Community Requires Accountability
Passage: Hebrews 3:12-14
This is week 5 in our series “Christ-Centered Community.” Remember that the purpose of this series is to explain our commitment to biblical fellowship and to challenge us to do fellowship well.
I began the series with three messages that were intended to challenge how we think about the church. Sometimes we may think that church is just part of my weekly schedule, a time to see friends, or sadly a necessary evil to keep God off my back.
Therefore, we began in 1 John 1 with the fact that “Christ Creates Community” through the gospel. Christ binds us together. The second week we saw in Ephesians 2–3 the incredible role the church plays in God’s eternal purpose. For all of its faults, the church is still a beautiful creation of God. And the 3rd week, we saw in 1 Corinthians 12 that the church is an interdependent body. You need the church, and the church needs you.
With the rest of the series I want to look at some practical requirements of healthy fellowship. We began last week with the fact that “Community Requires Christian Love.” We looked at 1 Corinthians 13:4–7 where Paul addresses a number of practical challenges to biblical love. We saw that love is selfless, gracious, faithful, and hopeful. I really emphasized the compassion we need to extend to each other.
But I hope we all understand that true love can’t just be gracious. Take parenting for example. The parent who doesn’t discipline isn’t loving his child; he is setting him up for failure. And the NT teaches that the same basic principle is true in the church. Of course, the church doesn’t exercise the same kind of control a parent does, but we don’t hold each other accountable and sometimes express tough love, we don’t actually love at all.
Therefore, my title today is “Community Requires Accountability,” and I’d like us to see this truth from Hebrews 3:12–14.
The first truth that stands out in this text is…
The stakes of spiritual warfare are very high.
Hebrews indicates that some of original readers were really struggling. These Jews had believed on Christ and become Christians. However, they were contemplating returning to Judaism because they were being persecuted for their Christian faith. Therefore, the primary purpose of Hebrews is to urge them not to make such a foolish and spiritually dangerous decision. Notice the warning in vv. 7–11.
These verses quote from Psalm 95, and they reference a story in Numbers 14. Israel sent 12 spies into Canaan before invading the land. 10 of the spies reported that the Canaanites were too strong for Israel to defeat them. The people lost faith, they turned on Moses, and they planned to appoint a new leader who would take them back to Egypt.
God was angry, and he declared that everyone 20+ years old (except for Joshua and Caleb) would not be allowed to enter the land and receive the promise of God. Hebrews uses this story to warn the readers. If they forsook Christ and returned to Judaism, they would also miss God’s promise. And in light of the whole testimony of Hebrews this can’t simply be a loss of blessing. They would miss out on eternal life.
This is very clear in a similar warning in 10:26–31. There is just no way you can take that language as describing a mere loss of rewards. If the Hebrews rejected Christ, they would face God’s wrath.
Now, I’m not saying they would lose their salvation because the Scriptures are clear that…
All true believers will persevere and inherit eternal life.
Romans 8 makes this abundantly clear (vv. 29–30). According to v. 29, God has predestined or determined that every believer will be conformed to the image of Christ. And v. 30 says that everyone he justifies will be glorified.
Some would respond, “Sure, God won’t let go of me, but couldn’t a believer let go of God when life gets hard?” Paul thought you might ask (vv. 35–39). God is clear that we are conquerors through Christ and that he will protect our faith through every challenge. What a blessing it is to rest in these promises.
I just love the song “He Will Hold Me Fast.” It begins by saying, “When I fear my faith will fail.” Most of us know that feeling. Life and temptation are tough, and I am weak. But “Christ will hold me fast.” And the verse concludes by saying, “He must hold me fast” because I can’t. It is a great comfort to be able to rest in God’s promise that he will preserve his people.
As such, the Scriptures teach that as a general rule, God wants his people to be assured of their salvation and to live with confidence knowing they have eternal life.
