But, beloved, we are convinced of better things concerning you, and things that accompany salvation, though we are speaking in this way. 10 For God is not unjust so as to forget your work and the love which you have shown toward His name, in having ministered and in still ministering to the saints. 11 And we desire that each one of you show the same diligence so as to realize the full assurance of hope until the end, 12 that you may not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises.
I have been keenly aware recently that we live in a day when people's feelings are the chief measure of how to love. If feelings are vulnerable and might be hurt by a certain action, then we say, "This is probably not the loving thing to do." Which means that we can easily be held hostage by people's sensitivities. Good and loving acts will be rejected because the bottom line of love is not truth or principle or even what's best for the person, but how they will feel. So if they can communicate that they will feel really bad, they can protect themselves from many good things.
What makes me think of this is the word "beloved" in verse 9. It means simply "loved ones"—"you whom I love." It's the only place in the whole book where the writer says it this way—where he calls them "loved ones." The reason this stands out is that he has just said some of the hardest words in the book.
He has said that they are dull of hearing even though by this time they ought to be teachers (5:11-12). He says that they are like babes stuck on milk (5:13-14). And he holds out the possibility that some of them have had great blessings and high religious experiences but are not saved, and are like a field that drinks rain for months and never brings forth fruit (6:4-8).
On Being Thin-skinned and Vulnerable
And then he says, "I do love you." Now I point this out because we need to let the Bible shape our worldview. We are a nation of victims and whiners and pouters to a large degree. That is, if someone says something negative about us—no matter how constructive they may try to be—we either slump into a fit of self-justifying woundedness, or we file a harassment suit. We are a very thin-skinned people in America these days. Easily offended and easily provoked.
This is not good. And followers of Jesus Christ should be different. We don't need to be thin-skinned and vulnerable. We are chosen by God, loved by God, forgiven by God, accepted by God, indwelt by God, guided by God, protected by God, strengthened by God—and God is more important than anyone else in the universe. We do not have to feel vulnerable or insecure. We do not have to be self-justifying or self-defensive or self-pitying. We can be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger, as James says (James 1:19). We can be like Paul who said, "When we are reviled, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure; when we are slandered, we try to conciliate" (1 Corinthians 4:12-13).
And if we can relate to our enemies that way, how much more can we handle the tough love of those who come to us with hard words for our good. The writer to the Hebrews says, "beloved"—"loved ones"—I have spoken to you this way because I love you.
Taking the Risks of Love
A few times over the last five years or so I have taken loved ones out to lunch with the express purpose of asking some hard questions about their spiritual lives. This is very risky and very hard to do. You know that your actions could so easily be misinterpreted. They could accuse you of nosiness, butting in where you don't belong. They could accuse you of judgmentalism, pointing a finger toward the imperfections in your own life. They could accuse you of distrust, assuming the worst instead of hoping for the best. And so on. The possibilities of misunderstanding and false accusation are many.
And because of this, we do not do this as often as we should. The writer to the Hebrews is calling us by his example to grow up and to take the risks of love. He is also calling us to be less easily offended. And less easily hurt. We have a massive foundation for our salvation in the death of the Son of God and we have an advocate in heaven more powerful and more compelling than any accuser on earth. We should be the freest of all people to listen to criticism and take it into account and not be wounded or self-pitying or resentful.
So the first thing in today's message is: let us learn how to love and be loved when heaven and hell are at stake and hard questions are in order.
We Are Convinced of Better Things Concerning You
The second thing to notice in this text is why the writer is so confident that his readers are not going to fall away and prove that they were never saved. He just said in verses 4-8 that it is possible to have great blessings and high religious experiences and never have been saved. It is a hard warning and he says it in love.
