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.

Reflections on Romans 8 and Suffering

Romans 8:28-39 is probably my favorite passage in the Bible. It is written on a travel mug my wife gave me and it is embedded on my heart. For me, this passage provides hope and comfort… but not of the sort usually sought from it. Romans 8:28-39 doesn’t give the hope that God will end pain today, take away poverty, or take away my distress—it offers so much more. The comfort Romans 8 gives, the answer to suffering it provides, is infinitely more than the promise of a painless life here and now, it is the promise of transformed suffering, of beauty and hope in horror and distress.

I have friends and know families that have gone through far more suffering than I could ever imagine, but that doesn’t make me a stranger to pain and suffering. Like every person on this earth, I have felt shadow of death encroaching on my delusions of immortality, bringing the reality of the deathly consequences of sin like a lightning shock to my soul. I have lost friends, and even some family. Beyond that, I have felt the utter confusion and soul wrenching distress of losing minutes of my memory at the hands of subtle seizures. I have felt the horrors of having other people recall things I did without any recollection of their occurrence. I have felt the pain of the mind numbing confusion, disorientation, and headaches accompanying daily petite mal and absence seizures. I have felt the brain cracking throbs of post-surgery aches as my brain and skull recovered from the absence of some of their members. What I only see now, in hindsight, is the great hope Romans 8 provides for suffering now. There is an end to suffering, Romans 8 testifies to that much, and this is great fodder for our hope in this life, but Paul goes beyond just telling us that our suffering will end, he tells us how our suffering will be transformed.

He calls to mind first what we should all know; “28And 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” (NASB). But before he lets us fill “good” with all sorts of worldly baggage—such as prosperity, health, and comfort—he informs us of the nature of this “good.”

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.”

What is the good Paul envisions? Conformity to Christ, the Spirit wrought Christ-likeness emerging as our outer man wastes away but our inner man is renewed day by day, that glorious hope of God’s good creation that we await in glory. It was hard, and is now hard, to see that hope in the midst of pain; as my body was wracked by convulsions and paramedics came into my kitchen, taking me away after my seizures escalated, it was hard to see how even this agony was for my good—how could God wish, and even have ordained, such pain? Only now can I see that those birth pangs, the bitter echoes of God’s curse upon sin playing out in daily life, were needed to produce in me an eternal weight of glory, a hope and abiding faith in the one true God.

The comfort of Romans 8 is not the absence of pain we all long for, but the transformation of pain that I now treasure. Looking back at those pains, ending just over 6 years ago, I treasure all that God did then and the effects the pain has wrought in my heart by the Holy Spirit’s touch. I rejoice that I suffered for 4 years under the weight of epilepsy and a growing brain tumor, for I now see more and more each day that good for which God ordained my pain. Without that suffering, my faith would be the anemic and frail confession I once held, a profession with my lips that never pierced the stone of my heart. I would not have tasted the joy that comes from knowing and trusting God, as I now experience day by day.

I would probably still be working a pointless job to make ends meet with no desire to do what was necessary to move on in life, content to waste my days on video games, books, and sin. But God knew what I needed; He knew that suffering, pain, distress was what would shock my sinful heart from its stupor and awaken my heart to the joy of living every day to the glory of God. The comfort of Romans 8 is this hope, that as we suffer pain we rejoice that we are becoming ever more like Christ, and as such, we see more clearly every day the abundant and overflowing joy that emerges out of life in Christ and the living in the presence of God. It also gives us the hope that no matter the horrors of the trials we face, we never have to fear missing glory. Firstly, because of Christ, we have no condemnation and no accuser can bring a charge against us; we are right before God. Secondly, because of the Spirit at work in our hearts, we are assured that no matter what evil befalls us, God will work it out for our good; we will be glorified and reign with Him forever in the new heavens and the new earth. With Paul we can cry out,

Who will bring a charge against God’s elect? God is the one who justifies; 34who is the one who condemns? Christ Jesus is He who died, yes, rather who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us. 35Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? 36Just as it is written,

“For Your sake we are being put to death all day long;

We were considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”

37But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. 38For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

“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.

