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Finishing Needs Obedient Faith

Hebrews 3:15-19
As has just been said: 'Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as you did in the rebellion.' Who were they who heard and rebelled? Were they not all those Moses led out of Egypt? And with whom was he angry for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies perished in the wilderness? And to whom did God swear that they would never enter his rest if not to those who disobeyed? So we see that they were not able to enter, because of their unbelief. (NIVUK)

It is dangerous to harden your heart. Like a path which is well trodden, so repeated sinful attitudes produce a spiritual hardness in which God's Word cannot grow and be fruitful (Luke 8:5). The writer contrasted the exodus from Egypt with the wilderness wanderings. Initially, God's people were glad to be set free from slavery; they willingly followed Moses. But, once past the Red Sea, they had no confidence in God's ability to care for them or bring them to the Promised Land (Psalm 95:8-10). God spoke and they refused to listen, even making an idol to worship (Exodus 32:1-4). And so God was angry.

Yes, God was angry with His own people who He had redeemed from the tyranny of their slave masters because, although they knew His power, they did not honour Him nor give Him any thanks (Romans 1:21). The rebels were not Egyptians, but Israelites: in Old Testament metaphor they had been saved, baptised and took communion (1 Corinthians 10:1-5). But they had no faith in God or Moses to lead them securely and bring them through trials to enjoy what He had promised. They were angry with Moses and took delight in sinning against God.

But God had the last word: none of the adults who left Egypt (except Joshua and Caleb) were allowed into God's Promised Land. They all died in the wilderness (Joshua 5:6). It was their children, who had seen God's judgement on their parents, who marched with Joshua to conquer and inherit the land. So, the writer makes the obvious comparison: the Hebrew-background believers who had started joyfully trusting in Jesus were tempted to go back to Christless religion and their own carnal desires. The writer says, "Don't do it, don't go back, don't drift away from Christ" (Hebrews 3:12). Do not arouse God's anger, repent today because there may never be another opportunity.

God is our Father and is kind, merciful and gracious: He is also holy and does not accept rebellion. He is patient, not wanting anyone to perish but for all to repent and live (2 Peter 3:9). But His patience is limited (Genesis 6:3). It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God (Hebrews 10:31) – that is not addressed to unbelievers but to those who have started following Jesus, to those who have made a conversion commitment, been baptised and taken communion. No sacrament can save us if we persist in rebelling against the Lord who saved us. The writer develops that theme in Hebrews 6:4-6, but qualifies the warning by encouraging those who are truly following Jesus (Hebrews 6:9-12). We dare not presume upon the grace of Christ. It is far too dangerous. So, let's repent, encouraging each other to turn back to Jesus Christ, to love and obey the Lord who has called us to follow Him (Hebrews 3:13).

Father God. Thank You for bringing me into Your family when I believed the gospel. I am ashamed that I have at times despised Your grace and hardened my heart through repeated sin. I repent and ask Your forgiveness when I still have the opportunity to start again in faith and obedience. And please help me to encourage my friends and colleagues to do the same. In Jesus' Name. Amen.
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© Dr Paul Adams