Growth and Assurance of Salvation

Our study now has to deal with one of the tough admonition passage of the New Testament found in Heb 5:12-6:20. The author starts with a rebuke of “immaturity” of his audience and the need for them to move beyond elementary teaching of “repentance”, “faith”, “instruction”, “laying on of hands” and even “eternal judgement.” What does the author intend we learn in this “mature” phase, what could be more “mature” than these basic tenants of the Christian faith? How about the rest of the passage leading into Hebrews 6:4-8 in which the author alludes to the idea of loosing our salvation.

On Maturity

Pastor Jeff titled the sermon “Spiritual growth best evidence of salvation” – which is apt on understanding this part of the message where the author is challenging his audience to move to maturity. The author is concerned that this infant Jewish believers community is side-stepping a real thing they need to deal with – immaturity. What type of maturity is expected? How can one get to this real “solid food” – what will be a good sign of reaching solid food. The author gives a broad statement of being able to “distinguish good from evil” – this is whole process of Christian Faith as we recognize more of the evil (not just evil out there in the world) but in our thoughts and lifestyle that needs to be dealt for our renewal of our lives here.

As the Russian philosopher Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, would say “.. the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?” The author of Hebrews is concerned that his audience “have not yet resisted (sin) to the point of shedding your blood” Heb 12:4. The author is acutely aware early Jewish Christians will have to face staunch persecution potentially in loss of societal status, Jewish community resources and potentially even their lives. The words are harsh as the author expects nothing less that the believers will be tested with, so they need to buckle up to keep maturing under this trial.

On Losing our Salvation

The early verses in Hebrews 6 bring about a difficult topic that deals with believers potentially loosing their salvation as they “fall away” that leads into “recrucifying their Lord” by their back sliding. It is difficult to ignore the fact that the author has a strong warning that Christian’s salvation is not something one can take for granted. This salvation can be “lost” if assumed that somehow one can trick oneself and continue in a life that is not consistent with the salvation they received. While in one sense, we have “assurance of salvation”, we are also urged to “work out our salvation” – this is not a contradiction for the author of Hebrews. Christian life requires an introspection and discipline that enjoys the love of God while keeping the “reverence and awe of God” who is a “consuming fire” Heb 12:28,29

On Certainty of our Salvation

Before the ink is dry of the earlier warnings from Hebrew, the author quickly turns to encourage his audience (v9-12). This first comes in the form of recognizing their good works of recent past and the example of others who through “faith and patience inherited the promises”. Not to miss that all this is finally in utter dependence on God who “cannot lie” but will always keep his word even when we fail.

The author specifically points his audience to the story of Abraham and Sarah for whom God gave both a promise and an oath – the author calls these as “two immutable ways in which God cannot lie” – which in some ways can be translated that God “doubly confirmed” his word to the first patriarch couple of the immutability of his word. As Psalmist in Psalms 138 (v2) says figuratively “You have exalted your word above your name” – this is like saying that God will change his name (which is highly regarded in the ancient culture) so as to keep his word. His word is that he will save us to the utmost remains undefeated even by our own failures, sins and mistakes like in the life of Abraham and Sarah.

On reading Hebrews

Professor Rob Wall has a commentary on Hebrews that he titles “A letter without home“. What Rob is trying to indicate here is the literary structure of Hebrews is distinct, even enigmatic as it does not follow the structural coherence (mostly Greek influenced western thought) such that no point flows neatly into the next smoothly. In Martin Luther’s own words the book of Hebrews is like “an epistle of many pieces put together but does not deal with any one subject in an orderly way.”

In some ways understanding this criticism can help us understand the author’s way of bringing the message in his heart to his audience. The book of Hebrews portrays a style of Near-East philosophy in which contradictions are not always smoothly resolved – they are just humbly accepted. God’s revelation is the only way we even understand his heart, his message, his love, his justice and his salvation. This is dear to the heart of near-east Christian who is comfortable accepting the “love of God” with the “fear of God”