Studies in Hebrews Part 4: Good and Evil Fear

Hebrews 3:12-4:13
12 Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. 13 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. 14 For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end. 15 As it is said,

“Today, if you hear his voice,
do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.”

16 For who were those who heard and yet rebelled? Was it not all those who left Egypt led by Moses?17 And with whom was he provoked for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the wilderness?18 And to whom did he swear that they would not enter his rest, but to those who were disobedient?19 So we see that they were unable to enter because of unbelief.

Therefore, while the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us fear lest any of you should seem to have failed to reach it. 2 For good news came to us just as to them, but the message they heard did not benefit them, because they were not united by faith with those who listened. 3 For we who have believed enter that rest, as he has said,

“As I swore in my wrath,
‘They shall not enter my rest,’”

although his works were finished from the foundation of the world.4 For he has somewhere spoken of the seventh day in this way:

“And God rested on the seventh day from all his works.”5 And again in this passage he said,

“They shall not enter my rest.”

6 Since therefore it remains for some to enter it, and those who formerly received the good news failed to enter because of disobedience,7 again he appoints a certain day, “Today,” saying through David so long afterward, in the words already quoted,

“Today, if you hear his voice,
do not harden your hearts.”

8 For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken of another day later on. 9 So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, 10 for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his.

11 Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience. 12 For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. 13 And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.

Last time we examined the subject of God’s rest. We saw that God’s rest means God has completed the work of saving His people from the just penalty for their sins. Once Christ had offered His body to God at the cross as a sacrifice for His people’s sins, God had finished doing everything He needed to do to save His people. This is why Christ could say, “It is finished.” We saw that His rest brings peace to His people; peace from the hostility that once existed between themselves and God, as well as peace from the shame that once drove them to place confidence in the flesh.

We also saw how the author parallels this peace with an illustration from Numbers 13. There, in Numbers 13, we saw how the Hebrew slaves failed to enter into the rest God had promised them in a land flowing with milk and honey, because of their unbelief. We saw it had been both fear and shame that had motivated and driven that unbelief; how, rather than seeing themselves as giants in the Lord, they instead saw themselves as grasshoppers.

We didn’t have time to get far into this fear aspect last time, so this is what we are going to do today. And though we are going to be using the same passage we used last time, we are going to use the text previous to the one we used last time. Our text last time was verse 13. This week it is going to be verse 12.

Hebrews 4:12 For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.

I want us to get a handle on what the author is doing here. To do this though, we are going to have go back in time. Way back in time, almost back to the beginning. All the way back to Genesis, chapter 3.

Genesis 3:1-7
Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?”2 And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, 3 but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’” 4 But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. 5 For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” 6 So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. 7 Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths.

Notice how the serpent approaches the couple. Try to see what is going on here. And notice that I do say couple, because I have heard some people talk as if the serpent caught the woman out alone by herself. What does verse 7 say though? And she gave some to her husband who was with her.

But this aside, notice how the serpent approaches the couple. Those words, “Has God said?” Have you ever had someone accuse you and ask you at the same time? Did you really say . . . ? Did you really do . . . ? It is a question, but it’s also an accusation.

“Pardon me, I’m sorry to bother you. I’ve seen you guys around before and I wondered if I might ask you something. The fellas and I were over there talking and one of them happened to mention that God had told you not to eat from any of the trees in the garden. I don’t believe it, of course, because I can’t believe even He would go that far, but it does trouble me, so I wonder if you might be able to satisfy my curiosity. Did God really say you musn’t eat of any of the trees in the Garden?”

As a side note, at this point Adam should have stepped forward to tell the serpent to take a hike. After all, God had placed him in the garden to tend it. But he doesn’t. Perhaps he sought to share responsibility with his wife, or maybe he even passed the responsibility off onto her, but for whatever reason he didn’t. But it’s not like the woman is off the hook though, because she as well as Adam were both tasked with the job of subduing the earth. She fails to do this though. Instead, she engages the serpent in conversation. She corrects “his mistake”, before listening to him accuse and lie again.

“What?! You’ve got to be kidding me! He really said that?! He told you that you mustn’t eat from the tree in the midst of the garden or else you will die? Oh my. Now that really takes the cake. I knew He could sink to some pretty low levels, but never did I think He would go this far.

“Let me tell you the truth, okay. This is the truth. He lied to you. Yeah. He lied. And you want to know something else? The truth is He created something that’s about to slip out of His control. He created something that is going to be as big as He is and He knows He won’t be able to stop it when it does. It frightens Him. You want to know what that something is? It’s you. You’re what scares Him, because He knows that if you discover the truth about the tree, then you’ll eat from it and you’ll become as He is. The fruit from that tree, you see, it has the power to give the knowledge of what’s good and what’s evil. And with that knowledge it also gives you the wisdom to choose to do good and not do evil. Once that happens you won’t need God to tell you what good and evil is anymore. You yourself can establish yourself in righteousness just as He is established in righteousness. And that’s the truth.”

Can you see it? The woman weighing the serpent’s words?  Her husband beside her, thoughtfully stroking his chin.  Now, that I look at it . . .

