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Lest You Fall

In two separate New Testament passages, the example of Israel's failure to enter God's promised rest is used to teach a lesson to Christians. These two passages are 1Corinthians 10:1-13 and Hebrews 4:1-13. The lessons of these passages are very similar. In 1Corinthians 10, the example of Israel's failure leads to this conclusion in verse 12:

Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall.

In Hebrews 4, the same example leads to this conclusion in verse 11:

Therefore let us be diligent to enter that rest, lest anyone fall through following the same example of disobedience.

Let us consider these two passages of Scripture together so that we may fully gain the meaning of these lessons.

In 1Corinthians 10:1-13, the Scripture shows that one's presence within the body of God's people does not guarantee his salvation. The emphasis of the first four verses is that every person in Israel at the time of the exodus from Egypt shared the same experience. This experience is directly related to Christians' experience, for all of the Israelites "were baptized into Moses," "ate the same spiritual food," and "drank the same spiritual drink," which was from the "spiritual rock" of Christ. Likewise, all Christians are baptized into Christ (Gal. 3:27) and partake of the many spiritual blessings that are in Him (Eph. 1:3). However, simply being counted as part of Israel was not enough to please God when they chose to sin, and simply being counted as part of the church will not be enough to please Him if Christians choose to sin now. In the case of Israel, most of them arrogantly challenged God even though they had just witnessed His great power against Egypt and grace toward them. They craved evil things, practiced idolatry, committed immorality, tested God, and complained against Him. Therefore, "they were laid low in the wilderness" (v. 5), "twenty-three thousand fell in one day" (v. 8), they "were destroyed by serpents" (v. 9), and they "were destroyed by the destroyer" (v. 10). They did not believe that they could fall in this way, but they were mistaken. Likewise, if we believe that we can sin with impunity just because we are Christians, then we are utterly mistaken. Thus, we have the lesson of verse 12 -- "Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall." Furthermore, if anyone attempts to excuse his sin by claiming that he cannot help himself, there is another lesson in verse 13:

No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it.

In Hebrews 4:1-13, the Scripture teaches that merely hearing the word of God does not assure one of entering God's rest, but rather it is faith and obedience to the word that leads to salvation. Again, Christians are related to Israel in that both have had the good news of God preached to them. However, in the case of Israel, "the word they heard did not profit them, because it was not united by faith in those who heard" (v. 2). Therefore, those unfaithful persons in Israel were not allowed to enter God's rest. This passage makes clear that "God's rest" in this context does not refer to the land of Canaan, for "if Joshua had given them rest, He would not have spoken of another day after that" (v. 8). This means that the unfaithful and disobedient persons in Israel both before and after the conquest of Canaan forfeited the eternal rest of God, i.e., that "Sabbath rest" that He began after He created the world. If unfaithfulness and disobedience to the word caused the children of God in Israel to fall, then these failures will also cause the children of God in Christ to fall. Thus, we have the lesson of verse 11 -- "Therefore let us be diligent to enter that rest, lest anyone fall through following the same example of disobedience." Notice that any notion of being saved without heeding this warning is erased by verses 12-13:

For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are open and laid bare to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do.

These two passages were written initially to two very different sets of people, but both sets needed the same message. In Corinth, the church was comprised mainly of Gentiles who had come out of idolatry, and some were still troubled by their former worldly habits. As for the Hebrew Christians, they had come from adherence to the Law of Moses, and some of them were tempted to turn back to their old ways and abandon their faith in Christ. In both cases, they needed to see that sin, unfaithfulness, and disobedience to the word of Christ would cause them to fall. If they pursued these courses, then they would forfeit salvation.

We still need this message today. Sin, unfaithfulness, and disobedience to the word of Christ will still cause Christians to fall. The Calvinistic tenet of "once-saved-always-saved" is a false teaching and a damnable doctrine. Let us not be drawn away into this false confidence, but instead let our confidence be in Christ according to His glorious word, lest we fall.

Stacey E. Durham