Many people may not know that the term “con”, as in “swindle” or “deceive” is actually a shortened form of the word, “confidence”. A “con-game” is a “confidence-game”, at least that’s how it’s played. Someone uses their projected sense of confidence to deceive another, or others. But, when we hear the word “confidence”, we don’t immediately go to that negative inference. And that’s good, because confidence is good.

In fact, an argument could be made that the reason such deceptions work is only because of the attractiveness of confidence. People can be thought of as having an innate desire for confidence. The alternative is fear. The greatest solid basis for confidence is Jesus.

Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

Hebrews 4:14-16 ESV

Jesus instills confidence in His disciples, or at least in His sincere disciples. And it is this confidence that the writer of Hebrews is trying to use as an inducement to faithfulness. Entering the rest of chapters 3 and 4 is only possible through faith (Heb. 4:3), and part of what is enjoyed in this “rest” is confidence before our Savior (Heb. 4:16).

Views either for or against eternal security miss the point here. The point for the author, the goal he’s trying to accomplish, is the perseverance of his audience. Arguments about the state of a person’s salvation while they walk this earth is outside the view of the author. He wants these Hebrews to make it across the finish line, and into the eternal rest of our Savior.

Jesus is the One, the High Priest and Apostle, making the rest of God accessible. We experience that rest when we respond to the access through faith. Part of how we experience this rest here-and-now is through our ability to approach Jesus’ throne with confidence. There is a future aspect, but there is a present aspect as well, access to Jesus.

So, what is our confidence based on? It has to be based on something for us to be convinced of its validity. Our confidence is based on Jesus’ example. That may sound peculiar, but Jesus laid out a path for us to follow (see my last entry The Walk). Our confidence is experienced as we obediently follow the obedience of Jesus:

Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered. And being made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him, being designated by God a high priest after the order of Melchizedek.

Hebrews 5:8-10 ESV

The writer here isn’t concerned about theological arguments about the immutability of God any more than he is exploring eternal security. His point is that Jesus laid out a path for us to follow, and we too are to be obedient, we are to be made perfect, we too are to follow the role to which our Creator has designated for us. In so doing, we live out our faithfulness, experience the rest of God, and confidently approach the throne of Jesus.

That’s the lesson I see in these chapters. Hebrews hasn’t been about what I thought it was about. It has held challenges I didn’t expect, and made assertions I didn’t expect to find. I’m sure I’ll find a lot more as I go along. As you read chapters 4 and 5, what do you see through this “knothole” of Scripture?


The House of the Faithful

The use of metaphors is Scripture is pervasive. It has to be. Considering the difficulty of communicating spiritual realities using temporal/physical terminology, there is truly no other way. This use of metaphor makes it difficult for those who want to apply the “scientific method” to spiritual truths to do so. Of course, lots of things they take for granted can’t be subjected to the scientific method either. Like things they believe to be millions or billions of years old. seriously? How could they know or even test such a theory over merely 0.1% of that time. But it’s generally accepted just the same.

Anyway, the use of metaphor and simile is ancient, and its use in Scripture is pervasive. The writer of Hebrews uses “house” as a metaphor in chapter 3. But the writer moves through several different uses of “house” as a metaphor in 6 verses:

Therefore, holy brethren, partakers of a heavenly calling, consider Jesus, the Apostle and High Priest of our confession; He was faithful to Him who appointed Him, as Moses also was in all His house. For He has been counted worthy of more glory than Moses, by just so much as the builder of the house has more honor than the house. For every house is built by someone, but the builder of all things is God. Now Moses was faithful in all His house as a servant, for a testimony of those things which were to be spoken later; but Christ was faithful as a Son over His house — whose house we are, if we hold fast our confidence and the boast of our hope firm until the end.