The woman fails to weigh both the serpent’s words, as well as her own thoughts against God word. Instead, she weighs her thoughts against her own senses. Verse 6 says, “so when the woman saw that the tree was good for food.”

That is, after she saw that it was good for food and delightful in appearance, it was then that she saw what the serpent had told her was true about it, and that was that it had the power to make one wise.

Had she judged what she saw by what God had said was true about the tree, then what she would have seen was death. But because she judged what she saw by what the serpent said was true, what she saw was what the serpent told her was true.

The same held true for the Hebrew slaves in Numbers 13. Had they judged themselves by what God said was true about them rather than what their senses told them was true about them, then they would have seen themselves as victorious warriors rather than feeble grasshoppers.

The woman believed the serpent’s lie. And she gave some of the tree’s fruit to her husband who also believed the serpent’s lie. And their eyes were opened and they knew they were naked.

Hold up. The tree was called the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The Bible says that when they ate of the tree, they knew that they were naked. Does this mean they knew good and evil? Yes. Yes, it does.

They now knew they were evil!

What? That wasn’t supposed to happen! They weren’t supposed to be evil. They were supposed to be as God! They were supposed to be capable now of establishing themselves in righteousness.

I want to be clear about this, because this is what I want you to try to understand.

They were not ashamed of having disobeyed God. That is not what they ashamed of. They’re not ashamed of that. Their shame was an evil shame instead of a good shame. Had they been ashamed of disobeying God, then their shame would have been a good shame. It would have driven them to seek refuge in God and to ask for His mercy and forgiveness. But their shame was not a good shame.

They were NOT ashamed of having disobeyed God though. Instead, what they were ashamed of was themselves. They haven’t become as God and they still believe they should have. What they believe is that there is something about themselves that has kept the tree from working for them, and this is what makes them feel ashamed.

Adam is ashamed to let his wife see that he is not as God. His wife is ashamed to let her husband see that she is not as God. Both of them are ashamed of themselves for having failed to become as God. They both still believe they should be as God.

They believed the tree can make them as God. They still believed this even after they were ashamed and tried to cover themselves with fig leaves.

I am not as I ought to be. I ought to be as God. But something in me has gone wrong and has made not as I ought to be, and I’m ashamed of this.

Genesis 3:8-13
8 And they heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden. 9 But the LORD God called to the man and said to him, “Where are you?”10 And he said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself.” 11 He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?”12 The man said, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate.” 13 Then the LORD God said to the woman, “What is this that you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.”

They now hear the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden, and with their shame comes a new sensation. Fear. The Bible says the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord.

What does that mean, they hid themselves? And why did they hide themselves?

Just like their shame is an evil shame, so too their fear is an evil fear.

They are not afraid that God is going to kill them for having disobeyed. Disobedience doesn’t even enter into their heads because they believe they were right to have disobeyed. After all, the tree had the power to make them as God. Any fool can see that. So they are not afraid of God killing them for having disobeyed.

What they are afraid of instead is God killing them before they have the opportunity to become as He is. He’s afraid that I’m going to become as He is. And so if He discovers I have learned the secret of the tree but have not become as He is, then He will kill me before I get another shot at making the tree work for me.

They hid themselves, because they still believe the serpent’s lie. They believe God is out to get them, because they believe He knows they can become as He is and He is afraid of that happening.

Listen to Adam’s response to God’s question. Have you eaten of the tree I commanded you not to eat from?

Comes Adam. “Me? No, it wasn’t me. It was her, which I remind You, the one You gave to me. Me though? No, I’m perfect.”

Listen to the woman’s response. Why didn’t say, hey buddy, I never put a gun to your head! You didn’t have to eat if you didn’t want to. No, she accepts the blame instead. Yep, you’re right, you’re both right. I am evil. I am a grasshopper in my own eyes. But I would have become as God if it hadn’t been for the serpent.

In the Genesis account we see the birth of self righteousness. And let me make this clear, it’s not that the self righteous man consciously thinks to himself, I’m afraid God will learn I’m not as Him. It’s that these are things he assumes without even noticing he assumes them.

What he consciously thinks to himself is if I don’t perform perfectly, then God will send me to hell. What good thing must I do to obtain eternal life? The assumption behind this is that I can be as God, but something has gone wrong in me to hinder this ability, so I must pretend as if I have become as God is so that He won’t destroy me before I can become as He is.

This fear that I must hide the fact that I am not as God from God or else God will kill me before I have the opportunity to become as He is, is what drives a man to place confidence in flesh. It is what drives false religion. The fig leaves are an attempt to hide not only from the people around me, but also from God. I fear that if my neighbors discovered the truth about me, that I am not as God, then they would mock me and belittle me and even take advantage of me. I fear that if God ever discovered I am not as Him, then He would kill before I had a chance to realize my potential to become as He is. Therefore, I’d better wear these fig leaves pretty thick.

Does the fig leaves fool God? Is God blind to the real man underneath? What does our text say?

Hebrews 4:
12 For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. 13 And no creature is hidden from His sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account.

The problem is not only that man tries to earn eternal life by his performance. The problem is also that man believes a lie, not only about God, but also about himself. Perfect love casts out all fear.

