Stand Firm In Christ To The End
The following is edited from a message given at the Heart-Cry for Revival Conference in April 2011 at The Cove, Asheville, North Carolina, U.S.A. This is the second of two messages on the warning passages in the Book of Hebrews. The first message was printed in last month’s issue of Herald of His Coming.
The definition that I once used for revival is that it is an extraordinary work of God producing extraordinary results. That definition is true, but I now understand that there is a better way to state what revival is: Revival is God in the midst of His people.
A Commitment of Love
When I first met the lady who is now my wife, something about her drew my attention in a powerful way. There was a sparkle in her eyes and a warmth in her spirit, and I said to myself, "If you are not careful, you are going to be in love with that young lady." I thought it not wise to do anything too quickly and to be sure that by the time I said to her, "I love you," that I could back it up with the entirety of my life. I understood that love is a commitment you make – a commitment based upon convincing evidence that love is truly appropriate in this situation. I have never had any reason to regret the commitment that I made, and I have had thousands of reasons to be grateful.
I cannot think of drifting away from her – that would be a violation of love. I cannot think of hardening my heart against her – that would be a violation of love. I cannot become dull and sluggish toward her – that would be a violation of love.
The first time I met Christ, I was attracted to Him. There was something about what I heard and what I saw for myself in Scripture. What I began to feel in my spirit was very attracting and alluring. Then came the time when I was sure that it was appropriate for me to make a commitment to Christ, a commitment to love Him with all of my heart, with all of my soul, with all of my strength, and with all of my mind. That commitment has endured. And by the grace of God, I cannot drift from Him – that would be a violation of love for Him. I cannot let my heart grow calloused – that would be a violation of love for Him. I will not allow myself to become dull and sluggish. I committed myself to love Christ. And thank God, I know He loves me too. It is like an anchor in the soul.
A number of years ago I addressed the staff of the ministry Basic Youth Conflict, and afterward a large number of the younger staff members stayed to ask questions. One girl timidly raised her hand and asked, "Why is it when revival occurs, it seems that the only thing people want to do is pray?" I asked her, "Have you ever been in love?" She showed us a ring on her hand and said, "Yes, I have fallen in love and I have just been engaged this week." I then answered her question, "Why is it when revival comes the only thing people want to do is pray? It is because they fall in love with Christ." And why is it that revival is so desperately needed today? It is because we are not in love with Christ as we ought to be.
In my last message and this message, we are focusing on the warning passages in the Book of Hebrews. I find that the bulk of Christians are not seriously interested in this book. I suspect that one of the reasons why it is such a neglected book is because it does not really say anything about God loving us. For the most part, professed Christians are so in love with themselves that they find it a wonder that God does not love them just the way they are. In fact, many of them living in the depth of sin have persuaded themselves that God cannot help Himself but love them. And since Hebrews does not do anything to satisfy self-love, it is largely a neglected book.
Let’s begin today by looking at the end of Hebrews chapter eleven. "And all these, having gained approval through their faith did not receive what was promised, because God had provided something better for us, so that apart from us they should not be made perfect" (vv. 39-40). Every person whose name appears in this chapter had something that the majority of professed Christians in America do not have: They had God’s approval. I would rather have God’s approval than yours. I would rather have God’s approval than the approval of the church. I think it would be a tragedy to have my pastor approve of me when my God does not.
Every believer mentioned in Hebrews chapter eleven had God’s approval, but not one of them had received the promise. Now they received promises. Hebrews has a good deal to say about promises, but this passage is not in reference to "promises" but to "the promise." And they did not receive the promise because God had something better for us, that they without us would not be made perfect. The promise makes one perfect. They had approval, but they did not have the perfection that comes with the promise.
What is the promise? Obviously, the promise is Christ. The people of faith in Hebrews eleven had the promises, but they did not have Christ. But we have the promise, we have Christ. I ask you, therefore, how can we react so casually, so indifferently, when we have what they never received while they were on the earth? Love begets love. The love of God in Christ that Enoch never had, we have. The salvation and grace that the prophets searched for with great seriousness, we have (1 Pet. 1:10-12). The things into which angels long to look, we have (1 Pet. 1:12). And in light of what we have, how can we be so careless, so casual, so indifferent to the One who has loved us with an everlasting love? Since we have received from Christ such a great love, how can we regard so lightly what He has done? So you see the thrust of Hebrews is Christ as the promise.
Apply the Warnings
In the previous message, I pointed out that the Book of Hebrews consists of two parts. The wonderful doctrinal passages elevate Christ and stir us to love Him as He loves us. The warning passages stress that it is not how you start your walk with Christ, but how you finish that counts. I encouraged you previously to personalize the warning passages and to ask if you have in any fashion drifted from Christ. If the answer is yes, will not love bring you back immediately? And will not your love for Him keep you from drifting again?
And I once again urge you to apply the warnings to other believers in true Christian fellowship. For instance, do you have children who are drifting from the Lord? Why not go to them with the Book of Hebrews and show them the excellencies of Christ, and ask them if they are so evil in their spirit that they are willing to shun the very One who has loved them with everlasting love. Each one of us has to approach others in the way God leads us and enables us.