The Facade of Confidence; How Self-Confidence Destroys Our Identity

One thing our culture is great at these days in encouraging self-confidence. We are told from childhood that we can do anything we put our minds towards, we are often presented with this picture of children being born innocent and being corrupted by time—in the Christian culture the corruption of our children is often pinned on the perverting influence of our culture. Walking into even a Christian bookstore we see shelves full of books on ridding ourselves of negative mindsets, of acquiring good self-esteem so that we can achieve the abundance we are said to be entitled to. I recently watched a spoken word on YouTube from a Christian guy ranting about the awesome man/woman inside of each of us that we need to unleash. The last 200 years have been filled with utopian visions of the goodness of mankind and how if we work together we can achieve boundless prosperity and happiness. Until I came to Bible College there were times when I actually thought it was a good idea to follow my heart.

It is so easy in a culture of self-esteem, self-confidence, and self-you-name-it, to get the idea that we deserve things like God’s love or mercy. It is easy to get into the mindset that we can go places with our lives, attain righteousness, or—at the very least—deserve the love of God on our own.

When we attempt to understand our identity in Christ and God’s relationship to us from this foundation we find ourselves all over the place; our view of God, of ourselves, and of our sin are dangerously skewed and we find ourselves reading Scripture through the damaging lenses of these harmful presuppositions.  As I have wrestled through different passages of Scripture over the last 3 years and have attempted to see my identity not in what I am or what I do but in my relation to Christ I have constantly run into the foundation I had laid before of how deserving or worthwhile I was. What I have come to see, courtesy of insights from various authors (such as Martin Luther, John Calvin, Jonathan Edwards, John Piper, etc.), is that without looking back to where I was before the Spirit renovated my heart, without tearing down the idols and illusions of self-confidence, I would never get to a healthy place of seeing myself as God sees me. I came to the conclusion that as long as I clung to my ideals of self-confidence I would find myself floundering in my own depravity and inability as I attempted to do things by my own strength, will, and ability. What I needed to do was get a healthy biblical position of who I was apart from Christ.

What I needed to do was strip aside my cultural presuppositions and get a healthy dose of reality; I needed to examine myself apart from Christ and see myself as the truly wretched hellion I am without His grace. From this perspective of stripped down and worthless, my state before God changed me, I could THEN, and only then, look at my identity in Christ; it is from here that I could truly grasp the profundity of God’s love for me.

I set it up as a I was, I am, I am becoming contrast, starting with who I was before Christ—who am I apart from His Spirit, the darkness is that is still hiding in the recesses of my heart awaiting final destruction in the resurrection and glorification. Who was I?

– I was a child of the devil[i]
– I was of this dark and writhing cesspool of a world[ii]
– I was a sinner from birth[iii]
– I was in Adam, under sin[iv]
– I had no righteousness[v]
– I was dead in my trespasses[vi]
– I hated and blasphemed God[vii]
– I was an enemy of God[viii]
– I faced His wrath[ix]
– I knew God existed, but abandoned him in pursuit of my selfish desires[x]
– I was an idolater
– I was a murder[xi]
– I was an adulterer[xii]
– I was a liar
– my heart was and is deceitful above all else[xiii]
– I was a slave to sin[xiv]
– My mind was set on the things of the flesh[xv]
– I was and am (in myself, apart from Christ’s righteousness imputed to me) unworthy of anything but the fiery wrath of God poured out against my own unrighteousness.
– I was a man of unclean lips with dirty hands
– I was covetous and deceitful
– I was untrustworthy

I still struggle with much of this, for we are all caught in the already/not-yet tension of Christ’s kingdom;[xvi] but this is no longer my identity.

 

When I examine my abilities and moral capacities I realize that apart from God and His work I am unworthy of love, I am unworthy of mercy, I am unable to do anything meaningful in this life. But then came Jesus! While I was still a destitute sinner, an enemy of God telling Him to leave me alone and offer His grace to someone else, and while I did my own thing, He burst in and changed everything. He sent His only Son—God Himself, the third person of the Holy trinity—to die in my place.[xvii] He sent His Son to bear His own wrath so that I may be reconciled to God and enjoy Him forever.[xviii] He so loved His Church, of which He has made me a part, that He came to sanctify her for Himself as a bride to spend eternity with Him, her creator.[xix] He loved me so much that He reached down and took my wretched heart of stone that hated Him with all its might and replaced it with a heart of flesh that I might be drawn to Him and be raised up on the last day.[xx] He foreknew me in my wretched state and chose to show mercy on me, a sinner;[xxi] despite my lowly position, despite my nothingness, despite my lack of anything positive to earn His love,[xxii] He set His loving affections upon me in eternity past and He predestined me to be conformed to the image of His son.[xxiii] Because I have been loved and changed, because His work in me is certain, I can have the trust that all things will be worked by Him together for my good[xxiv]—that is, for my sanctification and eventual glorification.[xxv] Because of Him and His work I get to enjoy Him in this life, because of Him and His work I get to enjoy an eternity with Him for He is the end of the Gospel.[xxvi] Because Christ died I know I have forgiveness of my sins, because He rose again I have the guarantee that the work was finished and surety of my eventual resurrection to glorious life eternal with the Father Son and Spirit.[xxvii] Throughout Scripture I see that my identity is in Christ;

