Warning: Do Not Leave the Faith!
This morning is the fourth installment of our verse-by-verse look at the book of Hebrews. Last week, we saw how Jesus is an amazing counselor for our sufferings because He became like us in every way. In every kind of suffering and every kind of temptation we can face, Jesus has faced it already, and He emerged on the other side victorious. Because of His victory, the Bible promises that we have an eternal home in Heaven, where there will be no more suffering, and there will be no more temptation. Jesus is truly the Savior that understands our struggles.
But before we get started with Hebrews three, imagine with me the greatest gym in the world. This gym has absolutely state-of-the-art equipment machines. It has those fancy ellipticals. It has the most extensive weight set you’ve ever seen. It’s got turbo kick and cycling machines. It’s got classes hosted by outstanding instructors. You can learn how to stretch, how to dance, even learn how to breathe like a pro. But even better, this gym has an Olympic-sized swimming pool, ten racquet ball courts, and five NBA regulation-sized basketball courts. But even if you’re the kind of exerciser that likes to live a little, this gym is even equipped with a food court that has some of the finest foods from around the world.
And as amazing as all of that is, it gets even better. The best part about this gym is that you won a life-time membership free in one of those radio call-in contests. This is the kind of gym that only millionaires can afford, but now you get to go in for free. So you drive to this fancy gym, and you park your ’93 Camry right between a Mercedes and a Bentley, and you think to yourself, “This is the best day of my life.” When you walk up to the front door, you are cordially welcomed by the greeter, and you go in to enjoy this amazing gym.
Now, fast forward about three hours, and you have just finished the best work out of your life, followed by a free combo at Chick-fil-a in the food court. You walk back to the front door, and the attendant stops you and says, “Where are you going?” You politely say, “I think I’ve had enough for today, thanks.” The attendant says, “Um, sir, did no one tell you that you aren’t allowed to leave this place?” “Excuse me?” “Sir, I’m sorry, but a part of your special life-time membership is that you are required to stay here for the rest of your life. You can never leave.” Suddenly, what seemed like the best gym in the world has turned into a prison.
Now obviously that illustration is far-fetched, but did you realize that many people believe that Christianity is the exact same way as this gym? Any Christian would tell you that trusting in Christ was an absolutely amazing decision, but did you know that many Christians believe that once you choose Christ, you can never undo your choice. And obviously, who would ever want to leave Christ? I know I would never want to. But that’s not the point. The point is that many Christians believe that it isn’t an option. For these well-meaning Christians, Hebrews chapter three is a sore thorn in their foot. To see what I’m talking about, I ask you to turn in your Bibles to Hebrews chapter three, and we’ll be reading the entire chapter.
“Wherefore, holy brethren, partakers of the heavenly calling, consider the Apostle and High Priest of our profession, Christ Jesus; who was faithful to Him that appointed Him, as also Moses was faithful in all his house. For this man was counted worthy of more glory than Moses, inasmuch as He who hath builded the house hath more honour than the house. For every house is builded by some man; but He that built all things is God. And Moses verily was faithful in all his house, as a servant, for a testimony of those things which were to be spoken after; but Christ as a Son over His own house; whose house are we, if we hold fast the confidence and the rejoicing of the hope firm unto the end. Wherefore as the Holy Ghost saith, ‘Today if ye will hear His voice, harden not your hearts, as in the provocation, in the day of temptation in the wilderness: when your fathers tempted Me, proved Me, and saw My works forty years. Wherefore I was grieved with that generation, and said, “They do always err in their heart; and they have not known My ways.” So I sware in my wrath, “They shall not enter into my rest.”’ Take heed, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God. But exhort one another daily, while it is called “today;” lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin. For we are made partakers of Christ, if we hold the beginning of our confidence stedfast unto the end; while it is said, ‘Today if ye will hear His voice, harden not your hearts, as in the provocation.’ For some, when they had heard, did provoke: howbeit not all that came out of Egypt by Moses. But with whom was He grieved forty years? Was it not with them that had sinned, whose carcasses fell in the wilderness? And to whom sware He that they should not enter into His rest, but to them that believed not? So we see that they could not enter in because of unbelief.”
Let’s pray before we try to tackle this.
The title of this morning’s passage is “Warning: Do Not Leave the Faith!” Because of the complexity of this topic, and because of the length of this chapter, we are going to have to keep a brisk pace this morning. This chapter about leaving the faith breaks down into four main points. And because of the topic we’re studying, I think it would be very beneficial for you to take notes. So, with your Bibles open, and your pencils and paper ready, let’s begin our study of God’s word.
