Take care, brethren, that there not be in any one of you an evil, unbelieving heart that falls away from the living God. But encourage one another day after day, as long as it is still called “Today,” so that none of you will be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we have become partakers of Christ, if we hold fast the beginning of our assurance firm until the end. (Hebrews 3:12-14)
Here, somewhere near the buckle of the Bible Belt, many of us speak (or at least think) this thought about eternal security: “We were once saved, therefore we are always saved.” Our salvation has no force majeure clause, whereby eternal security, in certain instances, could be rendered null and void. When we asked Jesus into our hearts, we were born again. We reason: “One cannot be unborn; we invited Jesus into our hearts and that was that!” Yet, with one word, the writer of Hebrews casts a shadow on our security.
We have become partakers of Christ, if we hold fast the beginning of our assurance firm until the end. (Hebrews 3:14)
Here on the range, where the skies are not cloudy all day, it’s not that there never is heard a discouraging word; it’s that never (or at least seldom) is heard the discouraging word—“if.” It is not a comforting word—at first blush—since it implies that to win the prize (heaven), we must maintain firm hold on the baton of eternal security, even as we cross the finish line. In fact, if we hold it loosely or carelessly, today’s passage implies our hearts are evil and unbelieving!
With all my heart, I believe I have been born again. I believe, in Christ, I have been buried and raised from the dead. I have become a new creation. So…if I entertain the “if” in Hebrews 3:14, will I be loosening my grip on the baton, drifting towards the evil of unbelief? I don’t believe so. In spite of its apparent discouraging nature, we need to face off with this “if,” crediting it instead, with encouraging possibilities.
The verse presents the troubling concept that a born again believer’s heart could be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. This idea is often covered here in Bible Land by the doctrine of backsliding. Backsliding is considered to be a hardened state of heart where God has been shoved off his throne and an individual is functioning as the lord of his own life. With God overseeing the race, classic backsliding doctrine still has the wayward soul crossing the finish line, baton in hand. Exactly how it got there, without the rebel’s grip, no one seems to know—but a sovereign God is credited for the grace that accomplished it. I don’t think I would question this photo finish if it were not for the word “if.”
I find myself in a quandary. I am a son of God, a new creation who has become a partaker of Christ, if I hold fast the beginning of my assurance firm until the end. This sounds absurd though. Its like saying, “I am the son of Bob Cummins (my biological father) if I adequately assert this fact until I die. Is sonship accomplished by confession? I’m contending its conception.
I have a real problem—two apparently incompatible ideas are pressing me for their allegiance. It feels like works versus rest. My options: I could discard one of the puzzle pieces because it obviously doesn’t belong to this puzzle, or I could take a high view of scripture and say, the puzzle is a deep mystery and I can’t understand it. By design, the puzzle is beyond solving. In other words, “Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is too high, I cannot attain to it.” (Psalm 139:6)
When I say I have a high view of scripture, what I mean is that it is too high for even John McArthur (And admittedly, that’s pretty high!). Having a high view of scripture means God’s words are critical, but they are only the approach lights to the airport. We will eventually deplane and find ourselves at a high elevation where we see things from the Puzzle Maker’s vantage point and say, “Oh—That’s where that piece fits!”
We can always relieve intellectual pressure by discarding one of the other puzzle pieces, but we would have to forfeit (what I think of as) that high—really high—view of scripture in which if’s are inspired. Granted, “ifs” destroy the convenience of airtight, theological-puzzle solutions, but they more than compensate by leaving us with a lasting security that rests in Christ alone—an unfailing foundation who exists apart, and high above, even our best doctrinal puzzle speculations.
A final word about evil unbelieving hearts. I believe they exist and I’m not confident they will cross the finish line. However, for clarity’s sake, an unbelieving heart is not synonymous with a doubting heart. I believe a doubting heart can still be searching. In fact, faith is redundant without doubt. Doubt is the ever-present context in which faith is worked out; this is why fear and trembling are required. It is in the midst of our doubts where we persevere. Further down the trail, we discover doubts are not the intimidating giants they first appear to be. Over time, they prove to be mere phantoms.
The evil and unbelieving heart is at risk because it has faced doubt and found it to be a convenient excuse to do its own thing (check out the famous atheist, Aldous Huxley’s reasons for abandoning his faith in college. It was directly connected to lust). Here, in its freedom from God, a most frightening thing happens—God gives the heart what it desires: its’ independence. Does this heart cross the finish line with baton in hand? God knows. I don’t know, but I have my doubts.
Father, teach us to watch over our hearts, that there not be in any of us an evil, unbelieving heart that falls away from you. Help us to encourage one another day after day, as long as it is still called “today”, so that none of us will be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. Thank you that we have become partakers of Christ. By your grace alone, we shall hold fast to our baton from the beginning of our assurance firm until the end.