DO CHILDREN BECOME CHILDREN BY BEING PRECIOUS?
OR IS THEIR PRECIOUSNESS AN EVIDENCE OF WHO THEY ALREADY ARE?
DOES AN APPLE TREE BECOME AN APPLE TREE BY BEARING APPLES?
OR ARE THE APPLES AN EVIDENCE OF WHAT IT ALREADY IS?
DOES SHOWING COMPASSION SAVE US?
OR IS COMPASSION AN EVIDENCE OF WHO WE ALREADY ARE?
Last week I returned to Nebraska to speak at a retreat and to see family and friends, for my home with Steve was there for so many years. I was able to have lunch with two of our beloved bloggers: Kim and Joyce. Each is so radiant with the love of Christ, evidencing the fruit that comes from being connected to the vine. At lunch Kim shared, as she has on this blog, how wonderful it is to be assured of her salvation, to know it is of grace, and that she cannot lose it by her behavior, for indeed, we all sin every day. She grew up in a denomination that teaches you can lose your salvation when you sin, so she was in constant anxiety. But now she is at rest, finding her hope in Christ alone.
I have thought of Kim and those like her as we approach Hebrews — the book that is often used by those as “support” for the belief we can lose our salvation. There is a repeated warning, indeed, but the warning is to those who think they are saved, but are not. They may be trusting in a moment when they went forward, or had an experience where they tasted the goodness of God, or feel they are living a good life — but there is no ongoing evidence in their lives that Christ is in them. They look at their supposed “salvation” rather like, as John Piper says, a vaccination — and they don’t think about it anymore. But if the vaccination actually took, there should be evidence in their lives.
These are challenging passages, so we must slow down. (It’s so wonderful to have our new members here from near and far-away places — you’ve stepped into a challenging study, and I so hope you stay with us.) If these passages are read quickly, they could cause real alarm — if read slowly and carefully, they can actually give you confidence. But they are meant to alarm some — those who think they are Christians, but who are actually trusting something other than God. The author even calls them brethren or brothers, but the Scriptures are clear that there can be false “brethren.” They are in church, they may be singing in the choir and even teaching Sunday School — the pastor may address them as “brothers and sisters,” even though he knows some are not truly in the family. They may look like believers, just like tares look like wheat. But there is no ongoing evidence of fruit and relationship with Christ in their lives. They may be mean, crass, spiteful, and morose. Yet they would tell you they are Christians, that they said a prayer, were baptized, and had tasted the goodness of God. But how do we know if we are really saved? And do these passages in Hebrews teach we can lose our salvation?
Absolutely not. They warn those who are not believers, but who may think they are.
I want to tell you Carol’s story, in hopes it will prepare you and shed light on the passage we will be studying this week and this repeated theme of holding to our hope that beats throughout Hebrews.
Steve and I were new Christians and had just moved into a little house on Lupine Court in Indianapolis with our toddler, J. R. I was desperate for a woman friend and perked up when I met Carol who lived three doors down. Perky, pretty, and earnest — I immediately invited her down for coffee during J. R.’s nap. We bonded quickly and experienced the joy of feminine friendship. She and her husband Bob had been trying to have a baby after suffering a miscarriage. I was overflowing with excitement about my new life in Christ, and could not help but share. Carol listened attentively, if a bit uncomfortably. She was refreshingly honest with her questions. When I asked if I could pray for her to have a baby, she laughed nervously, but said, “I guess it couldn’t hurt.”
To our delight, it wasn’t long before she found out she was pregnant again. She told me, and said, “Maybe it was the prayer!” But just weeks later, she began spotting, and she feared her nightmare was happening again. Carol fell to her knees in the bathroom and said:”God — if you are real, and if you let me keep this baby, I will give my life to you.”
Carol’s spotting stopped, her pregnancy went well, and she gave birth to a baby boy. She had tasted, as Hebrews 6 says, “the goodness of God.” Does that mean she was saved? No — everybody tastes the goodness of God in His mercies, which are new every morning. Did she give her life to him as promised? No. She gave a donation to Care instead. The warning of Hebrews 6 is for people in Carol’s situation, who have tasted the goodness of God but not taken Him seriously. What are they falling away from? The wooing of God, the goodness of God. They are not born again and they are resisting His wooing.
