Tag Archives: Assurance

Christ our Anchor and Forerunner

 

Laboring through some of the more difficult passages of Scripture, namely that of Hebrews 6, proves worthwhile as the chapter concludes with a glorious statement of assurance rooted in the finished work of our Lord Jesus Christ.  In Hebrews 6:19-20 we read that Jesus is our steadfast anchor, hope, forerunner, and High Priest stringing together pearls of assurance for the believer.  Note well the passage below:

19 We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain, 20 where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf, having become a high priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.

The return of the authors use of “we” likely indicates that he is including himself in the statement that follows which highlights Christ’s mediatorial and intercessory work on behalf of believers.  In view here, the “this”, is the faithfulness of God to His promises, first as seen in the example of Abraham (Heb. 6:13-18) and secondly, by way of comparison, His promises that are rooted in the finished work of the Son of God.  The believer’s salvation and assurance is founded on nothing less than the very character of God and the effectualness of Christ’s death, resurrection, and now intercession as High Priest.  In short, a true believer in Christ may fall away to their eternal destruction the moment God can be called a liar and Christ ceases to intercede for them.  God is not a liar (Num. 23:19; Titus 1:2) and it necessarily follows that one’s security is eternally sealed in the person of Christ.

This promise is said to be a steadfast anchor of the soul.  Again we see the use of nautical language (see Heb. 2) to provide a lasting and understandable mental picture for the immediate audience.  By way of the anchor analogy, the promise of God is seen to function as an immovable guarantee.  It should not be assumed, as we will see, that the anchor is somehow set weakly or in soft sand that may shift and loosen the anchor.  Quite the contrary, the anchor of God’s promise is not only set by God and secured by God, but the anchor is God’s very own Son who gave Himself up for all who have and will believe.  Therefore, though the sea may toss and turn, the believer may be assured that the soul of his or her vessel will surely be secured and reach port safely by no merit of their own, but by grace through faith in the Savior Jesus Christ.

Moving on, this hope is said to have entered “into the inner place behind the curtain” bringing to mind the Old Covenant tabernacle/temple where only the High Priest could enter annually on the Day of Atonement.  This phrase serves as a notable “hook” to preview and introduce a later developed concept of the superiority of the “tabernacle” in the New Covenant as opposed to the type and shadow of the tabernacle under the Old Covenant.  Nevertheless, it functions to support the staggering statement that through Christ’s sacrificial death and ascension to the Father, we now have access to the Holy of Holies and into the very presence of Almighty God.  Further, the argument from the anchor, now to the hope that enters, indicates that this is not an abstract statement but has as its object a Person that functions as the anchor and the hope that has entered behind the curtain, namely Jesus Christ.  This priestly work of Christ develops the introductory thesis given in Hebrews 1:3 and builds upon the contrast with the Levitical Priesthood in Hebrews 5:1-10 preparing us for the reintroduction of the Melchizedekian Priesthood in the chapter that follows, a type of the superior Priesthood of Christ.

Pressing deeper into the argument we see clearly in the next phrase that it is indeed Jesus Christ who has entered the inner curtain or veil, and has done so as a forerunner or trailblazer on “our behalf”.  As though the glory of this passage could not reach a higher crescendo, it is stated with clarity that this priestly work is done with a purpose and object in mind, namely on “our behalf” or for the sake of believers.  By stating that Christ has blazed this trail it necessarily implies that there will be followers.  As seen in Hebrews 4:16 and upcoming in Hebrews 7:18, 25 the pathway has been opened and cleared for those who draw near to God, not simply one time, but a continual drawing near to God.

Commenting on the use of “forerunner”, yet another nautical reference, Talbot writes,

“The Greek harbors were often cut off from the sea by sandbars, over which the larger ships dared not pass till the full tide came in. Therefore, a lighter vessel, a “forerunner,” took the anchor and dropped it in the harbor. From that moment the ship was safe from the storm, although it had to wait for the tide, before it could enter the harbor…. The entrance of the small
vessel into the harbor, the forerunner carrying the ship’s anchor, was the pledge that the ship would safely enter the harbor when the tide was full. And because Christ, our “forerunner,” has entered heaven itself, having torn asunder everything that separates the redeemed sinner from the very presence of God, He Himself is the Pledge that we, too, shall one day enter the harbor of our souls and the very presence of God, in the New Jerusalem.” [1]

Using this informative statement, perhaps the significance of Christ as our forerunner takes on a greater meaning by seeing through His work of carrying the cross-shaped anchor into the port of God’s Holy Temple He has eternally secured our safe passage into the harbor.  Brothers and sisters there can perhaps be no sweeter truth than to know that we who were once rotten sinners under the wrath of God have now obtained entrance into the Holy of Holies, access to the very presence of God Whom we are told is a consuming fire (Deut. 4:24; Heb. 12:29), through our forerunner Jesus Christ by means of His death, resurrection, and ascension such that we now may come freely to the throne of grace and receive mercy in our time of need.  All this we are told is our assurance and hope, grounded in the High Preistly office of our Lord Jesus Christ.  Let the majesty of God’s steadfast love through what He has done in His Son on our behalf sink in for a moment and allow it to lead you into meditation and worship of the Most High God.

Hallelujah, what a Savior!

