The Gospel for Christians

Hebrews 3.12-14 On Temptation and Deception

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. For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end.

Heb. 3.12-14

The author of Hebrews warns Christians here of an “evil, unbelieving heart.”  The opposite of faith is unbelief, and unbelief is closely linked to deception. If faith is a spiritual sight of what the natural man cannot see or be convinced of (as Hebrews 11.1 says), then a lack of this sight is due to a deception that keeps the natural man from spiritually seeing. This deception is described in 2 Cor. 4.4, which talks about the god of this world blinding unbelievers to “keep them” from seeing the glory of Christ. It is also mentioned at the end of v. 13 here where the author warns about being “hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. So in warning the brothers (believers!!) about an “evil, unbelieving heart”, the author of Hebrews is implying that a believer can be deceived and act in unbelief, and thus be hardened and even eventually fall away from the living God. 

All this leads to the following insight: there is a deceptive power in temptation that makes falsehood seem true, and truth seem false. And there is a way set forth in these verses for how to break the deceptive power of sin.

What I see often in my own experience is that it only takes the teeny-tiniest deception to start a slippery slope of greater and greater deception. For example, I’m enjoying a classical music video that features a solo violinist who is very attractive playing in front of a symphony orchestra. So I believe the deception that I am looking up some other classical music videos on YouTube in order to “enjoy the music” when my real motivation is to see more and different musicians in formal dress meant to be pleasing and attractive.  Such a teeny-tiny deception, but it can lead to me choosing the videos that have the most attractive women, not the best music.  By this point, I have already believed a more powerful deception than simply the rationalizing of what I am doing. I have been deceived into thinking that this physical attractiveness is a good and satisfying thing that I need to pursue for myself as an end in itself, and not for the glory of God and according to his good guidelines.

Something that I’ve noticed happening in my own life is that once I’ve accepted a deception as true, it has a tremendous power over me. The glory of the Lord Jesus does not seem to hold a candle to a glimpse of something that excites me sexually.  I can strive to desire the right thing (Jesus) more than the obvious deception (the temptation) but the spiritual sight of his glory (faith) is gone.  As I evaluate my thoughts and my heart, it seems so clear that the pleasure that sin promises is real! It sounds shocking to say it, but it seems like a god worth following all the way to the end.  Like John Nash’s hallucinations in “A Beautiful Mind”, I know both that they aren’t real, but I am also so convinced that they are real. Only with time back in the Lord’s presence, reading the word, focusing my attention on the Truth, do the hallucinations begin to fade and I feel that faith/spiritual sight returning to me. 

So if this analysis is right, then the “exhort one another” of Heb. 3.13 is reminding each other what is true.   To the extent that we share truth with one another, we keep each other from being “hardened by the deceitfulness of sin”. The truth that we share doesn’t even always have to be related to the immediate situation. If I can be reminded that Jesus is glorious and helped to see his glory, the hallucinations begin to fade and the Truth is more visible. If I am reminded simply that I have brothers who care and are praying for me, it’s like John Nash’s friend visiting him on his front porch and pulling him, even if it is ever so slightly, back into the real world of God’s kingdom.

In addition, even before others exhort me at all, opening my heart to my brothers by letting them know I am being tempted is a way of admitting to a “real” person (to go back to the John Nash analogy) that I’m seeing a hallucination. Just interacting with a real person has a therapeutic effect of pulling us out of the deceptive dream world that we often slip into.

And if all this wasn’t encouraging enough, in the words of Vizzini from Princess Bride… “wait till I get going!” 

Verse 14 tells me that continuing to hold on to what is true and real and rejecting the deception is the proof that I have come to share in Christ. Why? Because Christ always does what he sees his Father doing. He only does the will of his Father (John 5.30, Matt. 26.39-42). And if I hear the Father’s voice as verse 15 says and I do not harden my heart, but trust him and obey him and follow him out of the fog into the light, then it is yet another evidence that I share in Christ. 

I can testify that sometimes all I hear is the voice of the Father. There is no other tangible evidence that I can feel that any of this life (the Christian life) that we are trying to live is true. My heart’s desires tell me that the best thing I can do for myself is whatever I want in that moment. Being immersed in a culture that is materialistic and pleasure-seeking, it can feel like the world’s way is true. 

But if we hear the voice of our Father calling us, let us NOT harden our hearts!