And so if you struggle with doubts about your standing with God, I really want to talk with you because a healthy Christian experience is grounded in assurance of my standing with God. In sum, God knows who his children are, and he promises to keep them and to bring them to heaven. But our text is clear that the divine perspective does not negate my obligation to persevere in the faith and to help others do the same.
This is because…
Sin is deceitful and hardening (v. 13b).
God says we need to watch out for each other because of the very real danger that “any of you be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.” Have you ever considered the fact that sin is always illogical? Think of the Israelites in the wilderness. They had Almighty God on their side, so they had no reason to fear the Canaanites. But they let fear deceive them into thinking they should return to Egypt and to slavery.
And so often we do the same thing. We let passion or fear overwhelm our vision of God. We are deceived, and we do something stupid and sinful. It really is remarkable how deceiving sin is.
But not only that, it is hardening. Every time you commit a sin, it’s easier to do it the next time. Eventually, you grow hardened, and you may even convince yourself that God approves. It’s amazing how often people who know the Bible will actually say things like, “God wants me to leave my wife for another woman,” and they really believe it. They have become so hardened that they can’t see reality anymore.
And when sin begins to harden the heart, v. 12 states that…
Sin leads people away from God (v. 12b).
It is very important that we recognize how wicked unbelief is in this context because sometimes we see as innocent. God says that unbelief comes from “an evil heart.” Notice as well how God describes Israel’s lack of faith in the wilderness (vv. 8–10). Israel’s unbelief was a rejection of God’s promises.
That’s not to say that we shouldn’t be compassionate or patient with people who doubt. The NT actually commands us to be patient with them. And if you are struggling with doubts, we want to help you work through them and give you biblical answers.
But at the same time, this passage is clear that unbelief is never innocent. When someone rejects the truth of God, they are saying that I know better than God. And so I would also say to anyone who is struggling with doubt that while there is nothing wrong with asking legitimate questions, allowing doubts to just spin in your mind is ultimately sinful. And you need to confess it as sin, drive those doubts out, and trust what God says because “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge” (Prov 1:7).
Therefore, the author warns the Hebrews, “Do not allow the lure of an easier life or some temporary pleasure begin to deceive your heart, harden your heart and ultimately lead you down a path where as v. 12 states you “depart from the living God.” And this is not just a simple lapse in judgment. The Greek verb here is the word from which we get the term apostasy. The author is warning them to be very careful that they not reject Christ.
He is very direct because v. 14 implies…
Failure to persevere will result in eternal punishment (v. 14).
The contrast in this verse is pretty incredible. The first statement is a powerful statement regarding a Christian’s standing with God. We are “partakers of Christ.” In other words a Christians shares in all of the blessings of Christ.
But the second part of the verse puts a condition on this standing. We are only partakers of Christ if our original faith continues to the end. Paul uses a grammatical construction that indicates a condition that most likely will occur but not necessarily. We can see this all around us. Most people who believe on Christ continue in their faith. They may go through some low points, but they always get up and continue to believe and obey. But sadly, it’s not always true. I’ve known several people who started well but ultimately walked away from Christ. They stopped believing the Bible, and they stopped obeying what it says.
Does that mean they lost their salvation? Absolutely not! This verse doesn’t say they lost it; it only says perseverance indicates they are partakers. As well the Bible is clear that all who are truly saved will continue in the faith and make it to glory. Therefore, if someone fails to persevere, it is a sign that they were never truly born again. Therefore, from the divine perspective, God knows who are his, and he will not lose any of them.
But the challenge for us is that we don’t have the same perspective. We can make educated guesses, but we don’t know with certainty who among us is truly born again and who is just going through the motions.
And so the stakes of spiritual warfare are very high. Again everything is settled on the divine side, and I certainly don’t earn salvation by persevering. Salvation is by grace, but from a human perspective, I must persevere or I will not be in heaven. The stakes are high.
This brings me to the second major truth in this passage.
I must humbly guard my own spiritual health (v. 12a).
