The Righteous Will Live By Faith
Key Verse 10:35
“So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded.”
This letter has for some time now been increasing in tension and right here is where the apostle seems to explode with a stern warning that ought to, as the saying goes, curl our hair, make us stop and take stock of where we stand. Are we really standing on Christ and in the gospel, or are we wishy-washy Christians who don’t care much about what we believe and what will become of us. What the apostle says here must have startled the early Hebrew Christians, those who were teeter-tottering between the all sufficient Redeemer Christ and a piece of their heart which was still attached to the temple and the blood sacrifices they were so very much used to. It’s like those who still waver between devotion to Christ and the world. These Hebrew Christians must have been torn between the two, because in all honesty, the temple life and the law still held enormous magnetism for them over the simplicity of Christ and of the Christian life. But the truth is that the day was coming when God will completely destroy the temple and the old system because in Christ he had deemed these obsolete. How tragic then it would be for those caught up in them. He says that there is no sacrifice left for them. They are literally as doomed to perdition as the temple and those who choose the temple over Christ and union with Christ. The apostles’ words in this section are truly a frightful warning, something that we need to take to heart because our destiny is no joke.
But before we get there, let’s review his earlier words. In verses 19-21, as we said before, he tells them and us about the privileges we have in Christ, the greatest of which is that through Christ— the new and living way— and through his blood we have been washed clean and given unhindered and unlimited access to God. [In other words, we may now confidently enter into the innermost chamber of God’s presence to commune with God, to speak with him face to face, to have fellowship with him, to enjoy him and most of all to worship him. The most holy place where we may enter freely was once a place barred for any person to enter. But now we have a privilege to go in and speak with our creator and to share with him our most intimate secrets, to tell him anything and everything on our minds, to laugh and cry in his presence, spilling out our hearts. Now we can worship him as we were created to do. How did we gain that privilege? It was the blood of Jesus that forgave us, washed us and made us acceptable to God through repentance and believing the gospel message. And we are welcome to enter, not once a year like the high priest did in the past, but continually and as often as we want.] This is the new and living way which God opened for us through the body and blood of Christ. Now we belong to the household of God. We are his family. We have a great priest in heaven who guarantees it.
Now let’s look briefly at verses 22-25. [“Let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another— and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”] As we said before, after the apostle has told us of the privileges we have in Christ Jesus, he now tells us of our responsibilities based on these privileges. We find a threefold exhortation of what we ought to be concerned with. He says: “Let us draw near to God.” (22) “Let us hold unswervingly.” (23) “Let us consider how…” (24) And each of these exhortations are centered around one of the three words that are so often found together in the epistles, Faith, Hope and Love, otherwise known as the three graces. And he ends it with the words, “Let us not give up meeting together”, and “As you see the Day approaching.” (25b) These are very important words.
The Day he’s talking about is perhaps the day when the Jewish system crumbled to ashes when the temple was destroyed by the Romans in A.D. 70. Those who teeter-tottered between Christ and the temple worship needed to know of the gravity and consequences of their sin. And that day came when the whole old system came crumbling down. It was the end of the Old Testament. We too are waiting for the second coming of Christ. His Day is fast approaching now as well. And the Day will come when this world system under Satan’s rule will also crumble as suddenly and swiftly as the temple has. We cannot afford to be caught between love for Christ and attachment and Love for the world.
The apostle’s (almost) 4th exhortation to not “Give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing” are also very strong words related to the three graces. We meet together for Bible study, for prayer, for fellowship and for worship. There are things that God will not teach you except in the assembly of believers. There are things that you will never learn on your own even if you devote yourself to endless solitary bible study. There are some spiritual graces that can only be learned, known and revealed in fellowship. And that’s the truth. Those who are in the habit of doing things on their own are in danger of sinning against God and the church. Some Hebrew Christians thought to attend temple worship now and then, and the church fellowship now and then. But you can’t grow in the three graces if you don’t commit to fellowship with your brothers and sisters. Faith, Hope and Love can’t grow on their own. They need the mutual encouragement of the body of believers as much as the blessing and intervention of the Lord.
