Hold Fast

Sin whispers, “Is God really good?” Sin suggests, “You can do better than God’s way.” Sin befriends, “God doesn’t have your best interest at heart; I do.” Sin cajoles, “Just this once.” Sin promises, “You’re in control. You’ve got this. Nobody needs to know. You can stop at any time.”

Sin deceives.

In the Garden, our first parents believed sin’s lies that God was holding out on them, that he wasn’t really good. They were given paradise, but believed the lie that God might not be good, that there was a better way to true fulfillment. They had the privilege of walking with God in the cool of the day, but believed the lie that God hadn’t disclosed everything they truly needed. By believing and acting on the lie they learned the truth of the goodness they forfeited, the paradise they lost, and the friendship with God they’d severed. And their children have been enslaved to the deceitfulness of sin ever since.

In the wilderness, the Israelites believed sin’s lies and grumbled and complained until their hearts were hardened to the point of rebellion, provoking the God who’d rescued them from bondage to “swear in [his] wrath, ‘They shall not enter my rest’” (Ps. 95:11; Heb. 3:11). The vast majority of the people who witnessed God’s mighty acts in the Egyptian plagues, who benefited from the release from slavery, who walked through the Red Sea on dry ground, and who watched the waters of that sea consume the Egyptian army not only complained against the Lord and Moses, but they accused God of rescuing them only to kill them in the promised land (Num. 14:3). “And the Lord said to Moses, ‘How long will this people despise me? And how long will they not believe in me, in spite of all the signs that I have done among them?’”  (Num. 14:11). In believing and acting on sin’s lies, they displayed their unbelief which resulted in hardened hearts that despised the Lord.

From his rooftop, David, the sweet psalmist of Israel, believed sin’s lie that “just this once” he could indulge his lust. From his palace, David, the apple of God’s eye, believed sin’s lie that “nobody needs to know,” as he sent Uriah to cover up his adultery. When Uriah’s faithfulness brought David face-to-face with his own unfaithfulness sin said,” you’ve got to take control,” and David planned the death of an innocent man. When David learned of Uriah’s death, sin whispered, “well done, my servant; we’ve got this.” But God did know, and sent Nathan the prophet to warn him, confronting his sin and exhorting him to repent. “Why have you despised the word of the Lord, to do what is evil in his sight? You have struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword and have taken his wife to be your wife and have killed him with the sword of the Ammonites.” (2 Sam. 12:9).

When the psalmist penned Psalm 95, he reminded his people—and the author of Hebrews takes up his psalm to warn his readers then, and us now— “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts” (Ps. 95:7–8; Hebrews 3:7–8). Such is the timelessness of the word of our immutable God.

And once again, we are warned of the danger of apostasy. In Hebrews 3 this warning falls after a reminder that because we are “holy brothers” who share “in a heavenly calling” we are to “consider Jesus, the apostle and high priest of our confession, who was faithful to him who appointed him” (Heb. 3:1–2). Dennis Johnson explains that “To ‘consider’ Jesus . . . is to focus one’s vision and attention on him . . . . The point of fixing one’s mind’s eye (as it were) on Jesus is not merely to imitate his faithfulness but also to rest one’s trust in his ministry as ‘the apostle and high priest of our confession’ (Heb. 3:1). Perseverance in the Christian pilgrimage results from holding fast in confidence to the hope secured for us by Christ.”[1]

This is the key to avoiding apostasy: perseverance in faith. The generation of Israelites who left Egypt failed to persevere in following Moses who was “also was faithful in all God’s house” (Heb. 3:2, 16). Their failure to persevere through the testing in the wilderness stemmed from hearts hardened in unbelief which led to disobedience, rebellion, and ultimately failure to enter the promised land (Heb. 3:15, 18–19). Because of their unbelief they had no confidence in the Lord, nothing secure to hold onto when trials came to shake their faith.

