The word of the day is “beware.” “An evil heart of unbelief:” who among us would admit that we are susceptible to having such a hardened heart (OSB vs. 12-13)? After all, we are members of the Body of Christ and are “partakers of Christ’s nature” (OSB vs. 14). But in our reading of Hebrews 3:12-16, the apostle warns about possessing a heart that has “departed from the living God” (OSB vs. 12). He writes, “Beware,.. lest anyone of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin” (OSB vs. 13).
We Can Possess and Lose It
Our reading today warns against over-confidence. False assurance treats faith as a permanent possession, something that cannot be taken away from us. Yes, we have the faith, which is the “deposit,” that is, the “trust” “once delivered to the saints” (Jude 1:3) (1 Timothy 6:20) (Strong’s #3866, 190). But this treasure of the Truth belongs to the Church, and it will keep it forever. As members of the Body of Christ, we have a share in it, but we can lose our grasp of it.
Partakers of Christ– If We Persist
Likewise, we are “partakers of Christ” but only if we hold our faith in Christ “steadfast to the end” (NKJV vs. 14). The word “partaker” is derived from the thought of a “participant” or “associate” (Strong’s #3353, 162). As such participants, each of us has a share in Christ. Our portion of “Christ” is more than His blessings. It is the union with Christ. We abide in Him and He in us (OSB John 15:4). We receive His benefits. But we participate in His life.
Yet as we can lose our faith, we can fail to attain this oneness. We only have it if we are persistent in it. Therefore, the Lord expresses our calling to union with Him in an imperative. He says, “Abide in me,” urging us to stay connected to him, lest we be cut off from His life.
Beware the Deceitfulness of Sin
Therefore, the apostle teaches us to “beware” and not be overly secure in our possession of the faith and life of Christ. But how may we lose our relationship to the “living God?” The apostle teaches us that the “deceitfulness of sin” can lead us astray by degrees.
The Greek word for “deceitfulness” refers to what gives a false impression (Strong’s #539,32). Accordingly, the sense of our reading is that sin is not a single act but a continuous process (Strong’s #264, 15). We may think of it, therefore, as straying from the path of God’s grace. The further down the path of iniquity we get, the more our soul is lost, and the heart is hardened against the mercy of God.
Likewise, we lose our relationships to Christ by the erosion of our faith. This wearing away of our faith does not happen all at once. But over time, if we do not make sure that our faith is nourished, it will become weak. Eventually, the trials and troubles of life will destroy it. And in the end, cynicism and despair will surely replace the conviction that we once have.
Admonishing One Another
The apostle insists that the threat of the apostasy of the evil and hardened heart is real. None of us, however advanced, is immune from it. All must beware of it. Since the hardening of the heart and loss of confidence of faith are processes, the best approach is to arrest their growth at start. To this end, the apostle writes that we should admonish one another daily. We should exhort one another every day to ensure that no root of hardheartedness or faithlessness can sprout and grow in our hearts.
Our society holds that things like faith and sin are private things. Our relationship with God is no one’s business but our own. However, today’s reading assumes that we are responsible for one another. The apostle calls us “Holy Brethren” (OSB Hebrews 3:1). Accordingly, we are a sacred fellowship who share in a “heavenly calling” (OSB Hebrews 3:1). Moreover, we are the “house” over which Christ is faithful, just as Moses was faithful over His “house,” the People of God (OSB 3:2-6). That is, we are members of the household of God (OSB Ephesians 2:19).
Therefore, whether each of us is tender-hearted or hard-hearted, whether we are faithful or unfaithful, affects everyone else. Consequently, in our community of faith and love, we have the right (and duty) to look out for one another not only in our physical but our spiritual welfare. If we should encourage one another, we should also exhort one another. However, the individualism of our society has so influenced our churches that most of us do not know how to do this. We have a lot to learn about how to give and receive the support and admonishment that our reading advises.