Faith To The Preserving Of The Soul
We’ve seen in the first 10 chapters of Hebrews that Jesus Christ is superior in every way:
The superior Revelation (Hebrews 1:1-2; 4:12-13). The superior Person (Hebrews 1:3-14). The superior Man (Hebrews 1:9-13). The superior High Priest (Hebrews 3:1-6; 4:14-16; 5:5-10; 7:23-28; 8:1-6; 9:11-28). The superior sacrifice (Hebrews 10:1-18). The Covenant of Christ a superior covenant (Hebrews 8:7-13). He brings the only true salvation (Hebrews 2:1-4).
We’ve also seen in these chapters that faith is absolutely necessary.
The Hebrews in the wilderness were unable to enter the promised land because of unbelief.
Unbelief was not the direct cause of their inability to enter. It’s not that unbelief was a physical barrier at the border that prevented them from entering, while God in heaven wrung His hands in disappointment.
Rather, God took their unbelief personally; they weren’t refusing to believe facts, but God Himself. And so, He would not permit them to enter the promised land, because they insulted His power and His character by refusing to trust Him.
Hebrews 10:19-25 pled with us for full, persevering, unapologetic faith in Jesus Christ.
Beginning next week, we are going to launch into Hebrews 11, which is a series of biographical reminders – you can think of them real world case studies – of the power and significance of faith in God and His promises.
The passage before us today, Hebrews 10:26-39, is an introduction to Hebrews 11, reminding us of what is at stake, and why faith is essential and irreplaceable.
Our passage breaks almost evenly into two sections.
In the first we see the tragic outcome of knowledge without faith.
Knowledge Without Faith
Knowledge Without Faith
Knowledge of Christ is not enough. Knowledge of the Gospel is not enough. Knowledge of a catechism or confession is not enough.
The men and women described here are not ignorant of the teachings of the Gospel; in fact, they very likely to be church people, religious people. But they are apostate, literally, “without faith.” It doesn’t mean that someone once had genuine faith and then lost it, simply that they are without faith.
This is a unique sin that only be committed by people who take in the knowledge of Christ and the Gospel, but who will not or do not personally believe.
Look at what is said about them.
They go on sinning willfully. (Hebrews 10:26)
They go on sinning willfully.
Their knowledge has not produced any sort of transformation. They are just as dead in their sins as they always were. They have heard the Gospel, but they willfully, happily, continue in their sin, unconcerned. They hear sermons about holiness and repentance, and they might even nod their heads, but they won’t repent and pursue holiness.
They trample Jesus underfoot. (Hebrews 10:29)
They trample Jesus underfoot.
Their knowledge produces no respect or honor or deference or worship for Christ. Instead they mock Him, His death, His resurrection, His power, His holiness, His goodness. They try to shape Him like clay to fit their desires. They want a Jesus who will agree with their decisions, affirm their prejudices, and accommodate Himself to their sins. They grind Him under foot until – they think – He will give in.
They regard His blood as unclean. (Hebrews 10:29).
They regard His blood as unclean.
“Blood” is not simply a reference to the liquid that flowed in Jesus’ veins. When the Bible tells us that Jesus’ blood was shed for our sins, it is using a figure of speech called a metonymy. Jesus’ blood is a reference to Jesus’ death. It’s not that if Jesus had cut Him while working as a carpenter, that blood had the power to save. It’s His death and life that saves us.
So, regarding Jesus’ blood as unclean is the same as regarding Jesus’ life and death – Jesus Himself – as unclean and common and useless and worthless.
There are many who reduce Jesus to a good man and teacher. They deny that His death had any genuine meaning, or accomplished salvation for sinners. They regard Jesus Himself, and His life and death, as empty of power and meaning. Their blasphemy should make us gasp in horror.
They insult the Holy Spirit. (Hebrews 10:29).
They insult the Holy Spirit.
It is the Holy Spirit who convicts us of sin, who breaks our pride, who brings us to the understanding of our own destruction, who brings about new life, who grants us repentance and faith, who purifies us over time, who transforms us into the image of Christ, who causes us to call God ‘Father,’ who keeps us in faith in the hardest of circumstances. Every one of these works of the Holy Spirit has been mocked and belittled by the world. When the mock the work of the Spirit of God, they mock the Spirit Himself.