The fact is that we all want to live a secure life. We want to know that the bills are going to get paid, that my family loves me, and that life will be good. The same is true spiritually. We want to know that we are secure with God. And the NT tells us over and over that God wants us to be secure. Security is a good thing, but only as long as it is based in reality. We all know that a false security is very dangerous. If I I leave my car unlocked with my wallet on the dash, that’s a foolish security because it’s not realistic.
And folks, there are few things more spiritually dangerous than a false sense of spiritual security. Think of Peter at the Last Supper. He proudly declared, “Even if all are made to stumble because of You, I will never be made to stumble” (Matt 26:33). And what happened just a few hours later? Therefore, v. 12 says “Beware, brethren…”
I want to urge you to…
Beware of the deceitfulness of sin.
First Corinthians 10:12 warns, “Let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall.” You need to understand that you are not above spiritual failure. Satan is the master deceiver, and Jeremiah 17:9 says that your “heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked.”
I’ve seen it too many times. People convince themselves that a lie of Satan is actually true. They really believe the pleasure of a mistress can outlast the joy of a committed, godly spouse and loving children. Or they believe that the temporary relief of drugs and alcohol is better than Christ. Everyone around them can see how foolish they are being, but they can’t see it, and they go down a path of sin until they are hardened and deceived. Do not let yourself go down that path. Lean on the grace of God every day. Be vigilant, stay in the Word and walk in obedience. Don’t tolerate any sin lest it begin to deceive you.
In this particular context, I especially want to urge you to…
Lean on the Christian community (10:24–25).
Do you realize that every day, you are barraged with lies from your sin nature, the world, and demonic powers? You are constantly being told to pursue temporary pleasure and that man knows better than God. And those messages can very quietly begin to deceive our hearts.
This is why God commands us to stay in close fellowship with the church. We need each other speaking truth into our lives. And sometimes we need someone to say, “Hey, stop being an idiot. You are being deceived.” This is what it means that we are “exhorting one another” daily.
That’s why you need to be in church consistently because every time we worship, we turn our attention to God, and we are reminded that we aren’t alone. But “exhorting one another” requires a lot more than sitting quietly through a 75-minute service once a week. It requires significant relationships where we allow others to see what is going on in our hearts and where we can see what is going on in theirs.
I don’t mean you have to dump your garbage on someone all the time. But is anyone close enough to you that they could tell if something is off? Do you give people that opportunity?
Don’t try to live the Christian life on your own. Pulling away from the body is like a soldier running onto the battlefield alone. He is so vulnerable. Folks, one of the most important means of grace that God has given you for living the Christian life is the church. Take advantage. Lean on your brothers and sisters.
And so the stakes of spiritual warfare are very high, and because of that, I must humbly guard my own spiritual health. The third truth is…
I must guard the spiritual health of my brothers and sisters.
Of course this is where this passage really ties into our series on fellowship.
You must beware of Satan’s attacks against your brothers and sisters (v. 12).
This verse is primarily saying that I need to watch myself, but based on v. 13, it is also fair to say that I need to watch out for my brothers and sisters. This is so important, because as I said earlier, sin is terribly deceitful. Like I’ve said over and over today, we all so easily let our passions and fears cloud our vision. We get angry about something, and the world is ending. Or we want something so desperately that we lose sight of God’s demands.
We have to watch for this in our own hearts, but we also have to watch for it in each other. We need to cultivate a sort of caring watchfulness where we are sensitive to signs that someone may be struggling and thinking unbiblically.
Now, you may say, “I don’t want to be nosy.” That’s good, because no one likes a nosy person. So what is the difference between being nosy and properly watching out for signs of spiritual struggle? The primary difference is motive. A nosy person isn’t really concerned for the other person; he is just concerned to satisfy his own curiosity and oftentimes to have a juicy story to tell over coffee.
Therefore, a nosy person typically forces himself into people’s lives without any regard for the other person. That’s not love, and it’s not edifying; it’s irritating. So how do we watch for each other’s souls in a way that is helpful and edifying instead of frustrating.
First, we need to cultivate loving relationships where people know that we care about them and because of that they trust us.
