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From the Series: Faith That Lasts
May 20, 2018

We desire each one of you to show the same earnestness to have the full assurance of hope until the end, so that you may not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises. (Hebrews 6:11-12)

Please open your Bible at Hebrews 6. This is the last message in our short series entitled Faith That Lasts.

Christ says, “My sheep… will never perish” (John 10:27, 28). This wonderful truth led us to two conclusions.

First, if a person is one of Christ’s sheep and wanders away, he or she will come back. The great example is Peter, who denied Jesus, but then returned to the Lord in faith and repentance and was wonderfully restored.

Second, if a person renounces faith and never comes back, they show that they were never truly among Christ sheep. The most obvious and tragic example of this is Judas, who abandoned the faith he had once professed and never came back.

True faith lasts, and it is in persevering that we show ourselves to be Christ’s sheep. “My sheep hear my voice… and they follow me” (John 10:27). Following Christ is the mark of Christ’s sheep.

Now this raises an important question: If perseverance is the evidence of genuine faith, does that mean that I have to wait until the end of my life to find out whether I am one of Christ’s sheep or not?

If that was the case, peace and joy would only be found at the end of the journey, and the entire Christian life would be marked by fear. What if my faith does not last? What if my conversion was not genuine? What if I turn out to be a Judas and not a Peter?

So we come today to the subject of assurance. How can I be sure? How can I have the peace and joy of knowing that it is well with my soul? Or do I have to wait until the end of my life to have real assurance?

Assurance is an issue with which many Christians struggle, and my aim for the message today is that: 1) We grasp what assurance is and why it matters, and 2) We discover how to grow in assurance, and so discover greater peace and joy.

Understanding Assurance

1. Assurance is the peace and joy that come from knowing
that Christ is yours and you are his forever.

And we desire each one of you to show the same earnestness to have the full assurance of hope until the end… (Hebrews 6:11)

There is an important distinction between faith and assurance. Faith is knowing that Jesus saves. Assurance is knowing that Jesus has saved you. It is the peace and joy of knowing that you are one of Christ’s sheep.

Faith says, “Jesus is the good shepherd.” Assurance says, “And I am one of Christ’s sheep.” These are obviously closely related, but they are not the same thing.

There are people who say, “I believe that Christ is the Good Shepherd, and if I was one of his sheep, I know I would be safe forever, but I am not sure if I am one of Christ’s sheep. I think I am. I hope I am. But it’s not clear to me. Sometimes I wonder…”

There is a person who has faith, but they are plagued by many doubts. And that is the distinction between faith and assurance.

2. Christians may have assurance in varying degrees.

And we desire each one of you to show the same earnestness to have the full assurance of hope until the end… (Hebrews 6:11)

Notice that he says, “We desire each one of you… to have the full assurance,” by which he surely means: “More assurance than some of you are currently enjoying.” The fact that he says “We desire each one of you…” reminds us that Christians have assurance in varying degrees. Some enjoy greater confidence that Christ is theirs than others.

There are many factors at work here – temperament is one. Some people find it hard to be sure about anything. If that is your nature, it should not surprise you if you struggle to be sure of your salvation. Some Christians will be surprised by joy to find themselves in heaven!

Experience is another factor. Some people have a clear and decisive conversion experience.

They know precisely where and when they were converted. There was a very clear “before Christ” and “after Christ” for them, and the two were very different.

But the experience of others is gradual. You grew up in a Christian home. God formed faith in you over a period of time. You can’t point to a decisive moment. There was not an obvious ‘before’ and ‘after’ in your story and so sometimes you wonder, “Am I the real deal? Or is there something missing?”

Another factor is strength of faith. There is an important distinction between faith and assurance, but clearly the two are closely related. Jesus spoke about “great faith” and “little faith.” The strength of a person’s faith, which may change and grow over time, will be a factor in the degree of assurance that he or she enjoys.

My friend Charles Price who was the pastor of the People’s church in Toronto tells the story of the first time he flew on an airplane.

When he boarded the plan he was in a middle seat of three. Next to the widow was an old lady who looked really nervous. On the aisle was a business man who seemed like he had done this a hundred times before. Charles, in the middle, was up for the adventure, but never having flown before, he was just a little apprehensive.

When the plane took off, the businessman opened the newspaper, Charles held onto the armrests of his seat, and the old lady reached for the barf bag. When lunch was served, the businessman ate the whole lot, Charles ate half of his, and the old lady just looked at hers and didn’t even touch it.

Here is the conclusion to the story: All three passengers arrived at the same place at the same time! They were all equally safe, but they had very different experiences of the journey.

Faith gets into the plane; assurance enjoys the journey. Faith puts you “in Christ” where you are completely safe, even if you are full of fear; assurance is the joy and peace that comes from knowing that in Christ you are completely safe.

