Building On the Rock of Scripture
Scripture contains wonderful promises but also seemingly hard things and sober warnings which should not be disregarded because we believe they do not apply to us. God, as our Father, has given us these warnings to prepare us for the trials and temptations we will encounter in this world.
The Parable of the House Built on the Rock
Why do you call Me ’Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say? Everyone who comes to Me and hears My words and acts on them, I will show you whom he is like: he is like a man building a house, who dug deep and laid a foundation on the rock; and when a flood occurred, the torrent burst against that house and could not shake it, because it had been well built. But the one who has heard and has not acted accordingly, is like a man who built a house on the ground without any foundation; and the torrent burst against it and immediately it collapsed, and the ruin of that house was great (Luke 6:46-49).
In the parallel passage of Matthew 7:21-27 Jesus warned that there would be people who call Him ‘Lord’ and perform miracles in His name yet do not act on His words and in a time of testing do not stand. Faith is grown and strengthened by acting on God’s word. It cannot be passive. We may have heard and believed but are we doing what Jesus said? It is those who do God’s will who enter His kingdom.
The Parable of the Sower
Now the parable is this: the seed is the word of God. Those beside the road are those who have heard; then the devil comes and takes away the word from their heart, so that they will not believe and be saved. Those on the rocky soil are those who, when they hear, receive the word with joy; and these have no firm root; they believe for a while, and in time of temptation fall away. The seed which fell among the thorns, these are the ones who have heard, and as they go on their way they are choked with worries and riches and pleasures of this life, and bring no fruit to maturity. But the seed in the good soil, these are the ones who have heard the word in an honest and good heart, and hold it fast, and bear fruit with perseverance” (Luke 8:11-15).
This parable tells us:
1. There are those who hear the Gospel and the words of Christ, but the devil takes the words from their heart, they do not believe and are not saved.
2. Then there are those who receive the Word, believe and so are saved from their sins. There is life, and for a time growth. Yet we are told that they only believe for a while and in a time of temptation fall away because they have no firm root. That is, they, like the man who built his house on the ground without foundation, did not continue to believe and act on Jesus’ words.
3. Then there are those who hear the word but do not bring fruit to maturity because they love and care for the things of this world more than the kingdom of God.
4. Those who have heard, in an honest and good heart, who continue to believe and hold fast by perseverance, bear fruit.
Is the condition of the soil (our heart) something we have no control over? I would say no. Jesus’ parable does not suggest this but rather it is the result of a choice we make in response to hearing Christ’s words. Jesus goes on to say:
“So take care how you listen; for whoever has, to him more shall be given; and whoever does not have, even what he thinks he has shall be taken away from him.” (v 18)
But He answered and said to them, “My mother and My brothers are these who hear the word of God and do it.” (v 21)
So it is possible to have believed, but unless we heed and obey Jesus’ words by continuing to be faithful, resisting temptation and the love of this world and persevering in trial we are in danger of being unfruitful.
Warnings from the book of Hebrews
The book of Hebrews contains a number of warnings to all Christians about departing from God and failing to enter God’s final rest.
It is of concern that some regard these warnings are not applicable to true Christians. If we believe Hebrews to be a part of Scripture then we must also believe and take to heart its message to us. The warnings, though disturbing, are intended for us and for our good, so that we will not fail to enter God’s kingdom. While the writer addresses this letter to those from a Jewish background, the warnings are not uniquely to them but apply to all Christians. The writer reaffirms that salvation is through faith in Christ, not through the law and addresses a number of concerns including complacency over sin, their need to learn again the basics of the Faith, lack of growth and neglect of meeting with fellow Christians. Yet this letter also contains much assurance (see Assurance).
The first warning is this:
For this reason we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away. For if the word spoken through angels proved unalterable, and every transgression and disobedience received a just recompense, how shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation? (Hebrews 2:1-3).
Here is a statement that tells us two things: 1. We can be encouraged because we have so great a salvation. 2. It is possible to neglect our salvation through wilful disobedience and as a consequence incur God’s judgement. This caution appears after the writer has reminded the Christians that Jesus is God’s last word. There is no one else – not angels or Moses through whom there is or will be salvation. The writer encourages us to pay close attention to what we have heard, that is the words spoken by Jesus, lest we drift away. Attention to, and need I say obedience to, the words of Jesus are necessary for us to remain anchored to Him.
The danger of drifting and complacency towards sin
The danger of drifting, of complacency towards sin, can be easily ignored, for we need do nothing and the currents and tides of this world and life gradually but surely take us away from our goal. It takes no effort to drift – just give in to the pressures of life and temptation. It is easy and comforting. For a time all may seem well, but like a ship without a rudder caught in a current driving it towards a treacherous reef, there comes a time of reckoning. Like the five unprepared virgins, it will be too late. Hence the writer’s solemn warning ‘how shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation‘. If those who disobeyed the words given to Moses received just recompense what will be the fate of those who neglect the words of Jesus?
The next warning:
Therefore, just as the Holy Spirit says, “Today if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as when they provoked Me as in the day of trial in the wilderness, where your fathers tried Me by testing Me, and saw my works for forty years. Therefore I was angry with this generation, and said, ‘They always go astray in their heart and they did not know my ways’ as I swore in my wrath, ‘They shall not enter my rest.’
