How did you begin your faith journey? What were some milestone moments? How do you feel about where you stand today?
26 If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, 27 but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God. 28 Anyone who rejected the law of Moses died without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. 29 How much more severely do you think someone deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified them, and who has insulted the Spirit of grace? 30 For we know him who said, ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ and again, ‘The Lord will judge his people.’ 31 It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.
32 Remember those earlier days after you had received the light, when you endured in a great conflict full of suffering. 33 Sometimes you were publicly exposed to insult and persecution; at other times you stood side by side with those who were so treated. 34 You suffered along with those in prison and joyfully accepted the confiscation of your property, because you knew that you yourselves had better and lasting possessions. 35 So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded.
36 You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised. 37 For,
‘In just a little while,
he who is coming will come
and will not delay.’
‘But my righteous one will live by faith.
And I take no pleasure
in the one who shrinks back.’
39 But we do not belong to those who shrink back and are destroyed, but to those who have faith and are saved.
‘The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step’ (Lao Tzu). That first step, while crucial, will be of no avail without the countless thousands of steps that must follow. Our faith-journey begins with a single decisive commitment, but comprises a lifetime of choices.
This journey is no sprint, but a marathon. The author recalls the readers’ track record: to have ‘endured in a great conflict full of suffering’ (v 32) with their faith and joy intact (v 34) should encourage them as they plod on. Yet, past laurels are never enough. In the present, they must ‘persevere’ in doing God’s will (v 36); for the future, they must trust God’s promise that they will be ‘richly rewarded’ (v 35b) and ‘receive what he has promised’ (v 36b).
Apostasy remains a frightening possibility. ‘No sacrifice for sins is left’ (v 26b) for those who cut themselves off from the source of salvation and grace (v 29); for these it is indeed ‘a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God’ (v 31). But those who plod on, refusing to ‘shrink back’ (v 39), rest secure in Jesus’ promise: ‘no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand’ (John 10:28).
‘He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus’ (Philippians 1:6). ‘Father, help me to trust your promise.’
Deeper Bible study
I remember and pray for persons I know who seem to have turned aside from following Jesus or who are struggling to find the way.
Verses 32–34 reveal something of the struggles and persecution of these early Jewish Christians for whom this letter of exhortation was written. We have read about this before in 2:1–4, 3:12,13 and 6:4–6. Yesterday we read about those who were tempted to give up meeting together with other believers (v 25). In 12:16,17 we will read about godless Esau who could not retrieve the blessing he had carelessly sold. Sometimes wonderful miracles attend the conversion of new believers from their traditional beliefs; but sometimes dreadful tests follow, which make them wonder if they have done the wrong thing. I pray for new believers, young Christians, nearby or far away – myself perhaps? – and pray that they will find encouragers.
I reflect on the strong words used in this passage – ‘deliberately keep on sinning’ (v 26); ‘trampled’ (v 29); ‘treated as an unholy thing’ (v 29); ‘insulted’ (v 29). Is it clear to me that the sins here referred to are not mere mistakes, peccadilloes, an inadvertent stumbling? I look up Moses’ last words in Deuteronomy 32:35,36 (noticing the second half of verse 36); what God said to Habakkuk, troubled by the apparent triumph of ruthlessness and violence in the world;1 and the wonderful conclusion to which Habakkuk’s patience brought him.2
Today’s reading finishes on an encouraging note – ‘we do not belong to those who shrink back’. This is the pastoral importance of the Bible’s teaching about predestination and the perseverance of the saints – that God will safely bring us to the destiny he has prepared for us. John Calvin warns believers against despair, falling into Satan’s ‘deep whirlpool of sorrow that they may never rise again’. Instead, we should follow Bernard of Clairvaux’s counsel to go forth ‘to the tableland of serene remembrance of God’s benefits’.3
I draw strength from God by prayer ‘for faithful obedience, through thick and thin and energetic refusal to be crushed by strain, perplexity or discouragement’.4
Bible in a year
Read the Bible in a year: 1 Kings 12,13; 1 Corinthians 14
Pray for Scripture Union
Local mission partner Matlock Area Schools Trust is in a time of transition and development. Please pray for wisdom and guidance as they plan for recruitment and training of new workers, and for a clear vision of their core role to take Bible-based assemblies into schools.