life

Over the last couple of Sundays at our church,we’ve worked through Hebrews 6. This chapter has been notoriously difficult to interpret for scholars, commentators, and preachers. If you wonder what I mean, take a few minutes and read through the chapter.

A variety of interpretive solutions have been suggested. I landed in the camp that believes the audience are genuine believers who if they “fall away”from Christ would lose rewards in heaven and spiritual blessings on earth. If you’re interested, here’s a link to the service and sermon on the subject. I may be wrong about my interpretation of the text, but here is commentator David Allen making a case for this view:

Three things seem clear in the New Testament. First, genuine believers are eternally secure in their salvation. The sheer weight of evidence in Hebrews and the entire New Testament supporting this doctrine is unavoidable. A key text is 1 John 2:19: “they went out from us because they were never of us.” Speaking about this verse, D. A. Carson correctly stated, “genuine faith, by definition, perseveres; where there is no perseverance, by definition the faith cannot be genuine.” Second, there is no question that apparent believers who are not yet genuine believers can commit apostasy. This too is taught in the New Testament. It is just not taught in Heb 6:6. True apostasy is reserved for the unsaved. However, believers can “fall away.” It is unhelpful and confusing to use the word “apostasy” to describe what genuine believers do when they rebel against the Lord and commit sin due to the technical meaning the term has developed. Third, Christians can commit serious sin without being disqualified from eternal life. Part of the problem with some interpretations of Hebrews 6 is a failure to distinguish between totally renouncing Jesus and/or faith in Jesus by those who were never genuinely converted and failing Jesus on the part of those who are genuinely saved. People who call themselves Christians and yet sin without regret or desire to change show that they have never been genuinely converted. Christians sometimes do commit serious sins without being disqualified from eternal life. Examples include David, Peter, and some of the Corinthian Christians at the Lord’s Supper (1 Cor 11:17–22). First Corinthians 3:1–3 affirms that carnal believers exist. Such immaturity and carnality is challenged by Paul with stern language. However, Paul does not question their salvation. He rather addresses them throughout as genuine believers. Carnal Christians are poor examples of Christians, but they are Christians. Likewise, the author of Hebrews addresses his readers as genuine believers, but they were immature spiritually (Heb 6:1). He warns them to press on to maturity, but even in the harsh words of Heb 6:4–6, he does not indicate they are not genuine believers. Hebrews 6:4–6 does not teach apostasy, in the technical theological sense of ultimately denying Christ, on the part of believers (the Arminian position) or apostasy on the part of those who are not genuine believers (the Calvinist position). Hebrews 6:1–8 is not a soteriological passage; it is a sanctification passage, as is made clear from the context.

David Allen, Hebrews: The New American Commentary, 389-90.

Whether you agree with me and Allen above, Hebrews 6 does address the security of the believer. The writer of Hebrews goes on to state that he “feels sure of better things–things that belong to salvation” for his readers (6:9). Any reading of Hebrews 6 invites readers to examine their lives and consider the significance of the warning. Hebrews is full of warnings about: drifting away (2:1-4), continuing in unbelief and falling away (3:12-13), falling into disobedience (4:11), becoming dull of hearing and falling away (5:11-6:4-8), neglecting to gather regularly and deliberately sinning (10:24-31), and rejecting the warning about judgment and heaven (12:25-29). The validity of these warnings should motivate believers toward self-examination and intentionally reorienting our eyes and life on Christ.

So, as we read these warnings and consider our salvation, how can we be sure we are saved?

I would commend to you passages like John 10 and the letter of 1 John for a more in depth, biblical treatment of assurance. In short, since it is God’s work through Christ that earns our salvation, our labors or lack thereof cannot bring about the loss of what God made possible through Christ. I believe the Bible teaches that genuine faith perseveres (see Allen’s quote of D.A. Carson above).

But the perseverance of our faith and the assurance of our faith are not necessarily the same. John the Baptist doubted Jesus’ identity after Herod imprisoned him (Matthew 11:2-19). Charles Spurgeon, famed pastor of the Metropolitan Tabernacle in London in the 1800s suffered periods where he doubted his salvation.

So how do we experience assurance? Author and pastor Greg Gilbert in his book Assured, encourages his readers to seek assurance of salvation in the following 4 ways. The first two he defines as the driving sources of assurance: the gospel of Jesus Christ and the promises of God. The third is the supernatural source of assurance: the witness of the Holy Spirit. And the fourth is the one we go to most often, but is only a confirming source: the fruits of obedience in our Christian lives. Gilbert’s book is helpful, and if you or someone you know is struggling with assurance, I would commend it.

