The Warning Passages of Hebrews, which have vexed both ordinary Christians and professional scholars for centuries, have four elements: the audience, the sin, the exhortation, and the consequences. Today we will look at the exhortation(s). In my own journey, this topic was more critical than I realized, and it is more important of a topic than many seem to think. Perseverance is the issue; you don’t really need to call a non-Christian to persevere.
What do you see in the expressions of exhortation below? Do you think “us” implies Christian?
Here are some terms the author uses for what he expects his audience to do instead of falling away, and most of the time the author — who presumably thinks he/she is a Christian — includes himself/herself in the exhortation:
2:1: pay attention
3:6, 14; 10:23: hold on
3:13: encourage one another
4:1: let us fear
4:11: let us strive hard
4:14: let us hold fast
6:1: let us carry on to perfection
10:35: do not cast away your confidence
10:36: you need perseverance
12:1: let us run with perseverance
12:7: endure hardship
12:12: strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees
12:15: see to it that no one misses the grace of God
12:25: see to it that you do not refuse
If we chose one term to put this all into one it would be either “perseverance” or “faithfulness.” This is both mental and personal: one both knows that God is faithful and one actively surrenders to God’s grace and empowerment.
Both Calvinists and Arminians agree on this point: each person needs to persevere. The oddest thing has happened in American Evangelicalism: it has taught, whether aloud or not, the idea of “once saved, always saved” as if perseverance were not needed.
In other words, it has taught that if a person has crossed the threshold by “receiving Christ” but then decides to abandon living for Christ, that person is eternally secure. This is rubbish theology. Perseverance is an indicator of what faith is all about: a relationship that continues, that is marked by steady love. No one equates marriage with a wedding day statement of intent, and no one should equate faithfulness with a decision.
What does it mean to persevere? It means that we continue to believe, that we live like it. It doesn’t mean sinlessness; it doesn’t mean that we are on some steady and never failing incline into sanctification; it does not deny stumbling or messy spirituality. It doesn’t deny doubt and problems. It simply means that the person continues to walk with Jesus and doesn’t walk away from him.
Our next two blogs are big ones: what is the sin and who is the audience?