Is Salvation a Sure Thing or Dependent Upon Us? Part 7

June 2, 2015 at 7:59 AM

Moses struck the rock both times, but should have only done it the first time.

Moses struck the rock both times, but should have only done it the first time.

In our most recent article – Is Salvation a Sure Thing or Dependent Upon Us? Part 6 – we spent time dealing with Hebrews 3:12-19. There, the writer of the Hebrews warns his readers about having an unbelieving heart toward God. It is this evil, unbelieving heart that will cause believers to fall away from the Living God. The huge question then is this: is the writer to the Hebrews referring to a loss of salvation or is he referring to something else entirely?

The writer to the Hebrews constantly refers to something he calls “rest.” Students of the Bible have interpreted this term in several ways. [1]

  1. Heaven
  2. Present rest in (enjoyment of) our riches in Christ
  3. Future (eschatological) enjoyment of all that God wants us to enjoy
    (i.e., our full inheritance)
  4. Some particular blessing in the eschatological future
  5. A peaceful life now as Christians

Many people think of this in terms of a “faith-rest” life, in which we trust God, moment-by-moment on a daily basis. We trust Him for His provision, His work in and through us to reach the lost of this world, and other things besides. But as Constable and others say, it seems that, while this faith-rest life has merit to it and certainly something that should govern the believer’s life, the writer of Hebrews seems to be pointing to something beyond this and the fact that he constantly refers back to the Old Testament examples of the Israelites tends to prove that.

In Hebrews 3:12, we read the warning, “Today if you hear His voice, Do not harden your hearts, as when they provoked Me.” Many tend to think that the writer to the Hebrews was referring to salvation, but how can this be if he has already referred to his readers as “brethren” (cf. 3:1). He is not simply being nice and “inclusive.” He sees his readers as people who share in the salvation that he himself also enjoys. Yet, he is pushing them to something beyond salvation and that something is what he calls the “rest.”

Constable’s point is that this “rest” the writer is referring to is something that we enjoy after this life, but not simply heaven. There are many passages that indicate that all Christians will enjoy heaven because of their salvation.

“To equate the inheritance [only] with heaven [cf. Matt. 11:28] results in a glaring inconsistency. It would mean that believers, by entering the church, are already heirs of the kingdom. Why then are they uniformly exhorted to become heirs by faithful labor when they are already heirs?” [2]

In other words, if when we become authentic Christians, we also gain heaven at the end of our lives, why is there a need to be warned against not entering His rest? Would this not presume to teach a works-based salvation? We gain salvation through the simplicity of childlike faith. Yet, we are now to believe that we are in constant danger of losing it if we fail to enter into some sort of “rest”? This cannot be because if this is what the writer to the Hebrews is trying to say, then this teaching sets itself up against the truth regarding salvation itself.

Like Constable, I believe that what the writer to the Hebrews is referencing is entering into a future, full, eschatological rest. Paul deals with this topic a great deal and I myself have covered it in my book Finishing the Race. In other words, the writer seems to be encouraging his readers (who are believers) to continue persevering in the faith. A failure to persevere will result in the loss of rewards.

I know that people reading this might be thinking, “Wait, the writer of Hebrews is warning his readers about departing from the Living God!” Yes, that is true. But what does that mean? Can Christians depart from the Living God? If they do, does that mean a loss of salvation?

When a person “departs” from the Living God, what does that mean? Ultimately, it means something done in unbelief. That is the simple reality. When a Christian refuses to believe God, the actions that follow are not considered “righteous” by God. The actions are considered to be fully sinful. Sin stems from unbelief, pure and simple. Isn’t that what the Hebrews writer just told is in Hebrews 3:12? “Take care, brethren, that there not be in any one of you an evil, unbelieving heart that falls away from the living God.” (emphasis added)

A person who has an unbelieving heart also has an “evil” heart, which leads the person away from God. In what way? In what they do. Their action(s) reflect the state of their heart. The big question then is can/does this happen to believers? Let’s take a look at some biblical examples.

Adam and Eve lived literally in God’s Presence. Their job was to tend the Garden in Eden. Apart from that, there was essentially one rule, to not eat of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. They sinned when they actually ate of that fruit, right? Was the sin actually eating the fruit or in deciding to eat the fruit and then following through?