Your eternal safety does not rest on the degree of peace and joy you experience in your Christian life. We are justified by faith, not by assurance. But the degree of assurance you know will make a big difference to your experience of the journey of the Christian life. That is why the writer says to people who believe: “We desire each one of you… to have the full assurance of hope!”

3. Assurance is a gift to be enjoyed now.

And we desire each one of you to show the same earnestness to have the full assurance of hope until the end. (Hebrews 6:11)

Notice he does not say, “at the end.” He says, “until the end.” God does not want you to live in constant doubt over your true spiritual position. He does not want you to wait until the end of your life to have the peace and joy of knowing that you belong to him. God wants you to have this full assurance now, and for you to continue enjoying it until the end.

So how can you get this assurance, this confidence and peace throughout your Christian journey? How can you pursue the peace and joy that come from knowing that Christ is yours and you are his forever? How do you get more of it?

Growing in Assurance

1. A life to pursue

For God is not unjust so as to overlook your work and the love that you have shown for his name in serving the saints, as you still do. (Hebrews 6:10)

Remember, the issue that is being dealt with here is not “How can I be saved?” But, “How can I be sure?” Christian, your work and your love play no part in making you right with God. “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9).

The issue in Hebrews 6 is not “How can I be saved?” but “How can I be sure?” How can I have the “full assurance of hope” (Hebrews 6:11). Your work and your love, that play no part whatsoever in your justification, are of huge importance when it comes to assurance.

There are certain evidences that a person is a Christian. These are the things that “belong to salvation” (Hebrews 6:9), and the more you can see them in your life, the more confident you will be that you are one of Christ’s sheep.

Here, for example, Hebrews talks about: “The love that you have shown… in serving the saints” (Hebrews 6:10). You love other Christians. You serve them. And you do this “for his name” (Hebrews 6:10). So not only do you love other believers, but you love other believers because you love the Lord.

There is a life that God has called us to pursue in the power of his Spirit. And you will grow in assurance as you pursue it. This is why the writer of Hebrews says, “We desire each one of you to show the same earnestness to have the full assurance of hope until the end” (Hebrews 6:11-12). “Show the same earnestness” clearly indicates that assurance is not only a gift to receive, it is a goal to pursue. We are to go after assurance. You will grow in assurance as you pursue the life to which God has called you.

The first letter of John gives great emphasis to this theme.

By this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments. (1 John 2:3)

We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers. Whoever does not love abides in death. (1 John 3:14)

Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. (1 John 4:15)

And there are many more distinguishing marks of a genuine Christian in the New Testament. You might look at these examples and say, “I’m not sure this is going to help me. I’ve got a long way to God in keeping God’s commandments. I love other Christians, but probably not as much as I should.”

Remember, these marks of grace are given to help us. You may not be able to see any of these marks to the degree that you would like to in your life. But if you can find even one of them in your life, you have reason to say, “By God’s grace, I have reason to believe that I too am one of Christ’s sheep.”

Jesus said, “By their fruits you shall know them” (Matthew 7:20). How many blackberries do you need to find before you can say with confidence “This is a blackberry bush?” It’s not a hundred. You pull a blackberry off the bush, and you say, “This looks like a blackberry bush.”

Are you seeking to follow Christ? You must be one of Christ’s sheep, because he says, “My sheep follow me… and they shall never perish” (John 10:27, 28).

Do you love your brothers and sisters in Christ? The life of Christ must be in you, because Scripture says, “We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers” (1 John 3:14).

Are you seeking to live a life that is pleasing to the Lord? You must have come to know him, because Scripture says, “And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments” (1 John 2:3).

You will grow in assurance as you keep pursuing the life God calls you to lead. “And we desire each one of you to show the same earnestness to have the full assurance of hope until the end, so that you may not be sluggish, but be imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises” (Hebrews 6:11-12).

2. A promise to believe

For when God made a promise to Abraham, since he had no one greater by whom to swear, he swore by himself, saying, “Surely I will bless you and multiply you.” (Hebrews 6:13-14)

We are not talking about the promises of God in general, of which there are many, but about one great promise, and the writer tells us what it is: “Surely I will bless you and multiply you” (Hebrews 6:14). God said to Abraham, “I will surely bless you,” and “in your offspring, [singular, a reference to Christ] shall all the nations of the earth be blessed” (Genesis 22:17, 18).

So this promise was not only for Abraham, it was also for us, “the heirs of the promise” (Hebrews 6:17). All who believe in Christ are heirs of the blessing promised to Abraham: “In your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed” (Genesis 22:18).

Are you blessed? One of the residues of our fallenness is that even when we hear about the blessing of God in Jesus Christ, we suspect that he might have it in for us in the end. But God wants us to have full assurance.

