Hebrews 10 ends with a call to God’s saints regarding apostasy which is an intentional falling away or withdrawal from walking with and obeying the Lord.
Paul was falsely accused by some Jewish Believers of using the New Covenant to cause other Messianic Jews to forsake (apostatize from) the teachings of Moses (Acts 21:21). Paul speaks of a large falling away when he cautions the Thessalonians not to be misled about the coming of the Lord, for it will not come unless the apostasy comes first (2 Thessalonians 2:3). Jesus is clearly speaking of the same apostasy in Matthew 24:10C And at that time many will fall away and will deliver up one another and hate one another.
The term the author of Hebrews uses here means shrinking. Shrinking is the opposite of standing firm, of enduring. The problem with shrinking is that it’s contagious. It begins to happen when we are around people who are easily discouraged, or when we face situations that seemingly have no solution. It is generally accompanied by doubt, panic, pessimism, and great insecurity. Hebrews 10:38 tells us plainly that God “has no pleasure”, in the one who “shrinks back”.
Apostasy is determined by what you leave, not where you go after you leave. So if we are to avoid apostasy we need to know how to cure this problem. The best way to determine if we are shrinking is to examine our responses in the midst of trials and testing. Trials are God’s method of determining where we are in our relationship with Him. In the midst of our trials we will either draw nearer to God or move away from Him.
James the leader of the Congregation of Jewish Believers in Jerusalem counsels us to appreciate the tests and trials that come our way because they cause us to grow and not shrink (James 1:2-4).
In every believer there is a muscle called faith that has great potential. However like our natural muscles they can easily become soft and flabby unless they are put under stress. The stress that strengthens the muscles of our faith are the trials and tests that regularly come our way from the Lord. A test or trial that we experience is when our faith is challenged following that there is generally a period of waiting in which our faith is tested.
When the test ends, we experience the reward of faith. It is that middle time of waiting in the midst of the trial that is the subject of this portion of Scripture before us in this study. It is during that time that we can measure ourselves to see if we’re growing or shrinking.
Verse 32 was written to Jewish believers who were under incredible stress and pressures; trials that generally pale in comparison to ours. The word “conflict” in the original language is the word from which we get our word “athletics” and “athlete”. It is an allusion to the gladiators who were fighting for their life. In much the same way we can understand our battles in the midst of our trials.
It brings to mind the passage of Ephesians 6 which tells us of the spiritual battles that we fight. In our passage we have some examples of persevering in the midst of trials:
1) The trial of enduring in the midst of verbal attacks. Hebrews 10:33. The term “reproaches” has in mind “defamation. This includes being made an object of disgrace through verbal abuse exaggerations and outright lies.
2) The trial of “being made a public reproach through tribulations” Hebrews 10:33. This is related to the first trial but is more intense. Tribulations means “overt affliction,” which includes the pressure and distress coming from mistreatment.
3) The test of indirect suffering (Hebrews 10:33) “And partly by becoming sharers with those who were so treated.” – Sometimes this is harder for us to bear than a test itself, particularly when our children or loved ones are the ones who are attacked.
4) The test of losing valuable things – (Hebrews 10:34) “And accepted joyfully the seizure of your property” The losses may extend beyond our property to the loss of reputation, health, security, and freedom.
What is the answer? How do we handle our stressful tests? Hebrews 10:39 A But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who believe and are saved. This verse is the hinge that opens the door to Hebrews 11. A chapter which relates to us the history of our fathers who didn’t shrink or apostatize under the pressure of their trials.
Faith will never grow strong apart from the stress of endurance. The whole point of Hebrews 11 is to record this truth with a long list of examples of people who endured and didn’t shrink back. Some have called Hebrews 11 The Saints Hall of Fame, or The Faith Chapter – This chapter deals with the blessings that come from faith.
The Jewish people and for that matter modern professing Christians consider religion as a matter of works. Even after being shown the basic truths of the New Covenant, the tendency was for them to try to fit this New Covenant into the same mold. When Jesus came to Israel, God’s covenant people had distorted a walk with God by faith into a works system, with all kinds of legalistic requirements. A system of self-effort, self-salvation, and self-glorification. It was far from the faith system that God had given. In many ways it was a religious cult built on ethics. Not much different from liberal Christianity and many of the cults today.