This is so important. If someone confronts me or starts asking probing questions, and I don’t know that they have my best interest at heart, then I’m naturally going to get defensive. Why is this person being nosy? But if that person has clearly established that they care about me and are on my side, I am much more likely to be open and honest. And so if you want to impact people in their time of need, then live a consistently loving life.
Second, be careful with information.
There have been many times that I have sat across a table from someone who is blabbering away about other people, and in my mind, I am making a mental note. “I better not ever share anything with that person because I can’t be confident it will stay with them.” It’s very sad when someone loses ministry opportunity because they can’t be trusted.
My pastor in MI pounded into our heads that people’s information is a valuable treasure and proper (because there is improper) confidentiality is essential to ministry. And that’s not just true for pastors. You need to have a very tight filter on what you say about other people’s problems.
Third, be alert to common signs of a spiritual struggle.
In particular, be alert to changes in someone’s habits, their demeanor, or their speech. On of the most obvious changes is a drop in church attendance. If you notice that someone used to be at church every week, but now they are here once a month, your antennae ought to go up, and you probably should ask. You might find out about a health challenge or some other practical need you can help meet, or you might pick a spiritual scab that needs treatment.
But there are many other signs that often show themselves. Someone who used to be happy and at ease in conversation begins to always look downcast, or they become very guarded in how they talk. Or someone who used to be encouraging and God-focused in how they talk suddenly is very negative and critical. And again, that doesn’t mean this person is flirting with apostasy. Maybe they just had a tough week, but it might be more. Regardless, they probably need some encouragement.
This brings us to v. 13, which says…
You must encourage your brothers and sisters to stand fast.
When you find out that there is a need, God commands you here to exhort them. Or I think we could add that if you aren’t in a position to do so, then find someone who is to do the exhorting. If your motive is love, that’s not gossip; it is finding legitimate aid.
It’s important to note that the Greek verb here covers a wide variety of exhortations. It can mean anything from a soft word of encouragement to a direct and strong confrontation. What we choose depends on the situation 1 Thess 5:14). We need to be sensitive to what is helpful, and then we need to do it.
This is because if someone is being deceived by sin, his soul is potentially at stake (Jude 22–23). If someone is headed toward a fire, you can’t just stand back and hope he stops or hope that someone else notices and does something about it. You’ve got to snatch them out.
That’s a really hard step for many people to take. We see signs someone struggling, but we don’t want look nosy. Or maybe we are afraid that if we tell someone what he really needs to hear, he might get angry and turn his back on us. And so we don’t say anything at all, or we say something so gently that we don’t really make the point that needs to be made.
I understand these kinds of things can be tough. Oftentimes people who are really struggling spiritually don’t respond in the Spirit when they are confronted. But if I let my own comfort or something lousy excuse like I am busy, keep me from saying what needs to be said, I am disobeying God, and I am being terribly selfish. If you see a concern, don’t turn a blind eye and hope someone else deals with. No, God commands you to see that it is addressed. Be bold and be a friend (Prov 27:6).
Now, sometimes you might need help with that. Maybe you just aren’t equipped to deal with an issue, or maybe you don’t have much of a relationship with the person in whom you see a problem. That’s where the church can be a great help. Let a pastor or a deacon know, so that we can help.
Of course, if someone is really in sin and won’t change, then the church has to get involved. Jesus taught in Matthew 18 that if a person will not respond to confrontation the church must ultimately discipline that person out of the body for his own good and the good of the church.
That’s a sad step, but if we all live this passage out and we are caring well for each other, we can stop most problems before they get that bad. Folks, I can’t overstate the significance of spiritual war. What a blessing it is to know that God is on the throne, and he will be faithful to his people? But we are also responsible. And so watch your own soul. Do not let the deceitfulness of sin begin to lead you down a path of death. And let other people watch your soul also because the church is a gift of grace. And then lets be faithful about watching out for each other. Let’s show love and earn trust, and then lets use that trust to minister effectively.