Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end. As it is said, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.”
This has been a week of great upheaval in the Middle East. And such events should serve as a warning to us that the day will come sooner or later when the hostility of man will not be containable by human force. It will burst the dam of restraint and flood to your very door. And the most urgent question for all the followers of Jesus Christ will be: Will our faith in Jesus endure? Or will we give way to fear and unbelief and anger and vengeance?
The prophet Daniel describes a time when one of the rulers of the last days “will speak words against the Most High, and shall wear out the saints of the Most High” (Daniel 7:25). And in the book of Revelation, John describes the time like this: “If anyone is to be taken captive, to captivity he goes; if anyone is to be slain with the sword, with the sword must he be slain. Here is a call for the endurance and faith of the saints” (Revelation 13:10).
The crucial question for you in these days — and those days — is “will you endure?” Will your faith bear up under the assaults that are coming? Or will you be “worn out” and give up the faith and join the unbelieving illusion of safety? This is the question of perseverance, the question of eternal security, and the question of today’s message.
“You and I are essential in helping each other persevere to the end in faith.”
We are in a series of messages that reaches back over the last thirty years or so and tries to identify some of our defining truths — thirty-year theological trademarks, biblical touchstones, doctrines or emphases that have shaped what Bethlehem is for these last three decades. The aim is to show that they are wonderfully designed for launching the next season, not landing the past season. The transition we are in is not mainly consummation, but preparation. That’s what these truths imply.
A Doctrine of Urgent Application
The doctrine we are talking about today goes by different names and has an urgent and practical application to our life together. Some call it the doctrine of eternal security. And some call it the doctrine of perseverance. And the practical application is that, whichever you call it, the process is a community project. That is, you and I are essential in helping each other persevere to the end in faith, and not make shipwreck of our souls. Or, as the title of the message says, “Eternal Security Is a Community Project.”
The signature text that we have returned to many times over these decades is Hebrews 3:12–15. So I think it would be helpful to sketch a three-point theology of perseverance on the basis of these four verses, and their implications for your life. And then, I will show the wider basis for this in Scripture, its relation to the cross of our Lord Jesus, and close with some practical applications to your life in families and shepherd groups.
Persevere in Faith
Hebrews 3:12: “Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God.” This is a clear call to all believers (“brothers”) to persevere in faith. Not to give way to unbelief. Not to “wear out.” It’s a call to endure. To last, to keep the faith to the end. “Don’t let your heart become evil, and unbelieving. Don’t fall away from the living God.” This is a real danger spoken to the church. Those who blow it off because your doctrine of eternal security won’t allow it, are in the most danger.
Exhort One Another
Hebrews 3:13: “But [in contrast to giving way to a heart of unbelief] exhort one another every day, as long as it is called ‘today,’ that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.” Then in verse 15 he does what he tells us to do. He gives such an exhortation from Psalm 95:7: “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.”
So point two is that one of the essential means of not becoming hardened — the protection against an evil heart of unbelief — is the other believers around you speaking faith-sustaining words into your life — your family, your friends, your shepherd group. “Exhort one another every day.” That is, speak words of faith-sustaining truth into each other’s lives. Paul said in Ephesians 4:29, “Only let out of your mouth what is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.”
So the second point of this theology of perseverance is that God has designed his church so that its members endure to the end in faith by means of giving and receiving faith-sustaining words from each other. You and I are the instruments by which God preserves the faith of his children. Perseverance is a community project. Just like God is not going to evangelize the world without human, faith-awakening voices, neither is he going to preserve his church without human faith-sustaining voices. And clearly from the words, “exhort one another” (verse 13), it means all of us, not just preachers. We depend on each other to endure in faith to the end.
Evidence of the New Birth
Verse 14: Exhort each other, and help each other hold onto your confidence, “For [because] we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end.” This is one of the most important verses in the book of Hebrews, because it establishes that if a person has come to share in Christ, that person will most certainly persevere to the end in faith. Look at the logic and the verb tenses carefully. Everything hangs on this.
“Perseverance is the evidence that you truly belong to Christ.”
Verse 14: “We have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end.” Notice, he does not say, “if we hold our confidence to the end,” which means that enduring to the end doesn’t get you a share in Christ. It proves you already had a share in Christ. Perseverance is the evidence of being born again in Christ, not the means to it.
Or to put the same point negatively: If you don’t hold your confidence in Christ to the end, what would it show? It would show that you “had not come to share in Christ.” So the negative of verse 14 would read, “We have not come to share in Christ, if indeed we do not hold our original confidence firm to the end.”
So you see what this implies about eternal security? It says: if you have come to share in Christ — that is, if you are born again, if you are truly converted, if you are justified and forgiven through saving faith — you cannot fail to persevere. You will hold your confidence in Christ to the end.
The logic is identical with 1 John 2:19: “They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us” (1 John 2:19). “If they had been of us, they would have continued with us,” is the same as “If you truly share in Christ, you will hold your confidence to the end.”
So here’s the summary of our three-point theology of perseverance.
Don’t let your heart become evil and unbelieving, because if you do, you will fall away from the living God and perish forever.
As a means to protecting each other from such an evil heart of unbelief speak sin-defeating, faith-sustaining words into each other’s lives every day.
This warning and this exhortation is not because a person who truly belongs to Christ can be lost, but because perseverance is the evidence that you truly belong to Christ. If you fall away, you show that you never truly shared in Christ. And God will never let this happen to those who have shared in Christ.