Now let’s review these three graces, the very responsibilities we have in response to our privileges. Read verse 22. “Let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water.” Our first responsibility and exhortation is to faith and to the full assurance of faith. Actually faith consists of two parts; the first part is believing, which accepts certain words or declarations to be true, and the second part is trusting the person about which or by whom these words or declarations are made. Neither one will do without the other, and faith isn’t faith if one of those parts are missing. They go together. On one hand, we can’t trust a person if we don’t know something about them. On the other hand, knowing something about that person is useless unless it leads us to put our trust in him. What good is it if a poor man knows that there’s a treasure in the vault! That knowledge is useless to him unless he has access to the vault. Mere intellectual faith isn’t enough. Knowing the Christian creed and reciting it will not save you. You have to pass from believing in the words to trusting in the Word and the one of whom they speak. It is by faith that we know that our Lord Jesus lives, and it is by faith that we also take hold of that life. By faith we know that Jesus paid for our sins on the cross, and by faith we also confess our sins, and receive forgiveness and new life. Faith is your open arms receiving Christ and all that he has inherited you through his sacrifice. Faith is believing the Savior’s words and putting your full trust in him who said them. Faith is the attitude you take in turning from the human to the divine.
You shouldn’t settle for anything less than the full assurance of faith, not scraps and leftovers but the full measure of the assurance of faith. Your faith is called on to believe the words spoken and to trust the person who spoke them. How do we do that? How can we have the full assurance of faith? He tells us the best way is to draw near to God. In the old days the priests washed their bodies and sprinkled blood before coming into the presence of God. But now through Christ, we come by faith because we have full assurance in the Word spoken by our Lord and in the Lord himself who spoke them. We believe and trust that his blood has cleansed us of a guilty conscience and made us acceptable and presentable to God. We come by faith believing that he also welcomes us, because we are his family, and our hearts long to worship and be blessed by him.
Read verse 23. “Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful.” This is the second responsibility and exhortation the apostle calls us for. Hope! Hope is more than faith. Hope fully embraces an unknown future it doesn’t yet see, yet it believes and accepts it as real and coming, and finally also incorporates it into its daily affairs and life. Hope is a thing distant and real made visible to you through eyes of faith— that’s your hope— a hope as sure as the faith you use to see it and embrace it. And it’s only natural that we should often ask what’s to come! It’s what a Christian should ask— what’s to come, what’s ahead.
A sense of fear and anxiety are the prophets of what is evil, but the prophet of what’s good is Hope. Fear says I’m going to fail, I’m going to die if I do this. Hope on the other hand says, “But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Corinthians 15:57). Fear says, I have no one to help me. Hope on the other hand says, “Lord, help me!” (Matthew 15:25) “Look to the Lord and his strength; seek his face always.” (1 chronicles 16:11) Fear born of unbelief says, I can’t do this. It’s impossible. Hope says, “I can do everything through him who gives me strength.” (Philippians 4:13). Fear and anxiety say, I am washed up, doomed to suffering and misery. Hope on the other hand says, “Trust in the Lord forever.” (Isaiah 26:4) The world has its own kind of hopes. But Christian hope is enormously better and more reliable than that of worldly people. Their hopes always have an element of uncertainty and are subject to disappointment. Things may not turn out as someone expects. It’s like youth, bound to age and fizzle out. But Christian hope— your hope— is different. It’s based on the promises of God. These never disappoint you. In fact they’re the anchor of your soul. And they grow brighter and stronger as the years go by. Why? Because, as the apostle says, “He who promised is faithful”.
How can we anchor in our hope so that it doesn’t waver? There’s nothing that can strengthen our hope more than to consider God’s faithfulness— whose promises are the anchor of our hope. Has the Lord ever failed to fulfill his promises and all that he was set to do? Doesn’t the sun rise set every day? Hasn’t the moon gone through its phases ever since the beginning of time? Haven’t good and reliable men and women in history testified about the faithfulness of God who keeps his promises? Not one promise has ever failed to be fulfilled. Your hope and mine don’t need to waver, but rather to be strong and secure especially for the things we do not see. What God says will come to pass. What God has promised will surely happen.
Read verse 24. “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds.” Love comes at the end in this exhortation, yet it’s the foremost responsibly. Love is like the vanguard of all three graces. What is love? From the beginning to end the Bible tells us about love— what love is. You can search out 1 Corinthians 13 for an overview of what love is. But fundamentally, love is the essence and delight of self giving. Love never considers what it can afford, nor does it ask what it may expect to receive in return. Love is always pouring out its alabaster jar as its perfume permeates everywhere. Love is always shedding its hearts blood for the deserving and the undeserving alike. Love suffers if it cannot give. It always wants to share its possessions. Love is the most extravagant of costly services. This love is in the heart of our Savior, and it should be in us as well. How can we increase this love which God poured into our hearts through Jesus? We can by encouraging one another towards love and the good deeds that come from love.
