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Monday, March 12, 2012

Eternal Salvation, Hebrews 4:14-15; 5:7-10

“Let us hold fast to our confession”(4:14b). There seems to be urgency in the words of the writer of Hebrews. What was the confession? The writer says it – “[Jesus was] the source of eternal salvation” (5:9). Why do we need to be saved? He states that frankly as well. Sin is ignorant. Sin is weakness. The author assumes all of us humans sin, and it is implied, and states directly elsewhere, that sin cuts us off from God. Life without God is the same as death. We need God, but sin cuts us off, and we all sin. That is not good, but Jesus came for us and has been found worth and is thus the source of eternal salvation for everyone who believes in him. That’s our confession.

“Let us hold fast to our confession.” Grip it tightly and no matter what, don’t let go. That confession is a statement of truth that is the difference between eternal life and being cut off from God. We don’t want to see this wrongly. This is not a choice of Heaven or Hell. People say Heaven or Hell, but the actual Biblical presentation is eternal life or being cut off from God. We want eternal life. Let us hold fast to our confession.

There must have been a worry that people in the church weren’t doing that. People in the first century let go of their heart confession of Jesus for many reasons, but possibly the main problem Hebrews was dealing with, is fear. People renounced or minimized Jesus because they were afraid to do otherwise. The Romans were the ones in power, and they did not care how many gods one worshipped. But they demanded that all under the power of Rome acknowledge that the Roman Emperor was a son of God and was the supreme ruler.

Christians did not do that. They did not say the emperor was Lord. Not only did they refuse to confess the emperor, they also said someone else was Lord –Jesus. Rome responded by putting sending Christians into exile. Rome made it hard for believers to get jobs. On at least one occasion, all the disciples of Jesus Christ were kicked out of Rome – expelled and forced to become refugees. Rome put Jesus’ followers in arenas to be torn apart by lions. Rome nailed Christians to crosses. The book of Hebrews is reacting to the fear that led Christians to think it might be a good idea to be secret Christians. They would believe in Jesus. They just wouldn’t say anything about it out loud, and for show, they might give a nod to the emperor.

Let us hold fast to our confession. It’s only a confession when it is spoken and maintained, even in the face of persecution. This mattered tremendously. Is it such a big deal for us? I don’t know anyone who because of their belief in Jesus has been put into a stadium to be eaten by wild beasts as a crowd of thousands watches. I don’t know of any crucifixions in American history. In this century, I don’t know of any crucifixions anywhere. For us, in the world in which we live, do we need to read Hebrews with the same urgency the first readers had when they read it?

We must maintain all we believe – public declaration of faith in Jesus Christ, Son of God, savior of the world. Let us hold fast to our confession. Is there any danger we won’t do that?

Imagine someone you know finds out that you attend church and that you are a Christian. Imagine that someone says, “Religion is really quite silly. In light of all that has been discovered through scientific research and all that is known and has been developed, it’s just a joke that anyone with education would suppose there is God. How goofy is that? This is the age of technology. Belief in God is the same as belief in goblins and ghosts and fairies and witches.” No, this person you know doesn’t say this directly to you. He says in a group of people – your peers. He says it with you present. Everyone knows you are the churchgoer in the crowd. He says it to challenge you and all eyes in the group seem to turn your way.

Do you hold fast to your confession that Jesus is Lord, that you are a sinner, that you know you need God, that the only way to God and to eternal salvation and life everlasting is through Jesus? Or do you desperately try to find a way out of the room, hopefully unnoticed?

Our ancestors in Christianity, the original readers of Hebrews, were threatened, and they let go of their confession when their lives were in danger. We let go of our confession of faith in Jesus when our lifestyles and our reputations are in danger. This is not a comparison of who was more faithful, first century believers who received the first copy of this letter or 21st century believers who can go on the internet and read this letter in 50 different languages. I am not flogging us saying “see how much more faithful they were?” The word of God given to them was hold on, keep the faith, keep speaking the faith. That is the same word to us. Our situation is different, but just as urgent.

The tendency in our culture and our time is to let our faith become diluted. In attempts to market Christianity in a market-driven society, we see Christian versions of the most popular magazines, music, and movies. We see large Christian churches open food courts within their buildings. We see Christian movements that resemble self-help and self-improvement programs more than they look like the gospel the apostles preached. There is nothing wrong with Christians movies or churches having food courts or churches offering yoga classes and reading scripture in the place of sun salutations. That’s all OK. But it all comes together to reveal a 21stcentury faith that is trying to fit in in the world. We’re tailoring our Christianity according to the standards of our culture instead of determining our participation in that culture by the standards of Jesus. We let the world define our belief instead of our belief determining how we interact with the world. And thus, we let go of our confession.

Diluted faith makes the message of Hebrews essential. Is your faith diluted? Is mine?

