So…..What's the Point?

Musings from a Fellow Struggler

Archive for the month “September, 2012”

On the Meaning of Mercy-Concluding Thoughts, Part 2




Longsuffering (patience), mercy, forgiveness, compassion; we have been the beneficiaries of these and much more from God and now they are to be reciprocated to others. Doing so requires a kind of openness, a vulnerability through which their experiences can be felt and through which mercy and all it means can be given. Jesus during His earthly ministry was so open to others and to God that people connected to the Father through Him, His body, His words, His actions. “He that sees me sees the Father” Jesus said and “the words I speak are not my own but His who sent me”; “whatever He (the Father) does, the Son does in like manner”.

But what is it that makes this kind of openness so difficult for us, that resists reciprocation and instead judges and condemns, that keeps us from being touched by the infirmities of others, or perhaps worst of all, ignores the pain of others trapped in sin and bound by the Enemy, including even our own brothers and sisters in Christ?

Ego-pride and spiritual pride I think is the answer. Both are instances of the same pride that made Lucifer become Satan and now, since the fall, the same that compels us to think more highly of ourselves than we should (thus making others lower than us) and resist God at every turn by insisting on having our own way. Instead of being open, then, we remain closed or, if we do respond to God and others, it is more often than not ‘on our own terms’ so to speak; i.e. we decide how open to be and when.

Because of this we might find ourselves in seemingly unbearable relationships with certain people, so that pride shows itself and we begin seeing ourselves as He sees us; the unbearable ‘other person’ is replaced by the unbearable ‘me’. So Jesus invites us to ‘learn from Him’ because He is “gentle and lowly in heart” (Matt. 11:29) and Paul helps us when he describes in one of the most remarkable passages in the New Testament the kenosis, the self-emptying of Christ, that preceded His incarnation and ended in His death after “he humbled himself and became obedient to the to the point of death, even the death of the cross”. (Phil. 2:5-8) Paul exhorts us to have this same “mind” or attitude that Jesus displayed, a tall order indeed.

The Greek word for “lowly” in Matthew and “humbled” in Philippians and other references to humility in the New Testament are derived primarily from tapeinoo. In Luke 18:13-14 and the parable that marked the beginning of this series humility is powerfully displayed by the Publican and Jesus says concerning his attitude “I tell you, this man (the Publican) went to his house justified rather than the other (the Pharisee); for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 18:14 parenthesis mine)

The many verses that speak of humility have important nuances that our English translations do their best to capture. For instance, when used as an adjective, humility describes something that is, or should be, true about us. When used as a verb humility entails first a choice and then a decision. As a choice, humility is one option among others, say arrogance, or pride, or hardness of heart and a decision for humility eliminates the other options. Humility, therefore, can be decided for or against resulting in a certain set of personal characteristics and a certain mind-set; i.e. your character is such and such because you think a certain way, ideally with lowliness of mind, for example. (see Phil 2:3 where ‘lowliness’ is from the root word tapeinoo)

True humility is not an inward, self analytical morbid assessment of our faults, a state of mental depression, or a lack of self-esteem. Neither is it an outward comparison of us to others as if either were a reliable standard of measurement. Real humility begins by looking upward, towards heaven, and drawing near into the Presence where we see the Lamb of God. In His Presence humility is realizing, believing and acting according to the truth that without Him, apart from Him we are nothing and can do nothing that really counts, that has eternal ramifications. In fact, humility is such a disregard for self it’s not even something we notice. We can notice its absence, however like “wow, I’m really humble today” or “so and so is sure proud, I’m glad I’m not that way.”

But pride is so subtle and so part of our very existence that many of the texts concerning humility suggest, along with humbling ourselves, that we must also decide to allow ourselves to be humbled; it’s this choice and decision that has to do with circumstances God brings our way, like the unbearable relationships mentioned earlier. James 4:7-17 and 1 Peter 5:1-9 (these should be read to “get the point” here) show a remarkable similarity about allowing God’s way with us to foster the kind of humility so critical for mercy to be reciprocated to others.

