The One Thing Needed to Stand in these Times
Throughout the New Testament, we’re told that in these last days there will be a great apostasy. Jesus said that even some devoted servants – “if possible, even the elect” (Matthew 24:24, ESV) – might fall away from faith.
This raises an obvious question for every serious Christian living in these perilous days. What can take away our faith, and what does it take to hold onto it?
The author of Hebrews addresses this question head on. To do so, he quotes an Old Testament passage that focuses on the wavering faith of the Israelites under Moses.
“Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says, ‘Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion, on the day of testing in the wilderness, where your fathers put me to the test and saw my works for forty years. Therefore I was provoked with that generation, and said, “They always go astray in their heart; they have not known my ways.” As I swore in my wrath, “They shall not enter my rest”’” (Hebrews 3:7-11).
After quoting this passage, the author issues a clear warning to New Testament believers. “Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God” (Hebrews 7:12).
The author of Hebrews isn’t just giving us an example of weak or wavering faith. He’s cautioning us, “Take heed not to let an evil, unbelieving heart overcome your faith. Yes, this could happen to you.”
What does the author mean by this? Is it really possible for Christians in the last days to fall under God’s wrath as the Old Testament Israelites did? Also, how is it possible for us not to enter into God’s rest, which was won for us by Christ? Does this mean we have to struggle to the finish line if we hope to make it to heaven?
This passage sounds so negative that it can be confusing to grace-led believers. Yet embedded within this chapter is the glorious promise that every struggling Christian hungers to hear.
Oftentimes we read the Bible as if we’re still under the law instead of focusing on what Jesus has done for us in the New Covenant of his grace.
When we hear warnings like the one in Hebrews, our first impulse is to say, “I need to readjust my life.” We have a knee-jerk reaction, implementing a self-controlling effort to please God. Yet this response runs contrary to the all-encompassing work Jesus has already accomplished for us.
In reality, his good news is so powerful that it transcends our human understanding. The gospel of Christ is so liberating, substantial, devastating to our equilibrium and subversive to our flesh that we simply can’t escape its grip. The good news gets into the nooks and crannies of our being, and out of our once-dark crevices spring freedom, joy and abundant life. Friends, this is a reality we could never accomplish on our own.
Because we’re human, however, we tend to forget the power of Christ’s grace in our lives. Martin Luther said he had to preach the gospel of grace to himself every day because he forgot it every day. These days, Christians are so cemented in their patterns and habits of thinking – always defaulting to “do better” – that it’s no wonder so many lifelong believers are exhausted by their efforts and end up leaving the faith. To live by an inner code of law-keeping rather than by life-giving grace seems to work for a while, but it’s a delusion that can only be sustained for so long. Multitudes of believers are wearing out and growing discouraged, finally giving up altogether.
For those whose faith is still intact, many read Hebrews 3 and conclude, “If I don’t do better, I won’t be alive in the end. The message of this passage is clear: I need to get it together.”
Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, such thinking reveals a lack of belief. It’s a mentality that says, “I have to…” No! Through his New Covenant grace, God has turned the tables to say, “It is because I live that you will live.” Those are Jesus’ literal words. “As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on me, he also will live because of me” (John 6:57). This verse is about more than eternal life. We feed on Christ for abundant life.
Jeremiah addresses the question of falling away by prophesying the New Covenant to come.
“Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah” (Jeremiah 31:31). With this verse, Jeremiah begins addressing the very dilemma discussed in Hebrews 3. It leads to one of my most beloved passages of scripture, which shows how the glorious New Covenant will solve the urgent question of how our faith endures.
“For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more” (Jeremiah 31:33-34, my emphases).
What Jeremiah prophesies here was jaw-dropping to the Israelites. God said his law was going to transition from being outside of his people – from stone tablets and human teachers – to existing within every person’s heart. There would be no more self-driven attempts at law-keeping, no more mere head knowledge of God’s ways; with the Spirit of God living inside us, we now live and move in his power, free from all fear.
If we stumble, we don’t turn to Moses’ law to grab us and shake us, saying, “You don’t measure up, so you’ve got to do better!” Rather, Christ takes hold of us saying, “Don’t stay stuck in this failure. Take hold of my transforming grace! Don’t try to dig your way out of your struggle. I am with you in the midst of it. Take hold of my grace for all the strength you need. My grace will empower you with life!”
No amount of human strength can bring us the life-giving power of heaven. Martin Luther said the only thing he added to God’s salvation was his own sin and reluctancy. God truly does it all, not only justification and salvation from sin but also sanctification throughout our lives, making us holy continually.
One phrase reveals how Jeremiah’s prophecy was to be fulfilled.
“Therefore, holy brothers, you who share in a heavenly calling…” (Hebrews 3:1, my emphasis). Our calling is not one that is earthbound. It is formed in the heavenly realm. Therefore, we must rely on the power of heaven to fulfill it.
The next phrase in this verse shows how this power comes to us. “consider Jesus…” (Hebrews 3:1). There, in two words, is the fulfillment of the New Covenant. The writer of Hebrews is saying, “In view of all I have laid out to you – in view of perilous times and a great falling away – there is but one matter for you to consider: Jesus.”
The writer then describes the roles Jesus took on for us, “…the apostle and high priest of our confession” (Hebrews 3:1). Jesus’ titles tell us that he came with a job to do, and he did not fail at it. At the cross, Christ accomplished for us all that we need for abundant life: salvation from sin, justification and ongoing sanctification. That is the amazing heavenly work of our High Priest.
Is your marriage under fire? Is your financial future unstable? Do you have a deep struggle with sin? Are you discouraged from all of these battlefronts in your life? Do they send your faith to the brink? Do you fear losing your belief and falling away? From Jeremiah to Hebrews, God’s Word says there is one thing to do: Consider your High Priest.
Actually, Hebrews tells us there is something additional you can do. The same chapter directs us, “We hold fast our confidence” (Hebrews 3:6). We place our confidence in the perfect, accomplished work of our High Priest. This confidence isn’t some feeble, faint hope but is something to boast about. “…and our boasting in our hope” (Hebrews 3:6).
Friend, here is how to hold onto your faith in unstable times. First, consider Jesus. Second, hold fast to your confidence in him. If you do, you’ll be asked by others how you can be so at peace in turbulent times. You’ll be stirred to boast, “It’s all Jesus. Do yourself a favor and consider him.” Amen.