Still shuddering from the warning that it is possible so to fall away from God that He won’t grant repentance, the readers of the letter must have been thrilled by the words of comfort and hope that the writer provides in the passage we will look at next Sunday. First, though, so that the brilliance of this hope may shine as brightly in our eyes as possible, let’s remind ourselves of the terrible warning we received last week.
LOOKING BACK (Hebrews 6:1-12)
We divided this passage into four sections:
- A Charge – PRESS ON TO MATURITY (verses 1-3). The writer had identified the problem with his readers – they were spiritually sluggish and immature, needing the basics even when they should have been able to teach them to others. He encourages them to move past what were teachings common to both Judaism and Christianity (where they wouldn’t stand out in times of persecution) and embrace the distinctively Christian teachings of the cross, the worship and obedience due to Christ as God and so on.
- A Warning – IF YOU FALL AWAY FROM CHRIST, YOU CAN’T BE SAVED (verses 4-6). You can’t stand still in the Christian life. Either you move forward or you fall backwards. God gives this warning because He wants those who profess His name to have full assurance of hope to the end (see verse 11). It is possible for some individuals who look like Christians and who have been blessed with significant spiritual experiences to fall completely away from Jesus. The truth is, says the writer, they were never truly converted in the first place. And this could be true for any who don’t persevere in fruitful obedience to Christ. If they had been true believers, God would have protected them and no-one would ever snatch them from His hand (John 10:27-29). Good works, fruit and ongoing faith give the evidence that someone has indeed been born again to new life in Jesus.
- An Illustration (verses 7-8) The writer underlines the different fates that await fruitful land and barren, thorn-infested land to illustrate the difference between those who are true, persevering believers and those who yield no fruit
- An Assuring Word (verses 9-12). The writer wants the readers to know that he has seen and continues to see fruit in their lives, which God will not overlook, and which is consistent with true salvation. However, it is clearly REALLY important that they keep on showing the same earnestness so they may have full assurance of hope to the end. That means no more sluggishness but rather imitating those who, through faith and patience, inherit the promises.
LOOKING AHEAD (Hebrews 6:13-20)
The writer reveals that he has Abraham in mind as one who, through faith and patience, inherited the promises, and whom the readers should therefore imitate. They needed to realize that it wasn’t through the works of the law (which they were thinking of returning to) that Abraham received the promises that through his offspring, he would be heir of the world, but rather through perseverance and faith. There is no promise under the law – just the just wrath of God – “For if it is the adherents of the law who are to be the heirs, faith is null and the promise is void.” (Romans 4:14).
The readers also needed to understand that as spiritual children of Abraham (and not merely his physical descendants) they were included in that promise and in the inheritance it entailed upon them. Abraham had been told by God that his descendants would be numbered through his son, Isaac. Just as in Isaac’s case, they would be “children of promise” (Gal 4:28). Isaac’s physical birth from parents who were as good as dead was humanly impossible apart from the promise of God. So also, the spiritual birth of the readers of this letter was impossible without God’s intervention, and His promise to bring life from the dead. The promises of God cannot fail. He will always do all that He has promised. And once we have a promise from Him, we know that He has both the intention and the ability to deliver on it. That should be the end of all argument. But the readers were faltering, even though they were heirs to the promise, provided that they remained in Christ.
And that is when the writer calls attention to an astonishing and remarkable condescension by God. He knows us and our weaknesses through and through! So in case the possession of His promise should still leave lingering doubts in the hearts and minds of the readers of this letter, God confirmed the promise once and for all by taking an oath to keep it! An oath has to be sworn in the name of a higher and greater power, but no-one is higher and greater than God, so He swore by Himself to deliver on the promise. When did He swear? At the point in time when Abraham had been about to offer Isaac up to God and had figuratively received him (and all the children of promise he represented) as risen from the dead and as his heir!
So true believers (today just as much as when this letter was written) have two unchangeable things (the promise and the oath) in which the God Who is Truth cannot lie, to give them “strong encouragement” to hold fast to the hope that is set before them, and not to be sluggish and risk drifting away. And this hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness! He has entered heaven as Forerunner on our behalf. He is the first representative in the heavenlies of a new race of glorified humanity – guaranteeing that others will follow. He has entered into the heavenly tabernacle by means of His own blood, and here He ministers eternally for us as our Great High Priest in the order of Melchizedek!
So think on this if you are wavering in your commitment to Christ. God wants you to be absolutely certain that He will keep all His promises to you (and there are very many of them) but especially the promise that you are a co-heir with Christ of all the good things that God has prepared for you to enjoy. And if doubt attempts to rob you of the peaceful assurance that these things are true and that they really are in store for you as a believer, remember that you don’t just have God’s word for it (though that is enough) He has sworn by Himself that He will do it!