Sunday, January 12, 2014

A closer look at faith - Hebrews 10:19-39

Hebrews 10:19-22a "Therefore, brethren, since we have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus, 20 by a new and living way which He inaugurated for us through the veil, that is, His flesh, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith."

Evangelist Leonard Ravenhill said one time: "The light bulb for us Christians is prayer, and God has the power but it is faith that makes the connection." The part about "faith" in that statement is what captures the reader's attention, and thus leads us into considering a closer look at faith in today's post. The particular section of Hebrews 10:19-39 will be the focus, being that the word or idea of "faith" occurs in four places.  However if one were to undertake the wider context of Hebrews 10:19-12:2, one would find the word "faith" mentioned over 30 times.  As we are well underway into this new year, I felt it necessary to consider Hebrews 10:19-39 in regards to taking a closer look at faith.  As we do so, we will consider the following three main thoughts:

1. Ground of Faith - Jesus Christ. Hebrews 10:19-21
When we talk about the "ground of faith", we are referring to the foundation, or what we could also term the charter of faith.  The New Oxford American Dictionary, page 289 defines a charter as: "a written grant by a country's legislative or Sovereign power by which an institution such as a company, university or city is created and its rights and privileges defined." Think about how Jesus Christ, in all that He is, and all that He has done, as being the charter or ground of faith. The whole book of Hebrews was written to convince believers who were saved out of Old Covenant Judaism that it is Christ, and nothing else, that provides the ground for faith. Even in the Old Testament era, the shadows and types of every covenant and ritual pointed to Christ, hence He being the ground of Old Testament faith in the form of a plan and promise. There is no question that the point of Hebrews 10:19-21 is to define for us the ground of faith by the words "therefore" and "since". 

It is Christ, in His Deity, who is able to ensure the ground or charter of faith.  Likewise, Christ in His humanity is the only one capable of providing such a ground. Passages throughout the New Testament such as Ephesians 1:7 and Titus 1:2 describe Christ in both His Eternal and historic existence as God in human flesh as being the believer's salvation. No doubt, the ground or charter of faith is Christ and His work.  But now notice what God has prescribed concerning the growth of faith, namely...

2. Growth of faith - The church. Hebrews 10:22-25
It is astonishing how in the 16 million member Southern Baptist Convention alone, only a little over half of that number can actually be found in attendance in a weekly church service.  Whenever I speak to people about what is necessary for Christian growth, I point them to three main things that are the most often neglected, and yet are what God has prescribed: the scriptures, prayer and church attendance.  Oftentimes people may respond: "Well I pray, and I occasionally read my Bible, but I just can't see the need for church." Dear friend, unless Providentially hindered due to emergency, illness or required job situation, no excuse in the world can be given for missing weekly time with God's people.

Truly Hebrews 10:22-25 functions as God's garden, full of three rows of "lettuce" commands: "let us draw near" (10:22); "let us hold fast" (10:23) and "let us consider how to stimulate one another unto love and good deeds" (10:24). Another section, Hebrews 3:12-13 states similarly: "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." Whenever you see that phrase "let us", that is indicating a command, and not suggestion.  Paul (or whoever the human writer of Hebrews may be, we know the Holy Ghost is the Primary Author) is urging his readers to grow in their faith by being with others of "like faith".  The 1742 Philadelphia Baptist Confession puts it plainly: "All saints that are united to Jesus Christ, their head, by His Spirit, and faith, although they are not made thereby one person with Him, have fellowship in His graces, sufferings, death, resurrection and glory; and being united to one another in love, they have communion in each others gifts and graces, and are obliged to the performance of such duties, public and private, in an orderly way, as to conduce to their mutual good, both in the inward and outward man." 

So we have seen the Ground of faith to be Jesus Christ.  Also, we have seen the growth of faith to be prescribed by God in the the local church.  The writer of Hebrews directs us to one more consideration of this important subject of faith, namely...
3. Genuine faith (contrasted with false faith). Hebrews 10:26-39
Throughout the Bible we find discussions regarding what we could call "counterfeit faith" vs genuine faith.  Certainly Cain and Abel are the first historic examples of "make belief" versus "true belief" in God, His salvation and His word. The crowds' response to Jesus in John 12:36-43 evidenced "false faith", being that they "loved the approval of men rather than the approval of God" (John 12:43). All who truly believe on Jesus Christ must have the supernatural saving gift of faith.  However, as we see in the instance of Simon Magus in Acts 8:12-32, there is a form of belief that represents an ascent of the mind to the Gospel, and yet is absent of the true faith that is placed by God in the heart.  

Throughout the Book of Hebrews we see five warnings issued against those "professors of faith" who have not yet "possessed Christ by faith" (please compare Hebrews 2:1-5; 3:6-4:7; 6:1-8; 10:36-39; 12:25-29). 

Whenever we see the frightening reality of such a condition - the question that should arise is: "what then distinguishes true saving faith from false, counterfeit belief"? According to Hebrews 10:26-39, it is that one trait of endurance or perseverance.  Time and time again the quality of endurance or perseverance is defined as distinguishing true belief from make belief.  Jesus in His parable of the four soils (Matt. 13:3-23; Mk 4:3-25; Lk 8:5-18) emphasizes that the first three soils fell away, with only the four soil remaining and bearing fruit. The Baptist Faith and Message 2000 notes: "All true believers endure to the end. Those whom God has accepted in Christ, and sanctified by His Spirit, will never fall away from the state of grace, but shall persevere to the end. Believers may fall into sin through neglect and temptation, whereby they grieve the Spirit, impair their graces and comforts, and bring reproach on the cause of Christ and temporal judgments on themselves; yet they shall be kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation."

After issuing warnings and contrasts, the Holy Ghost says plainly in Hebrews 10:39 "But we are not of those who shrink back to destruction, but of those who have faith to the preserving of the soul."

Today we have considered a closer look at faith in Hebrews 10:19-39.  We noted first of all that the Ground of faith is none other than Jesus Christ (Hebrews 10:19-21).  We secondly considered the growth of faith, prescribed by the Lord, to be none other than the local church (Hebrews 10:22-25). Then we finally noted that in distinguishing genuine faith from counterfeit belief, the trait of endurance or perseverance merges repeated throughout Hebrews 10:26-39 (especially vss 32,36 & 39).  May this closer look at faith encourage either the Christian reader to grow in their faith or the unbeliever to trust in Christ by faith. (Romans 10:8-10; Ephesians 2:8-9)

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