Relevant Biblical Passages: Hebrews 6, 10, and 11
Jesus Our Assurance. Those who have not yet discovered the power of substitutionary theology are often troubled by the lack of assurance of their salvation. Unless I know that Jesus’ sacrifice is full and complete on my behalf, I may be haunted by thoughts of my own imperfections as hindrances to my salvation.
Scripture is quite clear, however, that feelings of assurance can be misleading. Perhaps the most famous biblical passage in this respect is Matthew 7:21-23: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many deeds of power in your name?’ Then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; go away from me, you evildoers.'”
For Discussion: For all its emphasis on bold access to God through Jesus our High Priest, the book of Hebrews includes some very strong words designed to “frighten” people into getting right with God. In that connection, it is interesting to discuss the relative merits of the following means of “persuasion”: Which are most effective and for what reasons? What is the “cost” of rejection in each case?
The hard words in Hebrews. The following passages from Hebrews are among the strongest words anywhere in Scripture. How do they mesh with our need for “assurance”?
|Hebrews 2:3:||“How can we escape if we neglect so great a salvation?”|
|Hebrews 6:4-6||“For it is impossible to restore again to repentance those who have once been enlightened, and have tasted the heavenly gift…and have then fallen away…”|
|Hebrews 10:26-31||“For if we willfully persist in sin after having received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful prospect of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries…. It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.”|
|Hebrews 12:18-29||“…See that you do not refuse the one who is speaking; for if they did not escape when they refused the one who warned them on earth, how much less will we escape if we reject the one who warns from heaven!…. for indeed our God is a consuming fire.”|
Discussion question: What is the proper role for threats and punishments within a system of belief based upon grace and righteousness by faith?
The puzzle of “feelings” of assurance, a quotation from C. S. Lewis, “Religion: Reality or Substitute?” from Christian Reflections, pp. 42-43:
“There are things, say in learning to swim or to climb, which look dangerous and aren’t. Your instructor tells you it’s safe. You have good reason from past experience to trust him. Perhaps you can even see for yourself, by your own reason, that it is safe. But the crucial question is, will you be able to go on believing this when you actually see the cliff edge below you or actually feel yourself unsupported in the water? You will have no rational grounds for disbelieving. It is your senses and your imagination that are going to attack belief. Here, as in the New Testament, the conflict is not between faith and reason but between faith and sight. We can face things which we know to be dangerous if they don’t look or sound too dangerous; our real trouble is often with things we know to be safe but which look dreadful.”
Issues of assurance are always like that. Some will always feel secure when they actually are at risk; others will feel themselves at risk when they actually are perfectly secure. It reminds one of the aphorism describing the preacher’s work as “afflicting the comfortable and comforting the afflicted.”