This past week, my daughter went with a couple of our church’s families out into the wilderness of Hocking Hills. They spent a couple days out there doing some hiking and spending some time together. It sounded like they had a lot of fun. When she got back she told us about how great a time she had.
Since we have never been to Hocking Hills, she, of course, told us a bit about it. One of the things she talked about were warning signs that were posted around that park, telling people to be careful. Someone told me that there are typically 3-4 deaths that occur there each year because people are not careful and they end up falling from the cliffs.
Well, as we read our passage this morning, we should really think that our faith is a lot like that. As we walk through the wilderness of this world, we need to remember that God calls us to walk the straight and narrow path of faith in Christ. And we need to recognize that our walk with Christ needs to be taken seriously.
Our passage is kind of like one of those signs at Hocking Hills. It is posted here as a warning, it is here to alert us to how important it is that we do not harden our hearts. That theme cannot be missed because it is repeated at least twice in our passage. So I want to consider with you this morning this whole hardness of heart thing. I want us to understand what it is and how we can prevent it.
Of course, if we are going to take heed to the warning against having a hard heart, we have to understand its nature, don’t we? If we do not know what it is, it might be a little hard to avoid it. So let’s think about this for a second. Let’s ask ourselves, “What is a hard heart?”
I. What is it?
Well, the first thing that can be said is that it is a spiritual thing.
A. It’s a spiritual thing
We are not talking about your physical heart. We are talking about your spiritual heart. We are talking about your soul’s sensitivity to God.
When you harden your heart you are refusing to listen to God. What happens is that we cause our soul to become less sensitive to God. Our spiritual ears, so to speak, become more and more deadened to the voice of God.
Think of clay when it hardens. When clay hardens it becomes very hard to mold and shape. Eventually you cannot sculpt it at all. But the point is that it becomes more and more resistant to the careful touch of the potter or sculptor.
That’s what happens with a hardened heart. Someone who hardens their heart is spiritually resistant to the tender voice of God.
But you’ll notice that it’s not just a spiritual thing, it is a voluntary thing.
B. It is voluntary thing
This is brought out repeatedly in our passage. Again and again it says, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.”
You’ll notice that the burden is on you. It is on the individual to whom God speaks. You are the one who is completely responsible here.
We’ve all heard about Pharaoh and how “God hardened his heart.” But let’s remember that Pharaoh hardened his own heart many times before. And it wasn’t like God was keeping from Pharaoh from anything he didn’t already want when he hardened Pharaoh’s heart. Pharaoh wanted his heart to be hard, so God let it happen.
And we need to understand that we can do the same thing. We can voluntarily harden our hearts by shutting our ears and resisting his call. We can be just like the little child who plugs his ears and says, “I can’t hear you! Naanananana!”
But notice that this is a deadly thing too.
C. It’s a deadly thing
If we are going to define a hardened heart, we cannot skip over this. Our passage goes to great lengths to emphasize this. We read it in verses 7-11 and in verses 16-19. Both of these sections deal with the people of the wilderness wandering. They were examples of people who hardened their hearts. And what happened to them? Both of these passages say that they all died. But more than that, they died not having the opportunity to enter into the promised land—the land of rest.
Now the land of Israel was a picture of what heaven. They were supposed to enter the promised land and have an eternal Sabbath, where they experienced nothing but rest. But that didn’t happen. Their hardness of heart—i.e. their refusal to believe and obey caused God to get angry. It provoked him, and so he killed them all off.
The writer of the book of Hebrews appeals to this to remind us of how important it is that we not harden our hearts. If we refuse to listen to the Lord and we plug our ears, then we will be just like them and we will not entering into the promised rest either.
So you see how serious this is. And you can understand why the author goes to great lengths to warn us against this.
But now that we know what it is, we can begin to think about how we prevent it.
II. How do you prevent it?
The great thing about this passage is that it helps us understand how we can prevent ourselves from developing a hard heart. And there are three things that it says we can do. The first thing we must do tis examine our hearts.
A. By examining your heart 
Look at verse 12. I want you to focus again on those first two words, “Take care” or “Take heed.”
In the original language this is one word. It is the Greek word blepo, which means “to look” or “to see.” It is kind of like saying, “Keep your eyes open, guys” or “Be on the lookout.” You might say, “Take care to keep your eyes peeled for an evil, unbelieving heart.”
