Encourage One Another Daily
Key Verse 3:14
“We have come to share in Christ if we hold firmly till the end the confidence we had at first.”
Look at verse 14. There is controversy regarding verses like this that seem to have words such as “if” in the middle of them making salvation conditional, as if to say that we share in Christ only if we hold firmly to the our confidence or confession of faith in him. What is the word of God telling us? Is it telling us that one is saved by faith in Christ and comes to share in Christ, but only if one keeps on holding to one’s conviction? The real question is, what plays the greater role in our lives, God’s sovereignty which pours out grace into our lives and saves us for good, or our free will which is equally granted by God and affects all our decisions in life, especially decisions to hold up our end of keeping up with our salvation? So here is something to think about when we come across such verses in the Bible as verse 14. There seems to always be two truths running through the Bible at the same time, one is that God is sovereign, and two is that man is a responsible person with a free will. And it is only when the balance of truth is maintained between these two that can keep us from errors. We should not stress God’s divine sovereignty such that we exclude our own responsibility before God. And we should not stress our own responsibility before God such that we ignore or deny God’s sovereignty. The problem is we like extremes and those in history who stress God’s sovereignty have made the error of believing that if a sinner had received Christ, then whatever he or she does after that, and whatever their life is like afterwards, he cannot perish. On the other hand, those who have stressed human responsibility and the free will have gone as far as denying the efficacy of the completed works of Christ when they say that a sinner’s eventual salvation status depends on his good works and faithfulness. But the truth is that Scripture (Philippians 2:12; 2 Peter 1:5-12) teaches us that salvation calls us to exercise our human responsibility as we live in the grace of our Lord Jesus in obedience to his word and his will in our lives. So if we go back to verse 14, we see that we have a responsibility before God, to hold firmly to our confidence and conviction in Christ Jesus as we share in him all that he has blessed us with through his grace. Now that that is out of the way, let us look at this passage and see what it says.
In verse 12, the apostle says to these struggling Hebrew Christians: “See to it, brothers, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart.” Then he defines the worst case of a sinful unbelieving heart when he says, “A heart that turns away from the living God.” And that’s apparently what many of them were struggling with— the sin of unbelief— that would eventually cause them to turn away from, and abandon the living God— Jesus Christ. He had showed them an elaborate example from their own history of the results of what abandoning their faith in Christ Jesus would entail. God Almighty didn’t spare their ancestors when they abandoned God in their unbelief. He swore they wouldn’t enter his rest. In other words, they wouldn’t be allowed into the promised land. But apparently, the sin of unbelief isn’t a trivial problem that could be dealt with in one example from the past. It’s such a grave problem that the apostle continued addressing it to reveal its seriousness and its dire consequences.
Read verse 13. “But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.” There is no prayer that a true Christian needs more often than “Lord, protect my heart from being hardened” and, “Lord, don’t let me be deceived by my own sin”. We have faith, but our faith needs to be strengthened and it needs to grow, otherwise it falters and weakens and falls prey to the enemies of our faith. That’s why the apostle admonishes them and us in verse 12 saying: “See to it” as a warning that you don’t find your faith being hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. Yes, we have faith and it’s the most precious thing which the Lord our God had given to us. So it must be passionately guarded without fail. Without it we are nothing but human beings born in this world, enslaved by its ways and desires, and soon to die in it, only to face God’s judgment.
But with faith in Christ, we are the very children of God, those the Lord Jesus suffered and died to redeem from this world, who have been given an inheritance in his kingdom. Our faith in Christ is what distinguishes us from all other people in this world. It doesn’t make us any better than them because what we are and who we are is entirely based on the grace of our Lord. But it is our faith in him that makes us belong to him, and gives us purpose and hope and a calling to live by a different paradigm. It’s a faith worth fighting for, and keeping close to our hearts. We cannot afford to let down our guard even a moment. But as much as we struggle in prayer to be strong in the faith, and to mature in it, this is a fight Christians cannot fight alone. We surely need God’s help. But the author also has very good advice for us as a church.
Look again at verse 13. He says, “Encourage one another daily, as long as it is called today”. Often, “Today” is used as the time of God’s favor, the time when the opportunity is there. The apostle here uses the word daily and today in the same sentence because of how urgent this exhortation is for you and me— that we encourage one another daily. He calls us to encourage each other daily. In regards to what? In regards to our faith in Christ Jesus; in regards to our love for him; our walk with him; our devotion to him; our service to him; our wholehearted commitment to him, and to the hope we have in his promises. In regards to the glorious truths found in his words that speak of his Glory and his Kingdom. And to encourage one another especially in regards to our faith— a faith deeply rooted and firmly grounded in him. The Holy Spirit tells us to do that daily— to encourage one another daily with such things. We have a duty, a responsibility, an obligation towards one another to encourage each other’s faith. As Christians we know and should know how to do that! [We don’t have to tell what usually discourages the spirit and dampens the faith of others. Complaining and godless chatter, unruly behavior and stubborn pride— such things do not encourage anyone’s faith but rather discourage.]