It is noteworthy that 1 Peter 5:5 tells us that God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble. The point is that humility is difficult to attain especially for us living in a society where self aggrandizement is highly regarded, almost a necessity for success, at least as its defined by the world. In fact, humility is often viewed as weakness to those whose pride knows no bounds. But, true humility is not weakness but enormous strength of character, supernatural strength even, formed in us by the Word who emptied Himself and became one of us. It is within the apparent weakness of humility that the strength of His grace is experienced. Hence we are sustained not by our pride and arrogance but by God and His merciful grace alone. So, in this same verse, Peter tells us we to be “clothed with humility”, a remarkable image.

The concept of “clothing” or “putting on” the Christian virtues is a common in the New Testament (see Rom. 13:12, 14; Eph. 6:11, 14; Col. 3:12, 14; 1 Thess. 5:8). However, Peter uses a verb ἐγκομβόομαι (enkomboomai, put on, tie around) that is found only here in the New Testament and since I’m convinced that every word in the Bible is there by design it set me to thinking. What came to my mind is this: Peter’s memory of Jesus washing the disciples feet as an example of humility perhaps compels him to use a unique word encouraging us to be “girded” with humility and prepared to serve others just as the Lord of Glory did. Some think this verb refers to what a slave would put on before serving. But, whatever its exact meaning, it is more than an encouragement; the verb is in the imperative mood which signifies a command, not an option. Coming from Peter this makes sense because the Lord repeatedly rebuked him for displays of pride we can all relate to and he would certainly acknowledge that humility is indispensable for relating to God, to God’s people and to the world around us. And for us engaged with this series, humility is indispensable to the administration of mercy.

Well, unless the Lord indicates otherwise, this entry will probably be the last in this series “On the Meaning of Mercy”. There is so much more to be said but you, the reader, can take this small beginning and add your own insights as you serve in the Presence of God and before our merciful High Priest.  But whatever the case, be so open to God and others that mercy flows to and through you so that the circle we spoke of in the last installment remains unbroken.


© W.G. Ryzek PhD


Three “isms” Leading to Destruction-part 2

The prevailing conditions in the world prior to the Lord’s return are deception and lawlessness or, put another way, lying and anarchy.  And these conditions are exacerbated by moral relativism, religious pluralism and soteriological universalism along with humanities collective sinful nature now unrestrained.  Jesus said it would happen in the days just prior to His return (Matt. 23:27, here ἄνομος , or lawlessness, is translated ‘iniquity’) and Paul refers to this phenomenon in 1 Tim 3:13 in conjunction with a “great falling away” (apostasy).

Believers are told to do at least four things when apostasy, lawlessness and deception strike close to home.  First, they are “to stand fast”; second, they are to “hold the traditions” they were taught, “either by word or our epistle” (2 Thess. 2:15); third, they are to “continue” in all they have learned from the scriptures because the scriptures were “given by inspiration of God” and reveal the false doctrines and practices of evil that impact Christians(2 Tim. 3:1-16) and, finally, they are told by Jesus Himself (Matt 24:42) to “watch” because His coming is both imminent and unpredictable.

The grammar of the phrase “stand fast” indicates a continual action suggesting that the forces of lawlessness continually resist the truth of the Gospel and in increasing magnitude.  We are not, then, to give in to or yield any ground to those forces that would compromise, or eliminate, the truth of the Gospel.  In the second part of this series I alluded to standing fast as remaining immovable when hurricane force winds are blowing all around. I would add that standing fast is the resolve to not yield any ground to the enemy.  This is a warfare reference, something I till take up at another time.  Here, I simply wish to point out that first, Christianity has always waged war against those forces that would destroy God’s kingdom and, second, this warfare has now reached its climatic moment prior to our Lord’s return.  The battle is joined in earnest and we must remain unyielding to any and all things that would add to, or take away from, the Gospel.

Paul’s reference to ‘traditions’ stands juxtaposed to the ‘lawlessness’ and ‘apostasy’ in earlier verses (2 Thess. 2:15).  That is, traditions provide the framework for proper belief and provide the rules for proper conduct.  These traditions are not man-made like those of the Pharisees that Jesus condemned but are from God, passed among believers providing a uniformity of experience and expectation in the early Church.

