Hebrews - Part 6 - Our Assurance of Salvation

Study of Hebrews  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  Presented   •  25:49
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Good morning everyone! Introduction During the past few weeks, we have used the Zoom online video conferencing app to host various church meetings including prayer, bible study and worship services. Now I am going to ask you to stretch your imagination a bit—maybe a whole lot. Suppose we could use Zoom to bypass time and language barriers so we could go back about 2,000 years to interview the author of the book of Hebrews. Now let’s assume that Apollos is the author and he recovers from the shock of seeing a three-dimensional hologram of us appearing in front of him. You assure him that you are a fellow believer from the 21st century who is studying the letter to the Hebrews that he penned in the 1st century. Through advanced technology he hears us speak in perfect 1st century Greek and conversely, we hear him speak in fluent 21st century English. You tell him that we are studying his letter and have gone through the first five chapters and will be studying chapter 6 today. “Tell me, Apollos”, you say, “what prompted you to write this letter to the Hebrews.” Then follows his answer. I was deeply concerned about our house church in Rome. The believers there came out of Judaism. Now they were being ostracized by their Jewish relatives and former friends. On top of that they were suffering increasing persecution at the hands of the Roman officials. Some were wavering in their commitment to Jesus and were seriously considering giving up on Christianity and returning to their Jewish roots. Since you have studied the first five chapters of my letter, you know that I have a pastor’s heart for these people. I needed to drive home the point that Jesus is the son of God. He is supremely sufficient for all their spiritual needs. He is far superior to any hero from their Hebrew past and also superior to any angel. I warned them several times in my letter of the dangers of falling away and I encouraged them to stay committed to their calling. Thank you for studying my letter in the 21st century. At this point a technical glitch causes a break in the transmission and your short conversation with Apollos ends abruptly. Well, I recognize that this is a fanciful scenario that I have just described but I hope it captures the essence of the book. S.P.S. Today, we are going to spend most of our time unpacking chapter 6 of Hebrews but to make a smooth transition into the first few verses of that chapter we need to back up a bit and see the author’s comments at the end of chapter 5. Hebrews 5:11-14 (NIV) We have much to say about this, but it is hard to make it clear to you because you no longer try to understand. In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness.  But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil. The author has just spelled out that he believes that his readers are still at a very elementary level in their understanding of God’s word. He feels that at this point in their spiritual journey they should be able to teach others but sadly they are still elementary school students. That assessment of their level of growth is his segue into chapter 6. Heb. 6:1-3 Therefore let us move beyond the elementary teachings about Christ and be taken forward to maturity, not laying again the foundation of repentance from acts that lead to death,[a] and of faith in God, 2 instruction about cleansing rites,[b] the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. 3 And God permitting, we will do so. First, the readers are exhorted to leave the elementary teachings about Christ, literally, “the word of the beginning of Christ”, or “the beginning word of Christ”. We understand this to mean the basic doctrines of religion that were taught in the OT and were designed to prepare Israel for the coming of the Messiah. These doctrines are listed in the latter part of verse 1 and in verse 2. They are not the fundamental doctrines of Christianity but rather teachings of an elementary nature which formed the foundation for later building. They fell short of Christ risen and glorified. The exhortation is to leave these basics, not in the sense of abandoning them as worthless, but rather of advancing from them to maturity. The implication is that the period of Judaism was a time of spiritual infancy. Christianity represents full growth. Once a foundation has been laid, the next step is to build upon it. A doctrinal foundation was laid in the OT; it included the six fundamental teachings which are now listed. These represent a starting point. The great NT truths concerning Christ, His Person, and His work, represent the ministry of maturity. The first OT doctrine is repentance from acts that lead to death. This was preached constantly by the prophets as well as by John the Baptist, the forerunner of the Messiah. They all called on the people to turn from works that were dead in the sense that they were devoid of faith. Dead works here may also refer to works which formerly were right, but which now are dead since Christ has come. For example, all the services connected with temple worship are outmoded by the finished work of Christ. Second, the writer mentions faith in God. This again is an OT emphasis. In the NT, Christ is almost invariably presented as the object of faith. Not that this displaces faith in God; but a faith in God which leaves out Christ is now inadequate. The instruction in verse 2 about cleansing rites refers not to Christian baptism, but to the ceremonial washings which figured so prominently in the religious lives of the priests and people of Israel (see also 9:10). The ritual of laying on of hands is described in Leviticus (1:4; 3:2; 16:21). The person making the offering, or the priest laid his hands on the head of an animal as an act of identification. In figure, the animal bore away the sins of the people who were associated with it. This ceremony typified vicarious atonement. We do not believe that there is any reference here to the laying on of hands as practiced by the apostles and others in the early church.1 To this day we practice laying on of hands for ordinations, commissioning and anointing the sick. Resurrection of the dead is taught in Job (19:25–27), Psalms (17:15), and it is implied in Isaiah (53:10–12). What was seen only indistinctly in the OT is brightly revealed in the NT (2 Tim. 1:10). The final foundational truth of the OT was eternal judgment2. These first principles represented Judaism and were preparatory to the coming of Christ. Christians should not continue to be content with these but should press on to the fuller revelation they now have in Christ. The readers are urged to pass “from shadow to substance, from type to antitype, from husk to kernel, from the dead forms of the religion of their ancestors to the living realities of Christ.” In verse 3 the author expresses his desire to help them do this God permitting. However, the limiting factor will be on their side and not on God’s. God will enable them to advance to full spiritual manhood, but they must respond to the word positively by exercising true faith and endurance. Let’s look at the rest of this chapter with three key points in mind—DANGER, DILIGENCE & DECLARATION. 