Some years ago, one of the senior clerics of an orthodox denomination published a book titled “The Myth of God Incarnate”. In it he questioned the virgin birth of Christ thus challenging one of the crucial foundations of the Christian Faith – The Incarnation of Christ. More recently, the moral consequences of our faith was questioned.
Homosexual priests were not only allowed to function as priests and live openly as gays but were even consecrated as Bishops, presumably so they could pass their “anointing” on to others.
Again more recently, through the medium of an Evangelical Foreign magazine, the question is being asked and discussed: Has Christianity done more harm than good to the world?
In the face of such discussions, some of us, especially those who are of any degree of intellectual training must not only feel threatened but also challenged to be sure that we have a faith that is worth holding on to.
If we must face reality, many of us would admit that many hopefully not most, of our colleagues with whom we fervently prayed and witnessed on campus are no longer “hot potatoes”. We are also painfully conscious of the lethargy of our churches, gross tolerance of immorality of both lay and pastoral church members and, of course, the lack of correspondence between the frequency of church attendance and the manifestation of the Character of Christ in Christians.
Perhaps the worst threat to our confidence is not just the resurgence of Islam but the increasing number of Muslims whose character calls to question the transformation which we Christians claim can only come through the power of the Holy Spirit.
So intellectually, socially and morally, we are being attacked on every side. Paul felt like that as he wrote to the Corinthian Church. Yet he was able to say repeatedly that he was not discouraged. (2Cor. 3. 4, 12, 4: 1, 16) The Hebrew – Christians also felt betrayed by God and their faith as they were persecuted both by their fellow Jews and the gentiles for embracing Christianity. The letter to these Hebrew-Christians is full of much exhortation to hold firm, be dilligent and persevere till the end. For those of us who feel threatened, disappointed unfulfilled and generally challenged by our apparent ineffectiveness and lack of spiritual growth and impact, this command and exhortation is for our consolation: Hold on firmly till the end.
First, we are exhorted to hold on firmly to our confidence (Heb. 3:12-14). This is an appeal to our CONSICENCE a part of us which Paul greatly celebrates in his ministry (I Tim. 1:5, 19; I Cor. 4: 1-4). At our conversion, we made a pledged profession that we would undertake our engagement with Christ until we see its final outcome. We vouched as the hymn puts it “to serve thee to the end’. It is this conscience that freely promised that is being challenged to be faithful.
If the pleasure of sin has deceived us or persistence in immorality or disobedience has hardened us and made faith casual and barren, let us get back on our knees and to our consciences. The blood of Jesus is still sufficient to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (I Jn. 1:9) and sweep away the cloud that is hiding His invigorating sunshine (Is. 44:22).
Secondly, we are required to hold firmly to the faith we profess (Heb. 4:14). This is an appeal to re-examine the grounds of our COMMITMENT. It is not unlikely that many of us falter in our Christian walk because we made a commitment to something which cannot sustain the life we want to live. Having laid a false or weak foundation, we may be building a defective superstructure that will surely collapse.
Our faith is misplaced when it is in a human being and his words and ways of doing things. If we rely on the doctrines and traditions of a denomination, we may be disappointed. It is neither the denominational interpretations of scripture nor its way of church government nor its way of praying or preaching that supports our faith. We are not even asked to have faith in faith as if it was strong enough to save us. We must forsake all and trust God and Him alone. In a world of increasing relativity, it takes great COURAGE to keep affirming that only Jesus can save (Acts 4: 12).
In the context of this exhortation, the two things which are sufficient to hold our commitment are set forth. First is the word of God which is able to reveal the most hidden secrets of our hearts and thus demolish our strongest and highest rebellious thoughts (Heb. 4: 12-13; 2 Cor. 10:4-5). It is the means of grace that can build us up and give us an inheritance in the kingdom of God (Acts 20:32). We “have been born again not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God.” (1 Pet. 1:23).