It is so interesting that Paul is addressing this to a church that had been privy to Paul’s influence first hand and yet here they are being warned against deception (in this particular case it was eschatological error).  And I find it also remarkable that even at this early stage of Christianity, there were well defined traditions in place upon which churches were established.  For example,  the various confessions (e.g., 1 Cor. 15:3–5), hymns (Phil 2:6–11; cf. Col 1:15–20), exhortations for Christian households (e.g., Eph 5:22–6:9; cf. Col 3:18–4:1), and ethical instructions in general (e.g., 1 Thess. 4:1–8), including vice and virtue lists (e.g., Gal 5:19–23), suggest some of ‘traditions’ with which the church at Thessalonica was familiar.  And it is precisely these traditions in which we are to “stand fast” unmoved and unswayed “by every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness whereby they lie in wait to deceive…” (Eph. 4:14).

Associated with the idea of   “standing fast” is Paul’s counsel to Timothy “to continue in” the things he has learned, been assured of and known intimately.  This ‘continuation’ stands in contrast to the progressively worsening activities of ‘evil men and seducers’.  While they continuously grow worse and worse, Timothy is to continually remain in the teachings of Paul and tradition that gives him confidence not only because those teachings and traditions are true but because of the character of those Christians who influenced his life.  These teachings and traditions make up the ‘scripture’, along with the Old Testament, that provide the foundation from which Timothy and all Christians derive the truth and the correctness of the faith. In short, during the time of perplexity and increasing evil, we are advised to continue in and hold fast to what we have received from God in the form of His Word. It has been generally the case throughout the history of the Christian church that departures from the faith begin with a rejection of the authority of Scripture.  What is left is human authority and since the heart of man is evil beyond degree, that authority soon becomes the enemy of the faith.   Therefore, in times of perplexity, like we are in now, only His Word is a sufficient anchor to hold us steady and secure until His return.

Finally, in what has been termed the “Olivet Discourse”, Jesus reveals what the world will be like prior to His coming (Matt. 24-25).  In about the middle of His discourse Jesus tells His disciples “to watch” because even though the description of the last days is clear enough, the exact time of His return remains hidden.  The point seems to be that the more we witness these events coming to pass, the more watchful we are to become.  But what is truly amazing is all the things of which Paul and Jesus said would come are happening now yet most of us go about our business as if nothing unusual is happening.

The word γρηγορέω means, among other things, to ‘stay awake’ and I think it is an appropriate term in the context of these three essays.  In fact, the three isms of which I’ve spoken and the influences of the world in general have a way of lulling Christians to sleep.  By ‘sleep’ I mean a sort of apathetic, lethargic numbness that comes when, for example, our lives are undisturbed by the demands and expectations of Biblical Christianity because we stray away from the truths of the Gospel and seek out an easier, more convenient way of doing things.  In short, we embrace substitutes that may “have a form of godliness but deny the power thereof” 2 Tim. 3:5).  Here, the word ‘form’ (μόρφωσις) means ‘appearance’ and refers to that which is merely external.  In other words, it is an imitation that looks real but in fact isn’t.  The ‘isms’ I have outlined invite this kind of substitution and therefore must be first acknowledged (confessed) and then resisted.  We can only do this by being ‘awake’ and watching and it is our responsibility to do both.


© W.G. Ryzek PhD












Three “isms” Leading to Destruction

Relativism, pluralism and universalism: these three terms are frequently found in secular and religious writings these days and, unfortunately, not always with the greatest clarity or precision of meaning.  The following paragraphs will hopefully clarify these terms and hint at just how opposed they are to orthodox Christianity.

Relativism (epistemological) is the view that absolute (or universal) truth doesn’t exist; i.e., there is no truth that applies to all people at all times under all circumstances.  What do exist, so-called progressives say, are truths (actually, they are merely ‘opinions’) conditioned by culture, individual tastes, moral expediency (where actions guide morals instead of the other way around) and the struggle for control of society. Truth, they say, is found only among individuals or the group to which they happen to belong and nearly always in agreement with whatever agenda they are pursuing, which might range from saving the whales to world domination.