That’s why the apostle tells us these words: “Let us not give up meeting together”… “But let us encourage one another”. (25) Love really comes from God, but also from our fellowship with one another as believers. Distance brings on cold-heartedness and indifference. When we forsake or abandon the Christian family, we inadvertently resign ourselves to indifference. Our hearts grow cold and unfeeling towards our family members. That’s true because the world outside the Body of Christ is cold and distant, unfeeling and indifferent. The world puts on selfishness and is comfortable with it. It even makes excuses for it and sings the praises of selfishness and of self centeredness.
But in the body of Christ, when we see others in need, and we are moved to help them; when we are willing to forget about ourselves and comfort and save those in trouble and hardship; when we discover something beautiful in someone who is unlovable just because they belong to the Lord; when we encourage one another to love each other and even the stranger as our Lord did; when we feel sympathy and compassion for others, then our own love grows by the demand that is made on it and the opportunity given it. It’s the way the Lord works in our midst helping us love as he loves. We can’t learn this on our own. Love, Faith and hope are interrelated and interdependent on one another. They grow in the fellowship of believers as “Iron sharpens iron” (Psalm 27:17).
We need to really seek hearts these best gifts with all our, and to have them in abundance, asking the Lord Jesus himself to dwell in our hearts always, so that by his presence, all these graces may abound in us and with us. And we’re called to do so (the apostle tells us) “As we see the Day approaching”. In other words, the exhortation is to look forward and never look back at what God in his infinite grace and mercy called you to leave behind. For these Hebrew Christians who teeter-tottered between the temple worship and the archaic system of sacrifice, and their new found faith in Christ and the Christian life, the admonition was to leave behind the old and go forward in faith, Hope and Love. For us who aren’t familiar with the temple worship, the admonition is the same. Put the world and its ways behind you once for all, and go forward in faith, Hope and Love. Grow strong in these, pursue them passionately and diligently, otherwise you’ll find yourselves in a place worse than where you started.
What’s that mean? Read verses 26-31. [“If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God. Anyone who rejected the law of Moses died without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. How much more severely do you think a man deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of God under foot, who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified him, and who has insulted the Spirit of grace? For we know him who said, ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ and again, ‘The Lord will judge his people.’ It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.”]
This is the most solemn warning of all. It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. The apostle Peter said, “If they have escaped the corruption of the world by knowing our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and are again entangled in it and overcome, they are worse off at the end than they were at the beginning. It would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than to have known it and then to turn their backs on the sacred command that was passed on to them. Of them the proverbs are true: ‘A dog returns to its vomit,’ and, ‘A sow that is washed goes back to her wallowing in the mud.’” (2 Peter 2:20-22) The warning is to the Hebrew Christians because some of them continued to go to the temple to offer sacrifices. They were pretending that they were following the laws of Moses. They were pretending to be Christians with Christians, and then turn around and pretended not to be Christians when they were with the Jews at the temple. If you translate this into a modern version, they were pretending to be Christian with Christians, and pretending not to be Christian with non believers. In doing so, they were making it very clear that Jesus’ sacrifice was worthless. The sacrifices were supposed to be shadows of the all sufficient sacrifice that was coming. Now that Christ had been sacrificed once for all, no sacrifice was acceptable to God any more other than the blood of Christ. So here’s what they were doing. Before the coming of Christ, their sacrifices at the temple were considered acts of obedience to God. But now that the Christ has been sacrificed once for all, what they were doing was considered by God as willful sinning. To continue offering blood sacrifices which the Christ had already fulfilled once for all, was a terrible, frightful thing. God help them when they stand before God! If a person rejects the truth of Christ’s death for sin, there is really no sacrifice for sin left. Worse yet, there is no way to ever come to God anymore.
“If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of truth” means to keep on doing what we did before Christ’s blood cleansed us, to continue living the same life we lived before we knew Christ and called on him, to continue with an attitude of rebellion and willful acts that we know are not Christian-like nor do they glorify Christ but dishonor him. That’s what it means, and it’s very relevant to us because it sends us a warning to examine our hearts and lives very closely to see ourselves through God’s eyes. The consequences of deliberate sinning is nothing but judgment without mercy.
