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Sermon preached on Hebrews 6:9-12 by Rev. W. Reid Hankins during the Morning Worship Service at Trinity Presbyterian Church (OPC) on 7/1/2018 in Novato, CA.
“Confident of Better Things”
When someone compliments or encourages you, it is much more meaningful if they have something specific in mind instead of them essentially giving you some baseless platitude. The one encourages us because its based on a truth, the other is essentially false flattery. Well, in today’s passage, the book of Hebrews offers some encouragement after it had given some sterns words of warning. This section closes out the larger passage which had started in 5:11 dealing with how the people had become sluggish in their Christian growth. Last week’s passage brought the concern such sluggishness could be the precursor to apostasy. Yet, here Hebrews ends this concern by changing the tone to a positive note. Yes, the original recipients of this letter had appeared to have grown sluggish in their Christian faith. Yes, sometimes that could be the precursor to apostasy. However, the book of Hebrews is confident of better things for them. This book compliments and encourages them that the author believes they truly are saved and aren’t going to apostatize. And this is not some baseless compliment. The author has specific examples in mind of the fruit that accompanies those who are saved. He has seen that in them and he says that God has seen that in them. After a rather stern word of chastening for their sluggishness, Hebrews encourages them like this, so that they would take this chastening in a positive way. Hebrews wants them to heed the exhortation, by turning from their recent sluggishness, and pursuing renewed diligence in their Christian life. This will be our topic to consider then today.
So, in our first point, I want us to look at verses 9-10 and consider these “things that accompany salvation.” Hebrews wants to acknowledge fruit that has been observed in them. This should be seen in light of the verses right before this, verses 8-9 that gave the analogy of the earth sometimes bringing forth good things and sometimes bad things. Hebrews is saying that good things so far had been coming from them, and so Hebrews is hopeful that this means they truly are saved. The point that underlies this is that our assurance of salvation comes in part by analysis of the fruit or lack thereof in someone’s life. For example, in Matthew 7, Jesus spoke of how we can know a true prophet from a false one. He says that a good tree bears good fruit and that a bad tree bears bad fruit, and so we will know people by their fruits. Of course, we need to be careful in applying that because in the same passage Jesus says that the wolves will come in sheep’s clothing. So, sometimes at first glance a wolf might look like a sheep. Nonetheless, Jesus calls us to carefully examine fruit. This is something our session needs to do, for example, whenever we interview members to join the church. We can’t read someone’s heart to know if they truly believe in Jesus. Nor have we been given a copy of the Book of Life to look up someone’s name and see if they are truly one of the elect or not. So, when we receive new members into the church, we have to do so by looking for a credible profession of faith. We examine their words in conjunction with the fruit being shown in their life to seek to see if their profession of faith seems believable. That is what Hebrews is saying of the original audience here. That looking at the fruit of Christian living that has already come from them, Hebrews is confident that they have shown signs that would point to their election and salvation.
The author of Hebrews takes this one step further to say that not only does he acknowledge this fruit that has come from them, but God also sees it. This is verse 10, “For God is not unjust to forget your work and labor of love which you have shown toward His name.” Let me say right away this must not be about the doctrine of justification. Unfortunately, that’s how the Roman Catholics have taken verse 10, that one’s justification, their legal standing before God, is based upon God evaluating whether or not we have lived a righteous life. But that would contradict too many other specific passages about justification that tell us that our justification is not about our works but about God’s grace received by faith. And so, verse 10 is surely a statement relating to our sanctification and not our justification.
Let me clarify. When we speak of our justification, we are dealing with our righteous standing before God and how that relates to our eternal destinies. Those who are justified by God will go to heaven, those who are not will go to hell. In terms of justification, God deals with us as a judge. When we trust in faith in Jesus, God actually forgets all our sins. He doesn’t remember all our failing works. He does remember all Christ’s righteousness and imputes that to us. In terms of our justification, our own works don’t play into it at all. Thus, verse 10 can’t be about our justification. However, in terms of our sanctification, God does consider our works. In our sanctification, God does not deal with us as a judge but as our father. As our father, he does remember what we do and don’t do. In our sanctification, God does remember our sins, and in turn lovingly chastens us – never unto hell, but for our good and our growth. Hebrews 12 will talk specifically of this idea of God chastening us as a father. Likewise, in our sanctification, God does remember our good deeds – deeds which come as a result of his grace growing such in us. God remembers those good deeds so he can commend us and reward us for them, so as to encourage us to do more of them. You see, when we talk about our sanctification being a gracious thing, this is part of how God works that sanctification in us. This is doing what any earthly parent would do for his children. When they do something wrong, they chasten their kids, and when they do something right they commend their kids. That’s an important part of how a child learns obedience. Surely, that’s what verse 10 is talking about as we read it as part of the larger context. It’s about God commending them through the book of Hebrews for their previous good deeds. It’s so they will know God says those are good things to keep striving to do.
