Pastor David B. Curtis

HOME | STUDY INDEX

Apostasy and its Prevention

Hebrews 3:13-19

Delivered 10/29/2000

We're looking at chapter 3 of the book of Hebrews - 3:1 thru 4:16 comprise the second of five warning passages in the book. 3:1-6 is a call to faithfulness, as Christ was faithful, so are we to be as we focus our attention upon Him. Occupation with Christ is the key to spiritual victory. Contemplate Christ - this can only be done as we spend time in His word.

In verses 7-19 of chapter three, the faithlessness of Israel in the wilderness is used as an illustration of what we're not to do.

Hebrews 3:8 (NKJV) Do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion, In the day of trial in the wilderness,

The "rebellion" or "provocation," as the KJV calls it, was a historical event in the life of Israel. The issue of the provocation is a test, a trial. Through the difficult circumstances of life, God wants us to learn to trust in Him. We are not to lean on our own understanding, we are to trust Him. God brings us into difficult circumstances so we will learn to trust Him and mature in our walk. Practical sanctification is accomplished by two means: the Word of God and trials. In the trials, we must trust His promises.

Israel failed the test, they would not trust God, and because of their unbelief they lost their inheritance:

Hebrews 3:11 (NKJV) So I swore in My wrath, 'They shall not enter My rest.'"

All those who were over twenty never entered the promised land but died in the wilderness.

The writer of Hebrews uses Israel's failure as a warning to his readers, and the Holy Spirit uses it as a warning to us. Take heed believers, don't apostatize; fall away from God. Believers, if we're not careful, the trials of life can turn us away from Christ.

When I talk about apostasy and falling away from Christ, I'm talking in terms of our communion and not our union. We can never loose our union with Christ. We were united to Christ when we placed our trust in Him for our eternal salvation. But our communion with Christ, our experiential fellowship, can be lost by our disobedience and unbelief. To lose our communion is to come under the chastening hand of the Lord and suffer temporal judgement. No biblical passage, no warning ever threatens the loss of our union, we can never be separated from our union with God. We must understand this.

Romans 8:38-39 (NKJV) For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, 39 nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

The Bible speaks about our communion with Christ in many ways. In John 15, it is called "abiding" in Christ. In 1 John, it is "fellowship," or "knowing" Him. In James, it is "living faith" or being a "doer" of the Word. Throughout the New Testament this communion relationship is referred to as discipleship:

John 8:31-32 (NKJV) Then Jesus said to those Jews who believed Him, "If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. 32 "And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free."

We have already seen this conditional relationship in Hebrews:

Hebrews 3:6 (NKJV) but Christ as a Son over His own house, whose house we are if we hold fast the confidence and the rejoicing of the hope firm to the end.

Here it is said that we are his "house" if we remain faithful. Communion is a conditional relationship, union is not. With that in mind, let's look at a very difficult verse:

Hebrews 3:14 (NKJV) For we have become partakers of Christ if we hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast to the end,

The first thing I want us to see here is the condition "if". The "if" here is a third class condition in the Greek meaning: "maybe you will, maybe you won't." This verse is saying that they have become partakers of Christ "if" they hold the beginning of their confidence steadfast to the end. We know what it says, the question is, "What does it mean?" To understand its meaning, we must apply a couple principles of hermeneutics (the science of biblical interpretation). The primary rule of hermeneutics is called the "analogy of faith." The analogy of faith is the rule that Scripture is to interpret Scripture. This means that no part of Scripture can be interpreted in such a way as to render it in conflict with what is clearly taught elsewhere in Scripture. Another principle of hermeneutics is that the implicit - that which is suggested, though not plainly expressed; is to be interpreted by the explicit - that which is clearly stated.

With these two principles in mind, let's examine this verse. What could this verse be teaching? One possibility is that it is teaching that believers could loose their salvation. If you take the words "partakers of Christ" to be equal with eternal life, then this verse could be teaching that eternal life is conditional and can be lost. But that goes against the analogy of faith. The Bible clearly teaches that eternal life is not based upon any conditions in us - it is a gift of God's grace.

Romans 5:12 (NKJV) Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned;

"Therefore, just as...." the "just as" suggests a comparison, but we notice that verse 12 does not complete the comparison, there is no "even so." He only gives us half of the comparison - Adam. Verses 13-17 are a parentheses for clarification. Verses 18 and 19 complete the comparison started in verse 12. Let's read it that way, skipping verses 13-18a:

"Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned; 18b even so through one Man's righteous act the free gift came to all men, resulting in justification of life."