-In Christ I am free from condemnation through my faith[xxviii]
-Through Christ I am adopted as a son[xxix]
-in Christ I am a co-heir, awaiting my inheritance[xxx]
-in Christ I have peace with God[xxxi]
-in Christ I have access to the Father[xxxii]
-in Christ I am a new creation, the old is gone but the new is here[xxxiii]
-in Christ I have a foreign righteousness not my own[xxxiv]
-in Christ I am a part of the new covenant community of his people
-in Christ I am being sanctified  by the work of the Spirit[xxxv]
-in Christ I have security for that final day.[xxxvi]

The beauty of all this is that I didn’t deserve it. Nothing in God’s character necessitated that He save me.[xxxvii] He did not have to show mercy, He did not have to love me salvifically, He would have been well within His character to pour out the white hot wrath of His righteous indignation upon my head for an eternity stripped of all providential blessings that even this fallen world has in store for His creation.[xxxviii] Nothing in me necessitated He save me, in fact it was in spite of anything I could do that He saved me: He was faithful to His good and faithful character by upholding the highest end in this universe by glorifying His Holy name in sovereignly dispensing His mercy solely on the good graces of His mercy.[xxxix]

 

When I take account of what the Bible says to who I am outside of Christ I am forced to come to a healthy understand of how wretched I am, of the worm I am in the presence of God’s holiness. I am forced to see how marvellously profound the love of God is for me in that I am who I am today standing in the place I am. Like a space shuttle jettisons its fuel pod and extra boosters to breach the bounds of earth’s atmosphere, I am forced to jettison the facade of self-confidence, I am forced to realize my utter incompetence and come before God in every endeavour I am to undertake. I am forced to see how all my ability and intelligence is for naught unless His Holy Spirit is illuminating His word and sustaining the gifts He has given me. I am forced to give Him glory for every good grade, every success, I have ever had and ever will have. I am forced to give up any thought that I could do it and completely surrender every ounce of self-dependence. I am forced to fall on my knees ever moment of the day to go to my source for all things.

As the illusion of my self-confidence is stripped away and I am laid bare my Father in heaven wraps His arms around me and covers my nakedness with His love and mercy, He clothes me in His Son’s righteousness to cover my disgusting flesh and I am left with a greater confidence then I could ever have had before.

In life or death I will rejoice because whether I fail or succeed, trip or run, my Father’s love was never dependent upon my success and therefore will never be lost.[xl] No force of darkness, spiritual being, earthly kingdom, mighty man, fit of depression, abyss of despair, ocean of pain, heart wrenching loss, or act of violence can ever remove me from the love of God.[xli] When trials come I know that I can rejoice for it is not my ability that will get me through but God’s gracious power at work in my faith ensuring that I will endure all the darkness that this world has to throw at me.[xlii]

In light of this I will set my sights on my maker, look towards the inheritance He has set aside for me, turn away from the things of this world, set my eyes on the kingdom above and work out my faith with fear and trembling—knowing all along that it is Him working in me so that I am able to work and to will.[xliii] I will run the race set before me with endurance knowing that He will get me through all hardship and that every hardship will only produce more endurance,[xliv] I will strive to be conformed to the image of my God setting my sights on the eternal rest that awaits and running until my abilities are spent knowing that when I hit the wall it won’t be my strength that gets me through but His Spirit, the seal of my inheritance, who will ensure that the work He started in me is completed when I am glorified.[xlv]

Praise be unto that glorious savior, praise be unto that mighty God,
Praise be unto the one who gave His only Son to drink of the full force of His wrath in my place,
Praise be to the one who holds the entire universe together by the power of His word and willed for the nails holding his arms and feet in place to exist even as He surrendered his last breath declaring “it is finished” that I might have life,
Praise be to Him who created and sustains all things by the word of His power.
Who can plumb the depths of His majestic wisdom?
Who can know the depths of the wisdom of the sovereign king of kings,
The king who would give His life to make a wretch like me His treasure.

