“Take care brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God.”—Hebrews 3:12
The writer of Hebrews wrote this verse after spending much of the first two chapters unpacking who Jesus is and how great a salvation he secured for us. But woven throughout this beautiful display of our Christ are repeated warnings to guard the faith given to us by this Jesus (Heb. 2:1-3, Heb. 3:12-13). No matter how glorious the description of Christ set before us, we are still prone to wander from the One who bought us by his own blood. Perhaps your circumstances in life are not what you had hoped they would be. Maybe you are unemployed and unable to find work. Maybe you are facing infertility, like me. Maybe your career aspirations are put on hold, or greatly diminished, because of your financial situation. Maybe you want to be married and God has not provided a spouse for you. All of these situations are hard and can take the wind out of our sails. They can cause varying degrees of pain, often for a long time. But another unwanted impact of suffering is that our hearts are more easily swayed towards unbelief. It’s when we cannot see the outcome, or when the dark clouds will not lift, that we can fall into the trap of believing that God is not really working for us. Satan wants nothing more than for us to believe the lie that God’s promises are not true for us. He wants us to discount all of Hebrews 1-2 (and the rest of the Bible), turn towards unbelief, and ultimately turn away from God. The writer of Hebrews knows this, too.
So what if we see an unbelieving heart creeping up into our own lives, or even in the lives of our friends? Verse 13 tells us to exhort one another so that no one is hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. The problem with an unbelieving heart is that often no one can see it. It’s an internal sin. We can hide it easily by our emotions, responses to our suffering, or even our pain. But it is so deadly, as the end of verse 12 tells us. There is nothing worse than falling away from God. And in verse 13 we are given a protection—a way of escape. Sin will harden our hearts to truth and reality. Sin will make us believe that there is no way out and the only option for us is to continue in our sin. Even scarier, sin will make us think that our behavior isn’t really sin.
These verses are a warning—a reminder that an unbelieving heart is an ugly, slippery slope leading to the ultimate destruction—separation from God. There are a variety of circumstances that can lead us to have an unbelieving heart. Some are outside of our control. I have faced the temptation to turn from God’s promises and believe the lie that he really is not for me. In fact, I’ve even given into the temptation and felt the bitterness that invades every fiber of your being when unbelief takes over. On a number of occasions this past year I have heard myself say: “I don’t want this lesson anymore. It’s too painful and not worth it.” By God’s grace, his faithfulness has kept me even when I am faithless.
An unbelieving heart is a silent killer, and the writer of Hebrews knew this. He knew that unbelief is a subtle sin that can slip under the radar of even the most discerning fellow believer. But it erodes our spiritual growth and replaces it with anger and bitterness towards God.
The danger when we face suffering, disappointment, and various circumstances is that those trials begin to define us. They are devastating and all we can see in front of us is the pain. It’s hard to trust in God when we don’t understand his dealings with us. The writer of Hebrews is speaking directly to these feelings. In verses 8-11 of chapter 3, he reminds us of the sin of the Israelites in the Old Testament. They turned from God in the wilderness because didn’t believe that he was really for them—they didn’t believe that he would act on their behalf.
Don’t be like the Israelites in the wilderness that you are in. Don’t turn from the only one who can truly understand your pain, sorrow, weakness, and suffering—our faithful high priest, Jesus. Regardless of our circumstances, and they may be very bleak at the moment, God has already acted on our behalf in the greatest way possible through the death and resurrection of his Son. Because of this great gift of salvation, we have been given a hope and a God who sympathizes with us. These verses are a good warning for me as I face the temptation to turn from the promises I know to be true—that God is for me and not against me.