Hebrews 3:7-4:11 is a section of Scripture that points readers back to the Israelites wandering in the wilderness and the reality that so many of them failed to enter the land of promise due to their unbelief. This passage served as a reminder to first-century saints: if you want to please the Lord, then do not follow the path of the children of Israel.
In the midst of these verses, we read this clear warning in Hebrews 3:12:
“Beware, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God.”
That is a clear message for God’s people in any generation. Who in their right mind chooses to forsake the one and only living God? No one!
Here is what gives this warning or exhortation its “punch” or power. First, there were God’s stern words to Israel: “So I swore in My wrath, They shall not enter My rest” (3:11). Second, there is the truth that “they could not enter in because of unbelief” (3:19). No, God was not bluffing when He warned Israel. Those were real people that made real decisions that really did prevent them from entering the land of Canaan. That was serious business for them, and it is a serious message for every Christian to contemplate. Do I have your attention yet? Let us go back to Hebrews 3:12 and look at some facts.
Fact: God’s children can develop “an evil heart.” When God’s word says, “Beware, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart . . .,” then that means it is certainly possible for members of the Lord’s church to have such a heart. The timeless message of Proverbs 4:23 is, “Keep your heart with all diligence. For out of it spring the issues of life.” But, surely no follower of the Christ could have an evil mindset, right? Ananias, the liar, allowed Satan to fill his heart (Acts 5:3). What kind of heart does one have when the devil dominates it?! Christians are exhorted, “Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded” (James 4:8). It is not a pretty sight, but, yes, God’s people can develop an evil heart that needs to be purified.
Fact: It is possible for children of God to depart from Him. What is the whole point of Hebrews 3:12? Do not do it! Do what? Do not be guilty of “departing from the living God.” We are aware that many denominational people affirm that a child of God could never sin in such a way that he would be lost eternally. That is an unbiblical teaching, known as “Perseverance of the Saints,” “the Impossibility of Apostasy,” or “Once Saved, Always Saved.”
Look again at what the Bible says. The warning is, do not let this happen to you – do not depart from the living God. If such were impossible, then the words of Hebrews 3:12 carry no weight at all. Do you recall the Old Testament principles found in 2 Chronicles 15:2? “The LORD is with you while you are with Him. If you seek Him, He will be found by you; but if you forsake Him, He will forsake you.” Is it possible for God’s people to forsake Him? Yes. And, what does He do when that happens? He forsakes the forsakers.
When Jesus walked the earth, on one occasion “many of His disciples went back and walked with Him no more” (John 6:66). What do you call that? Departing from the living God. Some saints “wander from the truth” and have a soul that needs to be saved from death (James 5:19,20). What do you call that? Departing from the living God. Some people “have escaped the pollutions of the world,” only to go back and “are again entangled in them and overcome,” so “the latter end is worse for them than the beginning” (2 Peter 2:20). What do you call that? Departing from the living God.
Fact: When people depart from God, it is because of a heart problem – “an evil heart.” It is not because of the environment, the government, one’s own family, or even being treated badly by other members of the church. No, people depart from God because they personally have a heart problem. The Master said that “an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart brings forth evil” (Luke 6:45). Fix the heart, and the right speech and conduct will follow.
Fact: A lack of faith is the bottom-line reason why people leave the Lord. Occasionally people leave the Lord hastily; more often, though, it is a longer process. Why do people leave the living God? In some cases, it may be a complex matter that we will never understand completely. However, in every instance, here is the bottom line: people depart from God because their faith is not strong enough. Look back at the words of our text: “an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God.” People may get caught up in immorality, they may be deceived by false teaching, or they may be pressured by family members. But, in the end, their choice to forsake God is a personal choice for which they alone are responsible, and it happens because of “unbelief.” The Bible says so. Let us strive to maintain a strong faith that overcomes (1 John 5:4).
Fact: It (forsaking God) can happen to “any of you.” If we are tempted to think to ourselves, “That could never happen to me,” let us take heed lest we fall (1 Corinthians 10:12).
—Roger D. Campbell