But then in verse 9 he says, "But, beloved, we are convinced of better things concerning you, and things that accompany salvation, though we are speaking in this way." So he does not think that they will actually fall away and be lost. He is hopeful. He believes they will hear his warning and instead of resenting it and saying, "You have no business talking that way to born- again Christians," he believes they will say, "We know how fragile we are in ourselves. Thank you for keeping us alert to the dangers of the deceitfulness of sin, and reminding us to fight the fight of faith every day." He believes that the warnings will not drive them away in resentment, but will deepen their vigilance and earnest pursuit of assurance.
So that is what he says in verse 9: "We are convinced of better things concerning you, and things that accompany salvation."
His Confidence is Because of the Justice of God
But why does he have this confidence? What might increase our confidence today that we will not fall away but will press on in better things that accompany salvation? He gives the reason in verse 10. He says, "For [because] God is not unjust [or unrighteous] so as to forget your work and the love which you have shown toward His name, in having ministered and in still ministering to the saints."
Now this is remarkable because the verse speaks of God's justice not his mercy. There is something about God's justice or righteousness (same Greek word) that causes this writer to be confident that the readers will persevere in faith and patience and not fall away. "We are convinced of better things concerning you . . . because God is not unjust . . ." How does the righteousness or justice of God give the writer this kind of confidence?
We usually think of the justice of God bringing us into judgment because our sins deserve it, and the mercy of God rescuing us from judgment because Christ died in our place. And both are true. But here the justice of God is the reason he is confident they will be saved and not fall away. How does the justice of God give him that confidence?
He says in verse 10 that God's justice will not let God forget their work and the love which they showed to God's name (a good literal rendering). And he defines this work and the love they showed to God's name (in verse 10b) as their ministry to the saints in the past and their ongoing ministry in the present. So he is saying that it's God's memory of their past and ongoing ministry to the saints and their love to his name that give him the confidence they will be saved and not fall away. And it is God's justice that causes him not to forget this ministry and this love.
How Does God's Remembering Assure that They will Persevere?
Now why does God's remembering their ministry and their love assure the writer that they will persevere and be saved? Remember he says, "We are convinced of better things concerning you . . . because God is not unjust to forget your work and love." So it's God's remembering their ministry and love that gives us the confidence they will persevere and be saved. But how? It must mean that when God remembers their ministry and their love, it moves him in some way to work all the more to keep them persevering in faith. Their perseverance is dependent on God (see verse 3) and God's preserving work is prompted in some way by his remembering the work they showed the saints and the love they showed his name.
So the writer is saying five things: 1) you have ministered to the saints and still are; 2) you have done this out of a love for the name of God; 3) God's justice sees this and takes note of it and will not forget it; 4) this prompts God to work for your perseverance; 5) I have strong confidence, therefore, that you will persevere and experience better things that belong to salvation.
Are We Meriting God's Work in Our Lives?
Now here's the crucial issue for us who love the mercy of God and know that we are sinners and do not deserve to be saved in the first place and do not deserve to be kept in the second place. We do not become Christians by merit and we do not stay Christians by merit. The question is: how does God's justice prompt him to work perseverance in us when he sees our ministry and our love for his name?
This could very easily sound like we are meriting God's work in our lives. It could easily be taken to mean that God looks at our ministry and our love for his name and says: "They don't need mercy; they simply need justice; and so I will now deal with them in terms of justice alone: I will give them what they deserve and what they earn. I got them started in the Christian life with the mercy of forgiveness; but they will finish the Christian life with justice: if they minister and love, then justice demands that I give them salvation because they've earned it. I am not unjust so as to forget their work and love. I will give them their due—salvation."
That, I fear, is the way many professing Christians see the Christian life. God may give us a jumpstart with mercy in the winter of sin, but we are the ones who keep the battery charged and prove by our efforts that we deserve to get to heaven after that.
But this would be a massive contradiction of salvation by grace through faith. It would be a massive contradiction of living by faith in future grace—which is what Hebrews is all about. For example, look at verses 11-12,
And we desire that each one of you show the same diligence so as to realize the full assurance of hope until the end, that you may not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises.
