I have a book at home called "Basic Electricity". In addition to instruction regarding electricity, the book also contains warnings. If you work around electricity, you must learn how to survive. Heeding the warnings is a great way to enjoy the blessings of electricity and to increase your lifespan.
I have a book called the Bible...which I believe is God's inerrant, infallible word. I believe that my life will be judged by this Book. This book also contains warnings. Heeding the warnings is the only way to enjoy the blessings of God here in this life and to gain eternity with God in the life to come.
Not many people would question the authority or validity of the book on electricity.
ILLUS.-- I know a man who is an electrical "lineman". He works on the high power lines. He told me once of the strict adherence to the book that their work required. He said this was necessary because you seldom get the chance to make more than one mistake.
And I heard the stories about those who became careless or somewhat cocky or unteachable in their work on the lines.
Unfortunately, there are many people who would take the book on electricity and its warnings much more seriously than they would take the Bible and its warnings.
People question the authority of God's Word over every area of our lives. I have heard people say regarding some biblical truth, "I don't believe that"...as if by not believing it, I negate it as truth and avoid any accountability to God for obeying it.
This is the spirit of our age when it comes to truth and God's authority over every area of our lives. Our culture teaches us that we are the ones who must define what is to be believed, not some external authority.
So, I become the judge of what is to be believed or not believed. I define what is reality. The basis for this decision is human experience...not the teaching of the Bible or even the church.
However, the scriptures teach me that truth must come to me from an outside source because I cannot trust my heart to discern what is true and what is false. Therefore the Holy Spirit has spoken God's Word to us and the Holy Spirit has caused that Word to be written down by human agents.
When I interact with these words (Bible), I am not dealing with the knowledge and authority of some human author who writes a book on basic electricity. I am dealing with the Holy Spirit, with the Creator God, with Jesus the Living Word.
Thus, the warnings to not be foolish about our response to His Word. Thus the warning to hear His voice and to not harden my heart against Him and His truth. Thus the warning to not rebell and choose the path of disobedience.
If with great respect I approach electricity following very carefully the written instruction; would it be even wiser still to have far greater respect for God and His Word?
Let's listen to what the Holy Spirit says to us:
READ: VERSES 7-11
All the weight of these warnings rests on one little two letter word. The "IF" word.
"If you hear His voice...if you hold firm till the end..."
We often use the "if" word to procrastinate...to put something off until another day or time.
EXAMPLES - "If I have the time...If I'm not too tired...If I have the money...If everything goes well.."
The Holy Spirit uses the "IF" word to focus on today.
When the great evangelist D.L. Moody began his ministry, he would often conclude his messages by saying: "Go home and think about what I've said."
One night during a crusade in Chicago, he told the people to do just that. But that night the Chicago fire broke out and some who had heard and gone home to think about it died without another chance.
After that, Moody began to focus on NOW and TODAY.
That's what the Holy Spirit is saying in these scriptures. TODAY is the moment when God is speaking to your life.
TODAY, is important because when the Holy Spirit is speaking to you about your life, about salvation, or about obedience in some particular area of your life...that is the moment when your conscience is sensitive to God. When we ignore the Holy Spirit, when we put off decision and obedience for another time, when we say "no"....then hardness of heart begins to set in.
One "no" leads to another "no" and soon this pattern of responsiveness to God leads to hardness, stubbornness, and unwillingness to yield to God and surrender to His Voice as the Word speaks to us.
This hardening of the heart is proven by the behavior which God calls "rebellion". Our true heart condition is demonstrated by behavior.
Instead of just talking about hardness of the heart, unbelief, and rebellion in an abstract way; the Holy Spirit gives us a moment in history which we can use as a reference point for our own lives.
The rebellion referred to is that of Numbers 13 and 14 in which the Israelites refused to obey God in taking the land He had promised them. From this story we understand that "not obeying" God is called......REBELLION!
That sounds harsh. You mean, if I disobey God I am a rebel?
Well, examine the story account. We are not talking about spiritual novices here. We are not talking about people who knew nothing about God.
We are talking about life patterns that lead to hardness of heart. We are talking about doubting which led to complaining, which led to unbelief, which led to disobedience.
