NOTES on Hebrews
10:32-39 (click here for study)
The writer of Hebrews has just finished another of his powerful exhortations not to apostatize. He ends this section of his letter by reminding his readers that Jesus is coming back, and they will receive their inheritance when he comes. He reminds them of their early days as Christ-followers. They had believed in Jesus and by faith had received salvation and the Holy Spirit. They had "tasted of the heavenly gift" and had "shared in the Holy Spirit" and had "tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age." (Hebrews 6:4-5) Many of the Hebrews receiving this letter had even suffered public insult and persecution for the sake of Jesus.
He goes on to remind them that they had even been joyful in the face of suffering and persecution because they knew they had "lasting possessions". They had an inheritance: a city prepared by God in a heavenly country (Hebrews 11:15-16) They had the promise of a "better resurrection" than the earthly ones in which the dead came back to life. (Heb. 11:35) They had Jesus' promise that their reward in heaven would be great, and that they were suffering the same way the prophets had suffered before them. (Matthew 5:11-12) Their "sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that [would] be revealed in [them]." (Romans 8:13) They also had the promise that as overcomers they would inherit eternal life with no crying, death, mourning, or pain. They would be God's sons. (Rev. 21: 4, 7)
The author warns the Hebrews not to "throw away" their confidence. As believers in Jesus, they had many promises about which they could be confident. They would share in Christ if they held firmly to the confidence they had at first. (Hebrews 3:14) They had been born again into the confident reality that they could approach God with freedom. (Eph. 3:12) They were now aware that they were not competent on their own; their competence came from Jesus. (2 Cor. 3:3-6) They had a high priest who could sympathize with them because he suffered as they did. (Heb. 4:15) Now they had the confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the body of Christ. (Heb. 10:19)
If we "continue in [Christ]" we can be confident and unashamed. (1 John 2:28) John further said, if we live in love, we live in God. By living in God, our love is made complete so we can live in confidence. (1 John 4:16-17)
There were two ways these Hebrew Christians were in danger of losing their confidence. One was by ignoring the promises of God and by persistently continuing to sin even after knowing the gospel. If they refused to deepen their roots in a relationship with Jesus and didn't allow the Holy Spirit to give them a new heart, they would lose the certainty of receiving God's promises. If they insisted on keeping themselves in the center of their own lives instead of letting Jesus have that position, they would lose their confidence.
The other way they were in danger of losing their confidence was by slipping back into legalism and old covenant behaviors. Paul had warned the Galatian Christians, who were being seduced into adopting Jewish practices in order to convince themselves they were truly God's people, to hold firmly to the gospel they first learned from him.
"How is it, then," Paul asked Peter in front of the Galatian church, "that you force Gentiles to follow Jewish customs? Weknow that a man is not justified by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ." (Gal. 2:14-15)
Paul even compared adopting the Jewish practices with paganism. "How is it that you are turning back to those weak and miserable principles? Do you wish to be enslaved by them all over again?" (Gal. 4:9)
The Hebrews receiving this letter had been observant Jews-possibly even priests. The old ways of living with religious rituals and offerings were familiar and seductive. They made the Hebrews feel as if they were doing something important and holy. But now, as followers of Christ, those rituals were obsolete. They needed to resist the urge to do them and trust Christ only for their righteousness.
We also need to resist the urge to earn our righteousness. We have to give up all our impulses to God and allow him to direct us by his Spirit. We must choose not to fall back into the old habits of doing self-generated good works to earn God's favor. Only the works of God are truly good works. Only God can give us those works to do, and we can perform them only by the strength of God.
Persevering and the Will of God
Keeping their confidence, the author goes on to elaborate, involves persevering so they will do the will of God and "receive what he has promised." (v. 36) Persevering means not turning away or backing off in the face of adversity. Persevering means suffering with joy. (Romans 5:3-5) It means running the race marked out for us with our eyes fixed on Jesus. (Hebrews 12:1-3)
James exhorted the earliest believers that they were to face their trials with joy because the testing of their faith developed perseverance. Persevering under trial, he continued, means the believer will receive the crown of life. (James 1:2-5)
One perseveres by being patient and by growing in faith, goodness, knowledge, and self-control. (2 Peter 1:3-9)
Persevering is closely related to doing the will of God. In fact, the only way a Christ-follower can do the will of God is by persevering in a relationship of love and obedience with Jesus no matter what the external circumstances.
The will of God is not always easy from a human standpoint. It requires giving up our rights and desires and wills to our Savior. It requires us to risk trusting Someone we cannot see. It requires responding to situations with obedience that is not natural to humanity. It requires allowing the Holy Spirit to direct us instead of our yielding to our impulses or common sense.