Hebrews 3:1-6 NASB

In verses 1 through 6, the term “house” occurs 7 times in the NASB, ESV, and KJV translations. Other translations follow suit, using either “house” or “household” in the same places. But the meaning of “house” changes. In verse 2, the reference is to the ministry of Moses. The house can either be God’s house, or Moses’, but the reference is still to the ministry of Moses, and whether it was in the tabernacle (God’s house) or among the people (God’s people as a house) is not obvious. There are even other options for interpretation. The part that is clear is that the ministry of Moses is in view.

The second reference to house in verse 3 contrasts the builder versus the actual house built. More glory goes to the builder than to the house itself. Rather than debate the validity of this assertion, let’s look at the use of metaphor. If “house” still refers to the ministry of Moses, which is possible, then the “builder” of the “house” has greater glory than the “house”. Or, the One who gave the ministry to Moses is greater than the ministry Moses performed. But the reference to “house” could refer to the tabernacle, a topic taken up by the writer later on. It could also refer to the establishment of the people of Israel, or even other options. I believe it’s more likely that it continues to refer to the ministry of Moses, but, because of verse 4, none of the other options diminishes the contrast. God is the Builder, regardless of what “house” refers to.

So, does “house” continue to refer to Moses’ ministry in verse 5? Because, if so, then “house” switches to refer to the ministry of Jesus in verse 6, and then again to refer to us in the same verse. It could be argued that it remains a reference to Jesus’ ministry since we are the result. And yet, I believe that the writer uses a construction in a way that seems to change the metaphoric meaning. He expands it from “the activity and purpose of Jesus”, to “those who have chosen to live out Jesus’ pattern”. The relative pronoun, “of which” or “of whom” precedes “house”, and is in a different grammatical form than house. House is the “subject” and “of whom/which” is a possessive relative pronoun. In English we might say, “a house of whom are we”, or “we are a house of whom” based on the verb number.

So, who’s completely lost, or has completely lost interest? Here’s the point: the ministry of Jesus is greater than the ministry of Moses, but neither ministry guarantees success of those ministered to, namely us. Read back over it, and see if you see something different, but it seems to be the writer’s point that, the superiority of Jesus does not guarantee that His followers will not rebel against Him.

Since it’s clear (to me) that the audience hasn’t rebelled, at least not yet, it seems that this is a warning not to go down the path of rebellion. Whatever it is that defines that path, it’s yet to be taken by the audience, but they are in danger of taking it. They are Hebrews in a Greek-speaking place (they use the Septuagint for Scripture). Could it be that they are pushing back against the rise of Gentiles in the church, their inclusion into the “People of God”, and perhaps even the eclipse of the Jews in importance within the church? If so, what are their options for protest? Could it be rebellion against the good news which they accepted at first? It’s not easy to decipher that as the potential rebellion, although that has been posed by commentators for centuries. It’s certainly possible, maybe even likely.

So, what about today? Isn’t change within the church one of the most difficult things for churches to survive? Don’t we tend to love things the comfortable way they are? Who doesn’t like “homogeneous” congregations? Don’t we all like those “like us”? Who wants to give up all they have achieved to change, and possibly start all over? And yet, to prevent the change, to fight against it, to avoid losing our “house”, we fail to enter our Savior’s “house”. Those who failed to enter the “rest” were those called to leave their own settled lives and endure change. They wanted their own “house” and did not enter God’s house. We too have that choice, to do things our own way, what we like, where we are comfortable or have influence. Our Savior wants us to focus on Him, His house, His purpose, and His methods.

Perhaps, like Joshua, we need to hear the challenge to choose this day whom we will serve, which set of “gods” we will follow. Will you follow Jesus? If we choose Him, will we continue to endure the changes that will inevitably come? Will we persevere as a disciple to the end?

Falling Away

I confess to being inordinately entertained by discussions about eternal security and loss of salvation. The spectrum spans the ridiculous extremes of “even God can’t reject you” to “you forgot where you left it”. To be fair, those extremes won’t make sense to most people, and even those I consider to hold one of them would disagree with my assessment of their position.