Practically, Gilbert reminds us of the importance of focusing on God and Christ rather than on ourselves.

The more trustworthy and faithful you learn God to be, the more you will trust him and the more certain you will be in that trust. What this means, in the most practical terms, is that you need to take specific action to remove your eyes from yourself and plant them on God. Read books about God, about theology, about who God is and what he has done, and read them for God’s own sake—to know him and love him and stand in awe of him—not just for the sake of figuring out what ‘applicational nugget’ you can walk away with. Meditate on God’s trinitarian nature, even if you can’t see an immediate application. Dwell on the intricacies of sacrifices and atonement, even if those details don’t seem ‘relevant.’ As you broaden your vision of God, you will find your love and awe of him deepening. And the result will be that you will trust him more. Your certainty that he will move heaven and earth to keep his promises will solidify. Even more, make sure you are a vital contributing member of a local church. Gather with brothers and sisters who are themselves engaged in the fight, sing hymns of praise to God, hear his Word read and preached, lift up your voice with them in prayer. What you will find is that fellowship with other believers will remind you of God’s promises, spiritually stabilize you, and reinvigorate you to continue the fight. Often the very best way to deepen our assurance of salvation is to peel our eyes off ourselves and put them on God and his people.

Greg Gilbert, Assured, 142-3.

We can know we are saved by believing in the gospel of Jesus Christ, trusting the promises of God, and being indwelt by the Holy Spirit. Gilbert is correct to connect assurance to the concrete rather than the subjective. When Jesus confronted John the Baptist’s doubt, he told John’s messengers, “The blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them” (Matthew 11:5). He didn’t tell John to remember the day when he announced Jesus or to reflect on his “coming to faith.” He told John to reflect on the concrete miracles. Have a re-read of Hebrews 6. The writer feels sure of better things because God is not unjust and will not overlook the love and service of the church to one another (Hebrews 6:10).

Have more questions? Read through 1 John. Buy and read a copy of Assured by Greg Gilbert. Talk to a pastor or church leader who can help you discern the gospel of Jesus Christ and the promises of God.

Photo by Brett Jordan on Unsplash

On Friday June 24, 2022, the Supreme Court overturned the 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling on Dobbs v. Jackson’s Women’s Health Organization. An unprecedented leak at the Supreme Court earlier this year anticipated the ruling that recently came down. Abortion has divided the United States politically like few other issues have ever done.

That division is unsurprising. Many who are pro-life believe that life begins at conception. The life in the womb is unique with his/her own set of DNA, heartbeat, brain activity, and ability to feel pain. If life occurs at conception, then life should be defended and protected regardless of developmental stage.

Many who are pro-choice do not believe that the fetus in the womb is a life, but rather a part of a woman’s body. As a part of her body, the woman should have a right to want or not want the “potential” life she carries.

These two competing viewpoints highlight the division present in our nation. There is no real middle ground or room for compromise between these positions. Since 1973, this division has been growing with each advance in technology that furthers the case that the infant in the womb is alive. The ruling from the Supreme Court that overturned Roe v. Wade is being celebrated by those who are pro-life. The ruling is also being castigated by those who are pro-choice. The recent ruling has only increased the division.

I don’t pretend that this blogpost will heal the division, nor convince many who have a different view than me. I do hope that this post informs and encourages followers of Jesus to think biblically about this issue. Here are some questions that I’m going to try to address. What does the Bible have to say about life and abortion? What should be a Christian response to the recent ruling?

It is important to know that the Bible explicitly addresses life and a biblical view of life, but only implicitly addresses the issue of abortion. A biblical worldview of life must consider the following verses:

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.

Genesis 1:26-27

Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image.

Genesis 9:6

You shall not murder.

Exodus 20:13

Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.

Jeremiah 1:5

For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well. My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.

Psalm 139:13-16

Because the Bible serves as our authority for life and practice, it must govern our worldview. The biblical worldview is one that credits God as the giver of life. The Bible affirms the view that life occurs at conception. If it is a life in the womb, then it is to be defended and protected.

A culture of life is indelibly present in the biblical worldview is one. This culture of life informs how one should interpret a law in the OT that regards an unintentional miscarriage.

There is a law from Exodus that relates to causing a miscarriage that has been used to justify abortion. Here it is:

“When men strive together and hit a pregnant woman, so that her children come out, but there is no harm, the one who hit her shall surely be fined, as the woman’s husband shall impose on him, and he shall pay as the judges determine. But if there is harm, then you shall pay life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.Note miscarriage law. Note culture of protecting life.