Clearly, the sin is the result of the desire within; “Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death,” (James 1:15). In other words, Adam and Eve deliberately/deceitfully chose to depart from God’s chosen path for them. They were told not to eat of that forbidden fruit. They were tempted to agree with the Tempter that God is a liar. They got to the point of unbelief in God’s truth. Their unbelief created the desire to disobey and by their actions, they did sin. Just as James tells us, desire gives birth to sin and that is exactly the way it happened. Obedience to the desire (based on unbelief) is tantamount to sinning and resultant death.

But someone might argue, Adam and Eve were not yet “saved.” Okay, but there was also no need for salvation at that point. They were in relationship with God. They walked with Him in the cool of the garden and talked with Him. They obeyed Him, pleased Him, and therefore brought glory to Him. Only after they fell was there a need for them to be “saved.” Prior to that, they were already living the saved life.

But let’s move onto someone else then, Moses. Would you agree with me that Moses walked with God? Would you agree that though he was a sinner, he exercised great faith in the Living God, dedicating himself to obeying God at every turn? Would you agree though that he also had his failures (and I ask that with the greatest respect for the man)?

We know of at least one, huge failure on Moses’ part and this from a man who had spent many years walking faithfully before the Lord. What was this failure? We can read about it in Numbers 20:8, where God explains what Moses is to do.

“Take the rod; and you and your brother Aaron assemble the congregation and speak to the rock before their eyes, that it may yield its water. You shall thus bring forth water for them out of the rock and let the congregation and their beasts drink.” (emphasis added)

Please note that the Lord instructed Moses to speak to the rock in order for water to come out. The first time, Moses was instructed to actually strike the rock, as recorded for us in Exodus 17:6.

“Behold, I will stand before you there on the rock at Horeb; and you shall strike the rock, and water will come out of it.”

In both cases, the rock obviously stands in for God. Moses was instructed to strike this rock in the first instance and speak to the rock in the second instance. Why did God make that slight change? Simply put, the first instance looks forward to Jesus’ first advent, coming into this world as the Suffering Servant (Isaiah 53), where He was despised, spit upon, mocked, beat, and eventually cruelly put to death. The second instance of Moses getting water from the rock was to teach about Jesus’ second advent, when He will return as Victor, King, Triumphant Ruler! Because Moses made such a huge mistake, the imagery was lost. Yet, notice that God still provided water for the people of Israel (clearly a different generation from the first time).

But in Numbers 20, please notice what God says about this second instance of water being called forth from the rock. It is exceedingly important!

“Because you have not believed Me, to treat Me as holy in the sight of the sons of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land which I have given them.” (emphasis added)

Though he failed God through unbelief, Moses did not lose his salvation.

Though he failed God through unbelief, Moses did not lose his salvation.

What? Moses was accused of God as not believing Him! Moses? Yes, Moses, the man who walked with God and spoke with Him as one man speaks to another. Moses spent years learning from God, trusting Him, and being obedient to Him. Yet, here, just prior to the end of Israel’s journey to the Promised Land, Moses makes a terrible mistake and that mistake was the result of the fact that Moses chose not believe God. Wow. Stop and consider that for a moment, will you?

Did Moses lose the salvation that he clearly had? I think we can easily say no, he did not. We know this because of the Transfiguration alone (cf. Matthew 17). We also know it because it is likely that Moses is one of the Two Witnesses spoken of in Revelation 11.

What did Moses lose? He lost the chance to guide the Israelites into the Promised Land where they would (eventually) rest from their labors. Moses lost part of his inheritance the day he refused to believe God. Can Christians refuse to believe God? Can we do things born of unbelief instead of faith in God? Absolutely. Does that mean we will lose our salvation? No, it does not. It means, like Moses, we will lose part of our inheritance and that inheritance is referring to the full measure of what we will receive in Christ.

This article has gone on a bit longer than I would have liked, but I didn’t want to cut it up. There is more we will say on this subject and even include other biblical examples that show that our “righteousness” (which is really Christ’s imputed to our accounts) is gained by faith in Him. While I do not believe we can ever lose our salvation, I believe the Bible clearly teaches that our rewards or part of our full future inheritance can and will be lost if we fail to spent the rest of our lives believing God.

If Moses could fail, then what makes us think the average Christian will not? Only one thing: pride that stems from unbelief. Flee from it. Be warned that unbelief will cause you to fail. Though your salvation will remain intact, you will lose some of your inheritance in the afterlife. We’ll talk about this more next time and yes, we will eventually get to Hebrews 6:6.


[1] Dr. Constable’s Notes on Hebrews, p. 45
[2] Ibid, p. 45

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

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