STUDY SIX: THE HOLY SPIRIT AND THE BELIEVER

© Rosemary Bardsley 2009

 

This study on the Holy Spirit and the believer brings together the New Testament teaching on the Holy Spirit’s on-going relationship with the church corporately and with the individual person who genuinely believes in the Lord Jesus Christ .

 

A. The Spirit of God dwells within the believer and the church

The New Testament is consistent in its teaching that the Spirit of God lives within the individual believer and within groups of believers gathered together as the church.

How do these verses refer to the fact that Christians individually and/or corporately are the dwelling place of the Spirit of God?

Ezekiel 36:27

 

 

John 14:17

 

 

Romans 8:9

 

 

Romans 8:11

 

 

1Corinthians 3:16

 

 

1Corinthians 6:19

 

 

Ephesians 2:21-22

 

 

 

A.1 Father, Son and Spirit present in the believer and the church

It is also the clear and consistent teaching of the New Testament that the presence of the Spirit within the believer and the church is also the presence of the Father and the Son.

In these verses which person [or persons] of the Trinity is said to be present in the believer through the presence of the indwelling Spirit?

John 14:16

 

 

John 14:17

 

 

John 14:18

 

 

John 14:20

 

 

John 14:23

 

 

John 14:28

 

 

John 15:26

 

 

John 16:7

 

 

John 16:13

 

 

1John 3:24

 

 

1John 4:13

 

 

These verses should teach us two important truths:

[1] That we must never minimize the significance of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is God. Just as to see and know the Son is to see and know the Father, even so to have the Spirit dwelling within us is to have the Father and the Son dwelling within us. This is an awesome thing: that God comes to us and makes us his dwelling place, a thing we should never treat with blasphemous contempt thinking it is ‘just the Spirit’. To be indwelt by the Spirit is to be indwelt by God.

[2] That to seek an experience of God beyond this indwelling is an ungrateful rejection and inferred reduction of the complete salvation he graciously gives us in his Son. This indwelling is the age-long promise of God. This indwelling is the promise of the Son. This indwelling is the culmination of the saving action of the Father and the Son. This indwelling is the restoration of the human relationship with God for which we were created, but which we rejected and therefore forfeited in Genesis 3. This indwelling is the life of union with God which was always his intention for us. This indwelling is the end result of the Gospel that Paul summarizes with his words: Christ in you, the hope of glory [Colossians 1:27].

 

B. The activity and significance of the indwelling Spirit

The indwelling Spirit of God is neither inactive not insignificant. His work within the individual Christian and in the church is referred to many times in the Bible.

B.1 According to the promises of Jesus Christ in John 7 and 14 - 16

What does Jesus say the Holy Spirit will do to or for the believer when he comes to dwell in the believer? [Note all of these are from John’s Gospel.]

7:37

 

 

14:16

 

 

14:20

 

 

14:23

 

 

14:26

 

 

 

15:26

 

 

16:13

 

 

 

16:14

 

 

16:15

 

 

 Jesus here teaches us that the Spirit within us:

  • Is the source of ‘living water’ – that is, of spiritual life, nourishment and sustenance; the basis of our spiritual survival [John 7:37-39]; not only this, but this ‘living water’ will flow from us to others.
  • Is the source of comfort and encouragement which equates with the comfort and encouragement of the presence of Christ himself [John 14:16,18,19,28; 16:7].
  • Gives the basis for and the assurance of the believer’s knowledge of God and union with God [John 14:17,20]
  • Assures the believer of the Father’s love [John 14:23]
  • Gives instruction and understanding in the truth of God in Jesus Christ [John 14:25-26; 15:26; 16:12-15]
  • Glorifies Jesus Christ [John 16:14-15].

In John 14 -16 Jesus was very much aware of the disciples’ need for assurance. They were troubled by the fact that he was going away, and in this context he assures them on two counts: [1] that he would come back to them, that he would not leave them as ‘orphans’. In this he meant that he would be present with them in the presence of the Spirit; and [2] that this was actually better for them than if he had stayed with them in his human form. It is only after he returns to the Father that the Spirit would come and live in them – a gift that means the presence of Christ with them at all times, and in every place, something impossible for the incarnate Christ. Now Christ is with them, and, from Pentecost on, Christ will be in them, irrespective of time or place, by means of the indwelling Spirit.

B.2 In other teaching of Jesus Christ

There are a small number of other times in which Jesus referred to the ministry of the Holy Spirit:

  • In Matthew 10:20 and Luke 12:12 Jesus taught his disciples that the Holy Spirit would teach them what to say if they were brought before the authorities because of their involvement in his mission. Note that these promises were given to the disciples before Pentecost, that is, before the out-pouring of the Spirit. A similar promise is given is Mark 13:11; there it clearly covers both the pre-Pentecost and post-Pentecost eras.
  • Jesus statement in John 4:23,24 describes true worship – worship that is ‘in spirit and in truth’. While some teachers and Bible translators understand ‘spirit’ to be referring to a human attitude, there is also adequate reason to understand ‘spirit’ to refer to the Holy Spirit, by whose regenerative action and indwelling the believer is enabled to offer genuine worship to God – something impossible for the unregenerate person.

B.3 In the Acts of the Apostles

In the Acts of the Apostles we read of a series of historical and perceptual transitions as various groups were incorporated into the church of Jesus Christ. These groups were:

  • The initial group of about 120 Jews who had believed in Jesus Christ during his incarnation. This group included the eleven faithful disciples, plus Matthias who was selected in to replace Judas from among those who had been with Jesus during the years of his ministry, and were witnesses of his resurrection. [Acts 1]
  • Jews generally [Acts 2 – 5]
  • Samaritans [Acts 8]
  • Gentiles [Acts 10]
  • Disciples of John the Baptist [Acts 19].

