Why Speak about Apostasy to Christians? part 2 (Hebrews 6:11-12)

Apostasy from Jesus Christ is a terrible thing and the book of Hebrews presents it that way.  In Hebrews 6 we’ve seen a group of people who experienced some wonderful spiritual blessings (vv. 4-5) but have fallen away from Jesus Christ.  We’ve also seen another group of people who embraced Jesus Christ in faith and they exhibited the transformation of life demonstrated by loving service towards others (vv. 9-10).

So the author of Hebrews has been warning his readers about apostasy both to warn some of the great danger of falling away and to encourage others that their lives show that they truly belong to Jesus Christ.

We saw that speaking about apostasy exposes the authenticity of true Christianity in vv. 9-10 and today we’re going to look at a second reason for talking about apostasy, and that is that speaking about apostasy stirs the sluggish Christian to maturing faith.

Let me go back to verse 4 and read through our passage today.

4 For it is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, 5 and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, 6 and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt. 7 For land that has drunk the rain that often falls on it, and produces a crop useful to those for whose sake it is cultivated, receives a blessing from God. 8 But if it bears thorns and thistles, it is worthless and near to being cursed, and its end is to be burned. 9 Though we speak in this way, yet in your case, beloved, we feel sure of better things–things that belong to salvation. 10 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. 11 And we desire each one of you to show the same earnestness to have the full assurance of hope until the end, 12 so that you may not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises.

Hopefully this passage has stirred in you a deeper way to become more committed to Jesus Christ and to pursue Him with greater passion and energy.

The author knows what’s coming.  He knows that the dark clouds on the horizon will require of them the virtue of hope on top of the virtue of love that they already possess and are exhibiting.  Persecution was coming.  It’s hard to remain faithful under persecution.  It’s a lot easier to fall away.

Hebrews 6:11 says “And we desire each one of you to show the same earnestness to have the full assurance of hope until the end,”

He is saying, “You’ve worked hard to develop genuine love.  Now harness those same efforts and direct them to the development of persistent hope.”  They had shown earnestness and zeal in loving others and our author asks them to “show the same earnestness in exhibiting “the full assurance of hope until the end.”

Most of us, until recently, have not experienced much of a need for hope.  Life has been good for us in America.  We have experienced peace and affluence.  We have not experienced much persecution.  Not having a need for hope may even cause us to not comprehend what hope is for.

When we use the word “hope” we often mean a “wish for something to occur,” “to really want something to happen,” such as “I hope the Razorbacks win” or “I hope we have pancakes for breakfast.”

But the Greek word elpis means to possess a “confident expectation.”  In what?  In the return of Jesus Christ and the completion of God’s victorious plan, to see all things consummated for the glory of Christ.  It looks forward confidently to the reality that evil will be judged and good will be rewarded.  Hope looks forward to that end and is so engrossed in that hope so that it gives you strength to endure whatever is coming down the pike.

There is a spiritual and moral certainty in biblical hope because what we expect to see and experience and enjoy in the future is something God himself has promised he will bring to pass.  Hope is rock solid and unshakable because it is rooted and grounded in the faithfulness of God.

We might conceive of hope as a subset of faith.  Both depend upon God’s promises.  Hope looks to the future; faith typically looks to the past and present.  As John Piper has said, “hope is faith in the future tense.”

Hope is not natural to the human heart.  We have to preach it to ourselves, like David did in Psalm 42:5.

“Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me?  Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God.”

David is preaching to his own soul, “put your hope in God.  Come on soul!  Get with it!  Place your hope in God!  Know that he will never fail to come through for you.”

And David is so confident that God will come through that He promises to “again praise him” for His help.

Without this confident expectation of future “better things” we won’t be able to endure when the pressure begins to mount.

Please notice three brief items worthy of our attention from this verse.

First, notice how comprehensive this is.  “We want each one of you…”  He has been talking to the group as a whole—both potential believers who may ultimately fall away and true believers who need to preserve.  Now he gets very personal.  He is talking to each and every one of them, encouraging them to develop hopeful hearts.

Second, notice how wholehearted this pursuit is to be: “We desire each one of you to show the same earnestness…”  He is asking them to strive after hope with great energy, with intense effort, with unflagging zeal.