Soli deo gloria.


[i] 1 John 3:10

[ii] as John likes to use term “world” with which all who are not of God are identified

[iii] Psalm 51:5, 58:3

[iv] Romans 5

[v] Romans 1:18-32, 3:10-18, Romans 8:5-8

[vi] Ephesians 2:1

[vii] Romans 1:18-32, 3:18, James 4:4, Romans 8:5-8

[viii] Romans 5:10, James 4:4, Romans 8:5-8

[ix] Romans 1:16-3:20, John 3:36

[x] Romans 1:18-32

[xi] Matthew 5:21-22

[xii] Matthew 5:27-28

[xiii] Jer. 17:9

[xiv] Romans 6

[xv] Romans 8:5-8

[xvi] Meaning that with the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ the coming kingdom which the Jews were expecting has come in part, and we see the fruits of this in the New Covenant relationship we have with God, but its fullness is still coming with Christ’s return. We are caught in a tension as we still are in this world and still struggle with our sinful desires, we still face temptation and succumb to it, but at the same time we are not citizens of this world but of God’s kingdom and have His spirit dwelling in us working through us and sanctifying  us.

[xvii] John 3:16, Romans 5:10, Romans 5:6, 1 Corinthians 15:3, 1 Pet. 3:18, etc.

[xviii] Romans  5:1, 1 John 4:9, 1 John 4:10, 1 John 4:14, Gal. 4:5-6, Col. 1:22, 2 Cor. 5:18

[xix] Ephesians 5:2, 5:25-27; Rev. 19:7.

[xx] John 6:37-45, cf. Isaiah 54:13, Jeremiah 31:31-34; Ezekiel 36:22-28, 11:17-20; 1 Corinthians 2:12-14, 1 John 4:7.

[xxi] Romans 8:29

[xxii] 1 Corinthians 1:22-31

[xxiii] Romans 8:29, Eph. 1:3-6

[xxiv] Romans 8:28-30

[xxv] Romans 8:29-30

[xxvi] John 17:3

[xxvii] 1 Corinthians 15

[xxviii] Romans 8:1

[xxix] Ephesians 1:5

[xxx] Romans 8:17, Titus 3:7, 1 Peter 3:7

[xxxi] Romans 3:20-31, Romans 4:4-5, Romans 5:1

[xxxii] Hebrews 7-8, esp. 8:11, Hebrews 4:14-16

[xxxiii] 2 Corinthians 5:16-17

[xxxiv] Romans 4:4-5, Romans 1:16-17, Galatians 2:21

[xxxv] 1 Thessalonians 3:1-7, Philippians 2:12-13, 2 Thessalonians 2:13-14, Hebrews 12:14, 1 Peter 1:2, Romans 6:19-23.

[xxxvi] Romans 8:28-39, 1 Peter 1:1-7, Hebrews 3:14, Hebrews 6:1-20, John 6:37-44, John 10:25-30, Eph. 1:13-14, 4:30.

[xxxvii] Romans 9:14-16

[xxxviii] Romans 9:18, Romans 9:22, Matthew 5:45, Matthew 6:25-34

[xxxix] 1 Corinthians 1:22-31, Romans 5:6-8, Romans 9:6-23, Eph. 1:1-23.

[xl] Romans 8: 31-39

[xli] Ibid.

[xlii] 1 Peter 1:1-7

[xliii] Philippians 2:12-13

[xliv] Romans 5:3-5, Hebrews 12:1-2

[xlv] Hebrews 4:11, Eph. 1:13-14, Romans 8:28-30, Philippians 1:6

Let us strive to enter the rest of God – A Sermon on Hebrews 3-4

Homiletical Idea: Let us strive to enter the rest of God

 

Introduction

Good morning church! I again have the privilege of bringing you this morning’s sermon. You may remember that over the last two weeks Tom and I have begun to preach through the book of Hebrews, today we will continue to look at the this quite profound book.

Have you ever had a really restful vacation planned, a trip where you would get away from the toils of daily life, and then found it, for one reason or another, fall apart and never happen?

I unfortunately experienced this at the end of last summer. Before heading back here for school I had planned to go on a 3 day hike up in the Rockies with some friends of mine. The night before we were to go we were all getting ready and one of my friends ended up falling down some stairs and as a result, we ended up cancelling the trip!

