We long to find security in ourselves or in our culture. We tether our hopes and dreams to our education, connections, wealth, and status. With those we will all drift, subject to the winds of time and the subjective attitudes of our own hearts. Like a ship at sea, we are inclined to drift. The secure promises of God are what we need.
The starting point for our assurance is built on a promise made four thousand years ago to Abraham, sealed two thousand years ago when Christ died and rose again, and applied to us today. When you struggle to wonder if God accepts you to be a part of his family, of his church, remember that it is based not on your performance, but on his promise, a promise made certain by his oath. It is not just that Abraham received what was promised, but that the promise and subsequent oath extend to us today.
When Abram gazed at the starlit sky millennia ago (Gen. 15:3), the stars he counted were you and me, counted as his children as we are in Christ. In Galatians 3:16 Paul points out that the promise made to Abraham in Genesis was one made to Christ. He is the offspring God promised and the one Abraham sought. We are included in that promise, as we are numbered among those offspring who are in Christ (Gal. 3:26). As we are in Christ, we are all children of God through faith. This means we, in Christ, are heirs of the promise made to Abraham (Gal. 3:29).
God's Promise Is Assured by God's Oath (Heb. 6:16-18)
Why would God swear an oath? We do so because we are by nature untrustworthy. We have to swear on a stack of Bibles, or our mother's grave, or cross our heart and hope to die (odd contrivances, to say the least) to affirm our veracity. An oath is a solemn declaration that carries with it a curse if one's word is not fulfilled; it constrains us to follow through. Is God untrustworthy or capricious? Of course not.
The context of this oath flows from Abraham's obedience in trusting the promise given him, leading to his willingness to sacrifice his son Isaac. The promise God made to Abraham was solemnized by the oath on Mount Moriah. This is where Solomon would build the temple, where the Holy of Holies would rest, behind the veil that the high priest would cross once a year on the Day of Atonement. The oath was the confirmation that all God promised would come true, not just for Abraham but also for you and me. As Hebrews 6:16-17 tells us, the oath, based on God's unchanging character, is the final confirmation for Abraham and all the heirs of the promise. As we believe God's promise, all doubt is removed.
The promise and oath, two unchangeable things (6:18), are our assurance. But we live in a world in which confidence comes by performance, and assurance comes when we have achieved standing or status. We constantly check to see if we are acceptable to others, living often in fear as standards change. Even the most astute fashion maven will attest to the time he or she was behind the curve. For my wife, her awakening came as the seventh grade came to a close. In the warm June sun, all the popular girls were sporting plaid shorts. When September came, she knew exactly what to wear, the plaid shorts that only a few months before were all the rage, only to find out when she arrived for the first day of class that the standards had changed. Gone were the plaid shorts and in were the new fall maxi-skirts.
Nothing was wrong with the shorts, of course; it's just the way of fashion. But we are all, every one of us, fearful adolescents wanting acceptance. Here the good news of the gospel comes to us: God has sworn an oath and he will not change. The basis of our acceptance is not our plaid shorts, but God's oath and the certainty that God never changes.
The oath, which God swore to Abraham, is where we must flee (6:18). The author of Hebrews comes to the application of this truth, making it personal for us. When Christ is our refuge, when we seek acceptance in him, that's when we are able to hold fast. As we look to him, we no longer need to worry. Rather than replaying our past performance, seeing only failures, we have God's attestation made to Abraham applied to us, and that is real hope.
God's Promise Is Grounded in a Firm Hope (Heb. 19-20)
In the ancient world, the anchor was a common picture of hope, flowing from the idea of commerce that came from the sea and the wealth it brings. The early church adopted the anchor as one of its first symbols of the faith, so it is often found in the catacombs with the inscription, "Hope in Christ." Our hope is not fleeting but is likened to an anchor.
While an anchor sinks beneath the dark waves, attaching itself to what is immovable, the anchor of hope given to us by God's promise extends into the heavens, to the inner place behind the veil. Our security is found where Jesus has gone. He is better than the Aaronic priesthood, because he is a high priest after the order of Melchizedek. For that reason, God's promise is a sure hope.
The final image, the forerunner, is that of a pioneer or a lightly armed soldier who would scout the enemy position. It was also a nautical term for a small vessel launched from a larger ship to carry the anchor and line to moor the ship more securely, perhaps even taking the lines into the harbor, beyond the breakwater, to guide the ship to safety. Our certainty of hope is that the oath God swore four thousand years ago was sealed and guaranteed on the cross and by the empty tomb. Christ has entered the Holy of Holies, not in the temple on the mountain where Isaac was given in obedience, but in reality, in heaven where he intercedes for us today. He is the high priest and the sacrifice for us, and for that reason we are secure, we have hope. Our tether is secure because the anchor is attached to the ark, God's footstool, in the heavens.
When you question whether God can or will accept you, recognize that there is nothing you may offer to garner his pleasure, nothing but his promise, his oath. Your acceptance is assured and certain, for it is firmly rooted in the completed work of Christ. For this reason, you may be assured that you are accepted. God has called you and made an oath sealed with the blood of Jesus Christ. You are his and you belong.
Adapted from Chris Vogel, "God's Assuring Promise" Modern Reformation, Nov/Dec 2014. Used by permission.