What is the outcome?
What is the outcome?
These Hebrews knew that those who set aside or ignored the Law of Moses – which they held in such high regard – were condemned to death on the testimony of two or three witnesses. (Hebrews 10:28).
So the Scripture asks a question and leaves the answer hanging: How much greater punishment is deserved by those who trample Christ, call Him worthless, and insult the Spirit of grace?
These men and women have no true hope of salvation. Oh, they presume, and they think that they are OK with God, but the Scripture tells us that all they can actually have is the terrifying expectation of judgment and the fire that devours the enemies of God.
Listen to what Jonathan Edwards said in his sermon, “Sinners In The Hands Of An Angry God”:
[W]hatever some have imagined and pretended about promises made to natural men’s earnest seeking and knocking, it is plain and manifest that whatever pains a natural man takes in religion, whatever prayers he makes, until he believes in Christ, God is under no obligation to keep him from eternal destruction.
Thus it is, that natural men are held in the hand of God over the pit of hell. They have deserved the fiery pit, and are already sentenced to it; and God is dreadfully provoked. His anger is as great towards them as to those that are actually suffering the fierceness of his wrath in hell. They have done nothing in the least to appease or abate that anger. Neither is God in the least bound by any promise to hold them up [for a single] moment. The devil is waiting for them, hell is gaping for them, the flames gather and flash about them, and would happily lay hold of them, and swallow them up. The fire pent up in their own hearts is struggling to break out. They have no interest in any mediator, there are no means within reach that can be any security to them. In short, they have no refuge, nothing to take hold of. All that preserves them every moment is the mere arbitrary will, and unpromised, unobliged forbearance of an incensed God.
Can God save them?
Of course. God is the Judge. God is the Savior. Nothing forces Him to judge or save, and nothing prevents Him from judging or saving.
Will God save them?
Most of the time, no. They are living this way because He has determined not to save them from their own sin. He has given them over to it.
And if He does save them, you will see an end to the faithless, trampling, mocking, insulting rejection of Christ and the Gospel, and they will demonstrate true repentance and faith.
Praise God, the passage doesn’t end with this frightening warning.
GENUINE SALVATION PERSEVERES DURING SUFFERING.
But genuine salvation and faith persevere through trials and suffering. The writer of Hebrews wants his readers to fight hard against the attacks and temptations that come against them. He wants them to endure in faith, to persevere in suffering, and is confident that they will.
Now, what is endurance?
When FDR dedicated the monument at Mount Rushmore, he pointed out that it would endure thousands and thousands of years. He called upon the audience to think about those living 10,000 years in the future, when the surface of the rock had worn away by one-tenth of an inch.
Granite is durable; it lasts and lasts.
But we can’t say that granite endures. It just is. Granite doesn’t make a decision to endure. It doesn’t want to endure, or think about enduring. It just does.
But we aren’t rocks. We are persons, with mind, heart, and soul – with a will. The Lord wants us to be active participants in our own perseverance. We know that we will succeed, because the strength comes from Him, and the promise of success comes from Him, so that our perseverance will not fail.
Remember. (Hebrews 10:32)
He calls upon them to remember their history in Christ.
What was their history?
They had persevered in faith while suffering. (Hebrews 10:32-33)
The writer is probably referring to the time when Caesar Claudius expelled the Jews from Rome. In the early decades of the church, Rome didn’t distinguish between Jews and Christians, and so Christians suffered as well. They lost property, businesses, some suffering physically through abuse and torture.
Nevertheless, they stood firm in their faith, and did not deny Christ, despite the cost to themselves. They were made to suffer for the entertainment of others, as a public spectacle – it’s the word we get ‘theater’ from.
They believed Jesus when He said,
10 “Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11 Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (Matthew 5:10–12)
And they took Jesus seriously when He said,
38 “And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me. 39 He who has found his life will lose it, and he who has lost his life for My sake will find it.” (Matthew 10:38–39)
They stood with others who suffered. (Hebrews 10:33-34).