The apostle warns them to leave behind what’s sinful in God’s eyes and to go forward, otherwise suffer the consequences; to heed the gospel truth or pay a very high price, because if you don’t heed the gospel truth, no sacrifice for sin is left. When a person unintentionally broke Moses’ Law he was forgiven. But if he willfully despised and ignored it, he died without mercy. What then can be expected of those who sin willfully, not against the harsh demands of the law, but against the sacrifice and blood of the Lord Jesus and his words of life. And what did he say? He said love one another. He said preach the gospel to all nations. He said feed my sheep, take care of my lambs. We know what he said! Any heart that can turn from the love and blood shedding of the Savior and ignore his words and trample them underfoot, such a heart is hard and hopeless. It defies the Holy Spirit and exposes itself to God’s wrath. That heart cannot expect any other offering for its sins. There is no sacrifice for the sin of rejecting the Son of God.
In view of this, we must call on each other to examine our hearts, get down on our knees and cry out to God, “Lord, search me, show me myself Lord. If I am deceived, please un-deceive me before it’s too late. Help me take a good measure of myself based on your word so that I may know whether or not my heart is being renewed; whether I have really abandoned every shred of self will and have really surrendered to you; whether I have truly repented to the point that I hate my sins and earnestly long to be free from their power and deception. Help me know if I really deny myself in truth or just lip service; whether my faith is the kind that overcomes the world, or is it so weak that it produces no godly fruit nor godly living in me. Lord, search me and see if I am a fruitful branch in your vine, what pruning I need and the faith to welcome it. Lord search my heart and see if I am a new creation, and if not please make me so by your loving grace and mercy.”
Read verses 32-35. [“Remember those earlier days after you had received the light, when you stood your ground in a great contest in the face of suffering. Sometimes you were publicly exposed to insult and persecution; at other times you stood side by side with those who were so treated. You sympathized with those in prison and joyfully accepted the confiscation of your property, because you knew that you yourselves had better and lasting possessions.”]
The author here compels them to go forward (I explained what go forward means), otherwise all past efforts are also worthless. Look at these Hebrew Christians. They really suffered greatly when they received Christ as Savior and turned their hearts to him in faith. Consider the martyrdom of the wonderful saint Stephen; the destruction that Saint Paul wreaked on the church before his conversion; the famines that ravaged Jerusalem causing destitution especially to the early Christians. They were exposed to public insults and persecution. But listen to how they had received all this. They had taken the confiscation of their possessions with joy, not shrinking back from what had caused them suffering and anguish. To go back to their old ways now would completely annul whatever spiritual advantages they received from their experiences; it would bring to nothing their tears awaiting the glory they bring for God’s children; it would nullify the respect they earned by those who had watched and been blessed by their endurance. They should never look back. They should never consider the life they left behind, for it was nothing compared to the glory that awaits those who patiently wait on the Lord’s return. Jesus once told us, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.” (Luke 9:62) Surely we must go forward in Christ and in the life he called us to live awaiting his return. “Don’t throw away your confidence”, he says, “It will be richly rewarded”.
Read verses 36-39. [“You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised. For in just a very little while, ‘He who is coming will come and will not delay. But my righteous one will live by faith. And if he shrinks back, I will not be pleased with him.’ But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who believe and are saved.”]
It is clear that they must also go forward because the Lord is coming soon. God was soon about to come for the destruction of the old temple, as the Lord is now soon to come to put an end to this age. At the time this letter was written, every sign pointed to the coming destruction of the Jewish system, by the might of Rome. How foolish then it was for them to return to the old ways on the eve of the destruction of temple and sacrifice and priest alike! In the same way how foolish it is to look back at the world and a life already left behind, and to envy those who are being destroyed by their own sins and will perish when the Lord returns.
There was only one alternative for them, and for us as well. “My righteous one will live by faith”. Don’t shrink back, to the sure destruction of all that the soul has fought so hard to gain in Christ. Don’t return to shame and guilt, to regrets and fears of punishment. But instead to go forward even in our struggles and sufferings and hardship, through our tears and prayers, through especially our faith and our trust in the Lord— go forward until the Lord vindicates us and calls us back to himself, because “We are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who believe and are saved”.