Exodus 21:22-25

In short, if an unintentional blow caused a miscarriage, but not death to the mother, the offender would be fined. The act was not treated as murder. There is a great difference between an accident that causes miscarriage and the intentional abortion of a baby. Here is a link to a paper discussing this topic for further review.

It is apparent to me that the biblical worldview surrounding conception and humanity is one that values life. While it is true that “abortion” is not specifically addressed in the Bible, it is addressed implicitly. The Bible clearly depicts a culture of life. For the Jews in the Old Testament and Christians in the New Testament, children are a gift from God. Abortion was unthinkable among God’s people in the history of the Bible.

Furthermore, early Christians reflected these biblical values of life over and against a Roman culture that could be described as a culture of death.

Christianity in the first three centuries did not have a political voice within its culture. Even so, early Christians did recognize prevalent Roman practices such as abortion, infanticide, and child abandonment as murder. History shows that as Christianity was legalized, believers were empowered to institute Christian values in the social arena. For example, in A.D. 374 under Christian emperor Valentinian, Rome formally outlawed the practice of infanticide. Christians also sought to restore a high view of marriage and marital fidelity. Furthermore, Christians recognized the evil of pederasty and pedophilia, which were common in the Greco-Roman world. Although centuries passed before women gained equal status with men, nations influenced by the biblical worldview gave women have their highest value and sense of equality. As Christianity developed through the centuries, believers compassionately recognized the need for orphan care, showed concern for the poor and lower classes, and aided the sick.66 Christians may also be credited with building the first hospital. Christian views of humanity differed significantly from the prevailing Greco-Roman values of the day. Followers of Jesus accepted the biblical value of human life, and as they had opportunity, sought to apply biblical principles to social issues.

Chris Hefner, Dissertation: “Analysis of John Stott’s Understanding of Evangelism and Social Responsibility.” Source information for this paragraph came from Alvin Schmidt, How Christianity Changed the World.

In short, Christians have almost always practiced a culture of life that flowed out of a biblical worldview. Today’s pro-life view is historically Christian.

A follow up question to the biblical worldview of life concerns what should Christians do now that Roe v. Wade has been overturned.

Here are some practical considerations for the days ahead.

Christians must be thankful. It is appropriate for Christians to applaud this Supreme Court decision that will no doubt save the lives of the unborn. We must be thankful for the political work done leading to this moment and for the perseverance of the justices to issue this ruling. We must also be thankful to our Lord who cares about life and has heard the prayers of his people on the issue of abortion.

Christians must be realistic. This decision does not “outlaw” abortion. The justices merely stated that a right to abortion was not found in the Constitution. In this sense, the ruling was about as middle ground as one can get. Abortion laws will now be set by each state. Many states will codify abortion much more liberally than now. Other states will limit our outlaw abortion almost altogether. Much work is left to be done.

Christians must be mindful. We would be foolish to think this ruling is a sign that the tides are turning in the culture war in our country. The division, antagonism, dishonesty, and vehemence surrounding this issue reflects that we still live in Babylon. Our nation does not reflect biblical values. We must remain vigilant in prayer, lament, and evangelism seeking God’s intervention in human hearts.

Christians must be gracious. We dare not flaunt in pride and hubris this ruling. More than 64 million babies have been aborted since 1973. We are in no position to parade. There is work to do. On a personal level, there are many around us who disagree with this ruling. There are many around us who far from God. If we want to change people’s minds on this issue or the more important issue of the gospel, then we as followers of Christ must reflect the graciousness of our Lord. Only God can change a human heart. And he uses those who are gracious more effectively than those who are prideful.

Christians must be active. As noted above, Christians have historically cared for the poor and marginalized. Mother Theresa stated regarding the impoverished masses of outcast children in India that “being unwanted” was a most terrible human disease. Based on the way God views us and our world, there are no truly unwanted children. He desires all babies, children, and people to come to himself. And while we may not be able to adopt and rescue the masses, we can care for the individual lives of those around us. Christians must not be content with a mere political voice where we vote “pro-life.” We must actively pursue the provision and rescue of life: in the womb, in an orphanage, in the foster-care system, in nursing facilities, in hospitals, in refugee camps, or any other marginalized place across the world.

In being active, all of us need to pray. Most of us need to give our resources and time to organizations that defend and rescue life. Some of us need to foster, adopt, or give ourselves to mission work that rescues boys and girls, women and men across the world.

We need to be active in embracing the character of our loving Shepherd. We should embody the life-giving love of Jesus, our Good Shepherd (John 10:1-18). We should leave our security to seek after those who are lost and marginalized (Luke 15:1-7).

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