And when their own lives were safe and secure, they didn’t forget those who were suffering persecution. They accepted the risk of standing with those who were targets of hatred from the world. They shared with those who were imprisoned by showing them sympathy.
Again, they believed and obeyed the words of Jesus,
34 “Then the King will say to those on His right, ‘Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. 35 For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; 36 naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me.’” (Matthew 25:34–36)
This was costly to them; their property was seized. But they were confident that what God had promised was infinitely better.
You see, their knowledge of Jesus and the Gospel was matched by faith inJesus and the Gospel. They were actually born again and transformed, saved from sin, granted repentance and faith, and living in increasing maturity and obedience. Their faith was not simply a matter of words, but of their deeds. Their actions confirmed the reality of their faith.
The need for perseverance never ends. (Hebrews 10:35-38).
Hebrews was probably written during the reign of Nero, who grew increasingly insane during his 13 years as emperor. Three or four years after Hebrews was written, Nero committed suicide because the Roman Senate declared him to be a public enemy.
The Christian recipients of Hebrews had historically proven the genuineness of their faith, and it was time to prove it again. They were given a heads-up by the Holy Spirit that they needed to continue to persevere, because things were going to get worse and worse.
Would they endure? Yes, of course; God was preserving them.
Notice that he urges them not to throw away their confidence; he doesn’t say faith, but confidence; that is, their assurance, their fearlessness in Christ, their joyful boldness as Christians, their bravery in facing opposition.
This applies to us, as well. Christians around the world are facing death, torture, imprisonment, loss of property, economic restrictions, attacks against reputations, mockery, and insult.
We are assured that Jesus is returning, and nothing will delay His arrival. The Father has already determined the day and hour when He will send Jesus back for His own. In the meantime, we are told, we are to live by faith; God has no pleasure in those who shrink back.
464 years ago there was a more recent example of joyful boldness in the face of persecution and suffering. Two Christians, Nicholas Ridley and Hugh Latimer, were arrested by Mary Tudor – “Bloody” Mary, as she came to be called – for preaching against Roman Catholicism. They were sentenced to be simultaneously burned at the stake in Oxford. As the flames were put to the pile of wood at their feet, Latimer called out, loud enough for bystanders to hear, “Be of good comfort, Mr. Ridley, and play the man! We shall this day light such a candle, by God’s grace, in England, as I trust shall never be put out.”
“Be of good comfort, Mr. Ridley, and play the man! We shall this day light such a candle, by God’s grace, in England, as I trust shall never be put out.”
That isn’t just faith; that’s joyful boldness in the very moment of suffering and death. Ridley and Latimer did not shrink back, even as they died in the flames. They refused to deny Christ.
Faith to the preservation of the soul.
Even though this passage begins with truly dire words, it ends with the beauty and power of regeneration. The writer could say with absolute confidence, “But we are not of those who shrink back to destruction, but of those who have faith to the preserving of the soul.”
I’ll put it a different way. The Triune God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – expects His people to remain faithful regardless of their circumstances. We are to continue to trust Him fully and openly no matter what happens.
Bringing it home
Just as in Job’s day, suffering continues to be the great proving ground of faith.
James wrote of this as well:
2 Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, 3 knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. 4 And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. (James 1:2–4)
Why does the Lord permit suffering and hardship to come upon His people? Why does He allow US to suffer? Because that suffering proves our faith, which is more precious than gold, and will bring about praise, glory, and honor for the Lord when Jesus returns.
Some would say, “Oh, but God understands, and He doesn’t take it seriously when someone who is suffering terribly curses and denies Him.”
He takes it very seriously.
Genuine faith doesn’t quit when life gets hard for us; that’s when genuine faith shines the brightest. Job’s wife urges him to curse God and die; Job refuses, and calls her a fool.
Genuine faith doesn’t curse God when we suffer; genuine faith abandons all other means of rescue, and calls on the Lord for strength and comfort. Weeping may last for a time, but God’s people always end in joy.
Genuine faith doesn’t deny God when we don’t get our way; genuine faith relies on Him even more during the hard times.
We plead with those who are hesitating and wavering to take a firm grip on the Lord Jesus Christ, and to be bold and joyful about Him and the Gospel.