Now, looking at this more closely we can see at least two things. First, the claim “absolute truth doesn’t exist” must be absolutely true since it allows for no exceptions. This appears to mean that it is absolutely true that absolute truth doesn’t exist.  Clearly this is a contradiction and indicates just how muddleheaded such thinking really is.

Secondly, it is assumed that knowing any kind of truth is wholly dependent on human reason. The notion of Divine revelation is rejected and is generally assigned the same status as absolute truth, it simply doesn’t exist.  We are left to our own devices, they say, and must figure it out on our own. We can appeal to no higher authority than ourselves and what we are capable of understanding. It is the apex of Protagoras’ axiom that ‘man is the measure of all things’.

The upshot to all this is that no one can say to another that their thinking is wrong, their moral life is wrong, or any such thing because since absolutes don’t exist, there is no measure against which people’s lives can be measured, except by each other. There simply is no way to determine what is ‘right’ or ‘just’ other than what the group or society decides it must be.  The final consequence is moral anarchy which is the root of the “lawlessness” and ‘perplexity’ that already pervades our world.

With respect to religion (Christianity included), relativism suggests that no religion is better than another because no single religion has access to absolute truth and therefore cannot lay claim to being the ‘one true religion’. Christianity, they say, is merely one religion among many with no special claims on anyone except those who choose to be part of it. In fact, all religions have just part of the truth and only by being ‘tolerant’ and ‘inclusive’ towards other religious views can we hope to create a civilized world where religious conflict will cease.  This is the essence of pluralism in general and religious pluralism in particular.  Each culture/religion has its own kind of ‘truth’ and no other culture/religion has the right to suggest it is superior to any other world view.

The operative words of pluralism are tolerance and inclusiveness. We are to overlook differences and embrace whatever common causes we can find.  But overlooking the differences is really the most problematic part of this philosophy.  For example, how does a Christian overlook the truth that Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life and no one comes to the Father except through Him.  Either you have to ‘overlook’ this claim and assert that other avenues of salvation are open to humanity or you squarely place yourself against any view that makes Jesus only one way among many to God.  There is simply no middle ground here.

Universalism is a natural outcome of the first two views.  It claims that salvation is in no way restrictive and that, in the end, God’s love and grace will triumph over evil and all shall be saved, even Satan and his minions.  It is based on the view that God’s love and grace are inconsistent with eternal damnation and, therefore, hell and the final judgment are mere scare tactics meant to keep the faithful in line.  Even other religions can be a way to God if the person is sincere in searching for salvation.  That is, God’s plan is not restricted to Christian teachings.  Of course, ideas like repentance, commitment to following Jesus Christ, evangelism, and personal holiness are mere appendages to the wider view that all will be saved no matter what they happen to believe or what they have done.

Together, then, these ‘isms’ and their spin-offs lead to destruction, a destruction easily witnessed in our society and societies around the world.  In the absence of absolute truth there remains no center around which a person, a group, or a country can find a stable and meaningful existence.  All that can be gleaned from such views as relativism, pluralism and universalism is lawlessness and destruction, topics which will be addressed in future articles.

© W.G. Ryzek PhD

On the Meaning of Mercy-Concluding thoughts



Although the meaning of mercy has been the focus of this series we have discovered along the way that it is frequently accompanied by other ideas like forgiveness and reconciliation, either as part of the context or part of the definition. We saw, for example that when mercy meant propitiation (Luke 18:13) the ideas of averting God’s wrath, forgiveness of sins and reconciliation to God were implicit in what propitiation meant.

Now we can add ‘longsuffering’ to the mix because it, too, often accompanies mercy in many passages. A case in point is found in Paul’s first letter to Timothy where he describes himself as a “blasphemer, a persecutor, and an insolent man” (1 Tim. 1:13) but in spite of this he “obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might show all longsuffering as a pattern to those who are going to believe on Him for everlasting life.” (1Tim.1:16)

The word ‘longsuffering’ Paul uses in this verse is from makrothymia and means, in part, restraining from lashing back, especially with anger, even though repeatedly provoked and the accompanying word ‘mercy’ he uses is from eleeo meaning simply to show pity and compassion towards someone. Given this example of mercy and longsuffering used together, it seems reasonable to think that mercy often, if not always, includes longsuffering, that longsuffering often, if not always, includes mercy and that the potential for, and experience of, salvation entails both (see 2 Peter 3:9).

