A neglected ministry in the Church
All of those who receive God’s gift of salvation can be confident that God will preserve them as His children all of their days on earth into eternity. This great truth has been titled, “The perseverance of the saints.” It is the belief that all who genuinely experience God’s salvation continue in the faith until the end. It doesn’t mean that they will not have times of unfaithfulness but that God’s faithfulness will sustain them.
Two statements of this truth:
“They whom God hath accepted in His Beloved, effectually called and sanctified by his Spirit, can neither totally nor finally fall away from the state of grace; but shall certainly persevere therein to the end, and be eternally saved.”(The Westminster Confession of Faith)
“Perseverance may be defined as that continuous operation of the Holy Spirit in the believer, by which the work of divine grace that is begun in the heart, is continued and brought to completion” (Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology, p. 546).
Does Scripture support this conclusion?
I believe it does. Jesus said, “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand” (John 10:27-29). Earlier Jesus said, “Those who continue in My word are my disciples in reality” (John 8:31).
The apostle Paul taught this truth when he wrote to the believers in Philippi: “Being confident of this, that He who began a good work in you will complete it until the day of Christ (Philippians 1:6; cf. Romans 8:38-39).
The apostle John indirectly referred to this important truth when he wrote of certain people who went out from the Christian fellowship because they were not of it. Concerning them, he wrote, “For if they had been of us they no doubt would have continued with us” (I John 2:19). Continuance was considered the sign of reality. We continue because God has justified us in Christ not to obtain justification before God.
Based on Scriptures like these and many others, I believe that those whom God has saved will remain in His salvation until the end. They shall neither totally nor finally fall away and God will see to it that this takes place by His Spirit who dwells in each believer.
Divine Means for preserving God’s children:
A clear point made in Hebrews 3:12-14 is that part of God’s means for our perseverance includes His people watching out for one another. We cannot sit back and say, “Oh, well, God will keep all His children on the path of obedience.” No, God’s plan includes our fellow believers helping us to stay on the right path.
“See to it, brothers, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness. We have come to share in Christ if we hold firmly till the end the confidence we had at first.” (Hebrews 3:12-14)
These verses reveal God’s intention to use the accountability of Christian fellowship to help believers “hold firmly till the end.”
We have a God-ordained responsibility to look out for the spiritual well-being of each other. “Be constantly on the watch brothers (and sisters).” The Church is not to be a place where each one minds only his own business. The cultural idols of individualism and privacy must not rule our fellowship. Loving watchfulness over each other is a distinguishing mark of the true Church. We are not to “watch” each other. The pharisees did this to Jesus. We are to “watch out for” each other. There is a big difference.
“Fellowship is more than unconditional love that wraps its arms around someone who is hurting. It is also tough love that hold one fast to the truth and the pursuit of righteousness. For most Christians, the support side of the equation comes more easily than accountability and the subsequent discipline involved. Which is one reason the behavior of Christians is often little different from the behavior of non-Christians. Maybe it’s because we simply haven’t taught accountability. Or maybe it’s because, in today’s fiercely individualistic culture, people resent being told what to do, and since we don’t want to “scare them off,” we succumb to cultural pressures.” “But too often we confuse love with permissiveness. It is not love to fail to dissuade another believer from sin any more than it Is love to fail to take a drink away from an alcoholic or matches away from a baby. True fellowship out of love for one another demands accountability.” (Chuck Colson, The Body, p. 130)
It is the lack of this kind of biblical accountability that is a primary obstacle to the Church being an instrument of God’s power in the world. People can talk all they want about church growth and renewal, but if it is emptied of true biblical accountability, the kind of growth and renewal that pleases God won’t happen.
Fellowship and Accountability:
“…accountability is a hollow concept unless it is enforced. There must be teeth in a church’s demand for orthodoxy and righteous behavior; that is what we call discipline. Yet examples of real discipline are all too few. Although evangelicals pride themselves on defending orthodoxy, I can recall only one instance in recent years when questions of theological integrity actually resulted in discipline” (p. 131, Ibid). “Discipline should be applied not only to enforce orthodoxy, but to maintain righteous behavior in the church. Sermons on holy living are empty exercises unless the church is willing to back them up with action” (p. 133, Ibid).