We learn God's will by reading his word and by listening to his Spirit. His will requires that we offer our bodies as "living sacrifices" as our spiritual act of worship. (Romans 12:1-2) His will is that we refuse to indulge in drunkenness or debauchery but be filled with the Holy Spirit instead. (Eph. 5:17-18)
We know and fulfill God's will by responding to the impulses of the Holy Spirit. We can't accept God's will in our natural sinful state. God himself works in us to will and to act according to his purposes. (Phil. 2:3)
It is God's will that we be sanctified. In fact, Jesus sanctifies us when we become his followers. We become set apart to live for him and to become holy through the indwelling Spirit. When we do God's will, we avoid immorality; we act with self-control, and we don't take advantage of other people. (1 Thess. 4:3-8)
It is also God's will that we be joyful, pray continually, and give thanks in all circumstances. (1 Thess. 5:16-17)
John summarized God's will for Jesus' followers: obey his command to love each other. We are to believe in Jesus and love each other as brothers. We are to walk in love. (John 14:15; 15:17)
God has promised an eternity of blessing for those who persevere and do his will. He has given those who trust him a new birth into a living hope, and we who receive it have an inheritance that can't perish, spoil, or fade, and it's kept in heaven for us. Jesus sends us his Holy Spirit to seal us and to guarantee that our inheritance is certain. (1 Peter 1:3-5; Ephesians 5:17-18)
Fulfilling Habakkuk's Prophecy
"He who is coming will come and will not delay," quoted the author from Habakkuk 2:3-4; "but my righteous one will live by faith. And if he shrinks back, I will not be pleased with him." This quote is from God's answer to Habakkuk's when the prophet was questioning why God tolerated the wicked. Israel was captive in Babylon, and it seemed to Habakkuk (and to Israel) that God was ignoring their plight and rewarding the pagan Babylonians.
God answered Habakkuk by saying, "For the revelation awaits an appointed time; it speaks of the end and will not prove false. Though it linger, wait for it; it will certainly come and will not delay. See, he is puffed up; his desires are not upright-but the righteous will live by his faith." (Hab. 2:3,4)
When God answered Habakkuk, the immediate fulfillment of his promise was the fall of Babylon 66 years later. Hundreds of years later, however, the author of Hebrews applies a new fulfillment to this ancient prophecy. He is saying that Jesus will return, just as he promised. In the meantime, the righteous will live by faith in their Savior's promise.
This passage became the motto of the Reformation. "The righteous will live by faith" summarizes the awakening begun by Martin Luther which restored the understanding of salvation by grace.
The passage stated in Hebrews as "my righteous one will live by faith" is from the line in Habakkuk 2:4 which states, "But the righteous will live by his faith." An alternate translation of the Habakkuk passage is, "the righteous will live by his faithfulness."
The faith of the righteous is ultimately the faith of Jesus. Even faith is a gift from God. We cannot generate faith on our own. The faithfulness of Jesus keeps us connected to him. His faithfulness nourishes our faith. His faithfulness showers us with his love and gives us the evidence we need to trust him. His faithfulness gives us the Holy Spirit to indwell us, to make Him real to us. Because of Jesus' faithfulness, we can know him. Because of his faithfulness, we have faith.
Who Shrinks Back?
"And if he shrinks back," continues the author, "I will not be pleased with him."
The question that arises is, who are the people that shrink back? Are they the saved? The unsaved? Is salvation secure?
Perhaps the best answer to these questions is in Jesus' parables. In Matthew 13 Jesus told the story of the sower. A man sowed seed in his field. Some seed fell along the path, and the birds ate it. Some fell on rocky ground; it sprouted plants quickly, but when the sun came out, the plants withered and died. Some fell among the weeds, and they choked the life out of the new plants. Some seed fell on good ground, and it grew and developed in a healthy manner.
In verses 18-23 Jesus explains this parable. The seed that the birds ate represents the gospel going to people who are not receptive to it. "The evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in his heart." (v.19) The seed sown on the rocky places that grows quickly but withers in the heat represents people who hear the gospel with joy. But they do not put down roots. "When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, he quickly falls away," Jesus said. (v.21)
The seed that fell in the weeds represents the gospel going to people who are overcome with "worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth." Worldly cares choke out the gospel, and it dies. The seed that falls on good soil represents the gospel going to people who hear "the word and understand it." They grow and produce a rich crop.
People who receive the gospel with joy but do not put down roots in a relationship with Jesus by studying his word, submitting to him, and praying are the people who wither when trouble hits them. These people as well as those who are preoccupied with worldly concerns and cares are those who shrink back. They do not stay grounded in the gospel and focussed on Jesus. The discipline of pursuing a relationship of trust and obedience requires attention and energy they are not willing to give. When trouble comes, they fall away, and their initial dedication dries up.
