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TEXT: Hebrews 2:1-4
SUBJECT: Assurance #5: The Warning Passages
Today, with God's blessing, we will move on in our Sunday afternoon study of Assurance. Up to this point, I've done my best to answer the following questions:
Some of these will be revisited and enlarged on in the weeks to come, but for now, I want to take up an issue that deeply affects our Assurance, and--for a good many people--makes it all but impossible. I mean, of course, the Warning Passages of the Bible, and in particular, the ones we find in the Book of Hebrews.
Before I say anything more about the Warning Passages, let me explain the term itself.
The Bible includes a great many warnings, but the ones I have in mind at the moment, are the ones that warn us of being lost and going to Hell when we die.
Some of these warnings are for people who do not profess faith in Christ, for His open and willful enemies. Matthew 23:33 is an example of this. Speaking of the Jewish Rulers who hate Him and intend to kill Him, Jesus warned, Matthew 23:33--
Serpents! Brood of vipers! How can you escape the condemnation of Hell?
This is a warning passage if there every was one! Jesus warns the Rulers of Israel that, if they do not repent, they will perish--not merely die, but die and go the Hell.
These are sobering words, and we ought to remember that the Hell they warn us of is real and hot and forever!
The other kind of warning passage is addressed to people who profess faith in Christ. The people in Hebrews, for example, are not persecuting His Church (as Saul did)--they are His church!
To the professed people of God, the writer of Hebrews issues five serious warnings. Some of them are fairly long, others are pretty short, but every one of them is scary! You can look up the texts for yourself. They are:
Right on the surface, they all warn people who profess faith in Christ to beware, lest they fall away from the Lord and suffer dire consequences.
Let's take 2:1-4 as our model.
It starts with a command, v.1a--
Therefore, we must give the more earnest heed to the things which we have heard.
Then it gives a reason for obeying the command, v.1b--
Lest we drift away.
Next we have the danger or consequences of disobeying the command, first in Israel, v.2--
For if the word spoken through angels was steadfast, and every transgression and disobedience a just reward...
Then the danger is applied to us, vv.3-4--
How shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation which at the first was spoken by the Lord and was confirmed to us by those who heard Him, God also bearing witness, both with signs and wonders, and gifts of the Holy Spirit according to His own will.
This is an argument from the lesser to the greater. If ignoring Moses brought down swift and terrible judgments on the people of Israel, what will become of us if we ignore One much greater than Moses, Jesus Christ?
The only possible answer is: We will be punished more severely than they were.
How do we understand the passage, and the others like it? I am not qualified to explain the Roman Catholic, Orthodox, or Liberal Protestant interpretations of the passage, but I do know how American Evangelicals look at it. The three most common takes are: (1) the Fundamentalist, (2) the Wesleyan, and (3) the Reformed. The groups overlap to some degree, and there are exceptions to the rule, but I think this is a fair way to identify them.
The Fundamentalist believes the people spoken of in the passage are Christians and that, if they don't take the more earnest heed to the things which they have heard, they will lose something. The something they'll lose cannot be 'salvation' because the Fundamentalist doesn't believe that is possible. So, the loss must refer to something else. What? Rewards. If the Christian ignores Jesus Christ, he will still be saved, but the rewards he might have had in Heaven (or the Millennium) will be lost.
The Wesleyan also believes that the people spoken of in the verses will lose something. What? The nearest antecedent is salvation, so that seems the most likely candidate. Whatever it is, it must be something worse than the physical death Moses meted out, and the only thing worse than losing your life is losing your salvation.
The Reformed view sort of combines and improves on the other two. With the Fundamentalist, it says a true Christian can never be lost. With the Wesleyan, it says the people in these passages will be lost. Therefore, the people in these passages are not true Christians.
I grew up in a Fundamentalist church, and had you then asked me how to explain the warning passages, I would have said the loss warned of can only be of rewards. The problem is, rewards are nowhere in these passages, and a surface reading, at least, seems to warn of something far worse than 'fewer rewards than you might have had'--
How shall we escape...Rejected and near to be cursed... fearful expectation of judgment, fiery indignation... worse punishment...
The Wesleyans and the Calvinists are right on this point: the loss warned against in these passages is the loss of your soul, of eternal damnation.
The Wesleyans are right on this point, but can true Christians lose their salvation? These verses seem to say they can, but many other verses say otherwise, John 10:29, for example, says--
My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of my hand.
No one can take us away from our Savior, Jesus says. But--the Wesleyan shoots back--what if we snatch ourselves out of His hand? Is that possible? Peter says it isn't. Not only is our salvation secure, but so are we, because we are--
Kept by the power of God through faith for the salvation ready to be revealed at the last time.
God keeps our salvation for us and us for our salvation! True Christians can never fully and finally fall away from God and be lost.
On this point, it is the Fundamentalist and the Calvinist who agree.
As for the Reformed view, it says the people spoken to in these passages cannot be true Christians. But the closer you look at the passages, the more it seems they are. In 2:1-4, for example, the writer puts himself alongside them, saying in v.1--
We must give the more earnest heed to what we have heard, lest we drift away.
Note the double use of the word, we, not 'you'. If he is only warning hypocrites, he must take himself for one! But if he's a sincere Christian who needs the warning, so are they.
He makes the same point in the other Warning Passages, including the scariest one, in 6:1-8. There he warns his readers of the danger of falling away and being cursed. Who are these people? He tells us in vv.4-6--
For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted the Heavenly gift, and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the age to come, if they fall away, to renew them to repentance., since they crucify again for themselves the Son of God and put Him to open shame.
Some of the blessings could possibly be enjoyed by hypocrites, but, in the New Testament, partakers of the Holy Spirit is another way of saying, 'Christians'.
The people the author has in mind are saved, yet he urges them to persevere in Christ--or go to Hell.
The three standard interpretations are very different from each other, but they have one thing in common: they don't know why the Warning Passages are there.
The Warnings are not in the Bible to teach us a Christian can lose his salvation, or lose his rewards, or lose neither. Why are the Warning Passages in the Bible?
They're in the Bible...to warn us.
God has put them in the Bible to warn us that we must persevere in the Christian life or be lost forever. And--here's the upshot--the warnings are one of God's ways of enabling us to persevere.
It is God who saves us, but He uses means to do it. Some of them are pleasant, such as the promises of the Bible and Christian friendship; others are painful, like chastisement and the Warning Passages of Hebrews.
So, if you want to have Assurance, don't fret over the Warning Passages, heed them. The peace of God be with you all. Amen.
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