)

"It was a fair-weather, herd-instinct faith—good until the first trial, when it dissolved in unbelief."

Do you believe God? Christian, God has been so good to you. He has proved Himself over and over. Do you know that He is absolutely committed to you? Do you know that He died for you? Do you believe that? Are you like Job who said, (Job 13:15)

"Though he slay me,
yet will I hope in him;"

You are to believe Him. Philip E. Hughes writes, (Hebrews, p. 145)

"the sin of the Israelites in the wilderness, who heedless of all their blessings, despised the divine covenant they had sworn to uphold. This is the exact antithesis of the spirit of those who draw near to God 'with a true heart in full assurance of faith' (10:22)"

Make sure you don't have an evil unbelieving heart. Believe God. Believe Jesus.