Point #1: Our Ideal
To see Who I’m calling “our ideal,” please look at verse one of this passage again. “Wherefore, holy brethren, partakers of the heavenly calling, consider the Apostle and High Priest of our profession, Christ Jesus.” There are a couple things to notice about this verse. The first thing is to notice who this chapter is written to. The theme of this morning’s sermon is leaving the faith, and our starting point for that is realizing that the writer is talking to born-again Christians here. The writer doesn’t say, “Wherefore, you heathens.” He doesn’t say, “Wherefore, you Jews.” He says, “Wherefore, holy brethren, partakers of the heavenly calling.” He is talking to all of us who have trusted in Jesus Christ.
The second thing I want you to notice is the two titles given to Jesus in this verse. This verse calls Jesus the Apostle and High Priest. Now, these are two titles that I’m sure you have heard many times in your life. Last week we spent a few minutes looking at how Jesus is our High Priest. But what is an Apostle? We know that Peter, Paul, John, James, and those guys were apostles, but what is an Apostle? Well, the word “apostle” literally means “one who is sent.” Jesus sent John to preach the gospel, so John was an “apostle.” But this verse says that Jesus is an Apostle of God. This makes sense if you realize that Jesus was sent by God. And remember, Jesus is our High Priest because He is our representative before God. So to sum that up, Jesus is God’s representative before man, and He is man’s representative before God. Pretty cool, huh?
But verse two shows us something very important we can learn from Jesus. Look at what verse two says. “Who was faithful to Him that appointed Him, as also Moses was faithful in all his house.” What does this verse say these two people were? It says they were faithful! This chapter deals with some really, really tough stuff; but the writer introduces it all by reminding us that our ideal in life is faithfulness. So what does that mean for us? It means that as we are thinking about the grim possibility of losing our salvation, we have to understand that the writer is not trying to scare us, he is trying to spur us on in the faith. He tells us, his brothers and sisters, that the ideal set forth by Jesus, and even by Moses, is that we must be faithful to God. So point number one, our ideal is to be faithful, just as Jesus is faithful.
Point #2: Our Identity
After the writer of Hebrews reminds us that faithfulness is our ideal, he reminds us our identity in Christ. To see what I’m talking about, we need to read verses three through six again. “For this man was counted worthy of more glory than Moses, inasmuch as He who hath builded the house hath more honour than the house. For every house is builded by some man; but He that built all things is God. And Moses verily was faithful in all his house, as a servant, for a testimony of those things which were to be spoken after; but Christ as a Son over His own house; whose house are we, if we hold fast the confidence and the rejoicing of the hope firm unto the end.” I love what verses three and four say. This verse talks about how Jesus is superior to Moses in the same way that an architect is better than the house itself. The implication is that Moses is the house, and Jesus is the builder. This is another one of those verses that show that Jesus is God in the flesh. Because verse three says that Jesus is the builder, and verse four says that the builder is God! But the key to understanding our identity in Christ is seen in verse six. Verse six says that we are the house of God, as long as we hold fast to our hope.
So once again, the writer is preparing to say some really difficult stuff; but before he does all of that, he gives his audience some true words of comfort. He reminds them that they are the house of God. Some people over the centuries have said that our salvation is like us hanging over the fires of hell by a string, and if we mess up, we had better prepare to burn. But that is not the message of Hebrews chapter three. Verses three through six show us that Jesus Christ has made us into the house of God. Now obviously, we call this building the house of God, and we have good reason for doing so. But this verse says that we are the house of God. What does it mean to be the house of God? It means that God lives in us! Isn’t that a humbling thought? So church, something we need to realize this morning is that we are not in constant danger of losing our salvation. The God of the universe has taken up residence in your soul, and He intends to stay there! Don’t get me wrong, God hates it when we sin. He despises the horrible things we say to each other, He hates it when we look at another person with lust in our heart, He gets angry when He sees us ignore Him. And yet, He doesn’t just throw us in the dumpster, because He has made us His house, and He is always willing to forgive us of our sins.
So when we look at the verses we are about to look at, we need to remember that we are the house of God, and He loves us immensely. You are not a hair’s breadth from losing your salvation, because Jesus Christ has taken up residence in your heart. With that in mind, let’s look at this difficult stuff I’ve been talking about.
