Take care! Be on the alert! Be on guard! Watch out! These are various warning phrases used by Jesus, Peter, Paul, and the writer of Hebrews. How careful, alert, and watchful are you for the following dangers?
- The devil seeks to devour you. “Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8).
- Unbelief, which will harden your heart and deceive you so that you act like unbelievers do. “Take care, brethren, that there not be in any one of you an evil, unbelieving heart that falls away from the living God. But encourage one another day after day, as long as it is still called ‘Today,’ so that none of you will be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin” (Hebrews 3:12-13).
- False professors of faith, who speak perverse things and draw people away from Christ and His church. “Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood. I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves men will arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them. Therefore be on the alert, remembering that night and day for a period of three years I did not cease to admonish each one with tears” (Acts 20:28-31).
- Listening to wrong and destructive judgments. “And He was saying to them, ‘Take care what you listen to. By your standard of measure it will be measured to you; and more will be given you besides’” (Mark 4:24).
- Being careless, overwhelmed, or otherwise occupied when listening to God’s Word. “So take care how you listen; for whoever has, to him more shall be given; and whoever does not have, even what he thinks he has shall be taken away from him” (Luke 8:18).
- The error of unprincipled men. “You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, be on your guard so that you are not carried away by the error of unprincipled men and fall from your own steadfastness” (2 Peter 3:17).
- Hypocrisy and false teaching. “And Jesus said to them, ‘Watch out and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees. …Then they understood that He did not say to beware of the leaven of bread, but of the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” (Matthew 16:6, 12).
- Judgment that lets in darkness masquerading as light. “The eye is the lamp of your body; when your eye is clear, your whole body also is full of light; but when it is bad, your body also is full of darkness. Then watch out that the light in you is not darkness” (Luke 11:34-35).
- Not being ready for Jesus’ return or your death. “Therefore be on the alert, for you do not know which day your Lord is coming” (Matthew 24:42 and Matthew 25:13; Mark 13:35, 37).
Why is it important to be alert to these things? The answer should be obvious. Carelessness or laziness in these areas results in destruction to our spiritual lives—our relationship with God—and an inability to love well, especially when we are challenged. Have you noticed that everyone you know who has taken a path away from the Lord was not alert to these warnings? Their demise began with one small, careless step that looked harmless or felt good to them. Perhaps they listened to someone who did not root their thoughts and ideas in the truth of Jesus Christ. Maybe they made a judgment about someone or some situation that was not theirs to make or was made without understanding. Can’t we all agree with the Scriptures that the beginning of any fall was pride—thinking we were safe, out of danger, and couldn’t be toppled or trapped? Did we take God’s goodness and protection for granted to the point that we felt we didn’t have to heed His warnings?
Consider the warning in Hebrews 3:12-13 in number 2 above. What is the danger in one minute of unbelief? What harm is there in sixty seconds of fixing our minds on things or people on the earth instead of Jesus Christ sitting on the throne of God with all authority and power, who runs all things by His Word? Everyone does it!
Yes, we all do it. But let’s take a closer look at the nuts and bolts of unbelief. An evil, unbelieving heart lives and reacts to circumstances and people as if there is no God who loves them and is committed to use all things to conform them to the image of His Son. Unbelief focuses on what we can see, experience, and use in this world. In contrast, faith focuses on Jesus Christ, His Word, His work, and His promises.
Unbelief is a slippery slope. One careless step on the downhill slope for even one minute can begin a spiritual free fall that may devour years of our potential spiritual vibrancy and possibly affect our eternal blessings. If we take our eyes off of Jesus, then our eye becomes “bad.” When our eye becomes bad, then our light becomes darkness. What does this look like, practically speaking? We listen to the wrong people. We are hindered from recognizing error and can more easily deviate from God’s truth. Our own sins and the sins of others can deceive us into thinking that God doesn’t love us, or that He has left us, or even that He doesn’t exist. Without our even being aware of it, our hearts become hard toward God, as well as toward people who have hurt or disappointed us. Soon, we feel overwhelmed, hopelessly victimized, and depressed that life has become such a pain. We fear there is no end in sight to our suffering. We feel like we are in a dark pit with no hope of escape. To cope with our misery, we search for something that numbs the pain and makes us feel good.
How did we get into such a bad place? We probably got there easily. The writer of Hebrews says that unbelief is a sin that easily entangles us (Heb. 12:1). The circumstances and people that we encounter each day can distract us from our calling to stay alert. “The worries of the world” (Mark 4:19), like a person incessantly yelling at us, “Look at me! Look at me!” capture our attention. We may need only one or two careless moments of unbelief before we stop looking to Jesus for faith and grace in the events and relationships of our lives. We begin to fix our eyes instead on the problems we may be facing. Before long, we are caught in the vice-grip of unbelief—habitually looking at things and people around us—instead of keeping our eyes set on Jesus. Not only are we not watching out for an evil, unbelieving heart, but we are allowing it to go unchecked. This condition feels normal and becomes second nature to us. We forget the importance of being alert to the dangers in a fallen world and to the importance of standing firm in the faith, as Paul wrote to the Corinthians. “Be on the alert, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong. Let all that you do be done in love” (1 Corinthians 16:13-14).
So in this article, I’m alerting you to the Scriptural calls to being alert. This is a daily, moment-by-moment activity. Evaluating my own failures to love in the past prompted my thinking in this direction. I observed a correlation between my not being alert and my failures to love. Did you notice what Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 16:13-14 above?
The answer to avoiding the perils of unbelief, as well as the other warnings, isn’t trying not to commit those sins. Rather, it’s being alert to standing firm in faith and doing everything in love. Being alert to your purpose in life, namely, trusting Jesus and living to love with Him, is the key to overcoming those things that so easily entangle us and cause spiritual destruction. When we are committed to the highest good of others, no matter what the cost is to us, and we look to Jesus for His presence and power to enable us to love in all that we do, we are free from fear and are attentive to those things that hinder or block His love. We stand firmly on solid ground, rooted and grounded in love. Being on the alert to love will give us wisdom and discernment to avoid the enemy’s traps that I listed above from God’s Word. Be encouraged today to take great care to stand firm in faith, fixing your eyes on Jesus. Be strong in this faith, and live to love with Jesus each day, so that you will be careful not to have an evil, unbelieving, hard heart. Fill your heart with His promises, enjoy His presence, and live in the joy of being His beloved. Especially as we end this year that has so severely tried our faith, what better way to honor Him in the coming Christmas season?