the hope of grace

Heb. 4:12-16
For Sunday, October 14, 2012
Proper 23

At first glance it might appear that this passage  is about the power of the Bible as the Word of God.  “For the word of God is living and active …” (v. 12).  On the surface this is true but let’s consider the context.

The author has been speaking of the Sabbath rest that remains held out for the people of God.  Just as the Israelites on the Exodus had to press forward toward the Sabbath rest of the Promised Land so must believers press forward toward the Sabbath rest of salvation in Jesus.  It was tempting for the Jews of the Exodus to want to turn back toward Egypt for that is what they knew.  It was likewise tempting for believers in Jesus to turn back toward Judaism and the temple, for that is what they knew.  Yet in both cases, those who truly believed would demonstrate this by pressing ahead to what was promised.

A question often raised in regard to Hebrews is whether believers can fall away from salvation.  Yet let’s think about this in context.  Was the question for the Israelites whether they could fall away from the Promised Land?  Well, yes and no.  Yes, they could fall away from reaching it.  But no, they weren’t actually there yet, so all they could really do was fall away from the journey.

For believers, it is the same.  We are on a journey to salvation.  “But wait a minute,” you say, “what about ‘once saved, always saved’?”  It’s a problem of categories.  Would you ask, “What about once Promised Land, always Promised Land?”  No – the question only becomes valid once you reach it.  True faith is enduring faith.  Those with true faith will reached the Promised Land (a.k.a. salvation).  Those without aren’t falling away from faith; they are falling away from the journey of faith.  There is a big difference.  What apostates lack is saving faith in the first place.

Discernment is therefore needed.  Is my faith true enduring faith?  Only the word of God can answer this question. What about my shortcomings and doubts?  This is where vv. 14 -16 come into play.  There is a difference between falling short and falling away.  Those who fall short will continue to approach the throne of the hope of grace.  Those who are apostate will turn their backs on this throne and head back from whence they came, whether Egypt, Judaism, or secularism.

Reader’s Corner:
Have you ever thought about reading the warning passages of Hebrews in the context of the Jew’s experience in the Exodus?  Does the approach suggested above make sense?  If not, what problems do you see with it?  If so, what are the implications for your own journey of faith?

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