A hope that is sure and solid does not come automatically. “You must be “earnest” or “zealous” in the pursuit of it. And it typically comes in two ways. First, it comes from reflecting and meditating on the glorious truths already set forth about Jesus in this letter: his sinless life in facing all the temptations we face, his atoning death in our place, and his role as our great high priest, just to mention a few. Second, it comes from being diligent by God’s grace to believe his promises and trust his word and to work and serve the saints by loving them. In other words, assurance is grounded primarily in the objective achievement of Jesus himself and secondarily in our transformed lives as we seek to live for his glory and the good of his people” (https://www.samstorms.org/all-articles/post/experiencing-the-full-assurance-of-hope—hebrews-69-12)

Third, notice the perseverance that is demanded: “we desire each one of you to show the same earnestness to have the full assurance of hope until the end.”  When can you stop cultivating hope?  Go all the way to the end.  You no longer have to cultivate hope when that which is hoped for has come to pass.

All of you…with every effort…and don’t ever stop…until what has been promised is your present possession.

Look how the writer connects verse 11 and verse 12.  Most of the versions bring out the crucial relationship between verses 11 and 12.  Verse 11 is the means to the end of verse 12.  And that is brought out by the word “that” or “so that” or “in order that.”

And we desire each one of you to show the same earnestness in realizing 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.

Not being sluggish is a goal, but you aim at it by realizing the full assurance of hope.  Imitating the faithful is a goal, but you aim at it by realizing the full assurance of hope.  Inheriting the promises is a goal, but you aim at it by realizing the full assurance of hope.

Inheriting the promises is different from believing the promises.  Believing the promises is what we do now, hoping in the promises is what we do now.  Inheriting the promises comes in the future.

Being fully assured that God is for you and that you belong to him is what will energize your heart so that you won’t be sluggish and spiritually lazy and just coast through the Christian life.  The joy that comes from the rock-solid assurance that God has destined me for an eternity with him will guard me from becoming presumptuous and arrogant and slothful.  Being fully assured that God is your God and that his promises can be trusted is what will sustain faith and patience in your heart as you wait for the promises of God to come to pass.

The word behind “sluggish” was used earlier in 5:11 to describe those who were “dull of hearing”—literally, “sluggish in the ears.”  More often than not, sluggish ears go with a sluggish, lazy life.  When the ear becomes dull, everything else follows suit.  Spiritual sluggishness is a danger that looms over all of us if we do not work against it, for just as surely as friction will stop a train unless there is a consistent source of power, or as surely as a pendulum will settle to an inert hanging position unless the mainspring urges it on moment by moment, so will each of us wind down without an assertion of the will!

The warning here is, if anything, more apropos to our time than for the ancients.  We see this in some of our popular lingo: “Go with the flow”—“laid back”—“What’s it to me?”—“I couldn’t care less.”  Henry Fairlie, writing in his highly-regarded The Seven Deadly Sins Today, engages in some astute social criticism in his chapter on acedia, sloth:

Children are too idle to obey.  Parents are too sluggish to command.  Pupils are too lazy to work.  Teachers are too indolent to teach.  Priests are too slack to believe.  Prophets are too morbid to inspire.  Men are too indifferent to be men.  Women are too heedless to be women.  Doctors are too careless to care well.  Shoemakers are too slipshod to make good shoes.  Writers are too inert to write well.  Street cleaners are too bored to clean streets.  Shop clerks are too uninterested to be courteous.  Painters are too feckless to make pictures.  Poets are too lazy to be exact.  Philosophers are too fainthearted to make philosophies.  Believers are too dejected to bear witness. . . .

Fairlie goes on to say that this may seem to be too sweeping a judgment, noting that there are, of course, individual exceptions to sloth.  Then he adds convincingly, “But before we dismiss it as too sweeping, we must ask then why our societies have to spend so much time trying to correct us.”

Our writer wanted his readers to “inherit the promises.”  But persecution might derail them.

In A. D. 64, what came to be known as the “great Fire” broke out in Rome.  It broke out first in the area of the great circus, but a shift in the wind sent them to the Paletine Hill, where the Roman senators had built their homes among the statues. It raged unchecked for nearly three weeks.  Only four of the 14 districts escaped the flames.

Nero had been absent from the city and returned only when his own home was threatened.  He responded to the disaster by providing shelter for the homeless, by lowering the price of grain so that the people could acquire food more easily.  In the following months he began an urban renewal program, cleaning up the debris and erecting new buildings and new parks.

But we also know from history that for him to act in that way, suspicions ought to have been aroused.  He was a maniac of the first order.  For all his efforts, nothing could win back the affection of his city.  They were seething with resentment.

Why?  Because word leaked out that Nero himself had started the fire, that he had even celebrated it comparing it to the burning of Troy.

So he tried to suppress this rumor by rounding up and executing Christians, blaming them for the fires.

