God is Faithful

 

Week of July 6, 2014

 

Bible Verses: Hebrews 6:17-20; 10:19-23.

 

The Point:Godís past faithfulness ensures us our future is secure.

 

The Certainty of Godís Promise:Hebrews 6:17-20.

 

[17]So when God desired to show more convincingly to the heirs of the promise the unchangeable character of his purpose, he guaranteed it with an oath, [18]so that by two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us. [19]We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain, [20]where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf, having become a high priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.[ESV]

 

[17-20]ďEncouragement comes in many forms. Hebrews 6:13-20 brings two types of encouragement. The first is a heartening example that shows how perseverance led to hope and blessing. Seeing someone who walked before us and found success always encourages us to follow in those same footsteps. The second form of encouragement is perhaps the best kind: the assurance of ultimate success. The writer of Hebrews encourages his readers with both of these sources of encouragement: an example to follow in Abraham [13-15] and the assurance that faith in Christ is certain of success [16-20]. After a whole life of perseverance in faith, Abraham received the ultimate version of Godís promise when God swore an oath by Himself, securing the promise as tightly as possible [16-18]. This tells us three things, the first of which is that by swearing by Himself God gave His promise an especially solemn character. To show this, the writer of Hebrews reminds us how men use oaths. Men swear by something greater than themselves, typically by God, thereby inviting the wrath of that great power should they violate the oath. This, the writer says, is final for confirmation [16] ensuring the intent of the one who so swears. God, however, stands beneath no one and no thing; there is nothing greater than He, no higher name than His own, so that if God is to swear an oath he must do so by His own name. In doing so, God placed His own dignity and character on the line when it came to the fulfillment of this promise to Abraham. That is the ultimate surety for a promise. God sealed His intent by two unchangeable things [18], namely, His promise and His oath to go along with it. The promise is therefore especially solemn, certain, and inviolable. The second thing this passage tells us is why God would do such a thing: because God desired to show more convincingly to the heirs of the promise the unchangeable character of his purpose [17]. God did not swear an oath to Abraham to make His purpose unchanging, but to let Abraham know with absolute certainty that it was so. This is an astonishing condescension from God. God does not need oaths because He is infallibly trustworthy, and yet here He swore an oath to accommodate the weakness of our faith. He swore by Himself so that Abraham would not fall prey to doubt or unbelief ever again. This is how the passage fits into the flow of the writerís thought. His purpose is to exhort the Hebrew Christians to persevere in the faith despite their great hardship. In the preceding verses, he chastised them for their lack of maturity and growth [5:11-6:3], warned them of the danger of falling away [6:4-8], and encouraged them with good signs he had seen among them [6:9-12]. Now, using the example of Abrahamís perseverance, he informs them of a key principle, that growth in assurance comes through perseverance. Abraham, by waiting patiently, received certainty with regard to the promise, and the same will be true for us. Assurance of salvation, confidence in Godís promise, and an increased grasp of spiritual blessings will come as we press forward in the faith. Our passage says three things about Godís oath to Abraham. The first is that Godís oath made the promise solemn and inviolable. The second is that God did this to encourage the faith of Abraham by making the certainty known. But there is one more thing here of vital importance to all of us in verses 17-19. God gave this promise not merely for Abrahamís sake but also for ours: God desired Öwe Ö might have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us. This inviolable promise, secured by an oath, two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, is the foundation of our own assurance and hope. How can this be, when the promise and oath were not given to us but to Abraham so long ago? The answer is that while Abraham was the recipient of this great promise, we are its objects. It has reference to us. God promised Abraham descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky, and in Christ Jesus we are those descendants. Through faith in Christ Ė who is the promised offspring of grace, in whom all the promises are received, obtained, and fulfilled Ė we like Abraham become Godís children and heirs with him of all the blessings of salvation. This means that when you put your faith in Jesus Christ for salvation, you can be certain of that salvation. The result of this is hope for us. God wanted us to have a sure hope, so He gave His oath to His promise of a great salvation. Anchors are a clear and familiar image of security, yet there is something special about this anchor in Hebrews 6:19. Every other anchor goes down into the sea, but this one goes up into heaven, to a place where by faith we can see the inner place behind the curtain. Our anchor of hope is secure because Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf into heaven, having become a high priest forever after the order of Melchizedek. Jesus came into the world to become our Savior, to blaze a trail through the barrier of sin by His perfect life and atoning death. He then went up into heaven to reign as our high priest Ė not a temporary priest like the Levites in Israel, but a high priest forever after the order of Melchizedek. The point is that Christ will never be replaced in His heavenly mission for us. He will never fail, and never die. Jesus came to earth to live and die for us, and when He returned to heaven, it also was for our sake, to affix the anchor of our hope sure and steadfast in the inner sanctum of heaven itself. In the great promises of God, secured in Christ, we therefore have a cable of salvation that nothing can break or destroy, so that we can be certain of arriving safe in the harbor of heaven. Can unforeseen circumstances break the line to this great anchor? Can the work of men, the temptations of the devil, or the hostility of the world sever a cord forged and emplaced by God Himself. Can your sin break the line to this great anchor? The answer to all of these is No. God is greater than them all, and His oath shall overrule every opposition. Believers are saved and we are safe because of Godís oath-bound promise, secured and made fast by the finished work of Jesus Christ. What encouragement we have as we follow Christ as pilgrims in this barren world! Is this hope yours? Have you trusted Jesus Christ for your salvation? If not, then what is your hope? How will it hold up on the solemn day of Godís judgment? If you have trusted in Christ, then yours is a hope nothing can break, a hope that encourages you indeed, an anchor for your soul in the storms of this life.Ē ††[Phillips, pp. 207-218]