Another threat that raises the urgency of the call in Hebrews is fragmentation. We live compartmentalized lives. At church, I am a Christian. At work, I am a professional. At the store, I am a shopper. None of those areas interferes with the other. The decisions I make with my money do not affect my job performance; my choices at work, including the tough ethical decisions I face stay at work and do not come with me on Sunday morning. And, God has no voice when I am on the clock Monday through Friday or when I am out on the town on the weekend with friends. I am describing a compartmentalized life. We become fragmented and we leave parts of ourselves all over. The only choice, when we decide to live this way, is to let go of our confession. We do not hold it. We do not make that confession and say in our life and our actions and our words and our relationships that Jesus is Lord. On the topic of Jesus, we are silent, except at church.

Let us hold fast ... but we don’t. We are silent and so, our own faith is weakened and maybe in jeopardy. Others, who are not in the church, don’t hear. They don’t see someone standing up and declaring the truth about Jesus. They who are outside the church, whether they were never in in the first place or they left, don’t see someone passionately making the statement about God’s love and people’s need for God.

We see the issue, but what then do we do? How can we hold fast? We know we need to but can we? On what authority?

We have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, says Hebrews (4:14a). He can sympathize with us in our weakness because he is a human as we are. He knows what is like to go through what we go through. I think when it says he“passed through the heavens,” that is an allusion to something written about at the conclusion of the Gospel Luke and the beginning of Acts. The disciples are gathered and he tells them to take the message of his salvation to the surrounding regions and then to all people on earth, and then he is taken, rising, ascending. This is called the ascension and the image that comes to mind is of Jesus rising into the sky.

But, I don’t think anyone thinks Jesus is somewhere way out in space. So ascension might be a misnomer. He is with God and with God in bodily form. The risen Jesus invited Thomas to touch him. Mary Magdalene grabbed at his feet. He ate fish with the disciples. He did not leave his physical body behind, but it rose – he rose, changed. Resurrected. He is the one who goes before God on our behalf.

Hebrews says Jesus “offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears,”to God (5:7). Where the comment about the heavens, I believe, alludes to his ascension, this comment about Jesus’offering prayers with loud cries and tears alludes to the time he spent in the Garden of Gethsemane before he was arrested, tried, and crucified. Luke writes that when Jesus prayed in the garden, he asked God to remove the cup of suffering, and he prayed with such anguish that he sweat drops of blood and angels came to help him. He asked that the cup be removed, but for our sake it was not. Jesus obediently went to death for the sins of the world.

The ascended Jesus who goes before God and intercedes on our behalf and the agonized Jesus who obeyed God even though doing so was painful, this is the Jesus who makes is possible for us to hold fast to our confession.

Because he is for us, because we are born again in Him, we can hold our faith and name it no matter what. Whether we are killed or embarrassed for doing so, we hold our belief and we let everyone around us know that we belong to Jesus and our lives and our choices are determined by him. Because of Him, we are destined for resurrection. This world is going to be renewed– made new. Paul anticipates this in Romans. Revelation 21-22 talks about the earth and heaven being made new. Just as you and I in our sinful selves died in sin and were made new creations in Christ, the earth will be made new and all who are born again, who obey God as it says in Hebrews 5 (v.10) will have eternal life with Him.

We hold fast with our confession, we tell the truth about Jesus because he gives eternal salvation. In our daily life choices involving money, decisions about where and how to live, in our work and relationships, in our times of play, and in our homes, we hold fast to our confession of faith in Jesus Christ.

Imagine someone you know finds out that you attend church and that you are a Christian, a true Christ follower. Imagine that someone says, “Religion is for the weak-minded. It’s out of date and doesn’t work and isn’t true. Jesus was a good man, but nothing more.” He says it knowing you can hear him. He knows you are a believer and he knows everyone in your circle is waiting to see how you, the one who follows and worships Jesus, will react. Everyone is watching.

Hebrews says, Let us hold fast to our confession. And there is this. Jesus is the one who saves. You know that. But this guy coming after you doesn’t. Someone in the surrounding group doesn’t know it either. Whatever you do in that moment probably won’t immediately lead someone, your verbal attacker or one of the watchers, to faith. If you back down and let go of your confession, it definitely won’t claim any ground for Jesus. But, relying on the strength he gives, if you lovingly, gently, stand your ground and declare your belief in Jesus and your belief that everyone including the guy challenging you needs Jesus, it just be the point where someone’s destiny turns. They see the fiery passion of faith in your eyes, and they, just a little bit start to consider whether the gospel might be true and Jesus might be the one. That moment, they start down the path to faith, because you told the truth in love.

Let us hold firm to our confession that Jesus Christ is Lord. He is the giver of eternal salvation.

AMEN

As we respond in prayer and with singing, take this time to think of a situation in your life in which it is hard for you to stand fast and hold strong to your confession of Jesus. Pray for these next few minutes that God will empower you this week to hold fast to your faith and to tell that Jesus is Lord and gives eternal salvation.

