Is Salvation a Sure Thing or Dependent Upon Us? Part 6

June 1, 2015 at 3:16 PM 1 comment

1-Timothy-26We introduced aspects of the book of Hebrews in our previous article in this series. We left off with Hebrews 3:12 and following where the writer to the Hebrew believers introduces the concept of “failing to believe” that results in “falling away from God.” We need to go deeper into that concept as the Hebrew writer does in order to rightly understand just exactly what is being taught. In order to do this successfully, context must be considered.

Hebrews 3:12 – 19 states the following:

“12 Take care, brethren, that there not be in any one of you an evil, unbelieving heart that falls away from the living God. 13 But encourage one another day after day, as long as it is still called ‘Today,’ so that none of you will be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. 14 For we have become partakers of Christ, if we hold fast the beginning of our assurance firm until the end, 15 while it is said,

‘Today if you hear His voice,
Do not harden your hearts, as when they provoked Me.’
16 For who provoked Him when they had heard? Indeed, did not all those who came out of Egypt led by Moses? 17 And with whom was He angry for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the wilderness? 18 And to whom did He swear that they would not enter His rest, but to those who were disobedient? 19 So we see that they were not able to enter because of unbelief.”

We see starting in verse 12 the idea that Christians can have an unbelieving (evil) heart that causes us to fall away from the living God. Clearly, the author of Hebrews is writing to Jewish believers (thus the name of the book). He calls them “brethren” identifying himself with them.

The author wants them to know that just as their forefathers failed to believe God (to take Him at His Word) in the wilderness, they also could fall prey to the same thing. Because the author of Hebrews refers to the Old Testament so often in this book, it is clear that he is speaking to Jewish believers, who would also be very familiar with the history of Israel as related in the OT. This is not to say that these truths do not also apply to Christians as well though.

In essence, the author of Hebrews seems to be saying that Christians (whether Jewish or Gentile) could give in to unbelief. This stems from an evil heart or the propensity of our heart (will) to give into temptation to deny God’s truth or to stop believing Him. I realize that some who are reading this might be vehemently disagreeing with me at this point, but give me a few moments to flesh this out, if you would.

If we look at the history of Israel, we see one example after another of unbelief, but that unbelief was not simply exercised by the average Israelite, was it? There were times when Israel’s leaders (including Aaron and Moses) also succumbed to unbelief. There are times when they failed to believe God. Was their heart evil all the time? No, it was clearly evil though during those times when they succumbed to the temptation to stop believing God. I’ll provide examples in a few moments, but in essence, the writer to the Hebrews is warning all Christians that unbelief is never far from us. Though our sins are completely forgiven – past, present, and future (because everything is always before God since God exists in the eternal present) – we can fail God through our unbelief. This is what happens when we sin, not by sins of omission, but by sins that stem from an abject refusal to take God at His Word. Christians are not above this and if we think we are, we are deluding ourselves.

We must always guard ourselves that we do not fall prey to unbelief. This cannot be emphasized enough, which is why, after the author of Hebrews lays the solid foundation of Jesus in the first few chapters of the book, he then moves onto how important it is for us to understand that we must flee/resist every form of temptation that tries to cause us to fail to believe God. It is not just for salvation that this is so (but obviously, our faith plays a role in the gaining of our salvation, Ephesians 2:8-10, etc.), but also for living the Christian life on a daily basis. Faith plays an important role there as well.

I realize there are numerous commentators who believe that at least verse 12 is not being directed toward true Christians. I’m not sure that’s accurate. I believe the writer would have clarified that his point in that verse was being directed to non-believers. I think he made that statement to Hebrew (Jewish) believers. Since he did not qualify his statement, it seems clear that he meant it to be read and understood by believers. Though professing Christians can even convince themselves that they are true believers, I think as the teaching within its context unfolds, it seems (to me) clear enough that this warning/directive goes out to all Christians, not simply those who may believe they are but in reality are not.

The key question here is related to what it means to actually fall away from the Living God. What does that mean? If we are able to rightly discern that meaning, then would we not have the answer to the question regarding what it then refers to? I think so. Certainly, at the very least we would be well on our way to gaining a greater awareness of what it means to fall away from God. Is that something an authentic Christian can do?

The words “unbelieving heart” obviously connect to this concept because it is actually part of that sentence. Can a Christian truly have an “unbelieving heart”? If not, then true Christians are in no danger. If so, true Christians are in danger, but does that automatically mean a loss of salvation?

We need to remember that the author of the Hebrew epistle is assuming that he is writing to actual Christians (“For we have become partakers of Christ…“) but adds as a caveat, “if we hold fast the beginning of our assurance firm until the end…” that makes it appear as though our salvation is not secure. This is in spite of the many sections of God’s Word that more than imply (oftentimes directly state) that our salvation is secure.

It would seem to me then that the danger of all Christians is to enter into a state of apostasy. At the same time, we must rightly understand what constitutes “apostasy.” In the confines of the text (the context), it appears that to apostasize means to “depart from God,” or as Constable clarifies, “not failure to come to God in saving faith.” [1]

So what exactly does it mean to depart from God? The writer of Hebrews is connecting this action with the actions of those from the Old Testament, those of Israel who left Egypt and hardened their hearts against God. What did they do to cause their hearts to harden? Quite simply, they chose to disbelieve Him. Because they refused to believe that God would overcome their enemies in the Promised Land of Canaan, they were not allowed to enter into that land, or “rest.” God made them wander in the wilderness until that generation of men aged 18 and up were dead.

What caused this? They allowed their hearts to be hardened against God through unbelief.

The question then becomes, can Christians also experience this type of hardening of the heart?

They failed to enter into God’s “rest” and we need to take the time to unwrap that word. What does the writer to the Hebrews mean by that word? Does he mean our “eternal rest” in heaven? Does he mean something else?

From Dr. Thomas Constable’s Notes on Hebrews:

“The Greek words translated ‘to apostatize’ (lit. ‘to stand away,’ aphistemi) and ‘apostasy’ (‘defection,’ apostasia) do not by themselves indicate whether believers or unbelievers are in view. The reader must determine this from the context.” (emphasis added)

If Christians can apostasize, then we obviously need to understand what that means and how it is corrected. I know you’re probably rushing ahead to Hebrews 6:6, but let’s wait until we take care of a few other things first and then we’ll also tackle that part of Hebrews.

I apologize that things seem to be moving along so slowly, but as you can see, we cannot simply read a section of Scripture and determine what we think it means without first understanding what numerous words and subjects mean within the context of those portions of Scripture.

So far, we’ve looked at the words/phrases, “unbelief,” “hardness of heart,” “rest” and there are more of them. What do each of these words mean, not to us today, but what did they mean when they were used by the writer to the Hebrew believers? That’s what we need to discern and we’ll get into that more earnestly with our next article in this series.

Thanks for your patience!


[1] Dr. Thomas Constable Notes on Hebrews


Entry filed under: christianity, Religious - Christian - End Times, Religious - Christian - Prophecy, Religious - Christian - Theology, salvation.

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