Imagine witnessing the devastating plagues against Egypt, walking through the splitting of the Red Sea, looking on as the sea fell on the Egyptian soldiers, seeing the Ten Commandments engraved by the finger of God, and deciding in the end, “I don’t trust the God of Israel.”
Why would God’s people make such a foolish choice? How could they ever backslide into doubt after seeing God’s power unleashed against their enemies in such miraculous ways?
Yet as baffling as it sounds, we’re in danger of the same kind of unbelief.
In Hebrews 3, the author warns self-proclaimed Christians that, even though they have heard the good news about Christ dying for our sins and consider themselves true believers, they are still in danger of falling away.
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. (Hebrews 3:12-14)
So why did the Israelites fall away from their faith, even after seeing the glory of God in the exodus? What danger is there for us, who have tasted the glory of God in the Gospel?
The Deceitfulness of Sin
Sin lies. It makes promises it is utterly incapable of keeping. Even though we know sin is wrong, God hates it, and Christ died for us, sin still screams to us through the noise of life: “Believe me!”
Sin promises, “God will forgive you anyway; go ahead and follow your sexual pursuits, regardless of marriage.” Sin promises, “No one will ever find out what you’re doing; try this, and it will satisfy you.” Sin promises, “True, God says it’s wrong to do this—but he also said a lot of other things that you don’t follow anyway.”
Sin not only deceives us into committing sin, but it hardens us against the truth. Just as someone lied to repetitively will be suspicious of the facts, so will someone perpetually enticed by sinful desires become colder and colder to the promises of the Gospel.
The more and more I pleasure myself in sin, the harder it is to believe when the Gospel tells me that sin is unsatisfying. The more I excuse sin in my life, the harder it is to believe the Gospel when it tells me that Christ died for sin. The more I approve of the sins of others, the harder it is to believe that Christ will return and unleash his wrath against sin.
Sin even promises that I can still enjoy sin yet receive forgiveness through Christ.
The Better Promise
According to Hebrews, the better promises are in the Gospel. That’s because, not only does Christ offer a way to be saved from the punishment for sin in Hell, but he also offers freedom from the power of sin over our will.
In Hebrews 3:14, we are promised that we actually share in Christ—and through him, eternally knowing and enjoying God—if we press on. If our faith is genuine, it will last through to the day we die and outlive any temptation. But if we have never truly believed, we will fall away and show that we have never truly been in Christ.
To avoid being hardened against the Gospel by the lies of sin, we must do more than simply strive for morality or even religiosity. We must put all the same trust in the Gospel that we would normally put in sinful behavior.
Instead of trusting that sin will satisfy me, I must trust that because Christ paid for my sins to bring me to God, that knowing God must be more satisfying than sin. Instead of excusing sin in my life, I must trust that if God sees sin as wicked enough to die for it, he must also have a way for me to fight sin and find joy amidst temptation. Instead of excusing sin in the lives of others, I must trust that Christ is worthy to receive repentance, faith, and worship from everyone for whom he died, and that I am God’s tool to share the Gospel with others.
And instead of believing that I can hold on to affection towards sin in my life, I must kill my desire for sin and pursue the superior joy of knowing Christ (Romans 8:13).
The Gospel promises that only God can satisfy my soul, and that no sinful pleasure-seeking apart from God will get me anywhere but Hell. I must trust that Christ died as the perfect sacrifice for my sins, bearing the weight of God’s wrath for me, and that through his resurrection I am freed from sin and brought into new life with God.
In Christ, I am free to approach God and enjoy him as my soul’s treasure, starting now and continuing into eternity.
While churches preach the Gospel once a week, sin preaches its own deceitful promises in every commercial, every television show, every website, every shopping mall, and in every person’s own heart.
Israel succumbed. The people with truth faith—like Caleb and Joshua—endured, and entered the Promised Land. But those who rejected what they knew to be true about God’s salvation decided it was better to truth the promises of sin and unbelief. They doubted God’s goodness. They doubted that what God had saved them to was better than the land of Egypt from which they came. And so they were destroyed. They died off in the wilderness over the course of 40 years, failing to take hold of the prize for which they had crossed the Red Sea to begin with.
Likewise, if we esteem our old land of sinful slavery better than the Heavenly realm of holiness and eternal joy to which Christ is leading us, we will never make it to the destination.
Therefore, we must guard ourselves, taking more pleasure in the promises offered by Christ than the lies told by sin.
Trusting what our culture tells us about sin will harden us to the Gospel that can save, sanctify, and satisfy our souls. Believing the lies will harden us to the truth. Let us pursue Christ as our ultimate treasure and put no stock in what the world may say is better.
Image credit: Moyan Brenn (CC 2.0)