9 comments:

  1. God, in His own time and in His own way, will bring the world to its appropriate end. According to His promise, Jesus Christ will return personally and visibly in glory to the earth; the dead will be raised; and Christ will judge all men in righteousness. The unrighteous will be consigned to Hell, the place of everlasting punishment. The righteous in their resurrected and glorified bodies will receive their reward and will dwell forever in Heaven with the Lord.

    Isaiah 2:4; 11:9; Matthew 16:27; 18:8-9; 19:28; 24:27,30,36,44; 25:31-46; 26:64; Mark 8:38; 9:43-48; Luke 12:40,48; 16:19-26; 17:22-37; 21:27-28; John 14:1-3; Acts 1:11; 17:31; Romans 14:10; 1 Corinthians 4:5; 15:24-28,35-58; 2 Corinthians 5:10; Philippians 3:20-21; Colossians 1:5; 3:4; 1 Thessalonians 4:14-18; 5:1ff.; 2 Thessalonians 1:7ff.; 2; 1 Timothy 6:14; 2 Timothy 4:1,8; Titus 2:13; Hebrews 9:27-28; James 5:8; 2 Peter 3:7ff.; 1 John 2:28; 3:2; Jude 14; Revelation 1:18; 3:11; 20:1-22:13.

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  2. I cannot see the relevance of the comment to the original post. Does the post say something that contradicts this comment?

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  3. You imply that our confession is not about heaven or hell. But heaven and hell are real literal places and everyone on earth will go to one or the other. The baptist confession is very specific about heaven and hell. Do you agree?

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  4. The message is about holding one's faith when tempted to do otherwise. It's not a piece about Heaven or Hell. I think that is pretty clear. What comment do you have on the topic. You took three sentences out of a message, out of the second paragraph. What is written in that paragraph is Biblically accurate, and quoting 100 verse out of context doesn't change that. What thoughts do you have on the main topic - maintaining our faith?

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  5. He who seeks an answerMarch 16, 2012 at 11:35 AM

    The comment was about how you defined your central thesis. I agree we should hold fast to our confession. I may or may not agree with your definition of that confession. I can't force you to answer my question, but I think the question was on subject enough to deserve an answer.

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  6. It wasn't a message about heaven or hell. It was not the central thesis. As I said, the bulk of the New Testament witness is more related to resurrection (1 Corinthians 15 as just one example) than it is Heaven. The Christian story is not "we go to heaven when we die." The Christian story is Jesus is Lord of our lives here and Lord of our lives in the resurrection. Any confession that is not "Jesus is Lord" is not a Christian confession. My intent is to read the text and do my best to respond to it in faith. You want me to answer a direct question - do I believe in Heaven & Hell (according to your definitions). I am not going to be pinned that way because Hebrews 4 does not demand that and my message is one Hebrews 4. But I am telling you, until your life (by "your" I mean anybody's) is lived with Jesus as Lord other questions are not right to deal with. The key question, the first question is this: is Jesus Lord? If the answer is yes, and we hold the confession that we are saved by Jesus, by his grace, then we join him in the resurrection. There's no question Heaven is a real place. I don't jump to answer because the answer is obvious. Our future destination is in the New Jerusalem which is in the New Earth which is joined to the New Heaven. That's a person's destination if he or she lives under the Lordship of Jesus. And living under the Lordship of Jesus, he or she is already on his or her way.

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  7. Jesus "became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him" (Heb 5:9). Eternal Salvation is defined in terms of Heaven and Hell. The church has understood it this way for 2,000 years. The Baptist Faith and Message (quoted above) defines it that way. Yet you treat me like I'm from another planet for suggesting it. It's the historic Christian Faith!!!!

    Any confession of faith different from yours is not a Christian confession???? Really?? The historic confessions and creeds of the Christian faith all have a little more to them than "Jesus is Lord". Jesus is certainly lord but the confession of the church talked about in Hebrews is not limited to just that statement. Our confession includes Jesus' atonement for our sins and yes, Heaven and Hell.

    Perhaps your church has agreed to deviate from the Southern Baptist doctrine of eternal salvation. But don't treat those of us adhering to the historic faith like aliens.

    If you are living under the Lordship of Jesus then you are obedient to his word. His word teaches that heaven and hell are real places and all of us will go to one of those places. Changing the subject doesn't change the truth. You acknowledged heaven but not hell. I can only hope that was an oversight.

    It is not at all obvious in the culture we live in that heaven and hell are real places. Most don't believe in life after death and live their lives as if there is no tomorrow. Those that would claim to believe in heaven think that anyone living a basically good life will get there. Those claiming belief in a hell think a loving God wouldn't send anyone there. The Biblical doctrines of heaven and hell must be taught to the church and to the unchurched. It is part of a balanced presentation of the gospel.