Why? Look again at verse 13. He says, “So that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness”. We are God’s children with the Spirit of God, but we are also flesh and are subject to this world’s temptations. And they come in many shapes forms and sizes. When temptation turns to sin, and sin is conceived in the heart (James 1:15), it corrupts the heart and works its deception until it has destroyed what faith there is in that heart. It happened to the Israelites in the desert as the apostle recounts to his readers. It can happen to us. How does sin corrupt your heart and reduce faith to unbelief? David was a man after God’s own heart, a man of faith. One time when he saw a married woman bathing, rather than fleeing the temptation, he had her brought to his house to enjoyed her. Sin deceived him in convincing him that it was his absolute privilege as king. When sin isn’t dealt with it is justified and that hardens the heart. With a hardened heart, sin deceived him even more to cover up his sin by using the woman’s own husband. When that scheme didn’t work, David’s heart was so hardened by then that this shepherd was willing to kill him, a faithful soldier in his army in order to cover up his own sin. It does not mean that he stopped believing in God, but it does mean that sin hardened him not to listen to the voice of truth and to follow evil. If he had not eventually repented, David would have been lost in his unbelief like any other godless man. Surely sin’s deceitfulness hardens our hearts to the point of unbelief, until we stop listening to the word of God and the Holy Spirit’s convictions; we refuse to repent and to let go of the sin that has made us its captive. Today many are hardened by unbelief, even though they appear to be godly doing godly things. Today idols cause them to sin and then rob them of their faith. We must hold to our faith in Christ at any cost. We must never stop listening to God’s voice of truth, in humility of heart.
Look how urgent is the apostle’s exhortation to us again that he now repeats it in verse 14. Read verse 14. “We have come to share in Christ if we hold firmly till the end the confidence we had at first.” He’s already said the same thing in verse 6 when he said: “Hold on to our courage and the hope of which we boast.” Now once again he talks about holding onto “the confidence we had at first”. This “confidence we had at first” is better translated as “our original conviction”. Here there are two things to consider very carefully. First, what we share in Christ. And second, our original conviction in him. And the two are so closely related. We have to ask ourselves what is it that we share in Christ that compels us to hold so tightly to our original conviction? Or what is the original conviction so strong in our hearts, that has brought us all such an inheritance in Christ worth holding onto?
To begin with, as Christians it is our original conviction (confidence) that we are condemned sinners whose souls are hopelessly lost, and whose hearts are beyond cure. It is our conviction that God in his mercy had promised and fulfilled his promise to send us a Savior, our Lord Jesus Christ to save us from our sins and to restore us to our Father God. It is our original conviction that Jesus took upon himself our sins on the cross where he crucified our flesh in himself, and in his death and resurrection has also raised us up with him to a new life— justified, sanctified and glorified in him. This is our original conviction in Christ Jesus— our absolute confidence from the start to the end! Our original conviction is the conviction we had the moment Christ became real to us, and his gospel came alive in our personal lives, and the Holy Spirit came to live within us marking our new birth in him. Our original conviction is one of the most important events in our lives. It is the memory of divine grace and mercy, a memory of unmerited favor. It is a grace in our lives that cannot be forgotten or ignored.
The original conviction is also the time the Christian receives his or her share in Christ Jesus. Of course the author is talking about owning Christ, meaning that we share in Christ and he owns us and we own him. But the wording “share in Christ” also lends us a universe of meaning. Our original conviction of him made us partakers of him, that is, partakers of his life everlasting and all the privileges that only those in him are privileged to share. We are joined to him. We love him and are loved by him. Nothing will ever harm us in heaven or on earth. We are members of his body, of his flesh and bones, the very heart of his very heart. We are joint heirs with him. Whatever we are here and now, whatever our situation, rich or poor, weak or strong, successful or unsuccessful, we are the ones who share in Christ, and that’s our reality! The author tells us, exhorts us, commands us, “to hold firmly till the end” the original conviction “we had at first”. How foolish it would be to let go of the gold in order to take hold of the dust. And this is what some do at times— let go of the gold to pick up some dirt. We share in Christ! We have a conviction of him. We should stay the course to the end.