One man did one thing resulting in sin and death; the other man did something else, resulting in justification and life. "Just as" the one act of Adam affected every member of the human race, "even so" the one act of Jesus Christ affects every member of the new covenant community.

The word "one" is used 12 times in verses 12-19. The emphasis in this section is on how one man's act affects all he represents. In Adam we have sin and death, and in Christ we have obedience and life.

As God has imputed to every member of Adam's race the sin of Adam resulting in all men experiencing spiritual death; so God has imputed to every member of the new covenant the righteousness of Jesus Christ. We are accepted before God, justified by the death of Jesus Christ, and His righteousness is imputed to all who believe.

Is our salvation secure? Our salvation is based upon the act of One person - Jesus Christ. Please get that! The security of our salvation is not based upon our acts. Just as we were all condemned by Adam's act, so also we are made righteous by Jesus Christ's act. We were all condemned through no fault of our own individually, we are also justified through Jesus Christ through no merit of our own. Understanding our condemnation in Adam helps us to see that our salvation is not based upon our works but upon Christ's finished work. Our salvation is secure because it is based upon what Christ did for us, not on what we do for ourselves.

So, Hebrews 3:14 cannot be teaching that we can loose our salvation - that would go against the analogy of faith. Also, using the principle that the implicit is to be interpreted by the explicit, we see that Hebrews 3:14 is implicit, it's not that clear. But the teaching of the eternal security of the believer is explicit - it is very clear. So, Hebrews 3:14 is not teaching that believers can loose their salvation.

What else could it be saying? It could be saying that if you are a believer, you will give evidence of it by "holding the beginning of our confidence steadfast to the end." One writer said, "The point is: hold fast to your assurance in order to show (prove, evidence, demonstrate) that you are a partaker of Christ. This verse says, We have become partakers of Christ, if we hold fast our assurance to the end; and if we do not hold fast to our assurance to the end, then we have not become a partaker of Christ. Not holding fast to our assurance does not make us lose our salvation; it shows that we were not truly saved." If heaven can't be obtained apart from obedience to God, then, logically, that obedience is a condition for getting there.

If this was a confirming evidence of being "partners of Christ," the author would have used a 1st class condition (since) and not a third class condition. He would have said, "For we have become partakers of Christ SINCE we hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast to the end"

Well, what then is this verse teaching? We know that there is a condition here; the question is what is conditional? The word "partakers" is from the Greek word metochos. It means: "partners or companions, a sharer." Metochos is used four other times in the epistle of Hebrews. Let's look at them and see if we can understand its meaning:

Hebrews 1:9 (NKJV) You have loved righteousness and hated lawlessness; Therefore God, Your God, has anointed You With the oil of gladness more than Your companions."

This verse teaches us that Jesus Christ has "partners or companions" in his joy.

Hebrews 3:1 (NKJV) Therefore, holy brethren, partakers of the heavenly calling, consider the Apostle and High Priest of our confession, Christ Jesus,

Here we are told that believers (holy brethren) are "partners or companions" in the heavenly calling. I would say that this refers to eternal life, we "share" eternal life.

Hebrews 6:4 (NKJV) For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted the heavenly gift, and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit,

Here it refers to those who are "partners or companions" of the Holy Spirit. Based upon the rest of this verse the "partners or companions" of the Holy Spirit are also those who are enlightened and have tasted the heavenly gift. This verse also seems to use metochos as someone who is a partner with the Holy Spirit - a believer.

Hebrews 12:8 (NKJV) But if you are without chastening, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate and not sons.

Here metochos is used of those who are "partners or companions" in chastening. This verse is saying that all believers "share" in chastening. We are all "partners" in, and all "share" chastening.

Its only other use in Scripture is found in:

Luke 5:7 (NKJV) So they signaled to their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both the boats, so that they began to sink.

Here metochos is used of "partners or companions" in fishing.. If you study the context, this seems to be a reference to those who "shared" in the fishing business. Notice verse 10:

Luke 5:10 (NKJV) and so also were James and John, the sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. And Jesus said to Simon, "Do not be afraid. >From now on you will catch men."

Here the word "partners" is koinonos, meaning: "fellowship."