I fall into the odd “middle ground” of believing we can reject our Savior after having experienced Him, but that it’s not simple or easy. On the other hand, my position on salvation is that it’s not quick or even linear. I find that I’m alone in these positions, I can articulate them, but I can rarely inspire acceptance in others.

Hebrews seems to wrestle with the view of apostasy in several places, and this passage below is one of them:

Now Moses was faithful in all His house as a servant, for a testimony of those things which were to be spoken later; but Christ was faithful as a Son over His house—whose house we are, if we hold fast our confidence and the boast of our hope firm until the end.

Hebrews 3:5,6 NASB

Verse 6 has a condition, “…if we hold fast…” that leaves open the possibility that we won’t hold fast. In other words, we might not hold fast, we might…whatever the alternative might be, instead. The example the writer of Hebrews uses is the people of Israel as they wandered in the desert. He quotes Psalm 95 (in the Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures, it’s Psalm 94), where the psalmist calls on the people to avoid the rebellion of their fathers. This psalm, and its use here, introduces a very interesting, and an intriguing element to the discussion of loss of salvation, or what it means to be “saved” in the first place.

For instance, were the rebellious people in the wilderness, those who had seen the work of Yahweh to deliver them from Egypt, those who had heard and ratified the covenant of Yahweh before His mountain, were these, at any time, no longer the people of Yahweh? They were denied entrance into the land of Canaan, and they died in the wilderness along the way. By not entering, were they rejected by God as His people? I don’t think so. You will need to process that for yourself, but my belief is that they remained His people, even in the midst of their rebellion.

So, is the writer of Hebrews referring to the loss of salvation? Actually he seems to be, even though he uses these people to make his point. The way he uses them to make his point is to refer to “entering My rest”, a reference from Psalm 95:11 (or Psalm 94:11 in the LXX). This reference is unpacked further in chapter 4, but the writer here points to the sin of unbelief as what kept them from entering the rest of Yahweh, their Redeemer. The quote he uses is, once again, from the Greek version of the Hebrew Scriptures:

“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.’”

Hebrews 3:7b-11 (NASB) – See also Psalm 95:7b-11

Keep in mind that the psalmist could be pointing out that his audience has entered this rest, but that it’s not likely. The context of the psalm makes more sense as a warning to his audience implying that they have yet to enter this rest, and that rebellious disobedience will keep them from it (see the entirety of Psalm 95). Psalm 95 is a call to worship Yahweh, but ends with this warning not to repeat the mistakes in the wilderness, and one element cannot be truly separated from the other in understanding it.

So, for us, there remains a rest as well. The writer of Hebrews will unpack this more in chapter 4, but he leaves the warning hanging as a possibility as he calls his audience not to repeat the rebellious sin of their fathers in the wilderness. So, does this mean that we, once having started on the path of our Savior and Master, Jesus, can wander off the path, and fail to reach the promise in which we hope?

The writer points out that those who fell were those who followed Moses out of Egypt. The implication is that leaving Egypt didn’t guarantee reaching the rest. The psalmist could be implying that just being in the temple, singing this psalm, didn’t guarantee reaching the rest as well. The implication for us could then be understood to mean that just being a disciple of Jesus doesn’t guarantee that we will enter the rest. The sin of rebellion could keep us from it.

Hopefully, as it was supposed to do for the initial audience of Hebrews, it will “sober us up” so that we take this life with our Master very seriously. We are disciples of Jesus, not just “Christians” in an association of those who go to a worship service regularly. We are to pattern our lives after His pattern. We are, as Paul puts it in several letters, to die that He might live in us. Jesus claims that those who wish to save their lives will lose them, and those who lose their lives will gain them (Matthew 10:39, 16:25, Mark 8:35, Luke 9:34, 17:33). Jesus wants our lives, not our attention. He doesn’t want us to do enough to warrant His favor, He grants us the favor of losing all of ourselves to Him.

Let us all heed the warning of the psalmist and the writer of Hebrews, and not succumb to danger of the sin of rebellion.