CONVINCED OF BETTER THINGS: AN EXPOSITION OF HEBREWS 6:1-12

Hebrews 6 has proved to be a contensious passage in the history of exegesis and theology: the strong warning issued in this passage has proved to be the battleground for many soteriological debates. In this paper, I argue that the passage, interpreted within the compatibilist worldview of the Bible, holds together the same tension found elsewhere in the NT: perseverance is assured by God’s protection but dependent on man’s endurance. The author of Hebrews juxtaposes God’s sovereign protection with man’s responsible action in a warning intended to be the very means by which the stagnated Hebrews were to press on to the maturity to which God had called them.

You can read or download it here.

“Problem” Passages and Perseverance Part 1

In a few conversations with some of my good friends, I have been continually shocked at their struggles with a doctrine very close to my heart, Perseverance of the Saints. This doctrine triggered a watershed moment in the transformation of my understanding of theology 4 years ago and seems to me to resound from the pages of Scripture. In our conversations, a few texts, without fail, come up as obstacles for accepting this doctrine (Eg. Heb. 6:4-6, Heb. 10:26-31).

These texts appear to rule out Perseverance because they could grammatically lead one to the belief that a true believer could, once and for all, fall away from the faith, but these texts are so controversial because, grammatically, they could be interpreted as teaching the opposite doctrine. This is not to say that Scripture is univocal or that both interpretations are equally valid, but that the conclusion cannot be made on grammatical grounds, it must be made on the grounds of context—immediate, authorial, and canonical. What is often missed is that grammatically ambiguous texts do not make good “chair” texts,[1] but there are at least three texts in Scripture that fit perfectly as “chair” texts for Perseverance of the Saints. Within both the immediate context of the problem passages and in light of these passages from the larger context, I think that Perseverance becomes obvious as the Scriptural teaching.[2]

 

The first is Rom. 8:28-39; vs. 28-30 read, “2And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. 29For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren; 30and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified” (NASB). As I have blogged about elsewhere, there is a beautiful and comforting logic to these verses that can only lead to one conclusion.[3] Continuing his line of thought that has come from vv. 24-25 through 26-27 on their hope for glory, he writes that the Romans know God is working all things for their good. He then provides the reason why this is true in vv. 29-30. The reason we know that all things work together for good is because all whom God foreknows and predestined are infallibly drawn to Him and glorified, that is, their good is being made like Christ (v. 29) and this is an ensured result. That every single member of those foreknown are glorified is ensured by the string of demonstrative pronouns that Paul uses to connect each clause; the ones who were …. these he ….  If God works all things together for good to those who love God, then everyone who truly loves God—and are called according to His purpose—will endure to be glorified in the resurrection. If they could fall away, then God’s promise will have failed—unless one decides that Hell is a good.[4] Eph. 1:13-14 affirms this promise, Paul writes that God has given us His Holy Spirit as a seal of the promise ensuring that we will receive our inheritance stored up in glory, i.e. we will be glorified.

 

Then there is 1 Peter. 1:1-7. Here we read that it is by God’s strength that we endure, believers are “protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time” (v. 5 NASB). Peter blesses God who has caused believers to be born again to a living hope to inherit a heavenly inheritance reserved for them (vv. 3-4), whom God is preserving so that they will receive it. This promise of God wrought endurance is a reason for them to rejoice even in the face of trials (v. 6).

If a believer were to fall finally from the faith, this would mean that God failed in His work upholding their faith. This possibility would undermine the reason for rejoicing in trials, for that trial could be what leads him to fall away and lose his inheritance. That God is preserving His saints is affirmed in John 10:27-39, were Jesus says, “27My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand. 29My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand(NASB). Speaking to Jews who did not believe Jesus’ testimony about Himself (vv. 24-25), Jesus tells them that only His Sheep believe (v. 26). In these verses, He says that these sheep receive eternal life and will never perish, they are in His and His Father’s Hand; no one can remove them from His hand. It is special pleading to say that the one thing that can lead to someone perishing and being taken out of His hand is oneself.

 

Lastly, there is John 6:35-51. Other than Rom. 8:28-39, this is the most powerful passage in support of Perseverance. In v. 37, Jesus says that all the Father gives Him will come to Him, that is believe, and these will “certainly not be cast out.” What is often missed is that this phrase does not mean that He won’t kick them out way from Him but that He will most surely keep them in.[5] This is confirmed by vv. 39-40, here Jesus says that He will not lose any those who come to Him in faith—those given to Him by the Father—and He repeats twice that He will raise these up on the final day. Then in v. 44, Jesus responds to those grumbling about His words, saying that only those drawn by the Father will come to Him and that all these drawn will be raise up on the last day. This passage is one of the strongest predestinarian texts in Scripture and the powerful force of these verses is that no one will fail to be raised to eternal life that has come to Jesus.

 

While all the supposed problem texts for perseverance of the saints are grammatically ambiguous to some extent, these three texts and those like them are grammatically and contextually unambiguous. All those who come to Jesus Christ in true saving faith can know that God works all things together for their good; because by God’s omnipotent power at work through their faith, they will most surely be kept in the faith and will assuredly receive their promised inheritance assured by the seal of the Spirit.
 


[1] A “chair” text is one that overwhelmingly leads one to a theological conclusion and can be safely used to help clear up ambiguous or uncertain texts.

[2] Far from being the least certain of the so called “5 Points of Calvinism,” perseverance was the one doctrine that the Remonstrants, objecting to these 5 points, could not agree on; they were split on whether Scripture taught perseverance or not.

[3] See https://allforthegloryofhiskingdom.wordpress.com/2013/05/13/romans-828-39-a-devotionalexegeticaltheological-rant/ with https://allforthegloryofhiskingdom.wordpress.com/2013/05/13/romans-828-leads-to-the-conclusion-of-perseverance-and-compatibilism/. It is telling that my least favorite Arminian commentator can only say against the conclusion of perseverance from these verses that he agrees with Wesley’s unsupported interpretation. F. Leroy Forlines, Romans, ed. Robert E.Editor Picirilli, First Edition., The Randall House Bible Commentary (Randall House Publications, 1987), 240.

[4] See my paper here https://allforthegloryofhiskingdom.wordpress.com/2013/05/04/the-comprehensive-and-eternal-retributive-view-of-hell-table-of-contents/. I am convinced by Scripture that Hell is not good for those in it: it is eternal retributive punishment poured out by God against their sins.

[5] D. A. Carson, The Gospel According to John, The Pillar New Testament Commentary (Leicester, England; Grand Rapids, MI: Inter-Varsity Press; W.B. Eerdmans, 1991), 290.

A review of What is Reformed Theology? by R.C. Sproul

What is Reformed Theology? is a great overview and introduction to Reformed Theology–that is, the whole of theology and not just the five points of Calvinism with which it is often equated. The overview of the TULIP was very well done, the section on Total Depravity presented a good overview of Jonathan Edwards understanding of the freedom of the will. Even if you don’t agree with the finer points of reformed theology (e.g. their view of the Sacraments) this book is worth reading for its overview of Reformed theology and a brief introduction to its history; especially the overview it gives of Covenant Theology (contrasting with the commonly held idea of Dispensationalism), and what Calvinist’s really mean by TULIP.

This book gets a rating of 5/5