I think that we should interpret "partakers of Christ" in Hebrews 3:14 as meaning: "sharing Christ's faithfulness." This would fit the context of the chapter. And we know it can't be speaking of our union with Christ, because that is not conditional.

Hebrews 3:14 (NKJV) For we have become partakers of Christ if we hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast to the end,

This could be interpreted like this: "For we have become 'partakers of, or sharers in, Christ's faithfulness' if we hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast to the end." What is conditional is their sharing in the spirit of faithfulness unto the end

Clearly, this verse repeats in slightly altered words the thought of verse 6:

Hebrews 3:6 (NKJV) but Christ as a Son over His own house, whose house we are if we hold fast the confidence and the rejoicing of the hope firm to the end.

Participation in God's house and sharing in his faithfulness are conditional relationships which may be forfeited by departing from the living God.

"...if we hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast to the end" - The word "confidence" here is the Greek word hupostasis, which has the idea of: "condition or undertaking." The reference would be to our fundamental commitment to share in Christ's faithfulness. We could translate it, "if we hold fast our original undertaking firm unto the end."

If you wonder what it means to "hold fast the beginning of your confidence," look at the Lord Jesus Christ. On the eve of His vicarious death, when He was going to experience separation from His Father, He held fast to His confidence. "Father, the hour is come; glorify thy Son, that thy Son may glorify thee" (John 17:1). Later, in the throes of unparalleled agony, He prayed, "Father, if Thou art willing, remove this cup from Me; yet not My will, but Thine be done" (Luke 22:42). He was dominated by the purpose and will of the Father, even at the height of temptation and struggle! There you have a picture of what it means to "hold fast the beginning of your confidence."

It's reaching the end of the race that matters as to gaining the prize. The one who fails in staying power and does not reach the goal does not loose eternal life, but they can be disqualified:

1 Corinthians 9:24-27 (NKJV) Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may obtain it. 25 And everyone who competes for the prize is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a perishable crown, but we for an imperishable crown. 26 Therefore I run thus: not with uncertainty. Thus I fight: not as one who beats the air. 27 But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified.

Paul lives his life with great discipline so that he will not be "disqualified." The word "disqualified" is from the Greek word adokimos, which means: "unapproved, rejected"

In the following context, Paul gives an example of what it means to be disqualified:

1 Corinthians 10:1-5 (NKJV) Moreover, brethren, I do not want you to be unaware that all our fathers were under the cloud, all passed through the sea, 2 all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, 3 all ate the same spiritual food, 4 and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them, and that Rock was Christ. 5 But with most of them God was not well pleased, for their bodies were scattered in the wilderness.

Verse 5 says that "God was not well pleased" - the words "well pleased" are from the Greek word eudokeo, which means: "approved." It comes from dokeo, which is a form of adokimos.

1 Corinthians 10:6-12 (NKJV) Now these things became our examples, to the intent that we should not lust after evil things as they also lusted. 7 And do not become idolaters as were some of them. As it is written, "The people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play." 8 Nor let us commit sexual immorality, as some of them did, and in one day twenty-three thousand fell; 9 nor let us tempt Christ, as some of them also tempted, and were destroyed by serpents; 10 nor complain, as some of them also complained, and were destroyed by the destroyer. 11 Now all these things happened to them as examples, and they were written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the ages have come. 12 Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall.

Paul is saying, "Be careful believers, it happened to Israel and it can happen to you."

1 Corinthians 10:13 (NKJV) No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.

God is faithful, believer, and He will get you through the trial, don't apostatize.

Hebrews 3:15 (NKJV) while it is said: "Today, if you will hear His voice, Do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion."

He is saying, listen to God's voice through His word - now! Don't harden your hearts in trials as the Israelites did.

Hebrews 3:16 (NKJV) For who, having heard, rebelled? Indeed, was it not all who came out of Egypt, led by Moses?

The point here is: inasmuch as some did it long ago, some might also do it today. Joshua and Caleb remained faithful, and so can you.

Hebrews 3:17-18 (NKJV) Now with whom was He angry forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose corpses fell in the wilderness? 18 And to whom did He swear that they would not enter His rest, but to those who did not obey?

Who was it that did not enter the rest? Those who did not believe! The words "did not obey" are from the Greek word apeitheo, it means: "to disbelieve, not to allow one's self to be persuaded, not to comply with, to refuse or withhold belief" This same word is used in:

Hebrews 11:31 (NKJV) By faith the harlot Rahab did not perish with those who did not believe, when she had received the spies with peace.