It is remarkable that many of the passages referencing ‘longsuffering’ (sometimes translated ‘patience’) show how God behaves towards us while, at the same time, exhorting Christians to behave the same way to each other. Paul already gave us an example of God’s longsuffering in his own life and in Ephesians Paul’s readers are exhorted to ‘walk worthy of the calling” they received, being preordained to live as Christians, with “all lowliness, and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing one another in love, endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace…” (Eph. 4:1-3) Similar passages can be found in Galatians and Colossians.

Now, you would think that Christians who have already experienced the longsuffering of God would be the most likely to be patient towards others and, indeed, many are just that but only to those yet outside the Church. Some of the nastiest people I’ve known are inside the Church and rail against brothers and sisters at the slightest provocation or offense. This nastiness even carries over into their families where children, husbands, wives and so on are given no latitude at all but suffer everything except mercy and longsuffering; it is moral hypocrisy to act so contrary to the Christian calling (I have to confess to being just such a hypocrite at times). This is why I think Paul writes with such endearment and grace (the language he often uses in Greek shows this) to urge his readers to treat each other with the same grace, love and forbearance God has shown them, to not withhold from each other kindness and compassion, to not self-destruct so to speak when “when principalities and powers” all around them seek their destruction.

In His usual inimitable way, Jesus sums up the matter in Luke 6:36 where yet another word for mercy is used: “Therefore, be merciful, just as your Father also is merciful.” Here ‘merciful’ is translated from οἶκτος and means the expression of grief and lamentation towards someone else, including even tears and anguish. In other words, mercy is an emotional connectedness to the condition and plight of someone else; i.e. we ‘feel’ for, and with them because we remember our hopeless condition before God made things right again. When Luke 18:15 and Luke 6:36 are taken together, the connection between mercy and forgiveness emerges that we also saw with the idea of propitiation. It seems clear that this aspect of mercy, namely grief, sorrow and sympathy, compels us to forgive even when judgment and punishment seem more ‘just’.

Matt. 18:22-35 (read vv15-21 to get the full context) in one fell swoop includes all the major points we have talked about so far in this series. It is the parable of Jesus prompted by Peter’s question about how many times we are to forgive someone; His teaching is simply breathtaking.

The main character is the ‘wicked servant’ who owes his king an enormous sum of money that is impossible to ever pay back. The king orders the servant, his family and possessions to be sold for payment (v 25). Hearing this, the servant falls down before the king and asks for ‘patience’. The word is from makrothymia the same one used by Paul in 1Tim. 1:13 for ‘longsuffering’. The king responds with “compassion”, so much so that he forgives the servant the entire debt.

‘Compassion’ is translated from splanchnizomai and means literally ‘to be moved in one’s bowels’. It is used to speak of Jesus in Matt.15:32 when He saw the condition of the crowds who had followed Him for days not eating anything along the way. The image this term invokes is a person so moved by the plight of another they quite literally are bent over from the pain they feel and, therefore not unlike oiktos which we encountered just a few paragraphs ago where ‘merciful’ (Luke 6:36) meant ‘feeling’ grief and lamentation (sorrow, usually with tears) towards another. The act of forgiveness here, as in other passages where aphiemi is used, is to let go of or send away and refers most often to sin.

Now, in v 33 the king upbraids this servant for being so callous towards another who owed money (a pittance compared to what was forgiven) and asks why the servant didn’t have compassion on the debtor just as he had received from the king. Here the word used for ‘compassion’ is not splanchizomai but eleeo translated most of the time as ‘mercy’; i.e. pity and compassion as we have seen from earlier studies.

I know all of this might be a bit confusing, but the point is that profound connections exist between the ideas of mercy, compassion, longsuffering, forgiveness and propitiation. They are different words but their underlying meanings blend together to give us a magnificent picture of what mercy really means, that it is God’s attitude towards us and it is what we can expect when we come “Into the Presence”.

