OF THOSE WHO HAVE FAITH
October 22, 2006
Steven Clark Goad wrote in a little devotional thought: “I learned to sing tenor while sitting next to Mother in the old red brick church building. I loved the fragrance of Juicy Fruit Chewing Gum escaping from her purse. The aggregate aroma of the assembled saints also teased my olfactory sensors. I loved church - and I was only nine-years-old. David Bobo baptized me before I was a teen. Sister Ayers, Mom and Dad, Winnie Pigg, songs and sermons and church picnics, Brother Boruff’s song leading somehow made the word of God more easily accepted for one lad than might otherwise have been.” Then he says, “Some days I wish I had back my youthful, innocent faith. No polemics. No high decibel assertions. I didn’t know what homiletics or hermeneutics meant. I was certain of one thing: Jesus loves me; this I know; for the Bible tells me so.”
There isn’t a place and a time in all of our lives when that thought of youthful, innocent faith can’t help call us back to the basics of living for the Lord. That is the kind of thing that the writer of the book of Hebrews has in mind in the crucial passage at the end of Hebrews 10. Beginning at verse 35, notice his emphasis on the kind of faith we have just mentioned. He says, “Therefore do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised. For, ‘Yet a little while, and the coming one 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 and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their souls.”
A Book of Contrasts
This morning as we think about our own faith in the Lord, it may help us to consider the contrast which is drawn in this great reading. The book of Hebrews is an epistle of very sharp contrasts. On the one hand there are some of the most thrilling statements of confidence in the Lord that you will find anywhere. Hebrews reminds us of Jesus’ role as the pioneer of our salvation, the author and the finisher of our faith. Jesus is pictured in this book as the one who has once for all paid the price that is able to save us and to give us life. He is the one who ever lives to make intercession for us. He is the one by whom we have access to the throne of the God of the universe. He is the one through whom we have an anchor for our souls to keep us steadfast and sure. It is because of Christ that we can draw near to the throne of God’s grace and find there the grace and the mercy that we have need of in our lives. Each of those statements and many similar ones just have the effect of telling us what we have been given in Christ and emphasizing to us the Lord’s ability to do whatever needs to be done to secure our future with God.
On the other hand, this same book includes the most sobering warnings in the New Testament. Does it seem strange to you that these would occur right alongside the statements that emphasize the greatness of what Christ does for his people? Listen to some of these statements. In chapter 2:2-3 we read, “For since the message declared by angels proved to be reliable and every transgression or disobedience received a just retribution, how shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation? It was declared at first by the Lord, and it was attested to us by those who heard.” He is saying in light of the great salvation brought with Christ, then what’s the destiny of one who neglects that salvation?
In 3:12-13 we are advised, “Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called "today," that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.”
And then in chapter 6:4-6, one of the most thought-provoking of these statements is this one. It says, “For it is impossible to restore again to repentance those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, if they then fall away, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt.”
That vivid contrast between the blessed assurance that we will sing of after while and the complete security of one who is in Christ, contrasted to the danger of the evil, unbelieving heart and of passing that point of no return where one seems incapable of caring anymore whether God loves him or whether Christ has died for him, that is the contrast of this book. How are we to respond to it? What should we think of that contrast? It is not about creating insecurity. The writer of this book is trying to do exactly the opposite of that to people who have grown a little bit weary or worried about what lies ahead. He is trying to remind them that they have something worth living for. He says repeatedly that what Jesus has done is sufficient, and he counsels complete confidence in Christ. To hold on to our boldness, to not cast it away or to walk away from it at all – that is what Hebrews 10:35 says.
But the writer is saying that the benefits promised on the basis of the work of Christ are conditional. He uses the word “if” over and over again, and he tells us here that “if” we hold fast, “if” we endure, “if” we have a living faith, then these promises are certain and sure. They are trustworthy. He is trying to appeal to us not to be of those who throw away that confidence and that hope. This book is about helping us to see that we will receive the promise if we hold firm, if we endure, if we pay attention, if we show earnestness and full assurance of hope until the end, if we draw near to God through Christ and don’t give up. That is the point of the contrast of this book.
The Key Contrast
Now, the text which we read at the end of chapter 10 offers perhaps the key contrast of the book. Look at verse 39. Notice in this verse the difference between having faith and shrinking back. You notice here that having faith means more than just believing something to be intellectually true, or, having once made a commitment. Having faith here speaks of a way of life, something that characterizes a person all the time through his life. Shrinking back means something more than just having a doubt here and there, or struggling once in a while. It means that we have set off on a way of life.
The Hebrew writer uses a quote from the Old Testament prophet Habakkuk in verses 37 and 38. This quote is to the effect that the righteous will live by faith. You may remember that Romans and Galatians both used that part of this quote to prove that righteousness comes by faith and not through works of law. Both Romans and Galatians emphasize to us that one can cast himself on the work of Christ by repenting and being baptized into Christ, and that God will count that person righteous based on what Christ has done. That person then begins to pursue a life of ethical righteousness because he belongs to Christ. That kind of faith is crucial that the righteous shall live by faith.
But notice carefully that the Hebrew writer now concentrates on the second clause from that passage. What he calls their attention to is the possibility of shrinking back, and thereby walking away from their commitment to the Lord. This passage reminds us that while the righteous live by faith, some do in fact shrink back. That is where this basic contrast that I am speaking of comes in.