Rahab had faith, the ones who perished "did not believe." The meaning of apeitheo is clear in:

John 3:36 (NKJV) "He who believes in the Son has everlasting life; and he who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him."

Those who didn't believe God did not enter into his rest. Verse 19 draws an obvious and necessary conclusion from the historical situation:

Hebrews 3:19 (NKJV) So we see that they could not enter in because of unbelief.

What they couldn't enter was their rest in Canaan. Israel of old, which is an example to us, was excluded from taking possession of their inheritance in Canaan. Now listen carefully, this had nothing to do with their eternal salvation - it had to do with temporal blessing. Do you think that the entire generation except for Joshua and Caleb were unbelievers who were all sent to the lake of fire? Were Joshua and Caleb the only ones with saving faith? They were the only ones from that generation who entered the land. Was Moses an unbeliever? Did he enter the land?

Numbers 20:12 (NKJV) Then the LORD spoke to Moses and Aaron, "Because you did not believe Me, to hallow Me in the eyes of the children of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land which I have given them."

Moses never entered the rest, he never got into the promise land which was their inheritance. So, this rest cannot be a picture of eternal life - it must refer to temporal blessings. That an apostate is a believer who turns away from God should be clear from this passage.

Exclusion from Canaan was a consequence of their lack of faith in the power of God to bring them into it in victory over their enemies; a failure in principle that might be repeated by the readers of Hebrews and us, if we forget Messiah's ultimate triumph over His enemies and ours. Unbelief - a lack of confidence in God - cost them their inheritance, and it could cost the Hebrews theirs. As the Israelites died in the wilderness, so they would die in the destruction of Jerusalem if they turned away form God. The inheritance to us refers to temporal blessing in the New Covenant.

Now let's back up to verses 12 & 13 that teach us how to prevent apostasy:

Hebrews 3:12-13 (NKJV) Beware, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God; 13 but exhort one another daily, while it is called "Today," lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin.

Here we see that an important, no, a vital means of withstanding the enticement to apostasy is that of mutual exhortation. "...exhort one another daily...." - the word "exhort" is parakaleo, which means: " to encourage, comfort, beseech, to beg." It's the same word used for the ministry of the Holy Spirit. This is not a negative warning but a positive encouragement.

"Daily" exhortation is required because the fight of faith is "daily." Temptation is "daily." The influence the world has upon us is experienced "daily." Our need for spiritual sustenance is "daily." All of this assumes frequent contact with the people of God. Thus, the Holy Spirit reminds us to prod one another heavenward every day. Let our speech and our manners be such toward each other as point us heavenward. If, due to the weakness of the flesh, we drift into other modes of speech, let us be swift to exhort one another Godward.

What is the alternative to daily exhortation in the Lord? "So that none of you may be hardened by sin's deceitfulness." The person that chooses to avoid daily exhortation, allowing his mind to be unaffected by the truth of God, will soon be living in sin. It may be what men call "respectable sin", but it will still be sin. What is more, sin HARDENS the heart. The more we are exposed to it, the more apt we are to be hardened against God.

Believers, we have a corporate as well as an individual responsibility to guard against apostasy. Calvin said, "As by nature we are prone to fall into evil, we have need of various helps to help us in the fear of God. Unless our faith is repeatedly encouraged, it lies dormant; unless it is warmed, it grows cold; unless it is aroused, it gets numb."

If we are to remain faithful, we must be exhorting one another daily. The duty of exhorting one another is neglected by most of us. We're faithful to judge and criticize others, but we're not so faithful to encourage them.

1 Corinthians 12:12-22 (NKJV) For as the body is one and has many members, but all the members of that one body, being many, are one body, so also is Christ. 13 For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body; whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free; and have all been made to drink into one Spirit. 14 For in fact the body is not one member but many. 15 If the foot should say, "Because I am not a hand, I am not of the body," is it therefore not of the body? 16 And if the ear should say, "Because I am not an eye, I am not of the body," is it therefore not of the body? 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would be the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where would be the smelling? 18 But now God has set the members, each one of them, in the body just as He pleased. 19 And if they were all one member, where would the body be? 20 But now indeed there are many members, yet one body. 21 And the eye cannot say to the hand, "I have no need of you"; nor again the head to the feet, "I have no need of you." 22 No, much rather, those members of the body which seem to be weaker are necessary.