Another parable that gives insight into the people who "shrink back" is the parable of the talents found in Matthew 25. In this parable a landowner goes on a long journey, but before he goes he gives each of his trusted servants portions of money with which to continue making a profit for him during his absence. To one he gave five talents, to another, two; and to the third, one.
Upon his return the first two servants had doubled the money. The landowner was pleased and promoted his servants to greater responsibility.
The third man buried his talent and did nothing to attempt to increase it. The landowner was angry and had the unfaithful servant thrown "into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth." (Matt. 25:30) His talent went to the man who had ten.
The talents can be seen as gifts of the Spirit, or work that Jesus gives us to do. Those who refuse to accept the responsibility of the gifts and the work of God are those who "shrink back". They don't want God's gifts and will for them to interfere with their lives. They don't want to relinquish control of their wills to Christ, and they shrink away from the growth and blessings God wants to give them. When they persistently refuse to accept Jesus' blessings and the challenge of living for him, they ultimately separate themselves from their Savior and make themselves their own god instead of Jesus.
Being Known by Christ
Perhaps Jesus' best commentary on those who fall away is found in Matthew 7:21-23. "Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?' Then I will tell them plainly, "I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!' "
This passage makes it clear that some people who appear to belong to the body of Christ will actually not be true Christ-followers. The difference between a true Christian and a pretender is knowing Jesus. The phrase "I never knew you" is a term of intimacy. Jesus' prayer for his disciples and for his subsequent followers in John 17 was that they would be one "just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me." (John 17:21)
Jesus ends this prayer with this plea to his Father, "Righteous Father, though the world does not know you, I know you, and they know that you have sent me. I have made you known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them." (John 17:25-26)
Jesus himself wants to be in us. He fulfills this desire by sending his Holy Spirit to indwell those who believe in him and entrust their lives to him. If a person hears the gospel and intellectually responds but balks at giving his heart and will to Jesus, the Holy Spirit cannot give him or her a new heart. God will not invade a person and make him over against his will.
Many people subscribe to the principles of the gospel and try to adapt their lives to a Christian lifestyle without surrendering their wills to God. They want to "do Christianity" and reap its benefits without losing control of themselves. They haven't understood that when they give themselves to God, he gives them back their lives plus his Spirit.
When we realize what Jesus has done for us and allow our hearts to respond to him with gratitude and love, Jesus seals our love for him by sending us his Spirit. "The man who loves God is known by God," says Paul in 1 Corinthians 8:3.
Those who "shrink back" persistently are those who ignore the promptings of the Holy Spirit and refuse to take themselves out of the center stage of their own lives.
"But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed," the author concludes, "but of those who believe and are saved." (v.39)
When we love Jesus, he lives in us and connects us eternally to himself through his Spirit. We literally enter a new reality; we receive a new heart and a new birth, and we become one with Christ.
God calls us to trust him not just with our minds but with our hearts. He calls us to know the truth and not to shrink back from reality. He calls us to stop rationalizing the fractured circumstances in our lives and freely admit to ourselves the conflicts we feel inside. He asks us to let him show us the broken places in our hearts from which the cracks radiate into our relationships and plans.
God's will for us is that we "believe and are saved". He does not want us to "shrink back". He wants to be our strength and our authority so we can face the crises in our lives with courage and with growth in him. To do these things for us, he asks us to respond with honesty and willingness to change when he provides us with opportunities to know our faults.
When God shows us our faults, though, he does it in the context of love. He doesn't shame us with the massive truths of our brokenness and then leave us to limp into our futures. He always brings healing with truth, and he doesn't reveal more to us at a time than we can manage with his help. Facing the truth about ourselves is often painful and difficult, but when God shows us reality, he always provides the strength and will for us to deal with it. Furthermore, God provides reassurance of his forgiveness and love when we are willing to own the truth.
God is asking you today to let him know you. He's offering today to be one with you, to protect you from fear and self-consciousness, to keep you from "shrinking back". He wants you to root yourself deeply in his love and his word. He wants to hold you upright so you can flourish even in storms or intense heat.
Let him know you. Let you heart respond with love to his forgiveness. Let the Holy Spirit enter your spirit and give you a new heart. Let Jesus be one with you. Let your life be changed by his love.
God's will is that you believe and be saved. Accept his eternal sacrifice, and accept eternal life now.
The Savior who died and rose for you will never let you drop from his hands or his heart.
Praise God from whom all blessings flow!
Praise him, all creatures here below;
Praise him above, ye heavenly host.
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost!
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Studio, Redlands, CA USA. All rights reserved. Revised July 1, 2001.