1. DANGER (Heb. 6:4-8) The author of Hebrews proceeds to make a statement that is quite harsh and controversial. The meaning of verses 4 to 6 is debated by theologians to this day. 4 It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, 5 who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age 6 and who have fallen[c] away, to be brought back to repentance. To their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace.  7 Land that drinks in the rain often falling on it and that produces a crop useful to those for whom it is farmed receives the blessing of God. 8 But land that produces thorns and thistles is worthless and is in danger of being cursed. In the end it will be burned. Do these verses mean that a Christian can lose out on salvation? Many scriptures give us assurance that we have salvation now, even though we must await the resurrection to inherit, in finality, eternal life and the kingdom of God. Let us review some of the phrases the New Testament uses to assure us of our salvation. I won’t take the time to expound each verse. John 6:47 (NIV) Very truly I tell you, the one who believes has eternal life. John 6:40 (NIV) For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day.” John 10:28 (NIV) I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand. Romans 8:39 (NIV) <nothing> will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. 1 Corinthians 1:8 (NIV) He will also keep you firm to the end, so that you will be blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. Philippians 1:6 (NIV) being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus John 11:25-26a (NIV) 25 Jesus said to her <Martha>, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; 26 and whoever lives by believing in me will never die.  It is upon such assurances that the doctrine of eternal security is built. However, there is another side to the coin of salvation. There also appear to be warnings that Christians can fall from the grace of God. 1 Corinthians 10:12 (NIV)  So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall! Mark 14:38 (NIV) Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” Matthew 24:12 (NIV) Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, 1 Timothy 1:18-19 (NIV) … fight the battle well, 19 holding on to faith and a good conscience, which some have rejected and so have suffered shipwreck with regard to the faith. Also, in the book of Revelation, we read that was Christ might remove the lampstand of the church at Ephesus signifying immediate judgment. Further, he would vomit the lukewarm Laodiceans from his mouth. But the most fearful admonition in found later in Hebrews: Hebrews 10:26-30 (NIV) 26 If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, 27 but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God. 28 Anyone who rejected the law of Moses died without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. 29 How much more severely do you think someone deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified them, and who has insulted the Spirit of grace? 30 For we know him who said, “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” and again, “The Lord will judge his people.” There is a duality, then in the New Testament. Many verses are positive about the eternal salvation that we have in Christ. Salvation seems secure. But such verses are tempered by some warnings that appear to say Christians can lose their salvation through persistent unbelief. We need to look at what the book of Hebrews as a whole tells us. A key point of the book is the need for belief in Christ as the totally sufficient sacrifice for sins. There are no competitors. Our faith must rest in him alone. The solution to the question of the possible loss of salvation found in 10:26 lies in the verse 39 of the same chapter: Hebrews 10:39 (NIV) But we do not belong to those who shrink back and are destroyed, but to those who have faith and are saved. Some shrink back and are lost, but those who remain in Christ cannot be lost. There are other verses in Hebrews that give us strong assurance that we cannot be lost. We have confidence to be in God’s presence by the blood of Jesus (Heb. 10:19). We can draw near to God with full assurance of faith. Hebrews 10:22-24 (NIV) 22 let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. 23 Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, We recognize that the author of Hebrews was a skilled orator and writer and would know how to use hypothetical language to reach his audience. We may see the writer giving his readers hypothetical scenarios to encourage them to remain steadfast in the faith. Perhaps Paul summarizes this teaching best in his epistle to Timothy. 2 Timothy 2:12-13 (NIV) if we endure, we will also reign with him. If we disown him, he will also disown us; if we are faithless, he remains faithful, for he cannot disown himself. After the frankly harsh and jolting language of Hebrews 6:4-8 the author switches his tone to incredibly positive and encouraging language in the next verses. 2. DILIGENCE (Heb. 6:9-12) 9 Even though we speak like this, dear friends, we are convinced of better things in your case—the things that have to do with salvation. 10 God is not unjust; he will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people and continue to help them. 11 We want each of you to show this same diligence to the very end, so that what you hope for may be fully realized. 