Therefore once again the apostle repeats the central point of his quotation from the psalm 95 in verse 15. We talked about this in detail last time. When God speaks, we should not harden our hearts but instead respond in faith. Why does God speak to us? Because our hearts are naturally hard and need to be softened. And so God speaks to us to soften our hearts. When God speaks to our hearts and we acknowledge our sins; When he speaks to us and we recognize the voice of merciful Father; When he speaks and we taste the joy of his fellowship; When God speaks and we see the face of our dear Savior, he who came to forgive our sins, to wash our feet, to shed his blood, all for our salvation, how can our hard hearts but soften to him! hankfully It is such things we hear that lead us to faith and prayer, to repentance and worship, to love and the hope of heaven. These are the things that make the heart tender toward God and toward each other.
Read verses 16-19. First of all let’s be clear of whom is the Holy Spirit speaking? Who are these people? They were the very people to whom God sent his servant Moses to rescue from slavery in Egypt. God had seen their misery and heard their cry for deliverance and had brought them out of a meaningless life of slavery and delivered them to a new life in freedom to worship and to serve God. These were the very people who had witnessed more than any other people the power and presence of God among them— for forty years during their journeys in the wilderness. Many of them had heard God’s voice, received his word and had made a covenant with him to obey God. But the Holy Spirit tells us that the majority of them “perished” in the wilderness and never experienced God’s rest— the promise of entering Canaan. It was tragic that a people delivered from slavery for a promise never got a taste of that promise. And why? Because they provoked God to anger. And God had good reason to be angry with them.
In verses 16-19, we see four descriptions of the people that provoked God to such anger that he swore they would never enter into his rest. The apostle tells us that these people “heard and rebelled”. He also described them as “those who sinned”, as well as “those who disobeyed”. Finally he pinpoints the root of their problem when he says “because of their unbelief”. God had given them every opportunity to worship and honor and serve him. But looking at these descriptions, in every way they had hardened their heart and spurned him. The apostle says that they “heard and rebelled”. What had they heard? They heard what we have all heard, the gospel of God’s grace and truth preached to them with Christ at its center as Savior Lord. But they rebelled and took for themselves idols to worship rather than the King of glory. Don’t some of God’s people today do the same when they abandon Christ for their idols of money and pleasure! We can say of them too that they “heard and rebelled”.
The apostle also tells us that these people sinned and disobeyed. Many of them sinned by committing acts of immorality that would even shame the pagans. And they disobeyed when they acted against the will of God. They were like those who in the pride of heart do their own thing even when they know what the word of God says. Sadly there are many Christians who are under the illusion that their independent acts of free will are non-consequential. But in truth they are blatant acts of disobedience to God who wants us to live according to his word. Finally the author mentions the root of sin from which all other sins emerge and proliferate— unbelief. Because of unbelief, he says they lost everything, even what was once promised them. Unbelief or lack of faith is a great sin.
As for unbelief in Christ Jesus himself, let me tell you what he Bible says. The Bible tells us that faith in Christ Jesus is the way of salvation for all people. And so, all people are lost through unbelief. There is no sin of men that is greater than the sin of unbelief in Christ Jesus our Lord. As he was promising his disciples the coming of the Holy Spirit, Jesus himself told us of the primary work of the Holy Spirit. He said: “When he comes, he will convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment: in regard to sin, because men do not believe in me.” (John 16:8-9) And sure enough when the Holy Spirit came, his primary work has been a work of conviction of men’s hearts regarding sin, righteousness and judgment. But here, we’re only concerned with guilt in regard to sin. All men are guilty of sin until they put their faith in Christ Jesus. It has been the Holy Spirit’s work to challenge the hearts of all people to put their faith in Jesus. He convicts them of their guilt in regard to sin. He impresses upon them the truth that that are guilty of sin before God, and that only the Son of God Jesus Christ can save them from their sins and cleanse their souls. The Holy Spirit convicts them to believe in Jesus, to put their faith in his blood shed for them on the cross, and to escape God’s judgment. Those who remain in their unbelief remain in their sin, and it’s the greatest sin one commits against God, because Jesus is God’s greatest gift to humanity, so that no one has any excuse.
But the convicting work of the Holy Spirit does not absolve us from our responsibility to preach the gospel and to teach the word of God and to proclaim the name of our Lord. As the apostle says elsewhere: “For, ‘Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’ How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can they preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!’” (Romans 10:13-15) As our passage opens with the words of encouraging one another daily, as important as it is that we encourage each other in faith so that our hearts may not be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness, it is equally important that we encourage one another to proclaim the gospel to our generation so that many may find salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. May God help us be active workers in his mission field suffering for his glory until we find our final rest in him. Amen. Read our key verse again, verse 14.