Hardening of the Heart
Hebrews 3:12-14 (ESV) 12 Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. 13 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. 14 For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end.
Take care, brothers: he refers here to brothers, this is not merely Jewish brothers but Christians as evidenced in vs 1 “holy brothers, you who share in a heavenly calling”
lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart: he indicates here that it is possible for “brothers” to obtain an evil unbelieving heart. Unbelief is not merely not understanding. It is a conscious choice to not take God at His Word, both warnings and precious promises.
leading you to fall away from the living God: despite popular opinions, the writer here indicates that the possibility exists to fall away. The issue of falling away after grace vs never truly having been saved to begin with is a matter of debate. The truth is the Bible teaches both. Thus the only way to reconcile these is that it is a matter of perspective. From the Father’s eternal perspective, “those whom He did foreknow, He did predestinate” (Rom 8:29-30). But from ours, the apostles and Jesus’ earthly perspective “they went out from us because they were not truly of us” (1 John 2:19).
But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called today: If we will strengthen our faith and avoid the ruin of unbelief, we must be around other Christians who will exhort — that is, seriously encourage us. This shows our responsibility to both give exhortation and to receive exhortation, and to exhort one another daily. It is an easy thing to judge and criticize, but that is not exhortation. (Guzick)
“You are to watch over your brethren, to exhort one another daily, especially you who are officers of the church, or who are elderly and experienced. Be upon the watch lest any of your brethren in the church should gradually backslide, or lest any in the congregation should harden into a condition of settled unbelief, and perish in their sin. He who bids you take heed to yourself, would not have you settle down into a selfish care for yourself alone, lest you should become like Cain, who even dared to say to the Lord himself, ‘Am I my brother’s keeper?’” (Spurgeon)
that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin: Christians must be vigilant against hardness of heart. That hidden sin you indulge in — none suspect you of it because you hide it well. You deceive yourself, believing that it really does little harm. You can always ask forgiveness later. You can always die to self and surrender to Jesus in coming months or years. What you cannot see or sense is that your hidden sin hardens your heart. As your heart becomes harder you become less and less sensitive to your sin. You become more and more distant from Jesus. And your spiritual danger grows every day. (Guzick)
It is not the act itself that is so damning as it is the conscious decision that precedes it, to presume on God’s grace and make peace with sin. (summarized from Jonathan Edwards)
The deceitfulness of sin is the lie we tell ourselves that “this act will have no consequence. I can indulge in this. I will repent later.” It is a conscious decision to make peace with sin that has a desensitizing effect on our hearts. Each time we become less sensitive, a seared conscience, without feeling. An exponentially increasing slope downward into hardness of heart. The result of which is unbelief.
We see Paul warn Timothy of the importance of a good conscience, a conscience sensitive to the Holy Spirit, not calloused through willful disobedience. “holding faith and a good conscience. By rejecting this, some have made shipwreck of their faith,” (1 Tim 1:19) the result of which he says has destroyed their faith.
For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end: the perseverance of the saints is revealed by their ability to persevere. Not in their own strength. But in trusting God that His promises are better than the short term pleasures of sin in this world.
All sin, including original sin, comes down to a lack of faith. It says that God demands my obedience by withholding something good from me. But real faith, saving faith, is trusting God that His prohibitions are not about withholding joy from us, but rather believing that He has reserved greater joy for us in Him, in His kingdom.
Thus the writer says: we have come to share in Christ, if… this if statement is the hinge pin to the passage and the answer to the debate about falling away: if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end. Our relationship with Christ is revealed by our perseverance.
Falling away here is shown by our unwillingness to depart from sin, which has resulted in a hardening of heart, which in turn leads to unbelief. This is echoed in the last verses of the chapter: “18 And to whom did he swear that they would not enter his rest, but to those who were disobedient? 19 So we see that they were unable to enter because of unbelief.” As we see that disobedience is used synonymously with unbelief.
Therefore the writer says we are to encourage one another daily, showing that there is a level of responsibility both personally and collectively as a body of believers, and revealing our love for God and each other as Jesus commands. But in the same passage he goes on to write that our true state in Christ is not determined, but rather revealed, by whether we avoid this whole hardening process, showing a level of sovereignty. Thus sovereignty and responsibility existing in the same passage both testing and proving our state in Christ as a matter of perspective.