So the author of Hebrews exhorts us to hold fast to our confidence in Christ and in what he has done for us in our salvation. Christians will still believe the lies, commit sin, and prove our own faithlessness time and again as we walk this pilgrim path of sanctification. But Christ, our great high priest who is able to sympathize with us in our weakness, gives us confidence to draw near to the throne of grace with repentance, that we may find mercy and grace to help in our many times of need (Heb. 4:14–16). When trials come, our faith will be shaken, but those who are held by Christ will have the strength to hold fast to their hope in him (John 10:28). Those who are following Christ for who he is and not for the gifts he gives will prove that they have come to share in him (Heb. 3:14). As John Stott so helpfully clarifies:

“‘He who stands firm to the end will be saved’ (Mark 13:13), not because salvation is the reward of endurance, but because endurance is the hallmark of the saved. . . . Future and final perseverance is the ultimate test of a past participation in Christ (Heb. 3:14).”[2]

The Israelites, goaded by their own suffering and sin, were unrepentant in their hardened unbelief and they died in the desert. David, however, when confronted with his sin, repented from his heart. Though he would live to suffer the painful consequences of his sin—which splashed onto others who would also suffer—his heart remained tender toward God ever afterward. When we are confronted with our own sin by fellow saints who exhort us not to be deceived, but to hold fast our original confidence (Heb. 3:13–14), let’s respond with tender hearts ready to repent. “A tender heart,” as Richard Phillips writes, is “one that is easily penetrated by the word of God, is easily impressed by its teaching, is moved by God’s love, and is touched and won over by God’s great redemptive works.”[3]

Such is the heart of the psalmist who wrote his warning into his song. His warning, in similar fashion to the author of Hebrews, follows his invitation to his readers to consider the Lord who is the rock of our salvation:

Oh come, let us sing to the Lord;
let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation!
Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving;
let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise!

Oh come, let us worship and bow down;

let us kneel before the Lord, our Maker!
For he is our God,
and we are the people of his pasture,
and the sheep of his hand. — Psalm 95:1–2, 6–7

This is our Jesus, the great Shepherd of the sheep, who is leading us through this wilderness pilgrimage until we safely reach his promised rest.

“Jesus has walked ahead of us to clear the way. He has blazed the trail of victory through perfect obedience for our salvation. Though we often fail, he did not. Through faith in Christ our failures are hidden in his victory; our faithlessness is garbed in his obedience. His righteousness is presented on our behalf, and now his power is made available to us in the Holy Spirit. . . .

“Will we make it through this desert life safe across Jordan to the Promised Land ahead? We will if we trust ourselves to Jesus, relying on the strength he gives to all his pilgrim people. He is the shepherd of his flock, and if we follow him, looking to him in faith and relying on his provision, we will find ‘goodness and mercy . . . all the days of {our lives],’ and ‘shall dwell in the house of the LORD forever’ (Ps. 23:6).”[4]

This confidence, as we focus our attention on Jesus and hold fast to him in faith, leads to joy, even in our trials, whether our suffering is brought on by our own sin or others.’ “How wonderful that when we are blinded by tears, we can nevertheless see our God. In fact, our tears become crystal lenses through which he is magnified; and in the midst of suffering we realize the greatness of His power and the tenderness of His love.”[5]

Hold fast, dear Christian; hold fast.

[1] Dennis E. Johnson, Hebrews, ESV Expository Commentary, vol. XII (Wheaton, Il: Crossway, 2018), p. 55-56

[2] John R. W. Stott, The Letters of John: An Introduction and Commentary, (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 1964, 1988) p. 109.

[3] Richard D. Phillips, Hebrews: Reformed Expository Commentary, (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 2006), p. 106

[4] Phillips, p. 103

[5] Donald Grey Barnhouse, Expositions of Bible Doctrines Taking the Epistle to the Romans as a Point of Departure, 10 vols. (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1956), 4:89, quoted by Phillips, Ibid., p. 101.

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