And so, we see how those good deeds that they done are defined here in verse 10. Two complementary ways these good deeds are described. At the end of verse 10 they are deeds which minister to the saints. The word “minister” here comes from the same Greek root that we get the word for “deacon”. The Greek root is one of serving. So, they had been serving the saints. Later in 10:32-26 we learn more about this, when Hebrews recounts how they had done things like identify with Christians who were being persecuted, helping them materially in their persecution, and even themselves joyfully accepting persecution as well. But then notice in verse 10 the other way their good deeds are defined. They are deeds shown toward the name of God! And so how they’ve served the saints is equated with serving God. That’s of course similar to what Jesus said in Matthew 25:40, that “whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.” This of course gets at why these deeds can be the fruit that accompanies salvation. Truly good deeds are not just things that are outwardly good, but done unto the glory of God in seeking to obey him.
So then, in this point we’ve seen how such good works can be evidence of someone truly being born of God. Let’s turn now in our second point to see the call for them and us to keep diligently striving to do such things, for the goal of growing in our assurance of our salvation. Will see this in verse 11 and the first part of verse 12. Notice that in verse 10 he talked about how their service to the saints was something they did in the past, but it also described it as something being done in the present. That being said, based on the context, likely their current zeal in serving God has shown signs of waning. But then in verse 11, Hebrews calls them to renewed diligence in this area of godly service unto the Lord. Verse 11 gets particular, and says that he wants this for each and every one of them. They were to remember what they have done in the past and be committed to doing that all the more going forward. The adverbial phrase “until the end” at verse 11 surely includes the call for such diligence. That what they had done in the past and even were doing presently, they needed to show such diligence of godly living all the way until the end.
Why? So they would come to have the “full assurance of hope.” Or as the NIV puts it, in order to make their “hope sure.” In other words, we are seeing here how godly fruit can relate to personal assurance of salvation. The author of Hebrews had said that when he saw their fruit it gave encouragement to him that they were truly saved. But here he speaks of how their continuance in such godly fruit can help give them assurance of their faith and hope as well. This is similar to what we see in 1 John, that we can have confidence of our salvation by observing our love shown to one another. At the core, it’s what we see Peter calling Christians to do in 2 Peter 1:10, “Therefore, brethren, be even more diligent to make your call and election sure.” The idea is that you can grow in your assurance if you can recognize God’s work in your life through the godly fruit that is beginning to come. This goes into the fact of what we said last time, that when you first become a Christian you don’t start out with an innate knowledge that you are one of the elect. Rather, we are called to seek that out, to make our calling an election sure. Part of that seeking is to strive for growth in godliness and when it comes you recognize that such godly fruit came because God has truly worked within your heart. On a side note, we see here in this passage the common tripartite of faith, hope, and love. Only those truly born of God will have the real faith, hope, and love described here in the book of Hebrews. That’s why as we seek to use the means of grace to cultivate this faith, hope, and love in our lives, we should have confidence and assurance of our salvation when we recognize these three things coming from us.
Notice that pastoral heart here in verse 10. The author says this is his desire for each one of them. It’s common for pastor to occasionally have to counsel Christians who are really struggling with doubt over their salvation. No pastor wants that for their flock. They want every believer to have a vibrant assurance of their faith. We see that pastoral desire here as well in verse 10. The same desire applies to us as well. This is something we want for each person in our church. We want each of us to have a hearty assurance that God has truly begun a good work in them and that God will surely bring that work to completion. And so, what a wonderful example of the relation of God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility here. We are called to diligence in doing such good works. We are to seek to grow in doing such good things. But when we do, we should see it as evidence of God’s work, of God’s grace in our life. In turn, our hearts should be encouraged.
In a similar way, we also see the need for patience here. Verse 12 references how our faith also need patience. Diligence and patience go together here. Hebrews had mentioned that such diligence meant they needed to keep doing what they did in the past, and have that diligence ongoing, until the end. That means we will need to patiently keep living for the Lord until that end finally comes. An analogy that comes to mind here is a backpacking trip, or maybe just a long hike. Often when you first start on a long hike like that, you can see your destination in the distance. You might at first be struck with how far away it looks. You might say, “Wow! We are going to go all the way there!” The great distance might be intimidating, and the journey itself arduous. But of course, there is no way to rush getting to your destination. You have to have both diligence and patience, taking one step after another until you finally reach your destination. The Christian life is much like that. That’s why verse 12 again speaks against spiritual sluggishness. We need to instead daily exercise diligence and patience until the end.
