Category Archives: Bible Study

The Gospel Succinctly Stated

Summarizing the gospel in my own words:

God, the Creator of the Universe, infinitely holy, desired to create man in His own image (Gen 1:26-27). He delighted to have man worship Him in the place He had prepared (Gen. 2:15), while providing for him commandments to live by (Gen. 2:16-17). In doing so, the prohibition to not eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil and the promise of subsequent punishment by death for disobedience was given.

Man, though created sinless, still possessed the ability to sin and did so caving to the temptations set forth by the serpent, therefore rebelling against God by specifically disobeying the commandment given to him. Though the serpent first deceived Eve (Gen. 3:1), rightfully the blame fell to Adam (Gen. 3:9-12, 17) and it was in him that all mankind fell receiving in themselves the guilt incurred by him (Romans 5:12, 18). Subsequently, man was removed from the Garden and subjected to the curse of sin (Gen. 3:16-19, 22-24).

God, in His infinite grace and mercy while upholding the curse against man promised the blessing of a Redeemer by way of the Seed of the woman that would crush the head of the serpent (Gen. 3:15). This Seed, promised in this first gospel, has been revealed throughout redemptive history on the pages of Scripture to be none other than God Incarnate (John 1:14), the Son of God (John 1:34), our Lord Jesus Christ whom God the Father sent (John 3:16), conceived of the Holy Spirit (Matt. 1:20), born of a virgin (Matt. 1:23), to live sinless and blameless (2 Cor. 5:21; Heb. 7:26-27), and to be the propitiation for all who believe (Rom. 3:24).

Man, once alienated from God because of sin (Rom. 3:23) and dead in trespasses and sins (Eph. 2:1), could now be reconciled to God (Rom. 5:10) on the basis of the righteous fulfillment of the law by Christ (Heb. 8:4; Col. 2:14), His substitutionary death on the cross (Rom. 5:8), and His resurrection and His ascension to the right hand of the Father (Rom. 8:34) where He now rules and reigns as King (Acts 2:34-36), and mediates the new and better Covenant as our High Priest (Hebrews 8:1-6). Through repentance of sin and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ (Mark 1:15) by way of the regenerating work of the Spirit (John 1:13; John 3:5-8; Eph. 2:5), man has his relationship with God reconciled, is removed from under His wrath (Rom. 5:9), being now justified (Rom. 5:1), and having the righteousness that Christ has earned through His obedience to the law of God (Rom. 5:19) imputed to them (Rom. 4). Believers are therefore freed from sin (Rom. 8:1), having their sin imputed to Christ (2 Cor. 5:21; Gal. 3:13), and are subsequently freed to serve (Eph. 2:10; Heb. 9:14) and worship God (John 4:24; Rom. 12:1) as He intended. It is through grace alone, by faith alone, in Christ alone that all who believe are sealed by the Holy Spirit (Eph. 1:14), are to pursue a life of holiness and obedience (Eph. 4:22-24; Col. 1:10; Hebrews 12:14), while eagerly awaiting the return of Christ when all things will be consummated and reconciled in Him (Eph. 1:10; Rom. 8:21).

Speaking of Better Things

 

The transition out of the warning passage in Hebrews 6 is rather obvious, especially if you are reading an ESV or NASB translation.  There you’ll see verse 6:4 say, “in the case of those” contrasted in 6:9 with, “yet in your case” which would seem to indicate that the author’s attention is shifting from a third party back to his immediate audience as he prepares to identify and address specifically their condition.

The phrase translated above “in the case of…” is not present in either of those verses however.  The ESV’s decision to include it may be one of smoothing for readability, but more likely its to highlight the contrast being implied in the two verses.  While maintaining the “in the case of those” in 6:4 the NASB may be more accurate in 6:9 which it renders, “we are convinced of better things concerning you.”  This still conveys the idea of an attention shift from the example held up in Hebrews 6:4-8 to the immediate audience and the forthcoming commendation.

Due to the high level of interpretational uncertainty that many have experienced from this particular warning, highlighting yet another reason that shows a negative example was in mind from verses 6:4-6:6, rather than the possibility of genuine salvation, is a significant step in rightly interpreting the passage.  That said, we turn our attention with the author back to the condition of the audience who has been previously warned about their dullness of hearing and spiritual lethargy.  So as not to leave them totally discouraged, we find in our present passage under consideration a commendation on the evidence of their fruit, corresponding nicely to the parable from 6:7-8.

Though we speak in this way, yet in your case, beloved, we feel sure of better things—things that belong to salvation. 10 For God is not unjust so as to overlook your work and the love that you have shown for his name in serving the saints, as you still do. 11 And we desire each one of you to show the same earnestness to have the full assurance of hope until the end, 12 so that you may not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises.