This is the first key to preventing yourself from falling into apostasy. You are to be keeping a watchful eye up on your soul. You are to put yourself under the magnifying lens (so to speak) and examine yourself; to make sure your heart is not an evil and unbelieving heart. It’s because that kind of heart will lead you to fall away from the Living God.
Personal examination is the first line of defense when it comes to preventing apostasy. That’s because only you can really say, “Am I really being humble here? Am I submitting to God and receiving the truth that he has given? Or am I just stubbornly rejecting what is undeniably true?”
Over the last several weeks I’ve had a number of encounters with the various cults coming to my door. And one of the things that I’ve been having to say to them is explain the nature of true humility. Humility is being willing to admit you are wrong. Frequently people are not willing to do that, even when they are presented with the truth in a clear and undeniable way.
That’s the real amazing thing about a lot of people. The problem isn’t typically ignorance. The problem is the heart and one’s wiliness to accept the truth. A lot of people don’t lack knowledge. Usually they have perfect comprehension of it. They are intimately acquainted with the truth and could pass a test if they were quizzed on it. Their problem is the heart. They do not want to accept that truth.
That’s what’s going on here. That’s the problem these Hebrew Christians had, just like their forefathers in the faith, is that they are in danger of unbelief. It’s not that they don’t know the truth. It has been clearly set before them. The problem is that they don’t want to accept it.
That’s why you really have to pull back and examine yourself. You have to look at your heart and make sure that you are not rejecting it in your pig headed arrogance.
But not only must you examine your heart, but you must also exhort your brethren.
B. By exhorting your brethren 
Look at verse 13. It says, “Exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.”
What does this say we are to do? It says we are to “exhort one another.” How am I kept from being hardened by the deceitfulness of sin? It’s through each one of you calling me to put my faith in Christ. And how are you kept from becoming a crusty, hard hearted apostate? It is through your mutual encouragements of each other.
Think about clay, for instance. If you have ever worked with clay, you know that it can start to dry out if you leave it out. I’m told that, if that happens, all you have to do is add water. You are supposed to take a broomstick and push it down into the clay to make a cup like hole. Then fill it with water and leave it sit there overnight. The clay is supposed to absorb the water and, in so doing, become soft again.
That’s essentially what this is talking about here. Each of you need to be the springs of God’s word. You need to sprinkle God’s word on each other by exhorting one another daily. You are the means He uses to soften everyone else’s hearts and keep them from becoming hardened like that clay.
You need to do that too because if you don’t the deceitfulness of sin will have its way. I like that phrase “the deceitfulness of sin.” Think of it as trickery. Sin is always trying to trick you. Just like Snow White was tricked into eating that apple which ended up putting here into a deep sleep. Sin is trying to trick you and make you fall into a deep spiritual sleep so that you are not willing or able to listen to listen to God.
The worst part about it is that deceitfulness of sin is right inside your own chest! That’s why you need you need to be exhorting one another. Your exhortations and encouragements keep that heart in check
But there is one more thing. You not only need to examine your heart and exhort your brethren. You also need to hold to Christ.
C. By holding to Christ 
Look at verse 14. It says, “For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end.
Now, this is sometimes misconstrued to say that a person can lose their salvation. But that’s not what this is saying. It is saying that one of tell tale signs of a true Christian is that they hold fast their confidence and persevere in it all the way to the end. Someone who isn’t a true Christian won’t do that, will they? Of course not.
Really, this is making the distinction between those who profess Christ and those who possess Christ. Someone who possesses Christ in the heart will persevere to the end. Someone who merely professes Christ (and does not possess him) will end up falling away at some point.
But the point of this verse is this: We need to possess Christ. We need to hold to him and embrace him with greater vigor today than we did yesterday.
It says that we are a Christian if we hold our original confidence firm to the end. What I want you to do is zero in on that word “hold firm” (hold steadfast). The word is interesting. It has the idea of painstaking effort. As a matter of fact, the same word is used in the book of Acts (27:40) when describing the ship Paul was on in the storm. You remember that they dumped all their cargo and let loose all the anchors. Then they hoisted the sails and “made for the beach.” There was the bearing down on their course. They put in that direction with gusto.
That’s the idea here. We are to hold fast our confidence with gusto. We are to bear down and push in that direction with all the force that we can muster.
And this is the real mark of a true Christian. We hold to Christ alone and nothing else.
We are to cling to him and let nothing separate us from him, because he is the only thing that allows us eternal life.
These are the means God uses to keep us from falling away.
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Matt is blessed to be a husband, father, and pastor in Ashland, Ohio.