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!