This past Sunday my sermon was on Hebrews 3, “do not harden your heart.” This topic always stirs in people questions and fears about their own eternal destiny and that of others. But this is a good thing, not bad. God wants His word to stir people causing them to examine themselves and, “pay much closer attention to what we have heard” (Hebrews 2:1). So here’s a bit more to think about as you may still be mulling these things over in your mind.
Will a person miss heaven if they “harden” their heart against God? The answer the Bible gives is, “yes” and “no.” Some will harden their hearts so that they never receive the gospel and are never saved and so will miss heaven. Yet others will receive the gospel, be saved by faith, and yet as a redeemed child of God momentarily harden their heart against God. These will not miss heaven because hardening the heart cannot make a born-again believer lose the salvation God has given to them by His grace. This is a huge truth of God’s word He is teaching His people. If this question is stirring in your mind, GOOD! God wants you to wrestle with it so that it causes you to see His grace more clearly.
First, there are those who harden their heart and miss heaven – Hebrews 3:7-11 warns, “do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion, on the day of testing in the wilderness.” This refers to the Israelites who refused to believe God and wouldn’t enter the promised land (Numbers 13-14). The hardening of their heart led to their refusal to believe God. So God declared that none of their generation would be allowed to enter the promised land, ever (Numbers 14:22-23). The Bible uses this image of entering the promised land or entering God’s rest to describe entering God’s rest of heaven and eternal life (see Hebrews 4). Not entering the promised land means more than just not going into the land of Canaan. Because of their unbelief, they didn’t belong to God at all and did not go to heaven when they died. We also see this in Romans 9:6 – many Hebrews don’t belong to God at all because they don’t believe.
But not all those Hebrews fit the first category. Some of them truly did believe God and because they belonged to Him through faith did in fact receive eternal life because of that faith. Although they had saving faith, they also became weak in their faith and were caught up in the rebellion of the others. Yet their unbelieving rebellion was momentary. It resulted in them not entering the promised land. But it did not result in them missing heaven after their death. We know this because Hebrews 11:23-28 makes it clear that Moses was counted as one with genuine, saving faith though his momentary unbelief and rebellion caused him not to enter Canaan. It seems clear there were others who fit this second category: Moses’ wife, Miriam, Aaron, and likely others who are unnamed.
When we read this text we should apply it with the same meaning for people in these two categories today. Category 1: some people harden their heart and will not receive the gospel. This hardening means they are unsaved and remain unsaved. Because they reject the gospel, they will miss heaven. Category 2: some receive the gospel and have the promise of eternal life in heaven when they die. Yet as true believers, they may momentarily harden their hearts and sin against God. This momentary hardening is like that of Moses. It is sinful unbelief but it does not cause them to lose the salvation God gave them because of their lasting faith in Him.
Here’s a reassuring promise from Jesus for those who are in category 2, above:
John 10:28-29 “I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand.”