Through Faith and Patience we Inherit the Promises
What is unmistakable here is the last phrase, which is the goal of our earnestness: "through faith and patience we inherit the promises." Through faith! Through trust. Through hope. The great battle of the Christian life is not to produce merit so that the justice of God will repay with salvation. The great battle of the Christian life is to keep trusting God patiently until he freely gives the final inheritance.
So the writer is not saying: work hard to earn the just wages of eternal life. He is saying be diligent to put your hope on God alone and not on the things of the world; cherish God and not this age; treasure God and not this world; trust God and not your own abilities, not even your abilities to do good things. This is the assurance of hope: hope in God, who by a single offering has perfected us for all time (10:14).
So How Does the Justice of God Give us Assurance?
But that leaves us with the question: what about the justice of God? Verse 10 says that it's the justice of God that causes him to remember our ministry and the love we showed to his name, and that gives confidence that we will not fall away. How does the justice of God give us this assurance?
Here's my answer. The justice of God, or the righteousness of God, is not simply his giving people what they deserve. It is his standing by the glory of his name. God would be unjust and unrighteous if he ever acted in a way that belittled the greatness of his name. The name of God, or the glory of God, has the greatest value in the universe—greater than all material value and greater than all human value. So the greatest injustice in the universe is neglecting and dishonoring the name and the glory of God.
So when verse 10 says that "God is not unjust so as to forget your work and the love which you have shown toward His name," you can hear what is at stake. His name is at stake. And the work he remembers is specifically the ministry to the "saints"—the holy ones, the ones set apart for God. So again what is at stake is God's name, his glory, his honor.
In other words, the justice of God looks at this ministry to the saints and this love to the name of God, and says: "What I see here is not a human performance that makes me a debtor and deserves the repayment of salvation. I do not see people calling attention to themselves and how valuable they are to God. I do not see people demanding a just recompense for meritorious works. What I see is a needy people looking away from themselves to the all-satisfying glory of God—this is what it means to love God's name (verse 10). And I see hearts filling up with joy because of all the promises of God. And I see a people caring for the saints of God because they care about glory of God."
And because the justice of God is his unwavering allegiance to the glory of his own name, his justice says, "I will stand by those who look away from self and merit and earning, and instead look to God alone for acceptance through his Son and for the satisfaction of their hearts." The justice of God gives assurance because the justice of God upholds those who cherish the mercy of God above all things. The justice of God gives assurance not because it repays merit (which we do not have); but because it vindicates those whose faith glorifies God as more trustworthy than anything in the universe.
Our Ministering and Our Love is Itself the Work of God in us
And then, finally, add to this that our ministry to the saints and our love for the name of God is itself the very work of God within us—not, finally, our own work. Hebrews 13:21 says that he works in us what is pleasing in his sight. Therefore it is impossible that we could ever merit anything from God's justice. All our work and all our love, comes from his hand. We cannot earn gifts from God. And you can not put someone in your debt by giving them what is already theirs.
Rather the justice of God looks at the ministry to the saints and the love of God's name and says, "Ah, there is something beautiful, the work of God's own hands. I am the justice of God and it is my great work to uphold the work of God, honor the work of God and preserve the work of God and complete the work of God. And therefore I will not forget this ministry and this love to the name of God, for it is the gracious work of God."
And this is why we can say not only because of the mercy of God but also because of the justice of God, "He who began a good work in you will complete it to the day of Christ" (Philippians 1:6).
The sum of the matter is that this writer, inspired by God and speaking for God, wants you to have the full assurance of hope, as verse 11 says. He wants you to feel strong and confident and secure and bold and ready to lay down your life for the sake of ministry and for the glory of God's name. He does not want you to cower in fear and uncertainty about your future. He is calling us this morning to bank our assurance of hope on the mercy of God and the justice of God. The mercy of God to reach out to the utterly unworthy and give us faith and forgiveness; and the justice of God to uphold the honor of his name, magnified in the faith of his people.