We should apply the warning passages on the corporate level as well. Every pastor is remiss in his duties if he does not know where the individual members of his congregation are spiritually. One of the things that distresses me so greatly is that we are so enamored by numbers. Pastors are gathering more sheep than they can shepherd. There are millions of professed Christians in America who attend a church, but do not have a pastor. There may be a number of pastors on staff, but not a single one of them that knows the person’s name, let alone the condition of his/her heart. I am appealing to Sunday School teachers as well as to pastors. We are responsible for the spiritual well-being of those God has given us. It is not just a matter of preaching the Word of God to them – many do not even do that! But that is just the start. The task involves knowing each one personally who is under your care and applying to them the Word of God.
What if each pastor and each Sunday School teacher determined today that no sheep would be allowed to drift? What if the pastors and teachers decided to keep such close tabs spiritually on the sheep that they would know when someone began to build callousness in his/her heart? What if these shepherds were right there to appeal to them from the Word of God and to elevate Christ before their eyes?
Resolve to Remain Firm in Christ
In the previous message I spoke concerning the first three warning passages in Hebrews. Before moving on to the next three, I draw attention to one other matter regarding the original setting of the book. Hebrews was written in particular to young converts of Jewish descent. The thrust of the book is not on a good beginning in the faith, but a glorious ending. This was tremendously important because at that time Nero had a huge hatred of Christians and it was common for him to send guards to gather up Christians and bring them to the palace. They were smeared in flammable liquids, hung on crosses, and in the evening they were set afire to provide light for garden parties.
Systematic looting also took place at this time. The homes of believers were mapped out, and when they went to meetings for fellowship, prayer, worship and to hear the Word of God, organized mobs went to their homes and looted. Christians at that time paid a huge price for their faith. In addition, Jewish believers faced disdain and pressure from parents and grandparents for following Christ. So Hebrews was written in part because of the strength of the wicked one to persecute in attempt to draw people from Christ.
Although conditions are different in America today, things are getting worse, and it is probable that it will cost a great deal more in the days to come to live for Christ than it has cost thus far. Every one of us needs to be equipped, and we need to understand from these warning passages that every violation of our faith is a violation of Christ. Do you realize that even the slightest drift is a drift away from Christ?
How serious are you? Have you reached a point and so fortified your heart to say: "I will not drift. Christ is everything to me and I am going to stand with Him. I am not going to budge an inch. I am not going to give way in anything to the evil one. I am going to stand with Christ!"
I am learning how subtle sin is and how easily one can become tolerant of a small sin in his/her life. I am also learning how serious it is when a person begins hardening his/her heart. So I absolutely refuse to in any way harden my heart. Any bit of dullness, any bit of sluggishness in my life is a demonstration that I have not treated my Savior as He deserves to be treated. I would not spit in His face. I would not jeer and taunt against Him. So why should I in any way allow anything in my life that makes me dull or sluggish?
The Danger of Sinning Willfully
Now we move on to the fourth of the warnings which is in Hebrews 10:19-39. "Since therefore, brethren, we have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He inaugurated for us through the veil, that is, His flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water" (vv. 19-22). In the old covenant the people honored the priests and especially held the high priest in high esteem. But the high priest would die and need to be replaced, then the next one would die and need to be replaced, and so on. But our High Priest, the ever-living High Priest, will never be replaced. Surely I can be faithful to Him.
We must have our "hearts sprinkled clean" (v. 22). When I have a sin in my heart that I will not deal with, my sermons are nothing but dead works. We must live in such a way that the Spirit of God has total control and everything we do is made alive by the Spirit.
This passage continues, "Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful; and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some…" (10:23-25). Who abandons the assembling together? Those whose interest in Christ is self. They do not feel any need to assemble with others. Why trouble themselves to go to the house of the Lord? Everyone whose desire is to get out of Christ what they want is in incredible danger of forsaking the assembly of believers. But every person who is in love with Christ is in love with all those whom Christ loves. And they will not for one moment think of forsaking the assembling together of the believers.
The writer adds, "…but encouraging one another; and all the more, as you see the day drawing near" (v. 25). And then we come to the heart of the warning: "For if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a certain terrifying expectation of judgment, and the fury of fire which will consume the adversaries" (vv. 26-27). Now there are many people in the church who do not believe that. They believe they can go on sinning willfully and be perfectly safe. Having accepted Christ, they believe they are eternally secure. But Christianity is not self-serving. It is Christ-centered. I avoid sin not because I fear going to hell, although I have every reason to fear going to hell if I willfully sin – that is exactly what this verse says. But the reason I do not want to sin is because I love my Savior and I want to live all out for the praise of His glory!
So the fourth warning at its very heart is against willfully sinning after you have come to the knowledge of the truth. There are many people who call themselves Christians who are willfully sinning and believe they have nothing to fear.
Now there is nothing in this passage that suggests that we do not sin. It is not referring to perfection, but is plainly stating that if we willfully sin after we have received the knowledge of the truth, we can expect to be thrown into the fire that never burns out.
