Friday, May 06, 2005

It's All About Him: Hebrews -- Lesson 24

To start at the beginning of this series, click here.

Back at the Ranch

In the next section, the Writer of Hebrews transitions back to his main topic. In other words, the flow of Hebrews as gone like this:

Concerning him (i.e. Melchizedek) we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. (Hebrews 5:11, NASB 95)
Parenthetical comments about the importance of spiritual maturity and making sure of one's salvation
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. (Hebrews 6:19-20)

So at the end of chapter 6, the Writer is back on his main topic. Here is the full text of this transition:

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 so, 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, so that by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have taken refuge would have strong encouragement to take 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. (Hebrews 6:13-20)

By these words the Writer moves to encourage those of his readers who have an assured faith. The hope to which our faith looks is as sure as the One who promised. The Lord God has said to us, "I will surely..." And the Writer tells us that by that He has sworn an oath to us. There are "two unchangeable things" that we are assured of:

  • He will bless us
  • He will increase our numbers

The passing centuries have seen incredible opposition to the gospel. I see mounting opposition to it in our country today. This is why we need men and women of firm and proven faith. As we persevere, the gospel will spread, our numbers will increase, and we will enter the Sabbath rest that God has prepared for us. As the writer will later say, "Faith is the assurance of things hoped for..." To find faith living and active in me is the assurance of the gospel's promises.

Then the writer makes this intriguing statement, "a hope both sure and steadfast and one which enters within the veil." This "veil" is in heaven, but its earthly counterpart is the veil that separated and hid the Holy of Holies from the Holy Place in the temple. Whereas the community of Israel could worship outside the temple courts--and whereas the priests could offer sacrifices in the temple courts but not inside the temple--and whereas a few priests, chosen by lot, could offer incense in the Holy Place of the temple--only the high priest and only once a year and only with a basin of blood could enter within the veil. And yet because Jesus--a priest according to the order of Melchizedek--took His own blood behind the true veil in heaven, we can follow right behind.

The New Covenant in the blood of Messiah gives us unprecedented access to the Father. It is a marvelous and terrific privilege and one that goes often unrecognized. This theme has already appeared. It is behind the Writer's words, "Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Hebrews 4:16)" -- and will be repeated in many different ways as the book progresses.

And so as we are about to pick up again the theme of Jesus as our high priest. Let us look at the lessons of this interlude:

  • Solid food is for the mature who by practice have trained their senses to discern good and evil.
  • repentance, salvation, and religious exercises are elementary teachings and we must move on from them.
  • It is vitally important to respond to the Word of God in faith. To come near enough to see the truth and then back off is likely a permanent backing away.
  • On the other hand, the hope we have from an assured faith is based on the promises of One who cannot lie. Our future is behind the veil. Our future is being in the very presence of God.
  • By faith we have access today.

All because Jesus was a faithful high priest according to the Order of Melchizedek. And that topic is where we go next.

Test everything. Cling to what is good.

Monday, May 02, 2005

It's All About Him: Hebrews -- Lesson 23

To start at the beginning of this series, click here.

Things Pertaining to Salvation

Hebrews 6:9 reads, "But, beloved, we are convinced of better things concerning you, and things that accompany salvation, though we are speaking in this way." (NASB 95) By "things that accompany salvation" the Writer of Hebrews means that there is a permanent salvation--and it is vital and important for us to know that we have attained such. Peter writes, "so that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Chris" (1 Peter 1:7)

I have been in seminars and other teaching events where they ask the question, "How can you be sure that you are saved." Such meetings have good and worthwhile information, but many solve the issue of salvation assurance by what I would call a sign-post. They tell those who are unsure about their salvation to pray the sinner's prayer and ask for Jesus to come into their lives. From then on, when they have doubts, they are told to look back on this date as the day of their salvation--to look back at the sign post that they set.

The Writer of Hebrews has a different idea. Peter has a different idea. Jesus has a different idea.

It is not that a sinner's prayer is not effective. It can genuinely mark and accompany the transition of the soul from death to life and the awakening of the spiritually dead to the spiritually living. However, the sinner's prayer can never be construed as a legal contract of grace. Only to the degree that it reflects the heart of the man is it effective.

Genuine faith is that which overcomes and presses on in the midst of trials. Such trials may be the unfortunate events in life that come our way. They may be the suffering and ridicule that comes from enemies. They may even be--and note this--a persistent sin habit that the Spirit has not yet conquered in us, but against which we keep fighting. It is the shrinking back, walking away, abandoning the faith before it has taken root that is the problem. Note this section in Hebrews:

For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God, you may receive what was promised.
For yet in a very little while, He who is coming will come, and will not delay. But My righteous one shall live by faith; And if he shrinks back, My soul has no pleasure in him.
But we are not of those who shrink back to destruction, but of those who have faith to the preserving of the soul. (Hebrews 10:36-39)

This later section again visits the theme of pressing on and pushing through--and a casual reading suggests that salvation could be lost at any time. But it is important to understand these words, "but we are not of those who shrink back, but those who have faith to the preserving of the soul." What I read is that it is possible to know that you have within you a faith that will not shrink back. This assurance comes from the witness of the Holy Spirit in our hearts--"The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God" (Romans 8:16). It comes from endurance through trials--"knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance." (James 1:3). It comes from grace--"For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God;" (Ephesians 2:8)

So as you read Hebrews 6:1-12, it can be wise to take stock of your spiritual situation. Do you sense in yourself that things are not quite as they should be? Do you find that you are saying to yourself, "I prayed the prayer, I must be saved?" Then these words from the Writer are possibly for you:

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, so that you will not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises. (Hebrews 6:10-12)

First, seek God. He is the reward of heaven. Salvation begins with a heart that seeks after God--not a heart that merely seeks heaven. That is what it means to show "love ... Towards His name."

Second, minister to the saints--other believers. Finding within you a heart for service develops character and enables the Holy Spirit to manifest Himself in your life--"But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good." (1 Corinthians 12:7)

Third, imitate in your life what you see godly people do in theirs.

The bottom line is that we know our faith is genuine when it produces change in our hearts and an ability to persevere in sufferings and trials. We know that it is genuine by the love we have for God and His kingdom and His people. We know that it is genuine when we experience regret for the sins we have committed and have a deep appreciation for the solution.

Salvation is by faith alone. But faith is more than intellectual assent to doctrine. Faith is more than hoping that the words of the sinner's prayer are sufficient. Faith is an active force in the heart that activates change and supplies strength.

Test everything. Cling to what is good.

Match this up with Hebrews 6 and the parable of the soils and Peter's admonishment. Any of us can be brought to a place of testing that marks the point of continuing on in the faith or seeing our faith wither. This is sobering, but it is not the end of the matter.