Do you believe that all who genuinely experience God’s salvation will continue in the faith until the end? I do. Here are a couple of ways this truth has been understood:
- “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” (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?
Jesus said, “Those who continue in My word are my disciples in reality” (John 8:31; cf. John 10:27-29; Romans 8:38-39). The apostle John indirectly referred to this when he wrote of certain people who left the Christian community because they were not actually of it. He wrote, “For if they had been of us they no doubt would have continued with us (I John 2:19). Continuance is considered a mark of real faith.
Based on these Scriptures (and many others), we’re right to 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 by His Spirit who dwells in each believer.
Yet the point I wish to make here is that God uses His people as a means of “keeping” His own.
Are you watching?
According to Hebrews 3:12-14, a divine means for perseverance is Christians watching out for one another. We’re not permitted to sit back and say, “God will keep all His children in line.” No! God has called us to watch out for each other. But make sure to distinguish watching one another from watching out for one another. The Pharisees watched Jesus with malicious intent. Followers of Jesus reject this behavior.
Consider the way this important area of Christian community is stated:
“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)
Mutual accountability and encouragement
Here we learn of God’s intention to use the accountability of Christian fellowship to help believers “hold firmly till the end.” God’s will for the Church is that it functions as a community of mutual accountability and mutual encouragement. Organizing the Church to fulfill this is helpful but it is far more than a Church program. Each believer should view it as a personal mission of caring concern and an essential part of belonging to Christian community. It must be taught and exemplified by the leadership because they are overseers of the Church (Hebrews 13:17), but it also must be a part of the way each believer relates to the body.
- “Fellowship” one has written, “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)
Remember that this kind of mutual caring is not to be a pharisaic behavior of watching others to see if they conform to our personal preferences. It is to happen under the authority of God’s Word and consistent with the leadership of the Church. It is to be rooted deeply in genuine care and love. If it’s not practiced in a manner reflecting the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23), it will become destructive to the unity of the Spirit (Ephesians 4:3).
But the lack of this kind of biblical accountability is a primary obstacle to the church being an instrument of divine transformation in the world. People can talk about church growth and renewal, but if it is emptied of true biblical accountability, the kind of growth and renewal that pleases God simply won’t happen.
A community of Discipline:
- “…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).
John MacArthur made a statement that (if true) should shock most evangelical churches. He said: “A church without discipline is a church without Jesus Christ.” It’s like a Church with Jesus standing outside the door knocking to be invited in (Revelations 3:20).
What does Hebrews 3:12 say? “Be constantly watching, brothers, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God.” This is a call for believers who fellowship together to sensitively watch over each other and to engage in positive reinforcement in the faith. When Jesus commissioned His disciples to make disciples they were told to teach all new disciples: “to obey all things Christ commanded.”
God uses the accountability of Christian fellowship as an effective means for helping his saved ones persevere.
A useful definition of accountability is “Helping people keep their commitments to God” (Bill Hull). There should be no doubt that God has especially and repeatedly given this responsibility of providing accountability to the leaders of the church (Hebrews 13:17; I Thess. 5:12-13; Acts 20:28; Gal. 6:1).
It would be really 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”?
Although God has assigned watchful accountability as the special responsibility of leaders, Hebrews 3 reminds us that the whole church shares the responsibility. No one may say, “Why didn’t the leaders do their job and help this person walk with Christ?” We need to see this as a whole Church responsibility. The leaders do not need to micromanage this ministry. Sometimes the people in a Church can provide aspects of accountability that pastors cannot as effectively offer (e.g. a plumber helping another plumber; an attorney encouraging another attorney, etc…).
A look at the context
In considering the calling in Hebrews 3:12-14, it’s 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 author of Hebrews is saturated with pastoral concern for these believers. They had grown weary in well-doing and were tempted to give up and return to Judaism.
Hebrews 10:32-36 provides insight:
“Remember those earlier days after you had received the light, when you endured in a great conflict full of suffering. Sometimes you were publicly exposed to insult and persecution; at other times you stood side by side with those who were so treated. You suffered along with those in prison and joyfully accepted the confiscation of your property, because you knew that you yourselves had better and lasting possessions. So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded. You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised.”
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!”
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.
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 history and be challenged by it!
In chapter 11, he uses the examples of Old Testament believers to encourage them (see 12:1-2). In 13:7, he will appeal to their past leaders. In chapter 10, he appeals to their own spiritual resume and holds it before them to challenge them to continue. Due to suffering and difficulties, they had grown weary and were tempted to give up. This is perhaps the occasion for the words in Hebrews 10:23-25.
“Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”
The book of Hebrews is a model for helping weary Christians stay on the right path. And it reminds us that God chose the accountability of Christian fellowship to help His people persevere. Too often this is a missing dynamic in the fellowship of God’s people.
The role God would have His people fulfill is one of providing reinforcement in the faith for each other. Some people like to stay on the fringe because they’ve embraced the individualistic attitudes of our culture. Others cherish their sins and don’t want to risk being challenged to forsake them.
In Western culture, we cherish privacy and independence. An American goal is to move ourselves to a place of total independence. This perpetuates an anti-community, anti-one-another and anti-interdependence behavior — the exact opposite of God’s plan for local Churches!
Consider this picture of local Church life:
- Accept one another (Rom 15:7)
- Carry each other’s burdens (Gal. 6:2)
- Have equal concern for each other (1 Cor. 12:25)
- Watch out for one another (Heb. 3:12-13)
- Encourage one another (1 Thess. 4:18; 5:11; Heb. 3:13; 10:25)
- Live in harmony with one another (1 Pet. 3:8)
- Confess your sins to each other (Jas. 5:16)
- Be devoted to one another (Rom. 12:10)
- Edify one another (Rom. 14:19; 1 Thess. 5:11)
- Consider others better than yourselves (Phil. 2:3)
- Bear with one another (Eph. 4:2; Col. 3:13)
- Forgive each other (Eph. 4:32)
- Honor one another (Rom. 12:10)
- Offer hospitality to one another (1 Pet. 4:9)
- Be kind and compassionate to one another (Eph. 4:32)
- Live in harmony toward one another (Rom. 12:16; 15:5)
- Love one another (John 13:34-35; 15:12, 17; Rom. 13:8)
- Be members of one body (Rom. 12:5; Eph. 4:25)
- Be at peace with each other (Mark 9:50; Eph. 4:3)
- Pray for each other (Jas. 5:16)
- Serve one another (Gal. 5:13; 1 Pet. 4:10)
- Spur one another on to love and good deeds (Heb. 10:24)
- Submit to one another (Eph. 5:21; 1 Pet. 5:5)
- Teach one another (Col. 3:16)
Based on this list, believers were/are intended to have deeply meaningful interaction of life with one another. This is not a picture of superficial or casual engagement. It depicts life-together in mutual love, honor, unity, service and accountability.
The New Testament vision for a local Church is one of meaningful interdependence and loving accountability among a group of Christ-followers who exist under the pastoral oversight of elders. Although I believe one should not join a Church where the leaders do not teach and model this, our main question should not be where can I find this kind of fellowship, but how well am I offering it to others. Those who only ask the first question approach the church like consumers. Those who ask both questions approach the Church as obedient participants.
See also: Warning: Dangerous people