The author is asking his readers, why are you drawing back in fear? Are you drawing back in fear like the folks in Numbers 13 did? Are you afraid God is going to send you to your death for not being like Him?

In chapter 2 we saw that Christ had tasted death for His people in order to free them, who through the fear of death, had been subject to slavery their whole lives. Guys, this wasn’t a fear of dying by natural means! Christ did not die by natural means! This was a fear that God will kill me if He discovers I am not as He is.

Listen to materialists and the people of Eastern religions talk about death. They will talk of being at peace with death, because . . . and then they’ll paint some picture of being at one with the universe. What are they saying? They are saying they are one with God, they are as God is.

But Dave, I hear someone say, doesn’t the Bible tell us we are to fear God? It certainly does. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. But does this mean He is seeking to kill us because we are not as Him? No. He has not even decreed the death of the non-elect for this reason.

Three-hundred-sixty-six times in Scripture we are told to “fear not, for I am with you.”

When we fear something, we are giving that thing we fear our respect and attention. We are giving it our worship. We are saying there be a giant in the land and we are as but grasshoppers.

The person we are to fear is God, and Him alone. We are to see that He is the real giant. We are to give Him our respect and attention. We are to worship Him alone. We are to confess that He alone is sovereign and mightier than all other giants put together. He is sovereign and He loves His people. He can be trusted.

I know of a man who feared the wrong kind of death because he believed a lie about himself. His name was Peter.

We first meet Peter in Matthew 4. From there, as we follow Jesus and His disciples along through the gospels, we pick up certain things about Peter. He’s a loud mouth, for one. A braggart, a bravado. He’s that guy who always has to let everyone else around him know that had it been him, he would have done things differently. He’s the quintessential armchair quarterback. He’s the guy who can do no wrong, or at least he can do it better than you can.

He’s also another in a long line of self righteous hypocrites. He would never have cheated. He would never have lied. He would never have stolen. The rest of these fools, they may do that, but not him, he’s perfect. He’s the guy you can count on. When all the chips are down, he’s going to be there.

The truth is the is the very first one who would do what those other guys would do, and he knows it. And he’s ashamed of it. And he is afraid Jesus will discover it about him. So, he works hard to make Jesus understand that he isn’t like that. He would never do what those other guys would do. He is perfect, he is righteous, he is all knowing.

Jesus sees right through him, as He sees through everyone. He needs no man to tell Him what is in man’s heart, because He knows the heart of every man. He has eyes like flaming fire.

He knows Peter’s heart. And although Christ has chosen Peter for a specific purpose, right now, at this point in Peter’s life, the fig leaves are getting in the way, and Peter is helpless to do anything about it.

On the night of His arrest and betrayal, at what we call the last Passover, Jesus tells His disciples something that greatly disturbs them. He tells them that they are all going to fall away that very night. We read it in Matthew.

Matthew 26:30-35
30 And when they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives. 31 Then Jesus said to them, “You will all fall away because of me this night. For it is written, ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’ 32 But after I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee.” 33 Peter answered him, “Though they all fall away because of you, I will never fall away.” 34 Jesus said to him, “Truly, I tell you, this very night, before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times.” 35 Peter said to him, “Even if I must die with you, I will not deny you!” And all the disciples said the same.

Again with the fig leaves, Peter. All of these may fall away, but not me, Jesus. I’m perfect, don’t you know that. Why, I would die before I deny you.

Jesus turns to His loudmouth disciple. We read about it in Luke 22. Jesus says to him, “Peter, Satan has asked Me to give you to him so that he might sift you like wheat.”

“What? Well, you said no right, Jesus?”
“I said yes. But I’m praying for you, Peter. I’m praying for you, because I want you to know that when you do come out of the other side of this, you will be able to strengthen your brothers rather than hinder them. You will be an asset to them, rather than a liability.”

Jesus is arrested, we know the story. Most of the disciples take flight right away.  Peter later denies Him three times.  The point is, Peter was exposed to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account.  Although Peter had to be exposed, because he had to learn that what he had believed was a lie, the good news is Christ gave account at the cross for Peter’s sins.

On the last day, God’s people are not going to be called to give an account for their sins. The reason why is because Christ has already given an account for their sins. He gave an account, was found guilty, and was killed for their sins. Therefore, they will not be called to give an account for their sins.

On the other hand, those who whom Christ did not give an account for will die for their sins.

About David Bishop

Gospel of Grace Church
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3 Responses to Studies in Hebrews Part 4: Good and Evil Fear

  1. tuckerup187 says:

    Of all the books I own, of all the preachers I’ve heard, of all the (often quite inconsistent and even contradictory!) “this-is-the-REAL-gospel!!!” claims I’ve perused for a lifetime only to end in a kind of numbed despair, yours is the only Gospel that ever ignites hope in me…precisely because its efficacy has nothing at all to do with me! THANK YOU!

  2. markmcculley says:

    these first two commands are more than “permission”

    Genesis 1;28 be fruitful

    Genesis 2:16 not literally “you may eat”
    but a command to eat
    “eat eat”

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