Posted in Theology

2 Kings 22.8-10 Shaphan’s example

And Hilkiah the high priest said to Shaphan the secretary, “I have found the Book of the Law in the house of the LORD.” And Hilkiah gave the book to Shaphan, and he read it. 9 And Shaphan the secretary came to the king, and reported to the king, “Your servants have emptied out the money that was found in the house and have delivered it into the hand of the workmen who have the oversight of the house of the LORD.” 10 Then Shaphan the secretary told the king, “Hilkiah the priest has given me a book.” And Shaphan read it before the king.

How many people, even those who know the Word of God well, know who Shaphan the secretary is? This man plays a bit part in God’s story of redemption, and yet he is worthy of consideration. Shaphan’s example shows us the value of reading the Word of God and sharing it with those whom God has put in our life. In Shaphan’s case, this was King Josiah.

Hilkiah, the high priest, finds the Book of the Law in the house of the Lord and gives it to Shaphan in v. 8. And then the end of v. 8 simply states… “he read it.” We don’t know what motivated him to read it. but by God’s grace to him, he read! And he doesn’t stop there. Verse 10 goes on to say that Shaphan read the Book of the Law “before the king.” When King Josiah hears the Book of the Law, he tears his clothes and begins to seek the Lord. As the story unfolds, God uses Josiah’s repentance to bring spiritual refreshing to Judah, even though eventually Judah will come under judgment, thus showing that God is just and always punishes sin.

Shaphan’s example to us is simple. He receives the Word of God and reads it, and then he shares it with those in his life… and good things happen.

Posted in Theology

Galatians 2.15-21 Living by Faith in the Son of God

15 We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners; 16 yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified. (Gal. 2.15-16)

In these verses we have the succinct statement of “Paul’s gospel,” that up to this point in the book he has only been referring to, but hasn’t enunciated. This is what he will be defending in the rest of the letter to the Galatians. The true gospel is justification through faith in Jesus Christ, not by works of the law. This is the only way to justification. There can never be justification by works. This justification is received by “believ(ing) in Christ Jesus.”

17 But if, in our endeavor to be justified in Christ, we too were found to be sinners, is Christ then a servant of sin? Certainly not! 18 For if I rebuild what I tore down, I prove myself to be a transgressor. (Gal. 2.17-18)

When Paul speaks of being “found to be sinners” this refers to when others accuse Paul of being a “sinner” because he no longer follows the law and no longer seeks justification through it. It does not mean “found to be sinners” in the sense of not being truly justified by God or in the sense of not yet being perfected in holiness. When others make this accusation and say this about Paul, does that mean they are right, and that Christ is a “servant of sin” in that he allows Paul to live sinfully by not conforming to the law’s righteousness? The answer, Paul says, is “certainly not”.

The answer is “certainly not” because it is not sinful to reject conformity to the law as a means of attaining righteousness; exactly what Peter and the other Jews were unintentionally teaching by example in their hypocrisy.

“Rebuilding what I tore down” refers to seeking once again to be justified by the law rather than by faith in Christ. If Paul were to do this, the only result would be that he would be proven to be a transgressor, because the law can only condemn, it cannot save because Paul could never attain the righteousness that is by the law (see vs. 10-11)

When Peter and others were living hypocritically, they were doing this “rebuilding” of a law-based righteousness and Paul is criticizing them for it. Verse 21 sums up the issue at stake beautifully: “If righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose.”

19 For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. 20 I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. 21 I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose. (Gal 2.19-21)

Now Paul gives in contrast, the right approach to the law. Rather than using the law to seek to justify himself, he receives the condemnation of death that the law demands (“through the law…”). However, as v. 20 makes clear he receives this condemnation through his identification with Christ in his crucifixion.

The result of this is that he “dies to the law so that (he) might live to God.” Paul no longer lives, but Christ lives in him.

Then comes the key contrast that he had introduced in v. 16: between living by faith or by works of the law. Paul restates here that he lives “by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me.” This is what many have been calling recently, a “gospel-centered life”. Perhaps we need to get beyond this buzzword and use the scriptural language of living by “faith in the Son of God.”

A “gospel-centered life”, or “living by faith in the Son of God” is trusting that Jesus’ death was my death and that my righteousness is not through a works-based righteousness, but rather through Christ.

This is what Paul implicitly says in v. 21 when he contrasts righteousness “through the law” with the purpose for which Christ died. He is implying that this purpose was to make us righteous.

The problem with the traditional holiness/second blessing understanding of Galatians 2.20 is that being “crucified with Christ” is not something that happens only in those certain believers who go through a crisis of surrender at some point after their conversion. This is true of every believer who is united with Christ by the Spirit. V. 20 is describing the indicative truth of what has happened to every true believer! So live by faith in the Son of God!

Posted in Theology
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