“Those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified” (Romans 8:30). This means: Between eternity past in God’s predestination, and eternity future in God’s glorification, none is lost. No one who is predestined for sonship fails to be called. And no one who is called fails to be justified. And no one who is justified fails to be glorified. This is an unbreakable steel chain of divine covenant faithfulness.
And so Paul says, “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6). “He will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord” (1 Corinthians 1:8–9). These are the promises of our God who cannot lie. Those who are born again are as secure as God is faithful.
How Is Our Security Connected to the Cross?
And what is the connection between this security — this promised perseverance — and the cross of our Lord Jesus? Just before Jesus shed his blood for sinners, he lifted up the cup at the last supper and said in Luke 22:20, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.” What that means is that the new covenant, promised most explicitly in Jeremiah 31 and 32, was secured and sealed by the blood of Jesus. The new covenant comes true because Jesus died to establish it.
“If you are persevering in faith today, you owe it to the blood of Jesus.”
And what does the new covenant secure for all who belong to Christ? Perseverance in faith to the end. Listen to Jeremiah 32:40: “I will make with them an everlasting covenant, that I will not turn away from doing good to them. And I will put the fear of me in their hearts, that they may not turn from me.” The everlasting covenant — the new covenant — includes the unbreakable promise: “I will put the fear of me in their hearts, that they may not turn from me.” They may not. They will not. Christ sealed this covenant with his blood. He purchased your perseverance.
If you are persevering in faith today, you owe it to the blood of Jesus. The Holy Spirit, who is working in you to preserve your faith, honors the purchase of Jesus. God the Spirit works in us what God the Son obtained for us. The Father planned it. Jesus bought it. The Spirit applies it — all of them infallibly. God is totally committed to the eternal security of his blood-bought children.
The Necessity of Community in the Certainty of Security
This leads us now to this one point of application. God has united the certainty of security with the necessity of community. Hebrews 3:13: “Exhort one another every day, as long as it is called ‘today,’ that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.” Eternal security is a community project. Or we can now say blood-bought eternal security is a blood-bought community project.
That may sound as though it were fragile, since our communal life is always imperfect. But it is not fragile. It is no more fragile than the sovereign ability of God to bring others into your life and to send you into theirs. God will sovereignly preserve all who belong to Christ. And he will do it through the faith-sustaining ministry of other believers.
About three-fourths of the adults in this church are married. That means that God — not man (“what God has joined together”) — has already put you in households designed for this very thing — the daily faith-sustaining, sin-defeating ministry of the word to each other: husbands and wives, parents and children.
Let me give you some examples of this means for husbands and wives.
Love your wife sacrificially and cherish her as a reflection of the love of Christ for the church (Ephesians 5:25, 29). It will sustain her faith to see this.
Be alert to and discern your wife’s spiritual, emotional, relational, and physical needs, and make the effort to meet those needs — directly or indirectly (Hebrews 3:12–13; 1 Peter 3:7).
Seek to build up your wife with biblical knowledge, through your own words, and by your encouragement and help in connecting her with the teaching ministries provided by the church (John 8:32; Ephesians 4:25–30).
Encourage and help your wife engage in ministry at church and in the world (Proverbs 31:20; Ephesians 4:11–12, 1 Timothy 5:9–10).
Be alert to your husband’s spiritual condition and pray earnestly for him (1 Samuel 25:1–35; Hebrews 3:12–13).
Encourage your husband by affirming evidences of grace in his life (Romans 15:2; Ephesians 4:29; Hebrews 10:24–25). It will sustain his faith to hear this.
Support him in all his leadership efforts, and be responsive to every effort he makes to lead spiritually (Ephesians 5:21–24; 1 Peter 3:1–6).
Share from your life and your meditation the things God is teaching you about Christ and his ways (Romans 15:13–14; 1 Thessalonians 4:18).
Join him in serious conversation with respect and wisdom (Proverbs 31:26; Romans 15:2; 1 Thessalonians 5:11).
Suggest to him people and resources that may be of help to him (Genesis 2:18; Proverbs 31:12; Acts 20:32). No one knows him like you know him.
Humbly and hopefully help him be aware of unhelpful habits or sins you may see in his life (Hebrews 3:12-13; James 5:16). We are seeking to do Hebrews 3:13 for each other.
“Eternal security is a family project.”
I know this assumes that you are both believers, and that you are both willing. And I know that’s not true of every married couple. But it is what God calls us to pray toward and move toward for the sake of our spouses and our children’s perseverance in faith. The staff and elders have dreams of how we can help you do better for each other. Eternal security is a family project.
No Substitute for the Church
A final word to all of us, to the single and the married. God did not design marriage to replace the church. He didn’t design families to replace friendships. Every married man needs believing men in his life. Every married woman needs other believing women in her life. The young people need other young people. And single people need married people and single people in their lives. Families are not substitutes for any of these relationships.
The blood-bought church of Christ is the new, supernatural family. Single people, married people, old and young, rich and poor, every ethnicity find brothers and sisters here. Marriage is temporary. Parenting is temporary. But the church — the new family — is eternal.
Shepherd groups at Bethlehem are simply a way of being intentional about being this kind of family in obedience to Hebrews 3:13: “Exhort one another every day, as long as it is called ‘today,’ that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.” So I encourage you: let us help you find one. Or start one. God will help you love and be loved like this. He aims to keep his children. It is an awesome privilege to be his instrument.