We have seen in this series thus far, then, that mercy begins with God, finds its fullest expression in Jesus our ‘merciful High Priest’ and now that is to be reciprocated by His people towards others. What prompted the Publican to cry out to Jesus was because he was a sinner in need of mercy and we learned that forgiveness was part of propititation. Luke 6:36 tells us to “be merciful just as your Father also is merciful” and the conclusion of the parable we are looking at here is clear: we will receive our deserved judgment from God if we fail to forgive others and that mercy is a part and parcel of such forgiveness. This echoes what Jesus said recorded earlier in Matthew that if we forgive we will be forgiven and if we don’t we won’t. (Matt. 6:14-15) It seems safe to say from all this that mercy can only really be mercy in all its nuances when it is reciprocated by the one receiving it in the first place. It is a circle that begins with God, embraces the sinner, the sinner embraces others all beginning again with God and the circle of reciprocity continues. And at the center of it all is this: the mercy we have received compels us to forgive others.

Reciprocity-we simply give back what we have received and continue to receive, an inexhaustible fountain of mercy and grace, forgiveness and reconciliation. What kind of hardness of heart and callousness must one have to deny anyone what we have been freely given? Yet, as this parable suggests, it is all too common, so much so, in fact, that such a stern warning is given and more than once.

A truth often spoken of but seldom embraced is that WE are priests (Rev. 1: 4-6) unto God and our function is the same-to minister the grace and mercy we receive from God to all needing it, seeking it, and asking for it from those standing right in front of us at church, at home and on the street. There is a temptation to think after being a Christian for a while that maybe we aren’t so bad after all, that there was actually something desirable about us that compelled God to want to adopt us into His family. We can, if we’re not careful, be more like the Pharisee than the Publican because of our familiarity with grace, forgiveness and all the rest. One sure sign we have gone too far is being unable or unwilling to give to others what we have received from God through Jesus, our High Priest who in utter selflessness gave us our true selves as children of God, redeemed, cleansed, sanctified and soon to be glorified.

May God have mercy on us all. Amen


On the Meaning of Mercy-Into the Presence, Part 3


Twice in the Book of Hebrews Christians are invited to ‘draw near’ into the Presence (Heb. 4:16 and Heb. 10:22) and both verses are best understood when taken together. The verbs for ‘draw near’ are the same in both passages and in the present tense; i.e. continuously and intentionally draw near. Most of our comments last time had to do with Heb. 4:16 and its context where the emphasis is on the High Priestly ministry of Jesus through whom we enter the rest of God.

Now, Heb. 10:22 will be the focus and the picture filled out even more.  From Luke 18:13 we learned that mercy meant propitiation, explored in more detail what that meant in subsequent articles, and discovered that propitiation required the shedding of blood, averted the wrath of God from the offender and made possible reconciliation; the context of Heb. 10:22 brings us back to this idea. This is made very clear if we read Heb. 10:19 and Heb. 10:22 as a continuous thought: “Therefore, brethren, having boldness to enter the Holiest by the blood of Jesus… Let us draw near…”

We boldly enter the Presence by and through His blood which is a “new and living waythrough the veil, that is, His flesh”.  It is the Incarnate Word of God, God in the flesh, Messiah in whose veins the blood flowed that was shed as a propitiation for our sins and the very foundation upon which mercy rests that is spoken of here. Just as the high priest passed through the veil that separated the Holy Place from the Holiest of All once a year on the Day of Atonement, the resurrected (a new and living way) Jesus “passed through the heavens” (Heb. 4:14) and presented to God the blood of His sacrifice as the eternally alive High Priest “over the house of God”. In our world of shadows, the veil that separated us from the Presence was torn in half in the temple making the way clear for all to “draw near” and “obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Heb. 4:16).

The Hebrew Christians to which this letter was written understood the meaning of this Reality that replaced the shadows of heavenly things but were hard pressed in their faith to remain in the Light (1 John 1:7) and not return to a shadow-world. And we, too, are tempted to lay aside our inheritance and return to the world of sin, the flesh and the devil and so,  because of Jesus, we can and must ‘draw near’ with boldness and a “sincere heart” in “full assurance of faith” (Heb.10:22) to find the mercy and grace we so desperately need.