I was quite disappointed, I had had been working all summer, so I was looking forward to the time of rest away from the city, it would also have been a good time with some close friends. Our trip fell apart before it even began because of an accident, but there have been other times where a trip of mine has fallen apart because something vital was forgotten at home, or someone did something stupid and we had to call it off.

Have you ever had a similar experience?

The ancient Israelites did. Early in the Old Testament, in the book of Numbers, we read a sad story about the nation of Israel.

Israel had been delivered from slavery in the land of Egypt and had entered into a profound relationship with God. God had conveyed upon them the privilege of being His chosen people, a people that would share a unique relationship with Him.

He pledged to be their God and they pledged to be His people. This all took place at Mt. Sinai where God entered into a covenant, which is basically a relationship established or confirmed by a formal agreement, promising to be their God and they promising to be His people.

After this encounter with God the people of Israel set out to enter into the land that God had promised to Abraham and then to the people of Israel; entering into this land was rest for the people, it would be the end of a long sojourn from slavery to journeying and finally ending in peace dwelling under the providing hand of God.

Unfortunately, the people of Israel did not find this rest when they were expecting it; instead of entering accepting God’s promise and entering the land they become afraid and rebelled against God.

Instead of entering the rest they had been promised, they were punished with 40 years of wandering in the desert. This is the background that undergirds the verses we will be looking at today.

Turn with me in your Bibles to, you guessed it; the book of Hebrews. We will be looking today at Hebrews 3:7-4:13. That is Hebrews chapter 3, starting at verse 7.

7Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says, “Today, if you hear his voice, 8do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion, on the day of testing in the wilderness, 9where your father put me to the test and saw my works for forty years. 10Therefore I was provoked with that generation, and said, ‘They always go astray in their heart; they have not known my ways.’ 11As I swore in my wrath, ‘They shall not enter my rest.’” 12Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. 13But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. 14For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end. 15As it is said, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.”16For who were those who heard and yet rebelled? Was it not all those who left Egypt led by Moses? 17And with whom was he provoked for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the wilderness? 18And to whom did he swear that they would not enter his rest, but to those who were disobedient? 19So we see that they were unable to enter because of unbelief. 4 1Therefore, while the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us fear lest any of you should seem to have failed to reach it. 2For good news came to us just as to them, but the message they heard did not benefit them, because they were not united by faith with those who listened. 3For we who have believed enter that rest, as he has said, “As I swore in my wrath, ‘They shall not enter my rest,’” although his works were finished from the foundation of the world. 4For he has somewhere spoke on the seventh day in this way: “And God rested on the seventh day from all his works.” 5And again in this passage he said, “They shall not enter my rest.” 6Since therefore it remains for some to enter it, and those who formerly received the good news failed to enter because of disobedience, 7again he appoints a certain day, “Today,” saying through David so long afterward, in the words already quoted, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.” 8For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken of another day later on. 9So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, 10for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his. 11Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience. 12For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. 13And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.” [i]

(You may remember from a few weeks ago when I introduced the book of Hebrews that at the heart of this book is a warning to the Hebrews to stop turning back to Judaism and to continue in the Christian faith. Today we find ourselves once again in one of the specific messages of warning that the author writes to the Hebrews)

 

Body

The Rest of God:

The author of Hebrews in chapters 3 & 4 warns those he is writing to that unbelief will disqualify them from entering God’s rest. Throughout 3:7-4:13 we find an argument made from Psalm 95 that the rest the Israelites entered when Joshua led them into the promised land was not the final rest promised, there was still a rest waiting for those who have faith in Jesus Christ. It is this future rest that awaits all believers that will become the focal point of these chapters.

(The argument the author of Hebrew is making comes from a detailed explanation of Psalm 95:7-11)

The Exposition of Psalm 95:7-11

In warning the Jews that they are on a dangerous path and that they need to turn back in faith to Jesus the author of Hebrews compares the situation in which his audience finds themselves and the situation in which the Israelites found themselves. Look with me at verses 15-19 of chapter 3, here we read;

“15As it is said, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.” 16For who were those who heard and yet rebelled? Was it not all those who left Egypt led by Moses? 17And with whom was he provoked for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the wilderness? 18And to whom did he swear that they would not enter his rest, but to those who were disobedient? 19So we see that they were unable to enter because of unbelief.”