Is it not wonderful that Christ is not only our justification, but our sanctification as well? By faith we lay hold of Him "who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption" (1 Cor. 1:30). These are three great aspects of the ministry of Christ – He justifies, He makes holy, and He brings us into the eternal glory.
So do not be so silly as to suppose that people who are willfully sinning are Christian. They might be, but it is much safer to assume they are as lost as the devil himself, and take the Word of God to them and show them how absolutely grievous, wicked and dangerous it is to go on willfully sinning.
The Lord’s Discipline
For the fifth warning let us turn to Hebrews chapter twelve which begins, "Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us..." (v. 1). This obviously links with chapter eleven in which we can envision a huge auditorium where there are series of balconies, and the very top balcony is filled with witnesses such as Enoch, Noah, Moses, Abraham, David, and so forth. And their testimony is something to the effect, "It can be done! You can gain God’s approval and the promise. You can see where we are – we are in the eternal kingdom. It is possible to live and die victoriously!" And here we are, right now, surrounded by the great cloud of witnesses.
Then we must fix our eyes "on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you may not grow weary and lose heart. You have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood in your striving against sin; and you have forgotten the exhortation which is addressed to you as sons, ‘My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor faint when you are reproved by Him; for those whom the Lord loves He disciplines, and He scourges every son whom He receives.’ It is for discipline that you endure; God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom his father does not discipline? But if you are without discipline, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Furthermore, we had earthly fathers to discipline us, and we respected them; shall we not much rather be subject to the Father of spirits, and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as seemed best to them, but He disciplines us for our good, that we may share His holiness. All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness" (12:2-11).
The fifth warning is to stop asking God to deliver you from discipline. One curse of the American church is the prayer meeting that is occupied with all sorts of people who are under discipline asking to be relieved of it. And many churches are foolish enough to go along with them. When a person is sick the very first thing they ought to do is to ask the Lord to help them to learn fully the purpose of it. Even the matter of people doing evil to us is often something that God has allowed purposely. Remember that in the Old Testament it was not uncommon for God to work through enemies, such as the Philistines, to discipline His people. Those whom the Lord loves He disciplines. Many Christians have not learned to thank God for His love in discipline.
We lack confidence in God. Some years ago, Henry Blackaby, Ron Owens and I were preaching at a conference. It seemed that every time we turned around, someone was blaming the devil for something that was happening. It was so ridiculous that finally Brother Blackaby got up in the pulpit and gave one of the strongest rebukes I have ever heard him deliver. He said, "You credit Satan with every difficulty you face. When does God have the opportunity to speak to you?"
God loves us, therefore, He disciplines us. And His discipline is sound, it is purposeful, and it works. We grow strong by discipline. When we ask God to deliver us from it, we remain weak. We need to learn to appreciate the love of our Father in His discipline toward us. Out of love for Him, we should welcome every difficulty He brings into our lives. We should praise Him and always let our first response to a problem be, "Lord, do not let me miss what You are teaching me. Help me to get hold of it and learn it thoroughly."
Heed God’s Warning
The sixth warning is also found in chapter twelve. "See to it that you do not refuse Him who is speaking. For if those did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, much less shall we escape who turn away from Him who warns from heaven" (v. 25). Allow that to sink in. Every person who received a warning from God in the Old Testament and disregarded that warning was removed from God’s presence and God’s blessing. The entire nation itself was carried away into captivity because they refused to hear Him who was speaking from heaven.
Right now as a nation we are in the same incredible danger. The church is not listening to God. Is it not amazing that when some horrific judgment comes from God, evangelicals debate whether He has anything to do with such things as earthquakes, floods, and so on? If you believe in one unchanging God, you know that nothing happens except that He is in control.
God is speaking to us from heaven and the time is coming when there is going to be a mighty shaking. "His voice shook the earth then, but now He has promised, saying, ‘Yet once more I will shake not only the earth, but also the heaven.’ And this expression, ‘Yet once more,’ denotes the removing of those things which can be shaken, as of created things, in order that those things which cannot be shaken may remain" (vv. 26-27). Let us lay hold of that. Imagine, God Himself shaking the whole earth, and everything that is loose gets shaken away and lands in the fire. All that remains is that which is so vitally attached to Christ that it cannot be shaken loose.
Hold On to Christ!
We need to lay hold of Christ so that no shaking can jar us. And the good news is that it is not the strength of our grip, but that when we lay hold of Him, He has already laid hold of us!
There are people all around us who have a loose relationship with Christ. The only connection some have with Christ is a little prayer they prayed as a child. That little prayer is not going to hold. Everything that can be shaken will be shaken. But there is one thing that will endure all the shaking. That is love. The love of God for us and our responding love to Him. Too many people mistakenly believe the love of God is going to hold on to them even though they have no interest in Him or His kingdom. Christianity is serious. We have these warnings. We have the picture of what happened to Israel when they failed to respond to the Lord’s warnings. Let us take the Word of God seriously!
Used by permission. Richard Owen Roberts is the president and a founding director of International Awakening Ministries.