This passage emphasizes our need for each other. We are interdependent. God has created us to be dependant both on Him and on one another. In Genesis 2:18, God said, "It is not good for a man to be alone." That principle speaks not only of the marriage relationship. None of us has the spiritual wherewithal to go it alone in the Christian life.

One of the best ways we can encourage one another is with the Scriptures. We are to share biblical truth with each other.

Proverbs 27:17 (NKJV) As iron sharpens iron, So a man sharpens the countenance of his friend.

As we share Scripture with each other, we are sharpened and encouraged. We need each other, we need encouragement as we face trials. An encouraging word can give us the strength we need to stand. Hebrews 3:13 is a call to watch out for each other, feeling a mutual responsibility for each other's welfare.

James 5:19-20 (NKJV) Brethren, if anyone among you wanders from the truth, and someone turns him back, 20 let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save a soul from death and cover a multitude of sins.

Believers, apostasy is a very real danger to us today. Let's be watchful to help each other out. We need each other. If we're not careful, the trials and testings of life will cause us to fall away.

What specifically does encouragement look like? It can take a multitude of forms. Simply living out the truth and following Jesus in the presence of others is encouragement to believe God. Sharing our stories about God's faithfulness in our lives gives others a chance to hear God's voice in a way that they hadn't before. Spending time with people, seeking them out, praying for them, remembering what they said and seeing the good in them all convey the truth that Jesus loves them. Sometimes, hard words of love are called for, if one friend observes another friend straying from the truth.

All this encouragement presupposes community. We can't encourage each other if we don't know anyone. We see here, once again, the value of community. In isolation, we are prone to develop strange ideas of what the truth is. In a community centered on the word of God, there's feedback for both biblical and anti-biblical ideas, and the truth is thereby strengthened. There's synergy as we study the word together and learn from each other. All this means that it behooves us as individuals to seek out a community centered on the truth and make a commitment both to it and the people in it.

At the end of Charles Dickens' "A Tale of Two Cities," Sydney Carton, taking the place Charles Darnay of the Evermonde family, is about to be executed in the bloody wrath of the French Revolution. He is next to a girl, a seamstress who was also condemned to death. The girl asks if Sydney will hold her hand, and he consents. The guillotine awaits. Dickens writes:

The supposed Evermonde descends, and the seamstress is lifted out next after him. He has not relinquished her patient hand in getting out, but still holds it as he promised. He gently places her with her back to the crashing engine that constantly whirrs up and falls, and she looks into his face and thanks him.
'But for you, dear stranger, I should not be so composed, for I am naturally a poor little thing, faint of heart; nor should I have been able to raise my thought to Him who was put to death, that we might have hope and comfort here today. I think you were sent to me by heaven.'

Sydney Carton, by simply caring for the girl, encouraged her to turn her attention to Jesus. We too can be like Sydney Carton, encouraging one another so that we might hear and believe God,.

Note well, the issue of perseverance is not first an issue of behavior. Don't be asking first: What actions does God want me to do? The issue in this text is one of the heart. It is a matter of believing or trusting or hoping in God. Look at verse 10: "Therefore I was angry with this generation, and said, 'They always go astray in their heart.'" Why didn't the people get to enter the promised land? You could say, "They sinned and they rebelled and they murmured." Yes. But look at how this writer ends the chapter. Verse 19: "And so we see that they were not able to enter because of unbelief." Persistent sin in the face of God's mercy is a sign of unbelief.

Yes, the people were embittered because of God's testing them (v. 8); yes, they sinned (v. 17); but beneath all that was the root problem: they didn't believe God, that is, they didn't trust his goodness - to lead and protect and provide and satisfy. Even though they saw the waters of the Red Sea divide, and they walked over on dry ground, the moment they got thirsty, their hearts were hard against God, and they did not trust him to take care of them. They cried out against him and said that life in Egypt was better.

Hebrews 3:12 (NKJV) Beware, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God;

Believers, departing from the living God is a real possibility that we all face, let's help each other daily through exhortation and prayer.

Continue the Series

Berean Bible Church provides this material free of charge for the edification of the Body of Christ. You can help further this work by your prayer and by contributing online or by mailing to:

Berean Bible Church
1000 Chattanooga Street
Chesapeake, VA 23322