This kind of religious distortion was despised by God because it was a corruption of the true system He had given. God has never redeemed man by works, but always by faith (Habakkuk 2:4). From the time of Adam on, God has honored faith not just works flowing from faith. Works have always been commanded as a by-product of faith, never as a means of salvation.
Faith is the way to life, and faith is the way to live. There has never been any other way. Faith did not originate with the New Covenant. It was also active in the Old.
Hebrews 10:1-6 gives us at least 5 truths regarding faith:
1) Faith involves confidence and conviction (Hebrews 10:1). The term “assurance” comes from a word meaning “to stand under” this word was used in the context of a foundation under a building or a deed which certified ownership.
2) Faith always relates to the future. Hebrews 10:1 …things hoped for” Faith is the cement we mix into hope to harden it. Hope is like an arrow that always looks forward to tomorrow. Part of the Passover of the Jewish people is partaking of bitter herbs, but we don’t leave the taste of bitterness in our mouth, we always immediately follow up by partaking of Charoses, a mixture of apples nuts and honey, to remember that at times life is bitter but it is always sweetened with the hope of redemption.
3) Faith has as its object “things that are not seen” With this truth operational in our lives, we have within us the ability to envision facts that are to be accomplished; to see them as already complete. This is how God sees us in Him.
4) Faith is basic to pleasing God (Hebrews 10:2,6) Faith is not simply one way to please God; it’s the only way. AWithout faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him (Hebrews 11:6).
No matter what else we may think, say, or do for or in the name of God, it is meaningless and worthless apart from faith. It cannot possibly be approved by God. Today we live in a world that short circuited the unified disciplines of knowledge. Man understood the supernatural, human history, science, ethics, economics – everything -within one frame of reference.
These areas were all part of total reality rooted and based on a faith in God the creator and sustainer of all. But then philosophy became rooted in rationalism, which denied the existence of the supernatural, including – especially including – God. The Bible was discredited as being unreliable consisting of myths.
Often in the name of biblical scholarship the new wave of scholars including theologians contradicted every supernatural claim of Scripture. They reduced all knowledge and reality to the area of natural reason, which dealt only with what the physical senses could observe and measure and with what the human mind could interpret on its own. Man became the measure of all things.
This became the basis for our humanistic, man centered perspective. Everything outside the sphere of man=s physical experience and intellectual understanding was denied or discounted. This shift made man nothing more than part of a huge, meaningless machine. Some philosophers began to see the limitations of rationalism. Kierkegaard, for example, decided to make a place for the supernatural by putting it in a different order of reality than the everyday world.
This upper story, as Francis Schaeffer and most recently Nancy Pearcey in her book Total Truth describe it, is thought not to be knowable in the same way that the lower, earthly level is knowable. It is experienced only by a leap of faith. Because it supposedly cannot really be known, and so every man is free to make of the supernatural what he wants. He can believe in a Wholly Other kind of god, as did Paul Tillich; or he can simply believe in believing, have faith in faith.
But what is believed has no definite content, no definite reality, no definite truth. It is purely existential, without content, non-rational, and non-logical. To use a phrase from Schaeffer again, it is an escape from reason the opposite extreme from that of rationalism. But God calls us to embrace True Truth no matter where it comes from, for truth is God’s Truth.
This forsaking of faith as the root of our world view leads to relativism can which ultimately leads us to meaninglessness and despair, which many proponents of this philosophy realized and acknowledge, men such as Satre, and Kirkigarde.
5) Faith means focusing on God fully (Hebrews 11:6)
For those of us who find ourselves in the process of shrinking which if left unchecked leads to apostasy, here is a practical prescription we can follow.
1) Ask yourself a question: Why is faith such a constant struggle for me; do I have some unresloved conflicts, some lingering bitterness that I’m holding onto that I haven’t released to the Lord?
2) Remind yourself to take one day at a time. Don’t get caught up in the maze of futile speculation of what about tomorrow (Matthew 6:24ff).
3) Find someone to help you: Look for someone you can get close to, an accountability partner who can help take the sting out of the in-between times and who can support you when you find yourself slipping backwards.