If you are reading this, you are in a little 24-hour-period we call “today.” I know, today is not as glorious as yesterday, or last year, or whenever you were the popularity king/queen in school. Today also is not as promising as tomorrow, or next week, or whenever you will “arrive” in life by getting that dream job, marrying that perfect person, or finally making enough money to get beyond the hand-to-mouth existence that you are currently stuck in. But let’s talk about today, because today is all we have, and we may not have even that.
Every day I encounter someone who seems intent on alternating between nostalgia for the past and expectancy for the future. That someone is me. Yet I rarely travel this path alone. Together with family, friends, and coworkers, I reminisce about good times gone by and laugh over stories of that “most embarrassing moment.” From there, we pivot seamlessly to our weekend plans to career goals to retirement options. Oh sure, sometimes today gets special attention because of some momentous event like a job interview, marriage, or a birth of a child. Of course, the many life activities that fill up our todays—work projects, homework, meals—all receive their due attention in the moment. Yet rarely does the eternal significance of today sink in and change our hearts and our conduct. This is a mistake, and potentially one with tragic and eternally significant consequences.
There are two important things to remember about this little 24-hour period that we are living in: (1) A person’s life is the sum of his or her todays, and (2) there is no guarantee that tomorrow will become today for any of us. Hebrews 3:13 touches on both of these facts when it tells Christians to “exhort one another every day, as long as it is called ‘today,’ that none of [us] may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.” The hardening effect of sin occurs when we permit its leavening influence to remain in our lives by our day-to-day toleration of the same. Today, if we do not root out sin through confession, repentance, and gospel exhortation, we leave ourselves exposed to its corrosive deceptiveness.
Sin is not just a mistake in our past or a dark cloud on the horizon of our future. The reason that Christians are called to exhort one another “every day” is because sin is daily crouching at the door of our hearts. Sin’s presence in the believer’s life is a sad reality (I John 1:8), and it must be recognized and dealt with as the serious soul-danger that it is. The porn viewer becomes an addict by failing to address today the strengthening chains of lust. The foodie becomes a glutton because tomorrow is when the idolatry of food will be addressed. The busybody becomes a gossip because the days of sharing “one more juicy little story” stack up until character is formed, integrity is lost, and sinful hardness settles into the soul. But no worries; tomorrow is wide open for repentance . . . right?
The writer of Hebrews calls for confrontation of sin “while it is called ‘today.’” Not tomorrow, not next week, but now. Why? Is it because you might die in a car wreck later today as evangelists like to portend? Perhaps. After all, none of us knows what a day will bring forth (Prov. 27:1). The Scripture also speaks of Christ’s return coming with unexpected suddenness, “like a thief in the night” (I Thess. 5:2). Yet for the writer of Hebrews, the threat in Chapter 3 seems to be not so much the loss of life or Christ’s return, but rather sin’s deceptive hardening of the heart to the point that repentance becomes effectively impossible. Here is Hebrews 3:13 in its surrounding context:
12 Take care, brothers and sisters, 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.
As believers, we should not smugly presume that WE would never fall away from our profession of faith or forsake our original confidence in Christ. Jesus’s Parable of the Sower should shatter any illusion that a promising start ensures a race run well to the end. In the Scripture, we indeed read of God’s sovereign, unconditional grace in salvation and of his preservation of believers until the Day of Jesus Christ (Phil. 1:6). But we also read words of woe and warning to those who would live in unchecked sin (I Cor. 6:9-10), and each one of us is called to take an active role in putting to death the sin that would have mastery over us (Col. 3:5).
If we believe that we can thoughtlessly entertain sin before repenting at our leisure, then we grossly overestimate our hearts’ own willingness and ability to turn from sin. Such presumption also ignores the gracious and necessary prompting of the Holy Spirit that calls us back to repentance. For this reason, the writer of Hebrews urges each of us as believers to exhort and be exhorted in the gospel today, while the Spirit still calls to us, so that sin does not take us to the perilous point of no return. If perhaps you are struggling with sin, be encouraged by the struggle. Your striving against sin is a testament to your pursuit of the truth. Be encouraged and be exhorted to press on in Christ’s power in this struggle. Find that brother or sister in whom you can confide, recognizing that it is through fellow believers’ exhortation that all of us are encouraged to carry on in the fight against the deceitfulness of our own besetting sin.