Notice that in this statement in verse 39, there are two spiritual companies – those who are of faith, he says, and those who shrink back. Notice that there are two reactions to life – either persevering through faith or turning back through unbelief and disobedience. Then notice that there are two destinies that go along with this – either the preserving of the soul or the destroying of it.
The crucial point here is that this destroying of the soul is not merely being lost at judgment. The Hebrew writer is saying that by walking away from faith one does something to his inner man, one does something to his personality, and one does something to his soul which robs him of the things that give life meaning, and which causes him then to ignore his purpose in God’s providence in this world and to begin to allow that image in which he was created to be lost and marred within him. At judgment there is not merely the verdict, “You are lost.” Judgment is merely the recognition of the choice already made to turn away from life.
This contrast that we are talking about here between the two conditions, the two companies and the two destinies may be observed, it seems to me, in the two preceding paragraphs in Hebrews 10. Of the first company, there who are of faith, the Hebrew writer speaks in verses 19 and following in this manner, “Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” Notice that in this company of faith there is the drawing near to God and the full assurance of faith. There is the holding fast; there is the being involved with each other in love and good works.
On the other hand, of that second company – those who shrink back – the writer speaks in verses 26 through 31. He says, “For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins.” Let me pause for a second and observe with you that he is not saying here that Jesus is not able to save. What he is saying is that there is not some other sacrifice that is going to be offered. There will be no substitute for Jesus, in other words. “But,” he says, “a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries. Anyone who has set aside the law of Moses dies without mercy on the evidence of two or three witnesses. How much worse punishment, do you think, will be deserved by the one who has spurned the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has outraged the Spirit of grace? For we know him who said, ‘Vengeance is mine; I will repay.’ And again, ‘The Lord will judge his people.’ It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.”
He is speaking here to people who were Christians, who made a confession and a commitment and began that course of life with the Lord, and then decided that wasn’t good enough for him. And what he is saying is, “you need to realize what you have said to the one who died for you and to the spirit of grace and to the living God.” It is a thought-provoking statement, to say the least. What he writes in the last verse indicates that he expects both himself and his readers to be of that first company – the people who draw near to God in full assurance of faith – and to remain of that company.
Those Who Have Faith
The question is “How do we remain of that company?” The answer is in the surrounding information here in this part of the book of Hebrews. What he says is that we remain of this company by a faith which endures with joy, serving out of trust in the promise of God. Let me illustrate it for us. First, there is the way this truth is demonstrated in the former lives of these very readers. He says in verses 32 and following, “But recall the former days when, after you were enlightened, you endured a hard struggle with sufferings, sometimes being publicly exposed to reproach and affliction, and sometimes being partners with those so treated.” Think of the faith it took for that. “For you had compassion on those in prison, and you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property, since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one.” I am suggesting you can see the keys to the faith we are talking about right here. First, look at the fact that “you endured.” That is what faith does. It stays with it. “You had compassion.” Faith looks outside of self to the good of other people. “You joyfully accepted the plundering of your possessions.” There is a joy to it. This is not “poor me – look what bad things are happening to me.” There is a joy to this, and the reason is because of assurance that God’s promise will be kept. You knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one. There is endurance with compassion in joy because of trust in God’s promise.
In Hebrews 11, a number of the great heroes of faith of ages past are used as illustration of this truth. Central to this whole passage is the story of Abraham and Sarah. It takes up about one-third of the verses in Hebrews 11. And it is not surprising when you think of it that they demonstrate the same principles about faith. Abraham and Sarah are mentioned in their experiences when they were called to leave their homeland, when they had gone there but had not received a home yet, and then when they were tested. Their experience is described when they were to receive an inheritance, when they had not received the things promised, and then when they had received the promises. What we are told is that they endured. They lived a long time – all their lives – without actually completely and totally receiving those things, and yet they lived as if they were true.
Next, we are told that they sought to be a blessing to other people. There is some amount of their compassion there in understanding that a blessing was going to come through them. And then we are reminded that they did this gladly. They could have turned back, but they didn’t because they were looking to a better country. There is the joy to it. And then that all of this happened for no other reason than that they believed God. They believed he was faithful; they believed he was able; and therefore they acted in obedience to his word. There again is endurance and compassionate joy because they looked to the fulfillment of God’s promises and trusted what he said.
And then the third illustration of these same points will be found in Jesus himself. Look at the beginning of Hebrews 12. The writer encourages his readers to run with patience the race that is set before them in verse 1. He says in verse 2, “Looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” Observe again the same principles of faith in the Lord’s life. What did he do? He endured even the cross. Why did he do that? Well, partly out of compassion for people he was trying to help and partly because he was looking for something better. He looked to the joy that was set before him. And then notice that he did so in obedience to the will of his Father. He trusted the Father’s will.
Here are two companies – those of faith and those who shrink back. The choice of which company holds powerful implications in our lives now and hereafter. There are destinies attached to this, you see. How do we come to be people who are of faith? We take God at his word, believing his promises to the point that we get up and act on them. We begin to demonstrate our faith in God through compassionate service to other people. We keep on doing it, we endure even when it doesn’t look like things are working the way we thought they would, and all of that with joy which looks for a better country and which believes that it is working. Are you of those who have faith through preserving of the soul or of those who shrink back?