 

Let Us Draw Near to God:Hebrews 10:19-23.

 

[19]Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, [20]by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, [21]and since we have a great priest over the house of God, [22]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. [23]Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful.[ESV]

 

[19-23]ďThe reason so much of the Bible is devoted to doctrine Ė statements regarding what we must know and believe Ė is that the consequences of these truths are utterly definitive. We are living in a time that says it matters not so much what we believe as how we believe it, that is, with sincerity and tolerance for other views that are diametrically opposed. Quite in contrast, the apostles demanded fidelity to the truths God revealed through them and through the prophets before them. Truth is of central importance and is definitive for salvation. To deny truth with even the best of apparent intentions is to rebelliously reject God and suffer eternal condemnation. The writer of Hebrews has devoted nine and a half chapters to the proclamation of truth regarding the person and work of Jesus Christ. Now, in the transition from doctrine to application he says, Therefore, brothers. We should always take note of the Bibleís Ďthereforesí, because they provide the link between cause and effect. Therefore, the writer of Hebrews says by way of transition, what we believe must transfer into our life and actions. Verses 19-21 summarize all that has been taught in the great doctrinal sections of Hebrews by identifying two definitive possessions. There are two things we have, the writer says, because of Christís person and work. The first of these possessions has to do with access to God through Jesus Christ: 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 [19-20]. The key concept here is Ďconfidence to enter by the blood of Jesusí. This confidence is something believers have and must know that they have in order to lead productive, godly lives. People who trust in Jesus Christ stand before an open door, with free and open access to God, and with their sins atoned for by His blood. It is by His blood that we come, or as verse 20 puts it, by His body, which refers to the whole of His earthly achievement in life and in death on the cross. Surely that access to God makes a most important impact on how we should think and live. It is a new and living way that Jesus has opened. We possess what the Old Testament saints did not, namely, the right to enter through the holy place and into the presence of God. Jesus has opened it by His life and by His death, so that we have free access to God through Him. Furthermore, it is a living way because Jesus lives forever to secure this access. He is, in this sense, the veil through which we are invited to pass in order to draw near to God by His life and death. Christís work as priest and as sacrifice has produced a new situation that did not exist before, but it will exist forever as He reigns eternally in heaven. Our second great possession is directly linked to the first: we have a great priest over the house of God. We have two things: confidence to enter and a great high priest. The point is that the one who opened and secured the way for us into Godís presence is there Himself. He is there as our priest, representing us and pleading effectually for our acceptance, securing and sending to us the Holy Spirit so that we are fitted and empowered to be worshipers and priests before His throne. Because our high priest is there, we can know that we belong there, too, and can thus approach with confidence. It is because of our great possessions in Christ that Christians have an obligation to live a certain way. Two times in Hebrews 10:22-23 the writer says, Let us. The first of these comes in 10:22, which calls us to a life of worship: 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. Because we have confidence to approach Godís throne, and because we have a great priest over the house of God, let us in fact draw near to God. This, of course, exhorts us to prayer. If we are to lead fruitful lives, we must draw near to God in our minds and hearts. More broadly, the writer exhorts us to a life of worship. Worship is both our highest privilege and our most central duty. We were made to worship God, and He demands our worship. Worship is most beneficial for us. In worship we find the freedom to be what we were meant to be. Worship is therefore essential to our spiritual health and well-being. Hebrews 10:22 presents a compact how-to for drawing near to God in worship. In this single verse the writer sets forth four guidelines for worship, beginning with sincerity: let us draw near with a true heart. A true heart relates to God adoringly, with right affections