God's Promises are Sure
(The following text is taken from a sermon preached by Gil Rugh in 1978.)
Our last study focused on the third warning passage found in the book of Hebrews. The passage began in 5:11 and concluded with 6:8. The end of chapter 5 presented the condition of the Hebrews. They were infants, in need of having everything explained to them. They did not even understand the truth of the Old Testament (5:12), which continually looks ahead to the person of Christ.
The beginning gave these Jews instruction; 'Therefore leaving the elementary teaching about Christ, let us press on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God...' (6:1). The elementary teaching about Christ is in the Old Testament. The Jews are commanded to abandon the worship system that is followed in the Old Testament - instruction and sacrifices, and 'press on to maturity' in Jesus Christ. The Old Testament is the A-B-Cs, the basics that point toward the coming of Jesus Christ. One cannot become mature until he leaves the old system and comes to place his faith in the person and work of Christ.
The writer continued to list examples of the 'elementary principles' the Jews were to abandon in 6:1-2; '...repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, of instruction about washings, and laying on of hands, and the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment.' The Jews were to leave everything that pertained to the Mosaic system behind, and continue to come to maturity by believing in the salvation provided by Christ.
Verses 4 and 5 focused on five privileges to which the Hebrews had been exposed. They had 'once been enlightened' (vs. 4). They had 'tasted of the heavenly gift' (vs. 4). They had been made 'partakers of the Holy Spirit' (vs. 4). They had 'tasted the good word of God' (vs. 5), and 'the powers of the age to come' (vs. 5). All these Jews had been exposed to the full revelation of God and the pre-salvation ministry of the Spirit, but this does not indicate that they were believers.
Verses 6-8 illustrated the truth that some of the Hebrews were not believers. The writer warns those who '...have fallen away, it is impossible to renew them again to repentance, since they again crucify to themselves the Son of God, and put Him to open shame' (vs. 6). Those who 'have fallen away' are those who have heard the Word of God concerning Jesus Christ and have rejected it. When someone rejects Christ, he puts himself in the same company with those who crucified Him, and has nowhere else to seek salvation. Also, when one simply professes Christ as Savior and is not truly regenerated, he puts himself in a dangerous position because, if he convinces himself that he is a believer, when in fact he is not, it will be impossible for him to come to repentance.
The writer concluded this section by comparing believers and unbelievers to good plants and thorns in verses 7 and 8; 'For ground that drinks the rain (Word of God) which often falls upon it and brings forth vegetation useful (believers) to those for whose sake it is also tilled, receives a blessing from God; but if it yields thorns and thistles (unbelievers), it is close to being cursed and it ends up being burned.' The one who hears the revelation of Jesus Christ and believes in Him is forgiven of sins and receives a blessing from God, but the one who hears the revelation and rejects it is on his way to an eternity in hell.
The warning was clear-do not turn away from the salvation offered through Jesus Christ. If you do, there is nowhere to go but to a judgment separated from God in a hell that lasts forever.
But, beloved, we are convinced of better things concerning you, and things that accompany salvation, though we are speaking in this way. For God is not unjust so as to forget your work and the love which you have shown toward His name, in having ministered and in still ministering to the saints. And we desire that each one of you show the same diligence so as to realize the full assurance of hope until the end, that you may not be sluggish, but imitators of those who, through faith and patience, inherit the promises. For when God made the promise to Abraham, since He could swear by no one greater, He swore by Himself, saying, 'I will surely bless you, and I will surely multiply you.' And thus, having patiently waited, he obtained the promise. For men swear by one greater (than themselves), and with them an oath (given) as confirmation is an end of every dispute. In the same way God, desiring even more to show to the heirs of the promise the unchangeableness of His purpose, interposed with an oath, in order that by two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we may have strong encouragement, we who have fled for refuge in laying hold of the hope set before us. This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, a (hope) both sure and steadfast and one which enters within the veil, where Jesus has entered as a forerunner for us, having become a high priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.
The message to the Hebrews softens beginning in verse 9. Remember, the writer has been addressing the Hebrews in very strong tones from 5:11-6:8. The writer says, 'But, beloved, we are convinced of better things concerning you, and things that accompany salvation, though we are speaking in this way.' This verse underscores the point that the writer thinks that the Hebrews, to whom he is writing, are indeed believers, even though his tone in previous chapters has not always indicated such thinking.
The word 'convinced' means to 'come to a settled conclusion or conviction after evaluating the evidence.' What the writer is saying is 'after evaluating you and your life, I have come to the conviction that you truly are believers.' The writer is convinced 'of better things' in contrast to what has gone on before.