12 We do not want you to become lazy, but to imitate those who through faith and patience inherit what has been promised. The author highlights their diligence that God will not forget the love that they have shown him through their past and present service to the brethren. He encourages them to keep being diligent, not to become lazy but rather to be imitators of those who through faith and patience will inherit what has been promised. So, it is possible to speak of a situation in which a person who truly had faith in Christ could lose it. If it were not possible, why bother with a warning? Such a warning would be neither appropriate nor effective. In the real world, can Christians lose their faith? Yes, Christians can “fall” in the sense of committing sins (1 John 1:8 - 2:2). They can become spiritually lazy in certain situations. But does this sometimes result in a final “falling away” for those who are truly in Christ? This is not wholly clear from scripture. But we might ask how one can “truly” be in Christ and yet be capable of simultaneously “falling away”? Our church’s position is that no one can snatch people out of Christ’s hand. If a person’s faith remains in Christ, he or she cannot be lost. As long as Christians hold fast to this confession of their hope, their salvation is safe3. The bottom line is, we are safe in Christ as long as we continue to live in Jesus (Heb. 10:19-23). We have full assurance of faith in him because it is he who saves us. We do not have to worry, “Am I going to make it?” In Christ we have assurance—we are his and are saved, and nothing can snatch us out of his hand. The only way we could be lost is to spurn his blood, deciding that we really do not need him after all and that we are sufficient to ourselves. If we did that, we would not really care about being saved anyway. As long as we remain faithful in Christ, we have assurance that he will complete the work he has begun in us (Phlns. 1:6). It is God who initiates salvation, who continues it, and who will one day bring it to its consummation. The comforting thing is: We do not have to worry about our salvation, saying, “What if I fail? What if I fail?” We have already failed. Jesus is the one who saves us, and he doesn’t fail. Can we fail to accept him? Yes, but if we are Spirit-led Christians, we haven’t failed to accept him. Once we accept Jesus, the Holy Spirit lives in us, conforming us to Jesus’ image. We have joy, not fear. We have peace, not anxiety. When we believe in Jesus Christ, we stop worrying about whether we’ll “make it.” He “made it” for us. We rest in him. We quit worrying. We have faith and trust in him, not in ourselves. So, the question of whether we can lose our salvation no longer bothers us. Why? Because we believe Jesus’ work on the cross and his resurrection is all we need. God doesn’t need our perfection. We need his, and he has given it to us as his free gift through faith in Christ. We won’t fail because our salvation doesn’t depend on us. To summarize, we believe that those who remain in Christ cannot be lost. They are “eternally secure.” 3. DECLARATION (Heb. 6:13-20) Let’s move to the DECLARATION in the final verses in this chapter. 13 When God made his promise to Abraham, since there was no one greater for him to swear by, he swore by himself, 14 saying, “I will surely bless you and give you many descendants.”[d] 15 And so after waiting patiently, Abraham received what was promised. 16 People swear by someone greater than themselves, and the oath confirms what is said and puts an end to all argument. 17 Because God wanted to make the unchanging nature of his purpose very clear to the heirs of what was promised, he confirmed it with an oath. 18 God did this so that, by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled to take hold of the hope set before us may be greatly encouraged. 19 We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain, 20 where our forerunner, Jesus, has entered on our behalf. He has become a high priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek. We can counter the subtle tendency to slip back under pressure. There are two great truths that we need to grasp for a remedy. In the first place there is the promise of God and, to illustrate this truth, the writer goes back to Abraham, the great father of the Jewish nation, but, even more, the supreme example of one who took God at his word (v. 13–15). Abraham’s faith in the assurance of a family, through whom God would bless the world, was sorely tested, but he kept believing because God had promised, and he knew that God would never let him down. The principle remains the same except that the initial readers of this letter, and we today, have so much more to encourage faith. What Abraham could only see dimly in the future has now become a reality, and here is the second great truth, called a hope and an anchor in verse 19. The metaphor is a glorious mixed metaphor, with the nautical reference becoming ecclesiastical—an anchor in the sanctuary! We have an anchor that keeps the soul Steadfast and sure while the billows roll, Fastened to the Rock which cannot move, Grounded firm and deep in the Saviour’s love. Not only do we have the promise of God, but also, we have the very presence of Christ to strengthen us. That presence is Jesus in his high priestly role in heaven itself (v. 20), way beyond the wonder of the Jewish high priest and his annual appearance in the earthly sanctuary on the Day of Atonement. There should be no turning back from that unique truth, and to challenge his readers further, the writer now draws on sacred history, bringing forward as his witness the shadowy but vital figure of Melchizedek.4 Who is this shadowy figure? Well, stay tuned for next week’s message when Hannes will give more detail on the mysterious Melchizedek. Let me close with this: In Danger, hope has a name, His name is Jesus. In Diligence, we can love Him and serve Him. In Declaration we can proclaim: My hope is built on nothing less Than Jesus’ blood and righteousness I dare not trust the sweetest frame But wholly lean on Jesus’ name When darkness hides His lovely face I rest on His unchanging grace In every high and stormy gale My anchor holds within the veil His oath, His covenant, His blood Support me in the whelming flood When all around my soul gives way He then is all my hope and stay When He shall come with trumpet sound Oh may I then in Him be found Dressed in His righteousness alone Faultless to stand before the throne On Christ the solid Rock I stand All other ground is sinking sand All other ground is sinking sand5 *** Close in prayer *** Word count: 3800 Estimated time: 27 minutes
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