The use of “beloved” is important as the author shows his pastoral care and knowledge of not just their “dull of hearing” but of their work and service in the name of God.  Building on this introductory address is the statement, “we feel sure of better things—things that belong to salvation” further securing the notion that those things previously mentioned in the passage were not dealing with salvation.  These “things” are defined for us in the subsequent verses to  include work, love for the name of God, and service of the saints, all of which points towards a believer’s fruit or evidence of salvation.

Recognition of this evidence is not arbitrary or even unseen, but is rooted in the very justice of God.  Whereas we saw in verse 8 that the ground that does not bear fruit is “worthless and near to being cursed, and its end is to be burned“, no doubt reflective on the justice of God, here we see that God’s justice extends to the recognition of the “ground” that bears fruit.  Simply put, justice is getting what one deserves.  In the case of unrighteousness deeds getting what one deserves is punitive, however,  in the case of righteous deeds getting what one deserves is rewarding; both are the result of justice.  For those who have trusted in Christ as Savior, our punishment has been swallowed by the mercy of God in Christ by withholding what we deserve, namely the wrath of God.  Conversely, having been made righteous, justified by the blood of Christ, clothed in His righteousness, enabled by the Spirit to perform the works that God prepared for us beforehand (Eph. 2:10), we may eagerly expect the reward that God has promised, namely eternal life and the blessings that accompany that.

As the pastor-author of Hebrews moves on in his encouragement he aims to prod the church (and by relation us) to continued progress in the faith as seen in vs. 11.  Earnestness, or perhaps intensity, and assurance work somewhat together like hand and glove.  Certainly one can be zealous for the things of God, but be fueled by improper motivation or ignorance of the righteousness of God (Rom. 10:1-3).  But here, proper motivation grounded in a love for God will lead to assurance in salvation.  Conversely, assurance is not alone, pointing simply to a one-time decision or walking of an isle, but can look toward intensity in serving the saints and glorifying the name of God motivated by love and fueled by the Holy Spirit.  Both sides of the coin are necessary and mutually dependent upon one another.

As is pointed out in verse 12, zealousness is in direct contrast with sluggishness, as the author provides the closing bracket to his argument begun in Heb. 5:11, you have become dull of hearing utilizing the same word to enter and exit his warning.

As is so often the case in Hebrews, we are introduced to an idea or concept that is expanded on in greater detail later, such is the case again here.  Before entering a discourse on Melchizedek, begun in Hebrews 5:10, we see the mention of the phrase “those who through faith and patience inherit the promises” whom the readers are supposed to imitate.  As we will see, in the near context this statement has its attention towards Abraham (6:12ff), however we will see it expanded with numerous examples in the Hall of Faith found in chapter 11.

Working through this difficult and divisive chapter of Hebrews we have seen it is not meant to be a battleground for Calvinism vs. Arminianism or eternal security vs. loss of salvation.  Instead, it is for the purpose that we have seen employed in this section, namely to spur on believers to continue in good works through faith and patience, rooted in a love for the name of God, and anchored by hope in the promises of God secured by the High Priest, our Lord Jesus Christ.  Therefore we can conclude that these harsh sounding warnings are a divine means of preservation by a loving God for the perseverance of the saints.

Applying the Warning of Hebrews 6

 

Taking the time and effort to dive into the weeds on the interpretation and meaning of the central warning passage from Hebrews chapter 6 is an exercise in futility if it is left on the doorstep of application.  Thankfully, we don’t have to travel far for application as the next set of verses from the chapter apply this difficult teaching by way of agricultural analogy.  Before reading this post, it may be helpful to go back and read some of the previous posts in order on the Hebrews 6 passage.  They are: The Old Testament and the challenge of Hebrews 6, The Context, and The Warning. Below are verses 6:7-8:

For land that has drunk the rain that often falls on it, and produces a crop useful to those for whose sake it is cultivated, receives a blessing from God.  But if it bears thorns and thistles, it is worthless and near to being cursed, and its end is to be burned.

Language like this may be less familiar to us, but because of the agrarian societies that dominated the region in biblical times, particularly with respect to Israel, agricultural imagery is often employed to help convey spiritual realities.  We read of this commonly in the Psalms and Prophets, and we should be familiar with its regular occurrence in the teachings of our Lord during His earthly ministry, such as in Matt. 13, which draws a parallel with our verses under consideration here.  Looking towards Hebrews we see in this passage two distinct groups who share some common interests among them, the first of which is the soil.