Imagine being a Christian in Rome in A.D. 64-66.  Confessing Jesus as your Lord was an invitation to martyrdom!

That’s what our author means by the words, “be “imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises.”  Imitate those who right now are giving up their lives for Jesus Christ.

Imagine being a part of a small group, and although you haven’t found out yet, each week the group of believers in your church grows smaller and smaller.  Now you can get the gravity of Hebrews 10:24, “not neglecting to meet together.”  It was so important for these early believers!  And it is still important to us today.

This is why he says in Hebrews 12:4, “you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.”  But that day was just around the corner.

“Maybe Judaism isn’t all that bad.  Maybe I just got caught up in the emotion of the moment.”

This is what some of them might have been thinking.  But the more they thought that way, the more apostasy became a growing reality.

So how do you endure?

First, by developing a real, vibrant hope.  Not a wishy-washy “hope so,” but a strong assurance based upon God’s Word that God will keep His promises and you will enjoy His victory with Him.

Notice that our writer encourages them to aim for “the full assurance of hope until the end.”  It is possible for believers to have “full assurance,” to be completely confident that God’s promises to us of salvation and sanctification and glorification will take place.

Some believe that assurance of salvation will demotivate us from perseverance and holiness, but I think that knowing of God’s unfailing love for us through His promises is a greater motivator than demotivator, just like children are more likely to obey when they are assured of their parents’ love and approval vs. when they are afraid they might to cast out of the family.

Believers are inheritors of God’s promises. The word inherit calls attention to the dividing of a legacy; an inheritor is entitled to possess part of that legacy.  The legacy in this case consists of God’s promises given to all believers.  The author of Hebrews tells the readers to imitate the saints in their faithful trust, perseverance, and zeal.  He introduces the subject of faith, hope, and love in 6:10-12; and true to form he elaborates on and fully discusses the topic in 10:22-24, 35-39; and 11. (William Hendriksen & Simon J. Kistemaker, NT Commentary: Hebrews, 168)

Secondly, you need to find other people, others who have endured in their faith and hope, and imitate their lives.  Those people may be alive today, or they may be saints of the past that you read about in biographies or in the Bible.  Either way, find some people you want to imitate because they are people who endure to the end, no matter what the cost.

The immediate context indicates we are to put our energies into imitating the faith and patience of Abraham, because it was by faith and patience that he entered the land of promise.

Here in Hebrews “faith” means the ability to take hold of the unseen and assume the promises of future blessings as our own—“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (11:1)—and that is what the great faith chapter is all about. 

Along with imitating the faith of Abraham, we are also to imitate his “patience”—or more accurately, his long-suffering.  This long-suffering is not added to faith but is an integral part of it, because faith’s vision will produce patient tenacity.  To the storm-tossed, persecuted little church that was facing mounting waves, the message was clear: fix your eyes in faith on the great unseen heavenly realities that await you; do so with long-suffering/patience; do this diligently, and you will make your hope sure.

Authentic focusing by faith on the unseen will cure all laziness. All of the great saints of chapter 11 were spurred on to legendary activism by their grasp of the unseen.

In conclusion, the writer is confident of “better things” (v. 9) for his beloved church. He is well aware that their inner and outer life is infused with “things that belong to salvation” (v. 9) and that they have lived and are living an authentic lifestyle in caring for their spiritual brothers and sisters.

And this confidence, he says, can be insured through three logical steps: First, a conscious commitment not to be lazy.  In today’s world, this takes an immense act of the will, because sloth is “in”and hard work is “out”—especially in matters of the soul.

Second, they must show “earnestness to have the full assurance of hope until the end” (v. 11).  The issue is not a life preserver but the preservation of the soul for eternity, for the Scriptures are clear: only “the one who endures to the end will be saved” (Matthew 24:13).

Lastly, they are to imitate the visionary faith and patience of Abraham.  The writer knows that a God-dependent imitation will result in a God-aided ability to see the unseen and patiently seek the heavenly city in this sojourn below.

Published by

Lamar Austin

I've graduated from Citadel Bible College in Ozark, Arkansas, with a B. A. Then got my M. Div. and Th. M. at Capital Bible Seminary in Lanham, MD. I finished with a D. Min. degree from Dallas Theological Seminary, but keep on learning. I pastored at Chinese Christian Church of Greater Washington, D. C., was on staff at East Evangelical Free Church in Wichita, KS, tried to plant an EFC in Little Rock, before moving back home to Mena, where I now pastor my home church, Grace Bible Church

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