God wants us to have the peace and joy of knowing his unchanging purpose to bless us in Jesus Christ. “So when God desired to show more convincingly to the heirs of the promise the unchangeable character of his purpose, he guaranteed it with an oath…” (Hebrews 6:17).

God wants you to be convinced, assured, completely confident that his unchanging purpose is to bless you. So here is what God did: “He guaranteed it” [that is, he guaranteed his promise] “with an oath” (Hebrews 6:17).

God never needs to take an oath. His word is his bond, and “it is impossible for [him] to lie” (Hebrews 6:18). But we live in a world of broken promises and we don’t find it easy to believe even when God speaks. So God did what we do when we want to establish the truth beyond doubt – he guaranteed his word with an oath. God said, “I will swear an oath, and I will do this because I want all the heirs of the promise to be completely convinced that my unchanging purpose is to bless them.”

We are all familiar with the use of an oath in court. You place your hand on the Bible and you say, “I swear by almighty God that I will tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.” In taking an oath, you are calling on God to stand as the witness to what you are saying. “Let God himself come down on me if I do not tell the truth.” So if I were to say, “I swear by almighty God that I will always love you.” I would be saying, “Let God come down in judgment on me if I don’t.”

Now the writer to Hebrews says, “People swear by something greater than themselves… (Hebrews 6:16). So, if God takes an oath, who will he swear by? There is no one greater than God. “When God made a promise to Abraham, since he had no one greater by whom to swear, he swore by himself…” (6:13).

“By myself I have sworn, declares the Lord… I will surely bless you… and in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed” (Genesis 22:16, 17, 18). It was as if God was saying, “Abraham, I want you, and all those who are recipients of this promise, to be absolutely certain that I will keep it.”

When God took an oath, he put himself on the line for this promise. He said, in effect, “Let me fall under my own judgment if I do not bless you!” Then, in Jesus Christ, God placed himself under his own judgment so that the blessing he promised would become ours!

Jesus Christ is the oath. Jesus Christ fulfilled the oath. Jesus Christ is the guarantee of God’s promise. In him we can be sure of the blessing of God forever. The promise of God is signed, sealed, and delivered in Jesus Christ. God’s blessing comes to us because God placed himself under his own judgment in Jesus Christ when he died for us on the cross.

God gave his Word and God gave his Son “so that… we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us” (Hebrews 6:18). Could there be any stronger encouragement than this? “He who did not spare his own son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who… will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord? (Romans 8:32, 39).

3. An anchor that holds

We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain, where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf… (Hebrews 6:19-20)

We are called to “hold fast to the hope set before us” (Hebrews 6:18). We hold fast to Jesus Christ by trusting in, standing on, holding to the unchanging promise and purpose of God — to bless us in Jesus Christ. We keep our eyes fixed on Jesus. We hold fast to him. We believe the promise because God sealed it by giving his Son.

But now the writer speaks about Jesus as our “sure and steadfast anchor.” An anchor is not something that you hold. If you were to go out on Lake Michigan and see a man standing on the bow of a 46-foot yacht with a chain in his hand, and he told you that he was holding onto the anchor, you would say, “Why are you holding the anchor? Isn’t that the point of the anchor — to hold you?”

So yes, you are to hold fast in faith to the Lord Jesus Christ, the hope set before you. But remember, as you hold onto Jesus, that he is the anchor that holds onto you.

Notice where our anchor is: “We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain, where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf…” (Hebrews 6:19-20). He is talking about heaven itself, the Holy of Holies, the immediate presence of God.

When an anchor goes down into the water it is hidden from view. It goes down into the depths. You cannot see it, but it holds you. Jesus is hidden from our view, not because he is down in the depths, but because he has ascended to the highest place. This is a gravity-defying anchor!

Jesus Christ anchors you to heaven. He is already there. The Christ who died to save you lives to keep you. In Christ your entrance into heaven is as sure as the reality that he is already there, because he is your anchor. We hold fast to the hope set before us, knowing that Jesus Christ holds fast to us.

 

When I fear my faith will fail,
Christ will hold me fast;
When the tempter would prevail,
He will hold me fast.

He’ll not let my soul be lost,
Christ will hold me fast;
Bought by Him at such a cost,
He will hold me fast. [1]

We have an anchor that keeps the soul
Steadfast and sure while the billows roll,
Fastened to the rock which cannot move,
Grounded firm and deep in the Savior’s love. [2]

 

[1] Ada Habershon, from the hymn: He Will Hold Me Fast, 1906.
[2] Priscilla J. Owens, from the hymn: We Have an Anchor, 1882.

© Colin S. Smith

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By Colin S. Smith. © Colin S. Smith. Website: UnlockingtheBible.org



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