Here we come back to the illustration I gave you this morning, the Jews were all packed up and ready to go! They were on a grand adventure to enter the rest that God had promised their fathers; but because they rebelled against God and were disobedient, because of their unbelief, they were unable to enter this rest. Unbelief was the reason that the Israelites had not entered the promised rest, and the crux of the warning that the author of Hebrews is giving his audience is that if they enter into unbelief, they will, like Israel, fail to enter God’s rest. This would have puzzled the Jews reading this letter for they would have thought; “we already entered God’s rest, we live in the Promised Land!”

The Jews thought they had were in God’s rest, but the author Hebrews shows them from Psalm 95 that in fact, they had not entered God’s rest; the promised land merely pointed towards a future rest with God that still awaited them.

The contrast of Rest:

In showing the Jews that there was still a rest to enter the author of Hebrews contrasts the rest they thought they were in and the rest to come.

In the Old Testament we read that the promised land was a land “flowing with milk and honey,” it was a place of abundance and provision where the people of Israel would find peace. The Jews were living in this promised land, but the author of Hebrews argues that this is not the final rest, that the Old Testament speaks of a rest that is still open for believers to enter. In verses 5-8 of chapter 4 we read;

5And again in this passage he said, “They shall not enter my rest.” 6Since therefore it remains for some to enter it, and those who formerly received the good news failed to enter because of disobedience, 7again he appoints a certain day, “Today,” saying through David so long afterward, in the words already quoted, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.” 8For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken of another day later on.”

The beautiful thing about the book of Hebrews is that the author makes his arguments very clear. In these verses he is quoting from Psalm 95 and argues that if these Jewish Christians had already entered God’s rest, by dwelling in the Promised Land, then it makes no sense for the Psalmist to speak of a rest yet to be entered.

This rest yet to be entered is the hook upon which the author hangs his warning to the Hebrews.

In verse 9-10 the author goes on to tell us a little bit about this rest; “So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, 10for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his.”

In this rest those who believe will find rest from their service in this world and from their struggles and trials in this life. In verse 9 in describing this rest which remains open you may notice that the author switches words describing the rest, he switches from the word we translate “rest” to the word we translate “Sabbath rest”; he does this to highlight the nature of the rest.

Sabbath here in this verse does not refer to the Sabbath day, for the Jews Saturday, but to the idea of the Sabbath celebration.

It does not just speak of rest, but of rest accompanied with praise; this rest is not simply the cessation of activity but rest accompanied with joy and festivities; “expressed in worship and praise of God”.[ii]

(This is what the author of Hebrews is saying through chapters 3:7-4:13; by arguing from Psalm 95 he warns the Hebrews that God’s promised rest is still open and that only those who believe will enter this rest; if the Hebrews continued drifting from the Christian faith back into Judaism they will be disobedient and will find themselves in the same place as Israelites who were unable to enter the Promised land; they would be unable to enter the rest and joy and festivities, manifested in the praise and worship of God, that characterize this final Sabbath rest. What did this mean for the Hebrews who would have heard this message?)

 

Strive for perseverance:

Throughout the book of Hebrews the author is warning the Hebrews that they need to persevere in the Christian faith for if they return to Judaism they will be in the same state as unbelievers and face the same fate as an unbeliever, in chapter 3 and 4 this warning is delivered powerfully.

A warning for perseverance:

in 3:14 the author writes that “we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end” and in 4:1-2 we read “Therefore, while the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us fear lest any of you should seem to have failed to reach it. 2For good news came to us just as to them, but the message they heard did not benefit them, because they were not united by faith with those who listened.”

The author is telling the Hebrews in these verses that what they need to do is persevere in the faith, he fears that some would not have this faith characterized by perseverance and therefore fail to enter the rest of God. His application to them was that they need to persevere in Christian faith or their current faith would mean nothing.

The reward he shows that they will receive if they persevere is that they will enter the glorious rest of God; a rest free from the struggles of this life where peace and joy abound in the praise and worship of God.

But the consequence of a failure to persevere is that they will not enter into the final rest of God, this is something which the author of Hebrews finds fearful. In verse 11 of chapter 4 we read succinct statement of what act the author of Hebrews is trying to encourage, he gives this exhortation; “Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience.”

(Couched in the this language of warning the Hebrews are told to persevere in the Christian faith, to strive to enter the rest of God by keeping the faith; I don’t think that we need to hear this morning a message of warning towards unbelief like the author of Hebrews here gives, but the exhortation he gives applies to the life of a Christian with or without the need he saw for a warning. With the author of Hebrews we can in our daily lives take up the call to action he gives in 4:11.)