Point #3: Our Option
In verses seven through eleven, the writer quotes a passage from Psalm 95. Brother Morris, doesn’t it seem like the writer of Hebrews likes Psalms about as much as you do? It seems like at every turn the writer is quoting one of the Psalms. Look specifically at what he quotes. “Wherefore as the Holy Ghost saith, ‘Today if ye will hear His voice, harden not your hearts, as in the provocation, in the day of temptation in the wilderness: when your fathers tempted Me, proved Me, and saw My works forty years. Wherefore I was grieved with that generation, and said, “They do always err in their heart; and they have not known My ways.” So I sware in my wrath, “They shall not enter into my rest.”’” Do you see the picture that the writer of Hebrews is painting here? He is talking about a time in Israel’s history when the people of God rebelled against Him and God made them wander in the wilderness for forty years until all of that generation had died. Every single member of that generation died except for two men, Joshua and Caleb, because they were faithful to God.
So the question that arises is this: Were these Israelites a part of the people of God? Yes, they were. And yet, at the end of verse eleven, God says that they did not enter His rest. What does that mean? It means that the people that God killed in the wilderness for their sin He did not allow into Heaven. Why not? Because God said that His people were going to go into the Promised Land, and the Israelites said that they were not going to go into the Promised Land. By Israel’s disbelief, they lost their inheritance among the people of God. And you might be saying, Brother Josh, that was Old Testament stuff. We all know that things changed in the New Testament.” Well, yes and no.
Look at what verse twelve adds to the discussion. “Take heed, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God.” Did you see what this verse said? First off, this verse is talking to believers. Notice, it says, “take heed, brethren.” Who can remind me what the phrase “take heed” means? Yes, that’s right. It means “pay close attention” or “listen to what I’m about to say.” After he readdresses this group of Christians, he tells them to make sure that they do not have an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God. The writer is saying that just as the Israelites rebelled against God and lost their inheritance, so is it possible for Christians to depart from God and lose their inheritance. In other words, it is possible for a Christian to lose his or her salvation. That’s not a fun thought to think about, is it?
This is the concept known as “apostasy.” It is the act of willfully turning your back on God, and thus forfeiting your salvation. Remember at the beginning of the sermon, I told the story about the gym that held its members hostage for life. Christianity is not like that. But I want to share with you four quick facts about this concept of apostasy. Fact number one is that I cannot think of a situation in which a person would want to turn their back on Christ. I have been a Christian for fifteen years now, and I can say with a sincere heart that I can never imagine turning my back on Christ. Knowing Jesus is so precious that I would rather die than give up my faith in Him, let alone give it up for free. And I hope that you all are the same way. Fact number two is that if you do commit apostasy, you can never come back to the faith. Later on in the book of Hebrews, it says that you can only become a Christian once because Jesus only died once, so if you truly leave the faith then you are out for good. And as terrifying as that is, I hope that fact number three gives you some comfort.
Fact number three is that apostasy is a very deliberate decision that cannot be entered into half-heartedly. Here’s what I mean by that. As a Christian, we all sometimes have bad days. Sometimes, we even have doubts. As your pastor, I will admit that there have been dark moments in my life where the thought entered my head, “What if God doesn’t even exist?” Church, I did not lose my salvation in that instant. Apostasy is not when you have doubts about your salvation, because sometimes doubts happen. Apostasy is when you know exactly what you’re doing, and you decide that you no longer want to follow Christ.
When I was probably eleven or twelve, I remember a preacher preaching a sermon on apostasy. And I’m sure that he did a fine job, but for whatever reason I left that morning terrified of losing my salvation. I believed that if the thought crossed my mind, “I don’t want to be a Christian,” then I would forever lose my salvation. And you know how it’s basically impossible to try to not think about something? If you actively try not to think about something, then it basically becomes all you think about! Well, sure enough, later that day, the thought entered my mind, “I don’t want to be a Christian.” Now, a split second later I told God I didn’t mean it and that I still wanted to be a Christian, but I thought it was too late. I honestly thought that I had just given up my salvation. Thankfully, someone was able to explain to me that apostasy is not something that flippantly crosses your mind. Apostasy is when you are walking the path of a Christian, and you decide to call it quits.