The Bible says that these people had tested God. What does that mean in this story? We know that there are different kinds of testing. Well, this testing was the the testing of stepping out in faith to obey God's Word. At times God tells us to test His promises, but He never tells us to test His commands! So the principle is: Test His promises and obey His commands!
The testing referred to in this story is the testing of repeated distrust. Distrust that led to disobedience. Look at how this spiritual pattern works:
Soon instead of God's mercy bringing repentance and obedience; His mercy is an excuse for going my own way and doing things my way instead of basing my life on what God has said. Then hardness sets in. Then judgment comes. And, as with Israel, even though they cried and repented, even though God forgave them; the consequences were irreversible!
READ: Romans 2:4-11
These people had experienced blessing after blessing from God's hand. God had seen them through crisis times. God had wrought miracles on their behalf.
But after each blessing they were satsified only for a brief time. Then they started to complain and doubt God. Then they wanted more proof.
Unbelief never has enough proof, and asking for more proof is simply a pretext, an excuse for not believing and for disobeying.
The Holy Spirit uses this story to warn us: "Don't make excuses like they did. Don't harden your hearts toward God like they did. Don't go down the path of disobedience like they did choosing to rebel against God's authority.
If you do this, you will lose your opportunity; you will lose blessings God has for you, and you will bring consequences upon yourself for which there will be no escape.
EXAMPLE: - Some of you have grown up in homes where the blessing of God has kept your family together. If it wasn't for Jesus, some of your parents would not be in God's family today and you might have been raised in an atmosphere of addiction, immorality, and shame.
God has seen you through and brought you to the edge of your promised land...the life that God has designed for you. You can harden your heart and rebel only to wander in a tragic wilderness...OR...you can believe, obey, and enter into the future God has prepared for you.
Sometimes people say, "Well, I just need more proof..." When the real need is to repent of our sins and commit ourselves to Jesus.
When we resist God today, we do the same as the Israelites. We "put Him off" for some other day because we love our sin, love our own way, and love our plans too much to give it all up for God.
This is the great sin of unbelief. It is an offense against God and an indictment against ourselves.
Thus the Holy Spirit is saying to everyone who hears God's Word: "Respond to Jesus while your heart is still warmed and softened by His truth, while it is still sensitive. Respond to His loving kindness and His tender mercies which are designed to bring you to repentance. Respond, before hardness sets in and you begin to ignore God's voice and follow your own heart, and thus bring wrath upon yourself.
READ: VERSES 12-18
"See to it"..."Take heed"..."Therefore beware" See to your heart. Watch your heart's condition. Look at the spiritual choices you make and that will give you an idea of your heart's condition. This is not an emotional matter but a behavioral one.
The Holy Spirit warns about an evil heart of unbelief. This is a diseased heart. A heart filled with a dis-ease that only Jesus can heal.
This dis-ease is the condition of many hearts today. It is the condition of the hearts of some who call themselves Christians. This dis-ease is the condition of a heart not trusting in and not resting in Jesus.
Such a heart is turned away from God and turned toward this world and its offerings. The words "turns away" in verse 12 mean "to stand off from".
This is a relational word. If I "stand off from" you...I am keeping my distance...I don't want to get too close.
People with this condition sit in church pews every Sunday!
They have a form of godliness...but in their life style and daily choices they stand off from Jesus, from God's Word, from the Holy Spirit, and from Christ's Lordship.
I call these people "Cultural Christians". Sin's deceitfulness and trickery has invaded their lives. They don't think Biblically in running their lives...they think culturally.
They are interested in self improvement and self fulfillment, self enhancement, self esteem, etc.
But, human improvement is NOT our mission and message as the church of Jesus Christ. Human salvation IS our mission and message.
Why am I making this distinction? Because cultural Christianity has become a way of life for many people who claim to belong to Jesus...but they are really standing far off from Him while they run their own lives according to the dictates of self, according to the popular cultural trends, according to what looks wise in their own eyes.
And the result is their souls are filled with the same dis-ease that characterizes our age.