 

Let us strive to enter the rest of God:

Let us strive to enter the rest of God

(To strive is not just to mildly pursue an end but to contend and exert oneself towards a goal, the end for which the author of Hebrews gives for us to strive is entering the rest of God. Have you ever heard the saying a picture is worth a thousand words? At times like this I really hate that saying, for it is true! To illustrate this idea of striving I wanted to find a picture of a guy who was putting all his effort into reaching his goal, and then a guy sauntering through a park; illustrating the difference between the exertion involved in “striving” and weaker verbs like “trying.” Even with the internet I was unfortunately unable find a picture that would convey the idea I wanted… so I will attempt to illustrate this in hopefully less than a thousand words. Later in Hebrews, in chapter 12, the author uses the illustration of running a race to describe this perseverance or endurance in faith. This striving that the author of Hebrews is calling for is like that of an athlete giving all he has to give so that he may finish his race; he uses every resource at his disposal so that he may be ready for the race, and then expends everything he has so that he may finish the race. In striving to enter the rest of God we are to give it our all! Not just sauntering down the track, but running with all our might. )

 

Strive to enter the  GLORIOUS REST of God [Application to the Emotions]

This rest of God that the Hebrews were being told to strive for, and end for which we also should strive is glorious rest! As I described it earlier, it is rest from the works of service in this world, from the struggles we face, as well as the positive experience of joy and festivities found in the continual praise and worship of God; picture with me what a glorious state this rest is!

In this rest there will be no pain and struggle that we find in our daily lives, no more disease and death.

There will peace and freedom from the chaos of war.

We will no longer struggle with sin in our lives; there will no longer be any appeal in disobedience, we won’t even desire sin!

There will be everlasting joy in the very presence of God and continual celebration!

(In this rest we will truly and completely know God’s peace. Let us strive to enter the  rest of God! If this is the rest of God for which we are to strive, what does it look like for us to strive for it?)

 

STRIVE to enter the rest of God [Application for the will]

Striving to enter this rest does not mean amassing good works so that God ignores our sins and accepts us into His rest, for on the Cross Christ bore our sins and once and for all brought us into a favourable state before God; but striving to enter the rest of God means continuing to trust in Jesus throughout our lives, persevering in our faith.

In continuing in our faith we have the responsibility of using the resource God has given us to do this.

The reason the author of Hebrews gives the powerful warnings he does is for this very reason; these warnings are a means by which the Hebrews would continue in the faith and enter God’s rest.

We must, like Paul, continually, daily, be in prayer so that we may joyfully endure the trials that consistently appear in our lives; we must talk to God and turn to Him for strength so that we may endure until the very end to enter the rest of God.

Lastly in striving, in making every effort,[iii] to enter this rest we need to continually look to Scripture as our guide for life, for hope in enduring struggles of life, and for the strengthening of our faith so that we will endure to enter God’s rest.

Two weeks ago we looked at Hebrews 1 where the author of Hebrews tells his audience that the Superiority of Christ means the Superiority of His Gospel. The authority of Scripture conveyed in that chapter holds true here, for in faithfully adhering to the Word and what God has said in it above all else we will find the resources we need to persevere.

As we strive to enter the rest of God we also have a responsibility to help each other out in our daily walk of trusting Jesus.

In 3:13 the Hebrews are given instruction for what they must do to help each other stay true to their shared faith in Jesus, the author of Hebrews gives them this instruction; “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.”

Striving to enter the rest of God is neither something we can, nor something we should try to, do on our own; to persevere in faith is a community effort.

Sin is deceitful and is constantly trying to convince us that God is not real, or at the very least that we shouldn’t follow Him.

As we strive to enter the rest of God we are prayer for our friends and family that they may continue in the faith and we are to encourage one another in walking faithfully according to what God has instructed us to do in His word, and if needed we are to gently correct each other in love so that we may continue in the faith that we share.

Let us strive to enter God’s rest; this striving is something we do together as a body, not something that we can do on our own.

If we were left by ourselves to persevere in and by our own strength, I honestly would feel fear; I know my own strengths and weaknesses and I don’t believe I could endure the trials of this life by myself.

But we are not left by ourselves, God gives us fellowship with one another to strengthen each other in our walk and He promises that He himself will give us strength so that we may successfully strive to enter His rest, to persevere in our faith.