Take care, brethren, lest there should be in any one of you an evil, unbelieving heart, in falling away from the living God. But encourage one another day after day, as long as it is still called “Today,” lest anyone of you be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we have become partakers of Christ, if we hold fast the beginning of our assurance firm until the end (Hebrews 3:7-14).
Here the writer gives the example of Israel in the wilderness and how we need to learn from them and not fall into the same errors. He warns of the deceitfulness of sin and how it leads to a hardened and unbelieving heart. The end result, if not repented of, is to fall away from God – that is be separated from Him and His life.
Further in this passage (Hebrews 3:15 – 4:11) we read ‘Therefore, let us fear if, while a promise remains of entering His rest, any one of you may seem to have come short of it‘ (4:1) – a warning against unbelief and then ‘Therefore let us be diligent to enter that rest, so that no one will fall, through following the same example of disobedience‘ (4:11) – a warning against disobedience. Obedience proceeds from faith and disobedience from unbelief. As the writer also says: ‘He (Jesus) became to all those who obey Him the source of eternal salvation‘ (5:9).
Next we have a warning about falling away:
For in the case of those who have once been enlightened and have tasted of the heavenly gift and have been made partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, it is impossible to renew them again to repentance, since they again crucify to themselves the Son of God and put Him to open shame.
For ground that drinks the rain which often falls on it and brings forth vegetation useful to those for whose sake it is also tilled, receives a blessing from God; but if it yields thorns and thistles, it is worthless and close to being cursed, and it ends up being burned (Hebrews 6:4-8).
This passage is one often regarded as problematic or difficult. Yet it plainly speaks of those who, by any normal definition, are or were, Christians who had experienced regeneration.
They were enlightened – a term used to distinguish from those still in spiritual darkness. They were not just people who had heard the truth but had received and understood it.
They had tasted the heavenly gift – means they had experienced, not merely heard of or sampled.
They had been made partakers of the Holy Spirit. That is, they were sharers in and had received the Holy Spirit. The word ‘partaker’ is also used to describe their heavenly calling and relationship with Christ (see Hebrews 3:1 and 14).
They had tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come. They had experienced the good benefits of the word of God and the Holy Spirit in their lives.
And then have fallen away – they have departed from the way of God and Christ. This refers, not to falling into sin, which we all can at times, but that they have ceased to follow Christ and gone back to their old way of life.
It is impossible to renew them again to repentance. In other words, there is no second chance. They cannot be saved again.
They again crucify to themselves the Son of God and put Him to open shame. That is, Christ who once bore their sins on the cross, is held again to shame and His sacrifice for them has been in vain (see 1 Peter 2:24).
The ground that yields thorns and thistles is worthless and ends up being burned. A life that does not bear good fruit, like the fruitless branches of the vine (John 15), is destroyed by fire.
Strong words, which tragically some Christians try to lessen by saying they refer to professing Christians. Yet the same terminology – enlightened, tasted, partakers or sharers, repentance and bearing of our sins by Christ on the cross are used elsewhere in Scripture of true Christians.
The writer then tells us of the danger of wilfully continuing in sin:
For if we go on sinning wilfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a certain terrifying expectation of judgement, and the fury of a fire which will consume the adversaries. Anyone who has set aside the Law of Moses dies without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. How much severer punishment do you think he will deserve who has trampled underfoot the Son of God, and has regarded as unclean the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has insulted the Spirit of grace?
For we know Him who said, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay.” And again, “The Lord will judge His people.” It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God (Hebrews 10:26-31).
First, the writer says if we go on sinning wilfully. He addresses it to ‘holy brethren’, ‘partakers of a heavenly calling’ and includes himself. There should be no doubt he is referring to Christians.
They had received the knowledge of the truth. They had heard the gospel, believed and acted on it. Jesus said ‘You will know the truth and the truth will set you free‘ (John 8:32). The knowledge of the truth is a characteristic of those who have been saved (see Titus 1:1 and 2:4).
There no longer remains a sacrifice. Christ was and is the only sacrifice for sin. Yet this speaks of the possibility that Christ’s sacrifice will no longer be available for a Christian who wilfully continues to sin.
A certain terrifying expectation of judgement. If Christ’s sacrifice is no longer available then we face only judgement.
How much severer punishment do you think he will deserve? If those who transgressed Moses’ law died physically, what could be worse?
Trampled underfoot the Son of God. This speaks of effectively abusing what Christ has done for us.
Regarded as unclean the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified. Only Christians have been sanctified by the blood of Christ (see Luke 22:20 and 1 Peter 1:2).
And has insulted the Spirit of grace. Only those who have received God’s grace could do this.
The seriousness of these warnings should in-still in us a healthy fear of God and true appreciation of His holiness. There are many more scriptures which warn and encourage us to keep the faith that was taught to us by Jesus and the apostles. Again I would encourage you: read your Bible, especially the New Testament which is directed to us under the New Covenant. The Bible itself, the Holy Spirit and a humble spirit are all you need to learn what God wants you to know.
These words from Paul should give us every encouragement:
…that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places,
far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come (Ephesians 1:17-21 ESV).
Note the words ‘the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe’. Remember God loves us and it is not His will that any perish but that we all come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9). He cannot compromise with sin. These warnings are therefore not to discourage us but to prepare and train us. God, by His grace, has given us His Spirit by which we are able to overcome the world, the flesh and the devil. Jesus intercedes for us and should we sin, provided we repent and confess He will forgive and cleanse us (1 John 1:9).