“…discipline guards the purity of the church, preserves the church by removing evil, and provides severe by loving correction for one who is in danger of falling into perdition.” Without effective discipline, there can be no accountability.” (p. 135, Ibid)
Hebrews 3:12 is a call to constantly watch out for our fellow believers so that no one has a “sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God.” According to verse 13, believers who fellowship together are to engage in positive reinforcement of each other in the faith. Again, God uses the accountability of Christian fellowship as an effective means for helping His saved ones persevere.
Wise counsel from Dietrich Bonhoeffer
“When another Christian falls into obvious sin, an admonition is imperative, because God’s Word demands it. The practice of discipline in the community of faith begins with friends who are close to one another. Words of admonition and reproach must be risked when a lapse from God’s Word in doctrine or life endangers a community that lives together, and with it the whole community of faith….Nothing can be more compassionate than the severe rebuke that calls a brother back from the path of sin. When we allow nothing but God’s Word to stand between us, judging and helping, it is a service of mercy, an ultimate offer of genuine community. Then it is not we who are judging; God alone judges, and God’s judgment is helpful and healing” (Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together and Prayerbook of the Bible, trans. Daniel W. Bloesch, Augsburg Fortress, 1996, 105).
The Leaders and the people
Here is a truth we don’t hear much about: “God’s plan is to use the accountability of Christian fellowship as a means for helping his saved ones persevere.” Accountability should be aimed at helping people keep their commitments to God. We know that God has given the responsibility of providing accountability to the leaders of the church (Hebrews 13:17; I Thess. 5:12-13; Acts 20:28; Gal. 6:1; I Peter 5:1-5). But do we hear much about it being given to the entire body of believers?
It would be interesting to survey church people (in churches that profess to believe in the Bible) and ask them what they consider to be the main responsibility of church leaders. Would they say, “Holding us accountable to be obedient to God”? Then ask if this is also their responsibility toward each other.
I don’t think most Church people know this. Do we as leaders teach this and practice it?
Whenever we teach this responsibility of Church leaders, we should also emphasize the role of the members in watchful accountability for each other. Our text in the book of Hebrews reminds us that the whole church shares this responsibility.
A closer look
In considering the challenge in Hebrews 3:12-14, it is helpful to understand some of the circumstances these believers faced. The book was written to Hebrew Christians who had converted from Judaism to Christianity and had paid a great price for their identification with Jesus, the Christ. From the book you can pick up the author’s pastoral concern for these believers. They had grown weary in their life of faith and were tempted to give up and return to Judaism. Hebrews 10:32-36 provides insight into their circumstances.
Verse 32- Remember those earlier days after you had received the light (i.e. the saving illumination of the gospel). With pastoral wisdom the writer appeals to their own past experience and holds it up as a paradigm for their present and future. He says, “Look at the courageous stand you once took!” Read verses 32-34.
Verse 32- They endured a hard contest with suffering.
Verse 33- Reminds them of the nature of their suffering.
- “publicly exposed to insult” (to bring up to stage, to make a spectacle of, to hold up to derision. They had been subject to public abuse and shame.
- “insults”- refers to verbal abuse, public jeering and scoffing. (They had truly shared the reproach of Christ.)
- “persecutions”- acts of violence
- “You stood side by side with those who were so treated.” They showed solidarity. This is a truly Christian quality because this is what Jesus did for us (2:14; 4:15)!
Verse 34- Their hearts were fixed on their eternal home.
So, verse 35-
- Don’t throw away your confidence!
- Regain the boldness of your past!
- Emulate your own example!
- Pull out your own spiritual chart.
- Review your own spiritual resume.
- Review your own spiritual history and be challenged by it!
In chapter 11, he will appeal to examples of Old Testament believers to encourage them (see 12:1-2). In chapter 13, verse 7, he will appeal to their past leaders. But, in chapter 10, he pulls out their own spiritual resume and holds it up before them to challenge them to continue. Due to their hardships, they had grown weary and were tempted to give up. This is perhaps the occasion for 10:23-25 and the reason for the teaching in chapter 12.
The warning not to forsake the assembly in Hebrews 10:25 should be read in this context. When a believer begins to distance herself from Christian fellowship, it should alert the Church of a need for watchful accountability. The book of Hebrews provides a model for Church life in helping weary Christians stay on the right path. Clearly, according to this New Testament book, God designed the accountability of Christian fellowship to help His people persevere. Too often this is a missing characteristic in our churches.
Does your Church approach ministry in a way that respects the role God has for His people to provide reinforcement in the faith for each other? Is your Church a place of mutual encouragement and mutual accountability?