“Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called ‘today,’ that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.” (Hebrews 3:12-13)
One of the recurring themes in the book of Hebrews is the caution against apostasy. Believers are admonished over and over again to guard themselves, to persevere, and to not abandon the faith (2:1-4; 3:7-4:13; 5:11-6:12; 10:19-39; 12:14-29). These “warning passages” confront us with the reality of our own weakness and remind us that the new birth is not a one-time prayer or easy-believism. The Christian life is a daily war.
Christ freed us from the dungeon of death and set us on a pilgrimage to the homeland we forgot about. But our former captor, bitter and scheming, is still trying to drag us back into chains every step of the way. Although Scripture elsewhere assures us that God will preserve His true church until the end, Hebrews makes it clear that many who claim to profess the name of Jesus can, and have, and will, abandon the journey.
This results from what Hebrews 3:12 calls “an evil, unbelieving heart”, which causes us to “fall away from the living God.” “Evil” and “unbelieving” are connected here. Unbelief isn’t a simple disbelief in the existence of God but a lack of trust in the promises of God, particularly those found in the gospel of Jesus Christ. Trust and obedience are knitted together. A lack of trust in God produces a lack of obedience to God. Back when our enemy first sought to enslave mankind, he provoked rebellion by getting our first parents to doubt what God said (Gen. 3:1-6). That is the sequence of the serpent’s seduction. Doubt what God promises, and we neglect what God commands.
Fortunately, the author follows up the warning with the solution. Christ has divine means by which He guards and sanctifies His church, and the text encourages us to stay aligned with those means. Hebrews isn’t meant to leave us in a state of eternal uncertainty. It’s meant to challenge us, and then equip us with the tools we need to be victorious.
So what are these tools? How do we keep our faith strong and vibrant? Verse 14 provides the answer: we need to be reminded, rewashed, and refreshed in this faith “every day.” A body without food becomes sick. A building without upkeep falls into disrepair. A flower with no water or sunshine will shrivel up and die. Our faith, likewise, must be nurtured on a regular basis.
And the conduit of this nurturing is found in the author’s charge to “exhort one another” (vs. 14). Faith is more than just me and Jesus walking together down the beach. It’s more than a one-on-one dinner date with divinity. Faith in Christ puts us in the context of a community, the people of God, and it’s through the corporate community that each individual is kept strong.
The perseverance of our faith is tethered to our involvement with the people of God, the church. The church is where the gospel is preached, praises are sung, prayer is offered, the sacraments are received, discipline is administered, and confession is made. Each of these resharpens our focus on the object of our faith, Jesus Christ, and brings us into closer relation to Him both corporately and individually. Through preaching, the truth of Jesus is taught. Through worship, the beauty of Jesus is adored. Through prayer, the intercession and provision of Jesus is pleaded. Through the sacraments, the gospel of Jesus is dramatized and the presence of Jesus is manifest. Through discipline and confession, the people of Jesus are kept from straying towards the cliffs of apostasy and rerouted back onto the straight and narrow.
Through the ministry of the church, the Holy Spirit continually immerses us in “the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude :3). It keeps us grounded. It keeps us strengthened. It keeps our hearts from straying into unbelief and sin. As long as it is called “today”, which is every day until Christ returns, we must “stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (Heb. 10:24-25)
If you want to avoid apostasy, join a biblical church. Be involved. Regularly participate in its services, outreaches, events, Bible studies, and home fellowships. Be a part of the beauty and blessing that is the local church so that you will not “fall away from the living God” (Heb. 3:12).