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  8. So you think Hell should preached every week, in every church, everywhere? Why didn't Jesus mention Hell in every teaching? I did not deny Heaven or Hell? I said it is not the main story. It isn't.

    A couple of times you've mentioned The Baptist Faith and Message. Baptists historically don't adhere to creeds. One of the base tenets of Baptist faith historically is the priesthood of the beleiver. That means individuals reading scripture and then under the guidance of the Holy Spirit understanding the scripture they have read. I don't feel any responsibility to the Baptist faith and message. Unlike scripture, it has changed over time. When one group gains political control of the Convention, the Baptist Faith and Message changes. Then the politics change and the B F & M changes. So really, I don't worry too much about it.

    My message was on Hebrews 4-5. I don't think there is anything there in there on Hell. Nothing. So why would I mention it. In his teaching Jesus did not make Hell his main point. Is it part of the story? Yes. Do people choose to reject God? Yes. Will they spend eternity in a place where God is not? Yes. Do I think eternity separated from God is Hell? Yes. I cannot imagine how bad that would be. But the point isn't how horrible the conditions will be. The point is being in close relationship with God.

    That's the center of the story - reconciliation with God. If there is one thing that makes it into in most of my writings and messages, it is not Hell. Maybe for you that doctrine is more important than any other. But it wasn't Biblicall what was given the most attention. I don't see nonbelievers saying, "O, a Christian tells me I am going to Hell. He doesn't love me, but he tells me I am going to Hell." I don't see it. My goal is not to only tell the truth. It is to tell the truth so that it would be heard.

    For the life me, I cannot understand the fascination with Hell, and the utter delight in proclaiming how many wicked awful sinners are going there - the gays, the liberals, etc. I am a wicked, awful sinner, as bad as any. I beleive Jesus died for me. In my spirit I have felt the Holy Spirit. I believe I am saved. Hell's not on my mind. I want to tell people about Jesus and salvation and resurrection and life as a child of God.

    Go ahead, make Hell the center of narrative. I can read page after page after page in the New Testament, not neglecting the truth, but standing on it. And I know the main story is the glory of God and being in relationship with God. Heaven and Hell are part of that story - but not the main part. You keep reading the Baptist Faith and Message (better keep up the changes that come every 30 or 40 years). I am not interested.

    My message was based on

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  9. There is a difference between making something the center of the narrative and including it as part of the narrative. There is only one "narrative" that matters and that is the Bible. It starts with creation and ends with believers in heaven and unbelievers in hell. You constantly misrepresent what I'm saying in your replies. Please show me where I said hell was the center of the narrative. This started with you saying heaven and hell weren't part of the narrative. Now you are admitting that they are. That's progress.

    I quoted the BF&M because what you said was originally at variance with it. Your church's website lists it as the basis for what the church believes. The point is that the historic church including that baptist church has understood eternal salvation in terms of heaven and hell. You disagree, fine. But don't pretend that I'm a space alien for mentioning it. The BF&M has changed over the years but the message of eternal salvation with believers going to heaven and unbelievers to hell has been in it since the beginning. Saying it isn't part of the confession or narrative isn't true. Saying that I'm making it the center of the narrative is not true.

    Did I say preach hell every week? No. But it was part of Jesus' preaching. In fact, heaven and hell were a major part of his teaching. Its part of the gospel, the good news of salvation. You don't want to preach heaven and hell? Fine. But don't preach that it's not part of the story. That is what I was commenting on.

    Did I say you were not a Christian? No. Did I say with utter delight a list of people going to hell? No. Did I say to tell people they are going to hell as the main point? No. I said it was part of a balanced presentation of the gospel. I would give heaven and hell the emphasis Jesus gave it, no more no less.
    We can't have an honest, intelligent conversation when you continually make false statements about what I said. If you had left out the false accusations, I could have agreed with most of what you said in your comment.

    Your not interested in the baptist faith and message? I asked you that once and you said the church was in agreement with it except the part about the role of women in the church. Had I known you weren't interested I wouldn't have appealed to it. But, I think there needs to be doctrinal standards for the church. The reason creeds and confessions exist in the church was to combat heresy. I think dismissing them outright and letting everyone interpret for themselves is fraught with danger. Your rigorous attack on my interpretation of whether heaven and hell are part of the "story" shows that you don't actually practice this. Do you mean each believer can interpret for him/her self as long as it agrees with you? That would change more often than the every 30-40 years you criticize the BF&M of. Perhaps every 6 months depending on what you are reading at the time. Personally I believe the Bible is not subject to any "private interpretation" but should be interpreted soberly by a body of believers. At least on the essential truths like salvation. There are plenty of things that are not as clear that differences of opinion are inevitable. But if we can't agree on the essentials we are in trouble as a church.

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