Alethinos is the Greek word translated ‘true’ in the NKJV and ‘sincere’ in the NASB and both renderings are acceptable. It is related to the Greek word for ‘truth’ and used as an adjective here modifying ‘heart’ which is commonly understood as the center of our existence, the mind, will, soul and spirit; i.e. it is the real ‘me’ after all the masks are stripped away. In this verse, it is a heart that has been ‘sprinkled’, its conscience cleansed with nothing to hide, in full view of all. In other words, we ‘draw near’ to the Presence having all barriers removed, not only externally but internally as well.

Having all barriers removed we approach the Presence with “full assurance of faith”. Faith in what? In the completed work of Jesus the High knowing that the eternal plan of God for the salvation of both Jews and Gentiles is finished, complete and that He is “able to save to the uttermost those who come to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them.” (Heb. 7:25) Put another way, it is the faith once placed in the Old Covenant given now to Jesus who in His Person takes up the whole of the Old and gives us the New Covenant written in His blood.

We are to ‘draw near’, then, first by the blood of Jesus and His High Priestly ministry followed by a true heart with all barriers external and internal removed, and now with v23  a “holding fast the confession of our hope without wavering for He who promised is faithful.” Although not obvious, the conjoining of faith and hope in these verses anticipates what will come in Hebrews 11:1-“now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen”. As used here, this hope is an anticipation that something promised will come to pass and we believe it to be so. But the whole plausibility and possibility of hope rests not just on the promise itself but the One making it. The assurance of faith we have now when drawing near to the Presence is grounded in promises already fulfilled (the coming of Jesus as Messiah, for example), promises yet to come (“though worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God”) and promises fulfilled now in the very act of drawing near (obtaining mercy and grace). Because He has already been faithful to fulfill His word to us we are assured He will be faithful now, today, this very moment and will remain so in the future, even into eternity itself.

This is our continuing and continual ‘confession’ (homologia, in the present tense) this hope we have that no matter what ‘appears to be the case’ to the natural eye, a still greater Reality governs our destiny and we know it and let others know it as well. This word ‘confession’ is the same as in 1 John 1:9 (“if we confess our sins…”), a passage we discussed in an earlier blog. Here, as in 1 John, the idea is that of ‘speaking”, actually saying something. It is one thing to have a hope in one’s mind, quite another to talk about it, affirm it before others and to our own ears with the conviction that only speech can give. The entire liturgies of some churches rest on this idea of ‘confession’, with the congregation ‘speaking out’ its faith and hope to one another. This is one way to ‘hold fast’ this confession of hope, not let it slip away or vanish into thin air like a vapor and be reminded of it often, especially in times of extreme duress, such as the Hebrew Christians were facing.

All of this stands against the temptation of these believers, and any of us today, to return to a shadow world, a temptation fueled by unbelief, fear, continued rejection by family and friends (so-called) and a persistent longing for the world, to return to Egypt so to speak. It is sobering that Heb.10:26-39 which follows this encouragement to ‘draw near’ is a warning against “falling away”; put this way, there seems to be no middle ground for any of us. We either draw near to the mercy provided us or fall away into the judgment and wrath of God.

So we who struggle with such temptation (which happens to be all of us) are called upon to “stir up love and good works” (Heb. 10:24) in the midst of the battle, to join and assemble together for there is strength in numbers and the sharing of burdens. And, by the way, this assembling together is not exclusive to modern ‘church attendance’ as some would like us to think; it may include this but it is certainly not the only kind, nor maybe even the best. Any and all kinds of assembling together, even if only two people, is acceptable and encouraged.

But the point in this verse is less about the assembly itself but that we are not to forsake assembling together, which means among other things, to leave behind or abandon. We need each other and thinking otherwise is foolish and dangerous. But persecution can and does bring about a scattering of the flock which makes assembling together even more critical; such was the case with these believers. And, again, in light of the warning coming in the next few verses, being together, confessing hope, and drawing near to the Presence, together secure us against any ‘falling away’.









Post Navigation