and priorities. Second, he tell us to worship in full assurance of faith. The sincere, believing heart is filled with assurance in God, through unwavering trust in Him and His promises. Third, the writer of Hebrews tells us to draw near to God with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience. This is a matter of great importance to him; he frequently complained that the old covenant sacrifices failed at this very point, being unable to cleanse the conscience. By sprinkling he refers to the blood of Christ, which alone sets free the sinnerís guilty conscience. Through His blood we know that our sins are removed and our hearts are set free from the burden of guilt. Fourth, we must worship having our bodies washed with pure water. Most commentators see this as a reference to baptism, and it is hard to deny the connection. However, surely John Calvin is right to see the point not in baptism itself, but in that which baptism symbolizes: the spiritual renewal that is the work of the Holy Spirit [see Ezek. 36:25-26]. These guidelines apply to all seven days of the week, but it is helpful if we consider how they bear on our coming together on Sunday to worship God in church. Yes, all our lives are worship, but how we worship when we gather together in Godís name is especially important. Verse 22 tells us we are to come to the worship service with a true heart; that is, with undivided affection and intent to worship Him. God is worthy, and we must come to worship Him, and not merely to seek some personal benefits. Second, we must come with the assurance and confidence of acceptance that comes from genuine faith in His saving work. Third, we must be able to deal with our own sinfulness, our guilt from things we have done and the sinfulness we bring into the sanctuary. This is why we should read the law and confess our sins, affirm our faith and hear Godís word of pardon in our services of worship. Finally, we must come believing and relying upon the work of the Holy Spirit, trusting Him to cleanse and renew our hearts as we come to the Father in Christís name. If you are not benefiting from worship Ė as you must to grow in Christ Ė and if you doubt that God is blessed by your worship, you might consider the words of Hebrews 10:22 and its instruction on worship. Christians are called to a life of worship, but we are also called to a life of truth. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful [23]. The Greek word for confession here means a public and doctrinal confession, and it is in this manner that we must uphold the truth. By writing of the confession of our hope, the author speaks of the substance of our faith. Unswerving devotion to Christ and His gospel is obviously a matter of special importance to the writer of Hebrews, and he is determined to thwart any idea of compromise among his readers. They were not to compromise with those who called them back into the former ways of Judaism, but were firmly to take their stand for Christ. It was unpopular and costly then, and it is the same today for us. But it is essential for our salvation. This point is made repeatedly in this letter [see 3:6,14; 4:14]. Our confession must not waver. We have every reason to hold fast, as verse 23 concludes, for he who promised is faithful. Nothing is more important than what ideas we believe; nothing so shapes the way that we will live, and nothing is more important to the Christian life than the content of the faith we profess. Therefore, we are not to be silent, nor to compromise the truth we have received, but to hold unswervingly to the gospel truths and promises that give us our hope.Ē ††[Phillips, pp. 357-363]

 

Questions for Discussion:

 

1.†††††††† What two types of encouragement does 6:13-20 provide? Which of the two types, do you think, is stronger? Which of the two types provides the most encouragement to you?

 

2.†††††††† What three things does Godís guarantee of His promise with an oath tell us? What assurance can we derive from Godís action? Note the key principle: growth in assurance comes through perseverance.

 

3.†††††††† The Therefore of 10:19 provides a link between cause and effect, between doctrinal truth and proper application. What two key doctrinal truths does the writer give in 10:19-21 by the double use of since?

 

4.†††††††† As a result of these two doctrinal truths, the writer then gives two commands in 10:22-23 by the use of let us. What are these two commands? What four guidelines does 10:22 provide for drawing near in worship? What does draw near and hold fast mean to your Christian walk?

 

References:

A Commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews, Philip Hughes, Eerdmans.

The Letter to the Hebrews, Peter OíBrien, Eerdmans.

Hebrews, Richard Phillips, REC, P & R Publishing.