The second thing which holds our commitment and really validates the first is the person of Jesus Christ, our great high priest who is both the victim and the victor (Heb. 4:14-16; 10: 19-20). Our faith is worth holding on to because it is based on the word (Rom. 10:17) and that word is worth relying on because of the trustworthiness of Jesus Christ. Faith is like a spoon. It is reliable if it enables to eat. But it is the food, not the spoon that satisfies. It is like an anchor. By itself it is not useful. When fastened to a rock it holds the ship steady. It is the rock not the anchor that holds the ship. Yet the ship, like us, must hold firmly to the instrument, the anchor, our faith, in order to be held by Christ the Rock.
Thirdly, we are called to hold unswervingly to the hope we profess. (Heb. 10:23). This is an appeal to develop CHARACTER. There is a discipline which is called spiritual Formation. It is the study of how the nature of Christ can be formed in us. It is the hope to which we are called. It is that to which Paul says he keeps pressing. It is a high heavenly calling (Phil. 3: 12-14) with the ultimate aim of being conformed to the likeness of Christ (Rom. 8:27). Though not fully attainable this side of eternity, yet everything that helps us to pursue this character formation – pain, loss, persecution, rejection, abuse, disappointments – all keep this hope alive in us (Rom. 5:1-5). Indeed they keep us rejoicing in the hope of the glory of God which Jesus has promised to share with us. (John 17:22).
Because we know that “this hope cannot disappoint us” one distinctive feature of CHARACTER is CONTENTMENT in all situations. In a world of greedy self-centredness, ungodly ambitions and a constant harassment that all of us must be No. 1, some emphasis on simplicity, servanthood and detachment is not misplaced (Heb. 13: 5-6; 1Tim. 6: 6-10). The world needs both leaders and followers who are constantly being transformed into the image of Jesus Christ. Contentment helps us to focus on the certainty of what God has done, the joys of what he is doing and the assurance that He will complete what He has began. Contentment is not complacency but a quiet confidence in a loving God who loves us as we are, rebukes our laziness, helps our weakness and heals our infirmities.
The emphasis of the context of this exhortation is that no Christian can hold firmly when he isolates himself from God’s prescribed means of Grace. With Christ as our Interceding High Priest in heaven, with our guilty conscience and dirty lives washed by His blood, we must learn to provoke one another to love and make a habit of meeting with one another.
Medical personnel have the best excuse for “stabbing” fellowship, personal devotion and the Lord’s Supper. The pressures we face are too many and too intense for us to face individually. In spite of the threat to our privacy, let us enter this atmosphere of love and breathe its refreshing air of sincere, pure care that we can give to one another in the Spirit. Then feeble hands will be lifted, wobbly knees will be strengthened and those unsteady feet will walk the way of holiness till the end.
Thus lastly, the writer to the Hebrews, in the context of one of the most severe warnings about the great danger of falling away from grace, exhorts us to hold on to the good things we have known and done with diligence and patience. (Heb. 6:9-12). Diligence speaks of speed and earnestness – a holy haste. Patience speaks of perseverance, waiting in full understanding that heaven is the final place of full reward. There it will be obvious to us that God does not forget the good work we have diligently and patiently done (Heb. 6:10; 1 Cor. 15:58). He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him (Heb. 11:6; Jer. 29:11-13).
Finally, these exhortations are commands. No true child of a good father will love to live in disobedience. Hold firmly then to your CONFIDENCE keeping your CONSCIENCE clear. Hold firmly to your FAITH., COMMITTED to God’s word and His Christ. Hold firmly to your HOPE of achieving the CHARACTER of Jesus Christ. Do them all DILIGENTLY and PATIENTLY. In the language of the letter to the Hebrews, let us “keep working out our salvation knowing that the God of peace is working in and equipping us to do His will and what pleases Him (Phil. 2: 12-13, Heb.13: 20-21). He cannot fail and therefore we shall not fall away.