There is a continuous call to perseverance found in the sermon-letter to the Hebrews. These exhortations are strong warning passages scattered throughout verses 2:1-4; 3:12-4:13; 5:11-6:12; 10:19-39; and 12:25-29. With an audience of believers (the first intended audience being believing Jews), maybe you wouldn’t expect such strong language like, “how shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation,” or “For if we sin willfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful expectation of judgment, and fiery indignation which will devour the adversaries” (2:3a; 10:26,27).
What are we to make of these passages? Is a believer able to lose their salvation? Is our faith secure? Where would T.U.L.I.P. be without the “P”? And if our salvation is secure in Christ, what is the purpose of these warnings? Are they real?
The answer is yes, and yes! Thomas Schreiner has written a helpful book on this topic called Run to Win the Prize. In it, he explains to us that “the purpose of warnings in the NT is redemptive and salvific” (48). Warnings serve an important purpose in our growth in holiness. He explains that they are like signs that keep us on track. Schreiner quotes Charles Spurgeon to explain this further:
So God says, “My child, if you ever fall over this precipice you will be dashed to pieces.” What does the child do? He says, “Father, keep me; hold thou me up, and I shall be safe.” It leads the believer to greater dependence on God, to a holy fear and caution, because he knows that if he were to fall away he could not be renewed, and he stands far away from that great gulf, because he knows that if he were to fall into it there would be no salvation for him (49).
Every Christian will persevere. But faith is a fighting grace. The writer of Hebrews explains this in the dynamic of a race (12:1-2). This illustration shows us that the Christian life demands fitness. We must persevere in holiness to reach the crown. But what kind of fitness is this? We find something interesting in two of these warning passage sections of Hebrews. In Hebrews 3:14 we read:
For we have become partakers of Christ if we hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast to the end.
And in Hebrews 10:23 we read:
Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful.
We see this exhortation to hold fast, which requires fitness. But what is it that we are called to lay hold of? Our confession of hope! This is a theological fitness. “Perseverance, then, is nothing other than grasping the scandal of the cross until the day we die” (76)…”The author [of Hebrews] does not commend perfection to his readers. Rather, he exhorts them to continue to hold on to Jesus Christ, to continue to cling to his sacrifice for forgiveness of sins…Believers persevere by continuing to find their forgiveness and final sanctification in Christ instead of themselves” (80).
God is faithful to preserve his own. One of the means of preservation is to call us to perseverance through warnings. Schreiner explains that we do the same thing with our children when we tell them what will happen if they play in traffic. The warning is very real and true. Because we know that it is true, we heed the warning. Through suffering, fear, chastisement, and in the ordinary everyday life of faith and obedience, we are encouraged to hold fast to our confession. In order to do this, we need to know what our confession is. Over at The White Horse Inn, their motto is, “Know what you believe and why you believe it.” We see from Hebrews how important this is to our perseverance.
It is one thing to make a confession of faith, it is quite another to hold fast to it. Theology takes fitness. Only Jesus had the fitness for the cross, but because of Him believers are given the fitness for the Christian life. Fitness requires conditioning, and that’s what these warnings do. For this race we need to be nourished in the words of faith and exercise ourselves towards godliness (1 Tim. 4:6-7). The sermon-letter of Hebrews provides quite the theological workout. The writer exercises us with doctrinal meat, and admonishes us to chew on it (5:12-14). By the time he exhorts us to hold fast to our confession of hope, he is confident that he has given us the what that we are to believe and the why we are to believe it, because he has faithfully preached the Who that is our crown of glory. After proclaiming Christ Jesus, the mediator of the new covenant, he warns us again:
See that you do not refuse Him who speaks. For if they did not escape who refused Him who spoke on earth, much more shall we not escape if we turn away from Him who speaks from heaven” (Heb. 12:25).