Agonizomai: Heb 3:13-15 Christ - Sustainer of His Church

Friday, November 20, 2009

Heb 3:13-15 Christ - Sustainer of His Church

Heb 3:13-15 Christ - Sustainer of His Church

Heb 3:13-15 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 share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end. 15 As it is said, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.”

The danger of apostasy is very real to all believers when they cease to be watchful. Any who thinks he stands should take heed lest he falls. I would add that any who thinks he stands (that is, by his own power) has already fallen - because he has failed to abide in the One Who alone is able to make him stand.

Watchfulness is something we must do ourselves, but is also something we must do for each other. We are often myopic when it comes to our own condition. There is none so blind as the hypocrite and we are all have hypocrisy in us. The sin we do not see or acknowledge is the one to which we are most vulnerable. Or the sin to which we have become inured by degrees may be our downfall unless another sees and admonishes us.

Yet all sin finds its root in disbelief. Sin is deceitful. It distorts our perception of truth and reality. It clouds judgment, urges self-justification, hardens the heart - but it does so in a way that is sly and slippery. It rarely attacks frontally unless it is already sure of its subject.

But this is a wrong way of expressing it. Sin does not actually have an existence - it has no expression - apart from the sinner. Sin is impossible without a being in which sin is conceived, permitted, expressed and worked out. So when sin is called deceitful it actually traces back not to the sin itself, but to the person who commits and is responsible to God for that sin. Satan, the tempter is himself subtle and full of guile, and he will relentlessly press upon us, either probing for or exploiting our weaknesses - but he is often given credit for what we ourselves actually do. Satan does not sin for us.

It is, however, also true that a person having sinned is caught in a web of such darkness and deceit, by his own actions that he is on the hopelessly blinded downward slope that leads to oblivion. One sin was enough to enslave and deceive a whole world because sin separates from God, who is the light. Our hope is, of course, the incarnate and written Word of God by which light comes into the fallen world. But this light is so alien to our sin-soaked and trespass-loving hearts that we should all hate it, ignore it or persecute it unless God was working by grace (common and saving) to restrain and to change us.

And surely believers understand that looking over the precipice is frightening indeed. We have been delivered. We have, to some degree, seen the fruit of sin for what it is. We have seen it in ourselves and despised what we were, and what we should revert to if God was not on our side. Yet if the righteous are scarcely saved then what of the unrighteous? And should we wish to approach so near to sin that we court danger? Would it not be infinitely better to be like Joseph and flee the adulterous wife of Potiphar as if she had the plague? (which she did - but that’s another lesson).

Yet God’s warnings are necessary even for we who believe. They are his means of keeping us in the Way. There is both rod and staff there, and the warnings are the staff by which severer chastenings of the rod may be avoided. So let us not think that because we are saved and because our faith is in God alone for our salvation and preservation that we do not need to exercise care and avail ourselves of all of the means of grace. Preaching, teaching, fellowship, prayer - all of these are themselves the very tools that God uses to keep us.

Now here is something vitally important that is so easily overlooked or minimized by careless exegetes. We are told that "we share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence to the end." At first glance in many translations it looks as if we must ourselves grit it out to the end in order to be able to claim a share in Christ. But this would be to deny the very essence of the true gospel, which tells us that we cannot earn, merit or deserve anything from God. God is no one’s debtor and salvation is both full and utterly free in Christ; it is entirely the work and the free gift of God. So this cannot mean what it seems to mean on the surface. And here is the true interpretation...
μέτοχοι γὰρ γεγόναμεν τοῦ Χριστοῦ ἐάνπερ τὴν ἀρχὴν τῆς ὑποστάσεως μέχρι τέλους βεβαίαν κατάσχωμεν
The Greek verb referring to "we share in Christ" is the (second) perfect tense and refers to an action once for all taken in the past. It does not have reference to the future and is not conditional upon anything yet to take place. So the correct understanding is that if we have (truly) come to share in Christ we will indeed hold our original confidence to the end. Or, put another way, all those who once for all in the past put their trust and Christ and received him will persevere to the end no matter what. And what confidence can we have in this assertion? All the confidence in the world, because it is God that works in us both to will and to do of his good pleasure.

But once again, our preservation is through our perseverance, which is in turn fashioned by God through the obedience of our faith in hearing and heeding his Word. We are clay in the hands of a God who is, even as we live, fashioning us into what we shall be more perfectly in that Day. We choose, we act, we stumble and fall, we pray and mourn, we hear, we submit - all of these things are in the hand of Almighty God and - if we are truly his - are means by which he makes us into what He wills. A man’s mind plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps. {Pr 16:9}

These things we review in order to understand the position of the Hebrew professors to whom this letter is addressed. They had their temptations and trials to give up and to turn back - but so do the saints of today. We are beset on all sides by the world and the evil thereof. Weak belief and the guilt of sin embraced cloud our understanding and our judgment, as they did the Hebrews.

But the writer gives dire warnings and admonishments as he exhorts them to keep on keeping on. The sheep do indeed hear His voice and they are warned and exhorted not to harden their own hearts, but to keep short accounts with God. Today is the hour for acting upon what is heard. Today and not tomorrow is when the pricked conscience and the stinging pride must be brought into the light and the right thing be done. Today and not next week or next year is the time to humble ourselves under the mighty hand of God. And as it was for them, so it is for all Christians in all ages.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I know this is true in my life- I need the word daily, sermons, pryer, and fellowship with other believers who can speak into my life. When I'm surrounded by worldly people and their attitudes, it really rubs off and affects how I think.

You are so right- we need to guard ourselves daily and let God's light shine into our lives. I love and appreciate having strong believers in my life who can see where I need admonishing and encouragement should I start being discouraged or lukewarm.

Thank you for explaining that Scripture. The IF in there always confused me. This is very liberating to me, because if anything depended on me, I'd be a dead duck long ago.

9:36 am  
Blogger agonizomai said...


It's true of us all.

And we should press into the kingdom as if all depended on us while, as we do that, believing that all depends upon God - as it does.



2:24 pm  
Blogger Derek Ashton said...


Good paradox in that comment!

But you knew I was going to say that.


4:21 pm  
Blogger agonizomai said...


There is no charge for feeding your paradoxicalism. But it'll cost you.



4:52 pm  
Blogger Derek Ashton said...

Don't worry, I'm not going to go Barthian on you.

5:20 pm  

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