The final fact about apostasy is that if you actually commit apostasy, then you will have absolutely no desire to be with God. The Bible says that after a person has left the faith, the Holy Spirit no longer works in that person’s life. And as you know, it is the Holy Spirit that brings to our mind things about God and salvation. So basically, not only will someone who has committed apostasy not be able to come back, but they will never want to come back, because the Holy Spirit will no longer work within their life. When I was a teenager, I had a friend who was afraid that he had committed apostasy. He was very concerned that he had lost his salvation. But I told him that if he was worried about losing his salvation, then he definitely had not done so. So if you are here this morning, and you are afraid that you have lost your salvation because of something you’ve done, allow me to put your mind at ease. If you do lose your salvation, you will never look back. So the fact that you’re looking back means you haven’t lost your salvation. Now, you very well may need to get your life back where it needs to be. You may need to re-dedicate your life to Christ, but you do not need to get saved again, because you were never un-saved.
And quickly, I want to address the notion that Free Will Baptists have no assurance of salvation. Some would say that because I believe in apostasy, I can never know for sure that I’m going to Heaven. That’s crazy! I am 100% sure that I will go to Heaven when I die, because I would never leave the One who died for my sins. I do not believe in eternal security in the classical sense of the word, but I do have eternal security, because I know that Jesus’ blood has saved me from my sins, and I know that I am never going to leave Him. Because of this, my eternity is secure.
And church, that is the truth about apostasy. It’s a scary reality, but thankfully it is not an easy reality to fall into. Apostasy is when a person makes a deliberate decision to permanently turn his or her back on Christ. When a person does this, it is a permanent decision, and they are destined for hell. But a person that does this won’t care, because the Holy Spirit will not make them care. After this, the writer of Hebrews gives the church some advice to help them avoid apostasy. And that is the final point of today’s sermon.
Point #4: Our Help
Look at what verses thirteen and fourteen say. “But exhort one another daily, while it is called “today;” lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin. For we are made partakers of Christ, if we hold the beginning of our confidence stedfast unto the end.” Verse thirteen says to exhort one another daily. Remember, the word “exhort” basically means to “encourage.” We are supposed to encourage each other as long as it is called “today.” Do you guys know when “today” is? It’s today! The writer is telling us today to encourage one another so that we don’t turn our backs on Christ. This church is a family, and it is our job to constantly encourage each other to keep on keeping on. And while the most direct application for this is to help Christians avoid apostasy, this applies to every area of our lives.
Do you guys realize that when you have a problem, the people in this room should be the first people you go to, after you go to God? This is your family. I am your brother. You are my brothers and sisters. One of the absolute best benefits of being in a congregation is the encouragement you receive to stay true to God. And while you may say, “Brother Josh, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t leave the faith if I missed next Sunday.” Well, what if you stepped away for six months, or for a year, or for ten years? And by the way, that is not an experiment I want you all to try out. Please to not leave the church just to prove me wrong!
And I am not saying that everyone who stops attending church has lost their salvation. I am simply saying that it is easier to leave the faith when you do not have the support system that this church provides. Not only is that concept biblical, but it’s also logical. When you stop living like a Christian, you will be more and more likely to decide to no longer be a Christian.
And I’m not trying to ignore the rest of this chapter, but we’re quickly running out of time, and the rest of the chapter basically reiterates the points we’ve already talked about.
So that is the truth about apostasy. If you are truly a follower of Jesus Christ, then I hope I haven’t caused you to stumble this morning. That is the last thing in the world I want to do. And I know that even in a church this size, there are probably some who disagree with me about this concept. And that’s okay. While I do have strong convictions about this, I do not believe that this is doctrine that you have to have right in order to go to Heaven. The point of this sermon is not to scare any of you. Instead, this sermon is designed to spur us all into greater faithfulness. Do not be obsessed with the concept of apostasy, but do be aware. Set up firewalls in your heart, saying that you will never turn your back on Jesus Christ. I pray that our words will echo the church father Polycarp in saying, “I have served him for 86 years and he has done me no wrong. How can I blaspheme my King and Savior? Hear me declare with boldness, I am a Christian.”
And if you are here, and you have questions about what it means to follow Jesus Christ, then I pray you will come talk to me or someone else about it. Following Christ has been the greatest privilege of my life, and if you trust in Him, then it will be the greatest privilege of your life, too. My prayer for this church is that we will grow more and more faithful to our King. Not because we will lose our salvation if we mess up, because we won’t. But I pray that we will grow more and more faithful because our Savior deserves our faithfulness.
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