“Anchors Aweigh?” Hebrews 6:4-12
Dr. Chris White April 21,2013
We can only imagine what it felt like to be in Boston this week. Patriot’s Day, the Boston Marathon, public transportation are permanent pillars in that community. But this week they felt nothing but impermanence. Every-thing changed. There is real tension in impermanence. The Buddhists speak of the impermanence of life as the core crisis in the human experience. We would have to agree. There are people and ideas and realities we grip like anchors. They sink and hold, and as long as the anchor holds we feel like all will be well. For us, one of those anchors is the security of our life in Christ. That is, what God has started in us by grace and through faith will stand the test of time and mistakes and stumbles and deliver us to heaven after our death. To follow Paul’s word in Philippians 1:6, For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Jesus Christ.
But it remains a divisive issue among Christians. And it has been a divisive issue for as long as there have been followers of Christ who betray him or deny him or, like us, look in the mirror and see anything but a fitting representative of Christ on earth. And so our question: Is a believer in Christ secure or are you only as good with God as you are good?
The answer we give in the question of security is Yes, but we must first begin with a warning. And Hebrews 6:4-12 is one of the more difficult passages as it relates to this.
For in the case of those who have once been enlightened and have tasted of the heavenly gift and have been made partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, it is impossible to renew them again to repentance, since they again crucify to themselves the Son of God and put him to open shame. For ground that drinks the rain which often falls on it and brings forth vegetation useful to those for whose sake it is also tilled, receives a blessing from God; but if it yields thorns and thistles, it is worthless and close to being cursed, and it ends up being burned. But beloved, we are convinced of better things concerning you, and things that accompany salvation, though we are speaking in this way. For God is not unjust as to forget your work and the love which you have shown toward His name, in having ministered and is still ministering to the saints. And we desire that each one of you show the same diligence so as to realize the full assurance of hope until the end, so that you will not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises.
The warning comes to the first audience of the letter, those who received it. And those who received it were most likely of Jewish origin and still living in Jewish communities. And we can only imagine the difficulty of staying close to the crucified Messiah among Jewish friends and family, not to mention the growing social pressure against Christians. The temptation for Jewish Christians would be to return to Judaism and its familiarity. And so the writer of Hebrews gives them fair warning: To return to Jewish laws of sacrifice and appeasement for sin after seeking Christ is to return to what is worthless. To make null and void the sacrifice of Christ and then try to return to Christ is to crucify Christ all over again. Now, those who read this literally believe that people can and do walk away from Christ, apostacy as it were. One man who believed this and wrote about it was Dale Moody, a professor at Southern Seminary a few years before I enrolled. Because Baptist have historically held to perseverance of the saints, he was fired for this position.
Others read this as a hypothetical situation. It’s as if to say, “If you enjoy all the fruits of faith in Christ and then walk away and break all ties with Christ, it is not merely a change of mind when you return. You are crucifying Christ all over again. Therefore, guard your life and faith seriously.” So a warning still hangs in the air: you cannot take any drift from the faith from the faith lightly. Jesus said in Matthew 7, Not everyone who says to Me, “Lord, Lord,” will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven will enter. In Matthew 21, Jesus will use a parable to make this distinction again when he compares a son who says he will do his father’s will but doesn’t and a son who at first refuses his father’s request but then does it. The one who did the will of his Father, and not the one who talks about it, is the one who enters the kingdom of heaven. And we cannot forget Judas, the one who spent much time with Jesus and looked as much like a disciple as any of them, but who proved unfaithful. As the saying goes, we are no more Christians by being in this building than we are cars by standing in a garage. As Hebrews tells us, human lives that do not yield what God expects from the field of His work should not expect a good ending. The warning is that no one at judgment can pretend to be faithful in a way they were not. No one can offer at judgment words of faith but not a life of faith.
Despite this warning in Hebrews 6, however, the writer is confident that they won’t fail. I think the more important question for us is not, “Can I fall away?”, but rather, “Is grace enough?” As Hebrews states, God is not unjust and will not forget our work and love, and there is full reason for hope. There is reason for hope because the work of salvation is the work of Christ and a work of grace, a gift from God and not by our works. If Paul had not written those words in Ephesians 2 he could not have written the words of Romans 7:18: For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh; for the willing is present in me, but the doing of the good is not. He is realistic about his own work and limits of faithfulness. He is realistic about the prospects of the best apostles, to include Peter—who would deny Christ three times. All followers of Christ knew full well and know full well that eternal security in Christ must have an anchor greater than our best days. For whatever role our faithfulness plays in our salvation, celebrating in heaven is only a celebration of God’s faithfulness in Christ.
A Southern Baptist theological anchor is this statement: “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 (BFM).” This statement is born of statements like these from Jesus: Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life (Jn 5:24). My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me; and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. I and the Father are one (Jn 10:27-30).
Because God has given so much to make our salvation so sure and eternal, we stay awake. We stay awake in our faithfulness because God is the best story among all the stories we’ll recount at the end of our days. But this security is also the reason we can rest. God’s faithfulness to us is unlike any other faithfulness we’ll find. He is able to deliver us unto Himself.