Our passage ends with a final practical suggestion for this. It gives us a practical aid against sluggishness. We are to imitate the faith and endurance of other saints. Surely, Hebrews especially has in mind here those victorious saints who have successfully gone before us. In context, he immediately turns to mention one – Abraham. Abraham needed diligent faith and patient faith in the promise God gave him of a son. When we get to Hebrews 11, he will give us lots more examples of such saints of old who had persevered in faith and hope, even while they had to patiently wait to receive God’s promise. They serve as a witness to us, to call us to such patience in our faith.
Certainly, we can remember all those many Biblical saints. Their example is one to imitate. We can also remember those godly saints who more recently have gone before us. Most recently people like RC Sproul and Billy Graham who diligently served God for so many decades have now finally gone to be with the Lord. Let us seek to imitate their diligence and patience in faith as well. It’s an interesting but repeated exhortation of Scripture that we can and should try to imitate the example of other godly saints. For example, in 1 Corinthians 11:1 Paul calls them to imitate himself. Yet, there he mentions that in the context of he himself striving to imitate Christ. That’s our ultimate model to follow. Yet, we can and should look for commendable traits in other saints and look to follow suit. Surely, the Lord knows that we can learn by example. On a side note, I am not a fan of that style of preaching known as exemplaristic that primarily reduces Bible passages to only case studies of different moral traits in various biblical characters. Yet, there are certainly lessons we can learn from the examples of the saints in Scripture and we should look to do so. The point in this passage is that such positive examples can help us in our growth in endurance in the faith.
And so, I love the way this passage so closely connects our godly deeds of love with our faith in the promises of God, particularly of our salvation in Jesus. This passage began by drawing attention to the godly acts of love toward the saints, but it ends with pointing to the faith of the saints of old. These things are intimately connected in the book of Hebrews. This helps us to see that its not talking about our works in any way being the basis for our salvation. Rather, it speaks of how these works are a reflection of our faith. We’ll see that for example in Hebrews 11, that the works mentioned by each of the saints of old show how their faith was expressed. Like with Abraham in Hebrews 11:17, it says he was willing to offer up Isaac because he had faith that God would raise him from the dead, since God had already promised to build a great nation through Isaac. Abraham’s offering up of Isaac showed that he had a lively faith. And so, as we conclude today’s message which has ultimately been about growing in assurance, I want to emphasize the same thing as we look to our godly works to help us in assurance. We don’t look to those works as if we should be more assured on their basis alone – as if our works themselves contributed to our salvation. Rather, our examination of these good works in our lives should be to see how the works we do express a real, genuine faith in Christ and the gospel.
Using the original audience of Hebrews as an example to follow for us, that is also what we see. I mentioned that fact that when the book of Hebrews mentions their good works to the other saints, it explained those more in chapter 10. Well, there in chapter 10 it is clear their good deeds were an expression of their faith. Listen to Hebrews 10:34. It says of their good works, “For you had compassion on me in my chains, and joyfully accepted the plundering of your goods, knowing that you have a better and an enduring possession for yourselves in heaven.” And so there their willingness to sacrifice their earthly possessions for Christ’s sake was because their faith knew they had better possessions safeguarded in heaven. Surely, this is the point in all this. We can and should look at our works to grow us in assurance, but not for the sake of the works in and of themselves. But for the sake that we can see how the works we do for Christ are an expression of the faith we have in Jesus and the gospel. Such examination is meant to encourage our faith, that we will have a great sense of assurance of hope, even here and now. This will reap immediate benefits as your live for Christ in this life, that you will have greater joy and peace of conscience as your assurance of hope is strengthened. This is the pastoral desire found here in Hebrews. It is my desire as your pastor as well, that you would grow in the joy of greater assurance!
In conclusion, brothers and sisters, I point us back to verse 9 to say there is a time and a place for even the elect to hear strong words of warning from Scripture. Our passage began after many verses of strong warning with the comforting words in verse 9 that he was confident of better things for them, things that accompany salvation. But then he said, “though we speak in this manner.” Though we speak in this manner – even though he said such strong words of warning, he was still confident of their election. The elect need the exhortation of Scripture. The elect will sometimes struggle with sins like sluggishness in our faith – and so strong exhortation is needed at such times. We are Calvinists, not hyper-Calvinists, and so the solution for an elect person being sluggish in their faith includes strong exhortation from God’s Word. And as those exhortations bear fruit, let us see it as the blessing of divine chastening. That God uses his Word, especially the preaching of the Word, to bring about his purposes for the elect – even the perseverance of their faith. May today’s encouragement grant us greater assurance – not only of the sureness of our own personal faith in Christ, but in God’s sure faithfulness toward us. He has promised us a heavenly, eternal inheritance in Christ. That hope is sure and steadfast. That hope is a biblical hope. That hope is even nearer now than when we first believed. Amen.
Copyright © 2018 Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
All Rights Reserved.