A good prayer for all of us:
"Holy Spirit, show me how my culture intrudes into my lifestyle and my thinking. Show me how my culture affects my capacity for truth, my desire for God, and my obedience to God. Show me and then change me!" In our culture, prayer, the Bible, the church, truth, Biblical spirituality, etc are irrelevant. They are irrelevant because they are not seen as efficient or expedient. They are not seen as practical or as enhancing the quality of life.
Technoloy is good because it makes life more efficient. Prayer is not a technological efficient use of time; it is not seen as practical to our technological age. Thus our culture pulls us more and more into a material world and thus we "stand off" from the spiritual world. This is why "stress seminars" attract more people than "prayer meetings", or a "Money management and growth" seminar is more appealing than a seminar on "Understanding God's Word."
David Wells warns that "the hand that gives so generously in the material realm also takes away devastatingly in the spiritual."
Apply this with your own family. The more time, energy, and priority you put in to trying to give them the best of this world....means the less time, energy, and priority on what we can give them of the spiritual.
We want our children to have the benefits and opportunities of our generation...but at what price? Jesus knew we would face this, so He told us how to stay on course: "Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness...and all these other things shall be added unto you."
You might be thinking: "But didn't you teach in a previous lesson that God understands the pressures of our lives? Doesn't God understand my time, energy, and money pressures?" Yes, He does and that is one of the reasons Matthew 6:33 is in the Bible. God does understand and He has given us His Word to guide us in our use of time, energy, and money. Life's pressures are reduced amazingly when we choose to put God first and obey God first.
However, when we do like the Israelites and follow our own hearts, then at some point we begin to "stand off from" God and His church. At some point we begin to seek what we want for self or our family first and then we try to fit God in because, after all, we are still Christians in contrast to our partying, drinking neighbors.
These temptations are not strange to any of us here. Your heart and mine is often tempted to go astray. We know how deceitful backsliding can be.
Some go astray from Jesus...they stand off from Jesus...but they stay in the organized church. They just harden their hearts against God's ways, against the Spirit's moving, against the Lord's commands. Instead of sanctification...they embrace rationalization.
The result is a hardened heart---a will no longer stimulated by the desires of God, a mind set on selfish comforts, emotions addicted to quick fixes and easy conveniences. And mockery and ridicule of those who want to and try to draw near to Jesus.
Others go astray from Jesus and they walk out the door. Bitterness, resentment, and criticism fills their hearts. Or the desires of sin and deceitfulness of sin entices them away from Jesus. Either way, they have turned from the Living God.
These scriptures are clearly a call to examine our hearts. Examine your reasons for following Jesus. If you are ready to give up on Jesus, these scriptures are a warning to you. If you are facing trials that test your faith, these scriptures encourage you to draw closer to Jesus instead of pulling way from Him and choosing disobedience.
If you are tempted to put off your spiritual need for some other time...these scriptures warn of the dangers of foolish choices...and they encourage us to not miss what God has for us...to not make light of the spiritual opportunities He sets before us.
Later in Hebrews 10:25 the Holy Spirit tells us, "Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another -- and all the more as you see the Day approaching."
This warning speaks about lost spiritual opportunities.
Why do we pass off lightly lost spiritual opportunities, but despair over lost opportunities to make money?
Our heart condition and our need is exposed!
Is it any wonder that the warning is repeated twice? Verse 15 "As has just been said..."
Do not harden your hearts. Do not harden your hearts.
People need this warning. Churches need this warning!
It is shocking to see churches refuse to enter into what God has for them...to see churches make decisions based on "business sense", or political expediency rather than on spiritual truth.
The tragedy is to see people and churches who have settled for ceaseless wandering, no rest, no peace, led by unbelief instead of faith...because they stood off from God's will; they chose disobedience; they chose hardness; they chose to refuse God's opportunities. They chose unbelief which leads to disobedience, for when I choose to NOT believe God's commands and promises, then I excuse myself from obeying.
God says that this is serious business. The judgment of 40 years of wandering and dying in the wilderness tells us just how serious this is to God. Our need is to embrace God's antidote which is:
The IF word:
"IF you hold firmly to the end..."
"IF you do not harden your heart..."
Other sermons by Pastor John.