When we read Scripture we are not to read each passage in its own isolated bubble, I have heard Tom in a few of his sermons talk about context and how we must read Scripture within its context.

The immediate context, both the preceding and proceeding verses as well as the entire book, are incredibly important, invaluable, for understanding what a specific section of Scripture is saying; but we are also to look continually at what the rest of Scripture says to better understand an individual passage we are studying. This becomes a sort of spiral; as we better understand an individual passage we better understand the whole of Scripture, and as we better understand the whole of Scripture we better understand the individual passages that make it up.

In 1 Peter 1:5 we find a statement made by Peter that God helps us through our faith to strive for His rest.

Peter speaks of those who have been born again, that is believers, “who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.”

The salvation He speaks of is not a synonym for rest, but is an aspect of eternal life, of which our final entrance into God’s rest is also an aspect.  He says that God, in His power, works through our faith so that we may be able to endure in it!

(Let us strive to enter the rest of God, in striving we are to turn to God who strengthens us through our faith, we are to turn to Him in prayer and turn to His word for guidance, and we are to exhort each other so that as a body we may persevere in the faith.)

 

Conclusion

In Hebrews 3:7-4:13 the author of Hebrews delivers a warning to His readers; if they continue drifting away from their Christian faith and back towards their old life of Judaism, they will be unbelievers and will fail to enter the glorious rest of God that is still open for them to enter!

He exhorts them to persevere, to strive that they may enter into this open rest of God! The warning he gives here is one of the means by which they may persevere!

We are not in the same situation as them, facing unbelief; but we can take up the call for action that the author of Hebrews gives.

Life is hard, and we all will, at one point or another, face trials; but in it all let us strive to enter the rest of God!

In striving for this glorious rest that awaits us, one of the many aspects of our hope in the future finishing of our salvation with eternal life, we are to turn to God in prayer for His strength to endure trials, strength by which He promises He will guard us through our faith; turn to His word for guidance in our lives, and exhort one another in our striving for our shared goal of perseverance in the faith.

Probably my favorite group of Christian writers and Pastors, Englishmen known in their time as “Puritans,” saw our life as a pilgrimage or a journey, like that of Israel towards the Promised Land.

In one of the most famous books of this time, The Pilgrim’s Progress, the puritan John Bunyan rights of the end of the journey, of the rest achieved when we enter eternity; He writes of the end of the toils of life and the doubt as we see the face of God and find peace. He writes, through the character Mr. Stand-Fast;

“I see myself now at the end of my journey; my toilsome days are ended. I am going to see that head which was crowned with thorns, and that face which was spit upon for me. I have formerly lived by hearsay and faith; but now I go where I shall live by sight, and shall be with him in whose company I delight myself. I have loved to hear my Lord spoken of; and wherever I have seen the print of his shoe in the earth, there I have coveted to set my foot too…. His voice to me has been most sweet, and his countenance I have more desired than they that have most desired the light of the sun. His words I did use to gather for my food, and for antidotes against my faintings. He hath held me, and hath kept me from mine iniquities; year, my steps hath he strengthened in his way.”[iv]

Let us strive to enter the rest of God!


[i] ESV

[ii] Peter Thomas O’Brien, The Letter to the Hebrews, Pillar New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, Mich.; Nottingham, England: William B. Eerdmans Pub. Co. ; Apollos, 2010), 170–171.

[iii] Ibid., 172.

[iv] John Bunyan, The Pilgrim’s Progress : from This World to That Which Is to Come, Delivered Under the Similitude of a Dream (Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson Publishers, 2004), 263.

What Hath We to Fear?

What hath I to fear with God as my LORD and Father? Death? Christ has destroyed it and redeemed me from its sentence. Life? God has promised provision and works all things for the good of me becoming more like Jesus. Pain? Throughout I am made strong by the Power of the Spirit and God receives the Glory(Jam. 1, 1 Pet 1, et al.). Poverty? God promises to provide for my needs(Matt 6, Heb. 13). The powers of Darkness? My God is victorious, and victory is His(Rev.). Hell? God’s omnipotent power working through my faith given to me by the Spirit’s effective work ensures that I will persevere through thick and sin so that He receives all the glory(rom. 8, 1 pet. 1).

Life is tough, it can really suck, but as an adopted son (rom. 8) of the sovereign king of the universe what is there to fear, what worries remain?