But God did not give up on Carol. One afternoon while our little boys napped, Carol asked me: “It seems so arrogant to say that Jesus is the only way. Can’t there be many ways — Buddha, Mohammed, Moses, or Jesus?”
As a baby Christian, I wasn’t sure how to answer her, but I knew enough to say, “Why don’t you ask God to show you if Jesus is the only way?”
So Carol did. And then she flipped open her Bible and put her finger on a page, demanding an answer. Graciously, God gave the incident of the transfiguration in Luke 9:28 when Peter, James, and John saw Jesus transfigured on the mountain, his face altered, his clothing dazzling white, talking to Moses and Elijah. They wanted to build three tabernacles in their honor, but a voice came out of a cloud and said:
“This is my Son, the chosen One, listen to him!”
Carol was so excited that she came running down the block with her baby and her Bible, eager to show me how God had spoken to her. God had shown her, as the author of Hebrews does in the opening of Hebrews 3, that Jesus is better than Moses (better than Elijah, better than Buddha…)
Did Carol trust Him for her salvation?
No. I told her I was afraid for her. She told me she thought she was one of God’s favorite people — and she was not afraid.
The warning of Hebrews is to people who have tasted God, heard from God — yet do not take Him to heart.
We moved away from Indianapolis but stayed in touch with Carol and Bob. Years later Bob became very ill and died of a brain tumor.
Not too long after that, I was doing a retreat in Indianapolis and contacted Carol, who agreed to meet me for lunch. During lunch Carol said: “I heard you on Focus on the Family.”
“You are listening to Focus on the Family?”
“You can’t go through what I’ve been through without turning to God.”
I stood up and came to her side of the booth, sat down, and held her. She was different. And I have continued to see a difference in her — trusting God, serving Him, staying close by His side. Do those things save her? No — they are evidence that she is saved. Can she lose her salvation? Absolutely not. She did nothing to earn it and she can do nothing to lose it. He holds her in the hollow of His hand — and no one can pluck her out of His hand.
HOW CAN WE BE SURE?
If you are trusting in Christ alone, He is the Solid Rock. Stay close by His side — not to earn salvation, for you already have it, but it will increase your assurance that you know Him. A repeated theme, not only in Hebrews, but in the letters of John and in other passages is that your assurance that you are saved will grow as you stay by His side, as you walk in the light, as you turn from your idols and run toward Him. Does that save you? No. But it will increase your peace that you are indeed, His child. Rest in His grace. Find His perfect peace.
Sunday/Monday Opening Reflections
1. What stood out to you from the above and why?
2. Do you ever feel anxious about your salvation? How might you talk to your soul if you do?
Monday-Wednesday Bible Study on Hebrews 3.
3. Read Hebrews 3:1-6
A. Why is Christ better than Moses? What does this mean?
B. Meditate on verse 6. He says “we are God’s house” IF. What is the IF?
C. It is important to see that the author says we are rather than we will be. This is important. What is the significance of this?
4. Find the pattern to find the theme of Hebrews.
A. What is the warning of Hebrews 2:1?
B. What is the warning of Hebrews 3:6?
C. What is the warning of Hebrews 6:11-12?
D. What is the warning of Hebrews 10:23?
E. What is the warning of Hebrews 10:35?
F. What is the warning of Hebrews 12:1?
G. What is the assurance of Hebrews 13:20-21?
5. Read Hebrews 3:7-19. This is an illustration of all the warnings above. What is it?
6. How would you pray or counsel the person who thinks he is saved because of a prayer or because of being baptized, but has neglected God?
Thursday-Friday: Listen to John Piper on Hebrews 3.
It’s a hard passage and he is very helpful.
THE FIRST LINK BELOW IS WHAT I WANT YOU TO HEAR — THEN BELOW IS AN EXTRA OPTIONAL SERMON.
(EXTRA RESOURCE: THE SERMON THAT PRECEDED THE ABOVE)
7. What comments do you have on the sermon?
8. What is your take-a-way and why?