Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Introduction: In the wilderness, Israel often committed the sin of unbelief. “They would not learn, although their lesson-book had miracles for its pictures” (Spurgeon). This sin also besets us. When troubles come, we quickly begin to distrust and to suspect God. This is a grave evil, yielding terrible consequences.
Heb. 3:13a “But exhort one another…”
Here is a helpful remedy against an evil heart of unbelief. Encourage one another, help one another with counsel and guidance, stand beside each other and give all the help you can. Any person called by God is worth being encouraged by us.
Believers are interdependent. We need one another. We must see not only to our own heart, but also to the hearts of our brethren. We must watch over on another.
For a believer, isolation means disaster. It is hard to stand against the devil alone. “Unless our faith be now and then raised up, it will lie prostrate; unless it be warmed, it will be frozen; unless it be roused, it will grow torpid” (Calvin).
We are fellow pilgrims, members of a family. The Bible says we are to admonish one another (RM 15:14), care for one another (1 Cor. 12:25), comfort one another (1 TH 4:18), edify one another (1 TH 5:11), have peace with one another (MK 9:50), love one another (JN 13:34), pray for one another (JAS 5:16). We need each other. When a saint falters, run to the rescue. Never let the failure of a fellow believer be partially blamed on you.
Heb. 3:13b “…daily, while it is called Today;…”Exhorting one another is something we must do day by day. It is a continuous, daily need. We repeatedly are facing the moment of crisis, that moment when God is speaking and Satan is arguing against Him. Every time God talks, the debate rages. That crisis time is called “Today,” a word implying opportunity and limitation. You have ample time to respond properly to God’s command, but if you do not do so, the chance passes, and you have yielded to sin. We are always in the throws of this difficult decision. Help one another, encourage one another, and do it all the time. Keep an eye out for the wavering brother.
Heb. 3:13c “…lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin.”
The first century Jewish believers were being deceived into thinking that forsaking their profession would be best for them. However, the sin of unbelief would not make them better. It would make them hard of heart. What looked like a little evil would begin much evil. Once started down the wrong road, it would be hard to turn them from a lifetime in the “wilderness.”
There is trickery in sin. It is always deceptive, never appearing as it really is. It always masks itself. Beware “the sorceress with a smile on her lips, a lie on her tongue, and a knife in her sleeve” (Maclaren). Sin is an active, aggressive power. You choose to do sin, but then sin does something to you. It will harden you. Beware the deceitfulness of sin.
Sin deceives by offering false games. Sin looks like a fun game for a while. At first, it has pleasures, charms, and glamour. It appears harmless, promising good and enjoyment.
Once you taste the forbidden thing, though, you are neither better for it nor satisfied with it. Sin satisfies only a small part of us, never the real us. It is like the fabled man who swallowed a loathsome worm, which continued to live in him. The worm devoured the man’s food, leaving him continually hungry, no matter how much he ate.
Sin looks like a fun game, but it is never as good as it looks when it is not yours. This should not surprise us. Never expect to benefit from that which you “stretched your hand across the flames of Hell” to get (Maclaren).
Sin deceives by making false claims. Sin suppressed facts. It deluded the sinner with a false self-esteem. Sinners believe they can quit their sin at any time, but Jesus said, “Whoever commits sin is the slave of sin” (JN 8:34).
Temptation forgets to mention that once a sin is committed, it will probably be repeated. Once you taste the pleasure of a sin, it is another ploy Satan can use in tempting you the next time. Unless the Holy Spirit intervenes and performs a miracle, committing a sin a second time is much easier than doing it once.
Every hardened habit that tyrannizes us can be traced to the committing of one act. The temptation that stood in front of us with a smile later comes behind us with a frown, as a slave driver with a whip. Even worse, the sin has to be increased to get the same amount of pleasure from it. Heavier doses are required.
Satan never asks for much up front. He makes sin look like a minor thing, a temporary matter, but once the seed is sown, the crop goes on and on. A man once wanted to buy some ground, but the owner refused to sell. The man finally entered a contract, which let him use the land “for one crop.” He sowed the field with acorns, and grew a crop of oak trees that lasted 300 years. Sin does the same thing to us. It sows a long-range crop.
Sin deceives by assuming false names. Sin loves to change its title. It seldom carries its true name. Every sin has a pretty name to be called by. Evil loves to wear silver slippers and walk in fine society. Men do not covet or rob God, they are thrifty. Party goers are not drunks and sots, they are relaxing. People do not cheat, they are shrewd. We do not speak of whore and whoremongers, we talk of romantic interludes. Children are assertive not rebellious.
Joseph stayed clean in Egypt because he knew what sin really was. He said to Potiphar’s wife, “How then can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?’ (GN 39:9). Sin is rebellion against God. Keep that ever in mind and you will head start in the battle against evil.
The false names cause us to forger that sin has something to do with God. It is much easier to commit evil when God is excluded form the deliberations. We often fail simply because we choose to ignore the question of right and wrong. We don’t even think of God. In that moment, He might as well not even exist.
Keep your heart soft. Listen to the Lord. Look to Jesus. Always judge sin in light of what it means to God. Plead with God intensely that He will always make you aware of His presence. Pray that sin will always be revealed to you for the monster against God it really is.
This is the great advantage, which the Bible gives us. It tells us exactly what sin is. The word of God arms us against sin by unmasking its deceitfulness. A major purpose of Scripture is to reveal the true character of sin.
This is a major reason why unbelief set in; we are susceptible to an obstinacy, which inclines us to disbelieve the plain precepts of God. The state of unbelief causes us to think that disobedience might be the best option for us.
The sinful distrust of God causes one’s thoughts to be poisoned toward God’s word. If you won’t believe providences, you won’t believe the Bible. Unbelief of God’s never ceasing care leads to unbelief of Scripture, resulting in a hardened disregard for the laws of the Supreme Being of the Universe.
Sin deceives by casting false blames. Once sin is in your life, it lies about who your friends really are. God and His people are suddenly blames of being your enemies.
Once a man begins to slide into sin, he withdraws himself from every one that might hint a reproach upon his conduct. He avoids good and spiritual people. If anyone tries to rebuke him, he gives a sharp look as if he is being insulted. He guards himself from anyone that might mention the difference between right and wrong. Such a one is counted a dangerous companion.
Even God Himself is counted an enemy. No sooner had Adam sinned than he tried to hide from his best Friend. The same sin that at first says, “God is all mercy,” later cackles, “God is all wrath.” Sin says you cannot be freed from your guilt.
Temptation causes you heart not to hear your conscience. The cries of conscience are drowned by howling hounds of passion in you. However, the instance they are quiet, gnawing the poisoned pleasure thrown to them, conscience screams with rage.
The revelry that led into the sin turns to repulsion. The thing looked fascinating and desirable, but once done, never to be undone, you get to see its backside, the hideous and threatening part.
This post-sin reaction is actually a blessing. It is God’s way of calling you back unto Himself. The devil, however, says the pain in your conscience is evidence that God does not want you back. Satan says there is no hope for you.
Sin never stops lying. It lies at the first, and lies at the end. Sin lies when dragging you down; it lies when trying to keep you down. It says you cannot turn from your sinful way. “You can never be happy, you can never be clean, and you can never be free from guilt.” Sin puts iron claws in you and holds you tight. It says you cannot escape, but you can. Grace is not exhausted. Our Father waits eagerly for the Prodigal’s return.