Do you remember those days when you were in school and the teacher was going around the room calling on people to answer questions about the subject you were assigned to study before this class? Do you remember what it was like when you just knew she was about to call your name and that you hadn’t read the material assigned, much less learned it sufficiently to answer questions about it? Do you remember trying to shrink down in your desk just as low as possible to try to make yourself invisible to her? I’m afraid I remember lots of days like that. Here is the problem with such times. It is easy for my shrinking back from a question or from an assignment to become my way of life. It is easy to go from the classroom to the job sight and from the job sight to my family life and from my family life to my life before God as a disciple of Christ. Our way of dealing with one aspect of life all too easily bleeds over into all the areas of our life so that we aren’t really stepping up and being the person we are called to be in any of life.
The writer of the Book of Hebrews sees the people he loved and had spent lots of time working with, shrinking back in their faith and devotion to the Lord, so that they are questioning their faith and wondering about their decisions. Listen to his plea to them in Hebrews 10:36-39. “You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised. For, ‘In just a little while, he who is coming will come and will not delay.’ And, ‘But my righteous one will live by faith, And I take no pleasure in the one who shrinks back.’ But we do not belong to those who shrink back and are destroyed, but to those who have faith and are saved.” In making his appeal to the church he loved, he referred them to Old Testament statements in Isaiah and Habakkuk to try to move them to the right kind of decisions and dedication.
Notice his use of the little phrase “SO THAT”. We need to persevere SO THAT when you have done the will of God you will receive what God has promised you. One of the most common aspects of Scripture is that God makes huge promises to His people IF they will live by faith and do His will in their life. Peter referred to God’s “Great and precious promises through which we participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust.” What comes you your mind immediately when you think of God’s great promises to his people? I suspect the first word on most of our lips would be “heaven.” It is certainly an amazing and precious promise. I would say that one of the greatest promises is God’s PRESENCE in the life of his disciples. Remember the word “Immanuel” means “God with us.” Jesus by taking on human flesh and living among us as one of us gave full meaning to the concept of God’s presence with us.
What is amazing is that God has constantly worked to have that presence among his people. In Eden he walked with Adam and Eve in the garden. Noah, Enoch and Abraham walked with God. When the children of Israel built the tabernacle by God’s plans God showed his presence among them with the cloud by day and fire by night. The temple had the most holy place for God to be among them. When Jesus neared the time to leave this world and ascend back to the Father, notice he declared to all disciples, “I will not leave you as orphans.” He promised to send the Holy Spirit who will abide with us forever. So the church as a whole became the temple of God and the Spirit of God lives in the church (Ephesians 2:20-22). The local church or congregation became a temple of God where the Spirit of God dwells and if anyone defiles that temple God will destroy him (I Corinthians 3:16-17). But it is also true that each Christian became a temple of God and the Spirit of God comes to live in each of us as His temple (I Corinthians 6:18-20). In reality the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are said to be in us so that all of deity can declare, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”
When God comes to live in a person through his Spirit, he doesn’t leave quickly. We can so turn from him that he gives up on us and departs. One of the reasons the Old Testament story of King Saul is so important is that it tells of God’s Spirit leaving Saul as he continued to disobey God and follow his own agenda. It intrigues me to see that Saul didn’t know it when the Spirit left him. What is equally amazing is that God’s Spirit came to live in David as the new king long before he became king. David messed up royally in his life. In the middle of his reign as king and as God’s man, the man after God’s own heart, he committed adultery with Bathsheba and murdered her husband to try to hide his sin. Yet in Psalms 51 David had been confronted by Nathan the prophet for his sin and prayed one of the greatest prayers of repentance ever recorded. In that prayer David pleaded with God to not take his Holy Spirit from him. Saul teaches us that we can go far enough away from God for him to take his Holy Spirit away and let us go. David teaches us that God is slow about removing His Spirit. He longs to have his presence in our life even when we mess up royally.
No wonder the writer of Hebrews pleads with them to persevere. Don’t shrink back! If you shrink back you will be destroyed. Instead of shrinking back and being destroyed, live by faith and be among the saved forevermore. He will go from this statement to telling us stories of living by faith and what it means to hold on to our faith and be saved.
We can listen and read different teachings of all sorts about living by faith. Often our stories lead one to believe that all that is involved is making some statement of belief and praying a short prayer. God had the writer of Hebrews to tell us clearly what walking by faith really means. When you read Hebrews 11 one obvious point is that faith with God always involves being obedient to the Lord and following his guide. Every story of faith involves action. Not a single time did it have anything to do with declaring I believe and saying a prayer for salvation. Read it and think about faith.