 

[1] Louis Talbot – Studies in the
Epistle to the Hebrews (p. 23.) as cited by Phillips, Richard. The Reformed Expository Commentary. New Jersey: P&R Publishing, 2006. 

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.

Introducing 1 John

Recently, I began teaching a study on 1 John and I thought it would be helpful to share my notes and expositions in the form of blog posts.  In this post, I’ve included an introduction and overview of the book, using the familiar Who, What, When Where, Why method.  Feel free to use these notes in your own personal study.  Also, I’ve listed below the many resources I’ve used in my preparation for this study and I commend them to you.

Who: Who wrote it?

  • The Apostle John
  • How do we know?
    • Author claims he’s an eyewitness to Jesus (1 John 1:1-3)
    • Internal Evidence – structure and style is similar to the Gospel of John
    • External Evidence – Church tradition and records
      • Irenaeus (202 A.D.)
      • Dionysius of Alexandria (265 A.D.)
      • Tertulllian (after 220 A.D.)
      • Also fragments of Papias’ writing
  • What do we know about John?
    • “Disciple whom Jesus loved” John 13:23; John 19:26
    • Brother to James Matthew 4:21
    • “Sons of Thunder” Mark 3:17

To Whom: To Whom was it written?

  • Believers!  Like the rest of the N.T. Epistles.
  • Circular Church Letter
  • Churches in Asia Minor that John oversaw (including Ephesus where John was elder)
  • What do we know about these churches, specifically Ephesus?
    • Ephesus appears in Acts, its own personal letter (Ephesians), 1&2 Timothy, 1 John, Revelation

What: What style or form is the book?

  • An Epistle; A letter to the Churches

What does He intend to say?

  • Response to Gnosticism and false teachers through proclamation and tests of genuine saving faith

When: When was it written?

  • Probably between 85-95 A.D.

Where: Where was it written?

  • Ephesus

Why: Why was it written/For what purpose?

  • Proclamation of Truth
  • Provide a test of assurance
    • Doctrinal
      • What do you believe about Jesus?
    • Moral
      • How do you respond to the commandments of Christ?
    • Social
      • Do you love other Christians?
  • Refute False Teaching
  • John’s stated reasons for writing:
    • 1:4 – Gospel Fulfillment
    • 2:1 – Gospel Application
    • 2:12-14 – Gospel Reminder
    • 2:26 – Gospel Defense
    • 5:13 – Gospel Assurance

The Apostle John’s circular church letter, which is entitled 1 John, addresses many of the controversies that were advancing in the churches of Asia Minor during the first century.  It is widely speculated* that these churches were heavily influenced by the heresy known as Gnosticism and subsequently the genuine believers were left confused and uncertain of their faith.  The Gnostics (literally meaning knowledge) had split, or succeeded, from the churches because of their beliefs in 1) a new theology and 2) a new morality, as well as other unorthodox beliefs.  Primarily, the “new theology” said that Jesus was born a man, not God, but that God descended on the man and entered his body upon his baptism by John the Baptist.  They likewise believed that it was the man that died on the cross and that God was not present in His body, but had instead left.  This heresy, being repacked and circulated to this day, had left many in the churches of Asia Minor confused and shaken in their faith.  So it is that John begins his letter with a bold affirmation of his own eyewitness account of Jesus’ life, ensuring the church that Jesus was both God and man.

The “new morality” that Gnosticism promoted asserted that trivial or minor sins that the everyday man committed were no longer sins to them because they had reached a higher life or a higher spiritual plane of living.  It follows then that John addresses this form of the heresy in the latter part of chapter 1 and is a central theme to his polemical argument throughout the letter of 1 John.

At its heart, 1 John provides a series of 3 tests to separate the true from the false profession in Christ.  The tests often present themselves in a repeated series as John reiterates his point.  The tests are as follows:

  1. Doctrinal – What does a person believe about Christ?
  2. Moral – How does a person respond to the commandments of Christ?
  3. Social – Does the person love other Christians?

Before reading the next post in this series, consider the following for additional study:

  1. Why is it important to believe that a) Jesus was born of a virgin and b) that He is both God and man?
  2. What does it mean to have fellowship with other believers?
  3. How can I have fellowship with God and His Son Jesus Christ?
  4.  What is the joy that John is talking about in verse 4?

 

*Please note that the Gnostic beliefs are very broad and wide-ranging and any debate over specific beliefs that may have impacted Ancient Asia Minor does not detract from the Apostle John’s message in the slightest.

Sources for this study:

  • Bruce, F.F. Commentary on The Epistles of John
  • Dever, Mark.  Sermons on 1 John
  • Henry, Matthew.  Commentary on the Whole Bible
  • Inter-Varsity Press – Studies in 1 John
  • Johnson, S. Lewis. Sermons on 1 John
  • Lloyd-Jones, Martyn. The Life of Christ: Studies in 1 John
  • MacArthur, John. Sermons on 1 John
  • Moo, Douglas and D.A. Carson. Introduction to the New Testament
  • Pillar New Testament Commentary on 1 John, Carson, D.A. editor.
  • Poole, Matthew.  Commentary on the Whole Bible
  • ESV Study Bible
  • John MacArthur Study Bible (NKJV)