In verse 8 the author illustrated the path to destruction taken by those who reject Christ. But in verse 9 he is certain that the Hebrews, in contrast, are believers who have not become stymied in the elementary principles of the Word of God. They are maturing in better things 'that accompany salvation, though we are speaking this way.' In other words, the author is saying, 'You are not like those people who do not even know the elementary principles of the Word of God, and reject Christ, even though I am speaking to you as if you are. You are believers.' It is the same thing that occurs at the church I pastor today. I will speak to the entire congregation as if they are unbelievers, even though I know that there are many believers in the audience, in order to make a point.
The reason for the writer's conviction concerning the Hebrews is found in verse 10; 'For God is not unjust so as to forget your work and the love which you have shown toward His name, in having ministered and in still ministering to the saints.' The word 'For' indicates why the writer is convinced concerning the salvation of the Hebrews. He is not convinced because they made a profession of faith. He is not convinced because they had an 'experience.' He is convinced because their faith was proven in the fact that 'God is not unjust so as to forget your work.'
There are two areas of work that prove the salvation of the Hebrews that God remembers: 'work and love'. These are the things that accompany salvation, and it is as true for us today as it was for the Hebrews. If you want to evaluate yourself to see if you are truly a believer, look at your life and ask 'Is my life characterized by the work and love of the Lord?' If it is not, that is an indication that you have never truly come to believe in the person and work of Jesus Christ.
Roman Catholic theologians have taken this verse and cited it as proof of meritorious works being done before salvation. But in the context of Hebrews 6, the author is clearly referring to works that occur as a result of salvation. No unbeliever is ever motivated by a desire to glorify God. Now, that does not mean that an unbeliever never does anything good, but the only people who strive to glorify God with their actions are believers. This is the point Jesus made to the religious leaders of His day when He said ' 'All have turned aside, together they have become useless; there is none who does good, there is not even one'' (Romans 3:12). Again, nobody can accomplish works that are pleasing to God unless they are first a believer.
Paul continues in Romans 3:28; 'For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law.' Works are not part of the salvation process because they cannot occur unless one is a child of God. It does not matter how faithful a person has been, how much he serves at church, or how many hours he reads the Bible. If he has not come to believe in the person and work of Christ for salvation, those works have not glorified God or brought that person any closer to salvation.
This truth is seen continually throughout the Bible. Romans 5:1; 'Therefore having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ... .' Ephesians 2:8-10; 'For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, that no one should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.' Philippians 2: 12-13; 'So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.' and 1 Corinthians 15:10; 'But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me did not prove vain; but I labored even more than all of them, yet not I, but the grace of God with me.'
All these verses state the same fact: a person is saved by faith apart from works. Works that occur in the life of a believer do so because of the indwelling of the Spirit of God after salvation has occurred. We, as believers, must understand that we have to be at work for the Lord, toiling and laboring, but that it is not us that accomplishes the work, it is God, who has empowered us.
This is the work that the writer is referring to in Hebrews 6:10; work that is accomplished by believers through '...love that is shown toward His name... .' This is an indication that the work we do is based upon the person and work of Jesus Christ and all He is-His character and His work. This term makes our faith more tangible. You know, if someone who claims to be a believer is questioned regarding his love for Christ, that person may be offended and say, 'How dare you question my love for the Lord ! You cannot see into my heart.' That is true, but we can see what comes out of someone's heart. There is a difference. Only God can see into a heart, but the character of a man flows out of his heart (Matt 12:34) and can be seen by men.
How can we tell if someone loves the Lord? The end of verse 10 says a believer will work, '...in having ministered and in still ministering to the saints.' As believers, we manifest our love for God by ministering and continuing to minister to other believers. The word 'ministering' is translated 'deacon,' meaning 'to serve.' If someone claims to be a believer, yet his life is not characterized by his willingness to serve other believers, he is a liar.
This truth is illustrated in 1 John 2:9-11. John says, 'The one who says he is in the light, yet hates his brother is in the darkness until now. The one who loves his brother abides in the light and there is no cause for stumbling in him. But the one who hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going because the darkness has blinded his eyes.' If someone who claims to be a believer does not love other believers, he is lying and he is spiritually dead. Their actions reveal the condition of their heart.
John reminds us that the children of God and the children of the devil are obvious in 1 John 3:10. He says, '...anyone who does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor the one who does not love his brother.' Notice that these are the same two characteristics of a believer we have in Hebrews 6--work (righteousness) and love. Those who are in the darkness cannot understand this truth and they get upset when they are questioned. But the Word is clear: those who are truly children of God will be obvious, as will those who are the children of the devil. If there is continual evidence that a person who claims to be a believer does not love other Christians, it is an indication that person is not a believer at all.
John continues, 'We know we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brethren. He who does not love the brethren abides in death' (1 John 3:14). And again in verses 16-17, 'We know love by this, that He laid down His life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. But whoever has the world's goods, and beholds his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him?' The ultimate test of our love is our willingness to sacrifice everything, even our lives, for another believer. Most of us are not willing to sacrifice very much, much less die for our Christian brethren.