Obviously, as with any biblical parable, analogy, etc., we do not want to force meaning into every individual part.  That said, interpreting who represents the soil in the analogy from Hebrews will likely tip one’s hand to how the warning passage in the previous verses was to be interpreted.  For instance, the Reformation Study Bible conflates the two groups into one by calling the soil “the people of God.”  In the midst of sound interpretation elsewhere on chapter 6, they take a theological shift here to  consistently support their own view of the New Covenant, specifically as it relates to its participating members.  Because paedobaptists view their children as members of the New Covenant, they must by necessity view “those who fall away” as members of the New Covenant, not merely those who have an association with the New Covenant.  In their view, it’s not that members lose their salvation, but their falling away reveals that they never had it, on this point we would agree.  However, we would disagree over their presumption that New Covenant membership consists of a mixed covenant community, believers and unbelievers, just as that under the Old Covenant.  Subsequently they interpret the soil generically as the people of God who are members in the New Covenant.

Recall that in our exposition of Hebrews 6 we concluded that “those who fall away” were not defined in terms of having actual salvation, but were instead related by way of association to the New Covenant community, though not through actual membership.  Paedobaptists, like in the Reformation Study Bible, fail to make this distinction seeing instead a 1:1 relationship between the Old and New Covenant.  Put succinctly, their convictions mean that one can be a member in the New Covenant, but not necessarily be saved, hence their belief in infant baptism and its correspondence with Old Covenant circumcision.

A better conclusion to interpreting the meaning of the soil is one that is similar to the parable of the weeds from the previously referenced Matthew 13.  The soil is a generic reference to people, not exclusively the people of God.  It would be all those who have by way of experience some relationship to the New Covenant blessings of God, for example hearing the Word of God or the Gospel preached.  A similar cross reference would be the soil from the Parable of the Soils in Mark 4:1-20,  where the soil is a generic reference to the heart of man.

The second commonality between the two groups is an implied seed, simply the aforementioned message of God’s Word or other covenant community blessing such as those outlined in this previous post. While not specifically mentioned here, the implication of the imagery analogy lends itself to an understanding that seed has been sown in the soil.  Again, a close parallel is possibly Matthew 13 where the Sower sowed the good seed and an enemy came along and sowed bad seed.

Third, we find a point of coincidence with the rain that has fallen.  Heeding our earlier warning about making every point in a parable or analogy have meaning, we must be cautious with the ones being used here in Hebrews 6.  However, it seems reasonable to conclude that rain corresponds to experiential blessing that the soil (people) receive.  As a result, there are two responses noted and this is where the distinction between two groups may be made.

The first response given is the soil that bears fruit, or “produce a useful crop”.  With this group, three additional points may be noted  1) This soil was cultivated for the purpose of bearing fruit 2) The fruit was for the benefit of others and 3) It receives a blessing from God.  Conversely, in the second response we see the soil bears “thorns and thistles”.  Note that there is no mention of cultivation for this soil and instead of benefiting others, it is described as worthless.  Its end result is not blessing, but cursing, specifically it is “near to being burned.”  It would appear that the cultivation, an external action on the soil, makes all the difference in the response.

The language of blessing and cursing being used here is to purposefully draw our attention once again to the “Wilderness Generation” that has so often been referenced in this glorious letter.  Specifically we see the covenantal blessings and cursings that accompanied entrance into the Promised Land, the former given for obedience and the latter a punishment for idolatry and apostasy.  Note specifically the language of Deuteronomy 11:13-17

13 And if you will indeed obey my commandments that I command you today, to love the Lord your God, and to serve him with all your heart and with all your soul, 14 he will give the rain for your land in its season, the early rain and the later rain, that you may gather in your grain and your wine and your oil. 15 And he will give grass in your fields for your livestock, and you shall eat and be full. 16 Take care lest your heart be deceived, and you turn aside and serve other gods and worship them; 17 then the anger of the Lord will be kindled against you, and he will shut up the heavens, so that there will be no rain, and the land will yield no fruit, and you will perish quickly off the good land that the Lord is giving you.”

The utilization once again of the Wilderness Generation experiences is further confirmation that they have been in view the entire time in the warning from Hebrews 6 and generally speaking since the warning from chapter 3.  In bringing to conclusion the entire warning pericope (section) here, we see that for those who are merely satisfied with an external experience, whether that be church membership or attendance, committees or cookouts, there is a real danger of falling away unto eternal destruction.  Conversely, those who have a genuine saving experience will manifest themselves by producing a crop that is useful to others, “some thirty-fold, some sixty-fold, some a hundred-fold” Mark 4:20 but make no mistake you will know them by their fruit Matt. 7:20.