God commands us '...that we believe in the name of His Son Jesus Christ, and love one another...' (1 John 3:23). These two commands go hand in hand. If one has believed in the person and work for salvation, he is able to love other believers. If he has rejected the Word of God, loving Christians is an impossibility. John is referring to 'love' in the biblical context, not the squishy squashy love that the world talks about. Biblical love is self-sacrifice, and serving others. The world today declares that loving ourselves first is what is most important. Nothing could be further from the truth of the Word of God.
The perfect example of biblical love comes from God Himself; 'By this the love of God was manifested in us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world so that we might live through Him. With this love, it is not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.' (1 John 3:9-10). Again, it is important to understand that one cannot just begin to 'love' and become a child of God. One must first believe in the person and work of Christ (1 John 5:1). When salvation occurs, the Holy Spirit then gives us the ability to love as God has commanded. But without the salvation of Christ, the ability to love like Christ is not present in our depraved hearts.
Often we hear people say, 'I love God, and I love other believers, but I just do not have time to serve them.' The Word of God says that the demonstration of our love for God is how we serve other believers. When someone who claims to be a believer says, 'I am not interested,' that says something about the spiritual state of that person.
How are we to serve other believers? 1 Peter 4:10 says, 'As each one has received a special gift, employ it in serving one another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God.' Each one of us, as believers, has received a spiritual 'gift' from God that allows us to serve the body in a way that is pleasing to God. When we use this gift the way God intends, we are being good stewards of 'the manifold grace of God.'
These are the characteristics of a believer. We like to say, 'Nobody can be my judge. Do not tell me what to do!' We like our faith to be intangible so nobody can tell what is going on in our spiritual walk. But, as we have seen in Hebrews 6:10, there is evidence in our lives that shows everyone our spiritual condition. The writer to the Hebrews has stated to them 'we are convinced of better things concerning you' (Hebrews 6:9) The evidence in the lives of the Hebrews convinced the writer that they were believers. They had been faithful in their work and love toward other believers.
The writer goes on to say why he has addressed the Hebrews in the previous manner; 'And we desire that each one of you show the same diligence so as to realize the full assurance of hope until the end.' The word 'desire' is a very strong word that is translated 'covet.' The writer has an intense longing that everyone in the body of believers, to whom he is writing, show the same 'diligence.' He is convinced that the bulk of the Hebrews are believers, but he wants all of them to experience salvation. This is the same feeling that I have for the people I pastor today. I feel that the bulk of them are believers, but I 'desire' that everyone, who hears the gospel of Christ preached in our church, experiences salvation.
This unknown writer hopes that they all show the same 'diligence' or 'zeal.' He desires that all of the Hebrews would follow through to faith in Jesus Christ so 'as to realize the full assurance of hope until the end.' This word is used four times in the New Testament. In Colossians 2:2 Paul says, 'that their hearts may be encouraged, having been knit together in love, and attaining to all the wealth that comes from the full assurance of understanding, resulting in a true knowledge of God's mystery, that is, Christ Himself.' The person who comes to believe in the person and work of Christ attains the wealth that comes only from understanding who Christ is through a personal relationship with Him.
1 Thessalonians 1:5, and Hebrews 10:22 refer to this truth as well. A believer's 'full assurance' of faith and hope is a result of the ministry of the Holy Spirit only in the life of a believer. It is the same idea that the writer proclaimed in Hebrews 3:6 'but Christ was faithful as a Son over His house whose house we are, if we hold fast our confidence and the boast of our hope firm until the end.' Every child of God has the hope of seeing Christ in all His glory, and sharing in that glory in the new kingdom that is coming. The writer's plea to the Hebrews is to hold on to that hope and press forward to maturity, not turn back to the previous path of destruction.
The writer contrasts being diligent with being 'sluggish' in verse 12. He says, 'That you may not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises.' 'Sluggish' is the same word translated 'dull' in chapter 5, but the idea is exactly the same. The danger is that instead of being diligent and following through to the 'full assurance' of Christ, the Hebrews would become 'sluggish' and return to Judaism.
The writer encourages the Hebrews to be 'imitators.' He is asking them to 'mimic' the lives of those who 'through faith and patience inherit the promises.' 'Patience' and 'faith' go together because you cannot have one without the other. Some of the Hebrews are in danger of failing to manifest longsuffering, and that indicates that they do not have faith. This is what is known as the doctrine 'the perseverance of the saints.' which states that those who are believers will persevere until the end, no matter what the circumstances because they have 'faith' and 'patience.'
The contrast is between those who 'inherit the promises' and those who do not. Who inherits the promises? Every person who becomes a believer in the person and work of Jesus Christ inherits the promises of God, while those who reject the person and work of Christ inherit an eternity in hell, separated from the love of God.
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