After the initial out-pouring of the Spirit at Pentecost, it is only at the point of incorporation of the non-Jewish groups into the church that there are any audible or visible phenomena associated with regeneration by the Spirit, or baptism with the Spirit/reception of the gift of the Spirit. It is clear from the Jewish Christians’ antagonism to the inclusion of the Gentiles, and from Peter’s witness in Acts 11 and 15, that this observable evidence of divine regeneration/baptism was essential. Without it the Christian Jews would have reserved the Gospel for themselves and for only those Gentiles who were willing to submit to Jewish [Old Testament] rituals.  This God-given observable evidence is mentioned in Acts 8:15-18; 10:44-47; 11:15; 15:8; 19:1-6. While the conversion of many other people is recorded in Acts, it is only on these three occasions, when a new cultural group is being added to the church, that the gift of the Spirit is accompanied by observable phenomena.

Apart from this confirmatory action of the Spirit at these significant transitional points in the history of the church, we also find the following actions of the Spirit of God in Acts:

  • The Holy Spirit gave specific directions to Philip [8:29], Peter [10:19; 11:12] and the church at Antioch [13:2,4]. [Note: this is not specifically the action of the indwelling Spirit, but of God generally.]
  • The church was ‘encouraged by the Holy Spirit’ and as a result ‘grew in numbers, living in the fear of the Lord’ [9:31].
  • Agabus ‘through the Spirit’, predicted a severe famine throughout the Roman world [Acts 11:28].
  • The church council at Jerusalem, meeting to decide whether or not Gentile believers had to submit to Jewish rituals, were guided to their decision by the Holy Spirit [15:28].
  • The Holy Spirit prevented Paul and his companions from carrying out certain mission-trip plans [16:6,7].
  • The Holy Spirit repeatedly warned Paul he would be imprisoned if he went to Jerusalem [20:23; 21:4,11] even though it was the Holy Spirit who ‘compelled’ Paul to go there [20:22].
  • The Holy Spirit made the Ephesian elders ‘overseers’ of the ‘flock’ [20:28].

Apart from these almost incidental historical references there is no teaching given about the indwelling presence and work of the Spirit in Acts.

B.4 According to the rest of the New Testament

When we come to the rest of the New Testament we find that almost every apostolic letter contains some teaching about the Spirit of God who since Pentecost lives within all who believe in Christ. We have already looked at the confirmation and assurance of salvation given by the Spirit as part of the salvation package, and we must remember that this confirmation and assurance is an on-going action of the Spirit throughout the life of the believer. What we look at now is additional to that confirmation and assurance.

B.4.1 The Spirit initiates and sustains a radical new way of relating to God

Perhaps the first inkling we get that a radical change takes place as a result of the action of the Spirit is in John 3 where Jesus spoke to Nicodemus about the flesh/Spirit contrast, making it quite clear that if a person views life and reality from a flesh-only perspective or paradigm he/she will never see nor enter the kingdom of God, indeed, it is an impossibility. Flesh gives birth only to flesh. Spirit gives birth to spirit. There are two competing and contrasting paradigms here. There are two distinct lives here. Jesus did a similar thing with the Samaritan woman in John 4 – drawing here out of her earth-bound perspectives and into a Spirit-generated perspective.

It is when we come to Paul’s letters that we see this flesh/Spirit contrast more fully expressed. The person who is flesh-only, and who strives to relate to God on a flesh-only basis is in an impossible position spiritually. The person enlightened and regenerated by the Spirit of God, and indwelt by the Spirit of God, has by the Spirit been placed in an entirely different relationship with God. The mindsets or paradigms of these two positions, these two ways of relating to God, are diametrically opposed.

 

The old paradigm of a flesh-based relationship with God

The new paradigm of a Spirit-generated relationship with God

Note: the Greek text simply has ‘flesh’ not ‘sinful nature’ in these verses

Rom 7:6

The Law bound us

Served in the old way of the written code

Released from the Law to serve in the new way of the Spirit

Rom 8:1-2

Condemnation under the law of sin and death

No condemnation. Set free through Christ Jesus by the law of the Spirit of life

Rom 8:3-4

Lived according to the flesh – could not be righteous by the law

Live according to the Spirit – righteous requirements of the law fully met by the death of Christ

Rom 8:5

Minds set on what the flesh desires

Minds set on what the Spirit desires

Rom 8:6

Mindset is death

Mindset is life and peace

Rom 8:7

Hostile to God;

Does not and cannot submit to God’s law

 

Rom 8:8

Cannot please God

 

Rom 8:9

Controlled by the flesh

Controlled by the Spirit

Rom 8:9

Does not have the Spirit

Does not belong to Christ

Has the indwelling Spirit of God

Rom 8:10

 

Christ in you

Your spirit is alive

Rom 8:11

 

Spirit of God [who raised Christ from the dead] is living in you

Promise of physical resurrection

Rom 8:12,13

Lives according to the flesh

 

Dies

Has an obligation to live according to the Spirit, counting the deeds of the flesh impotent and worthless.

Lives

Rom 8:14

 

Led by the Spirit; Sons of God

Rom 8:15

Slaves to fear

Sons of God

2Cor 3:6

Old covenant of the letter

Kills

New covenant of the Spirit

Gives life

2Cor 3:8-9

Under a ministry that condemns

Ministry of the Spirit is glorious – brings righteousness

2Cor 5:16-17

Views people according to ‘flesh’

Views people [believers] ‘in Christ’

Totally new ‘creation’ – a whole new world – a whole new paradigm or perspective

Gal 3:2-5

Not the way the Spirit is received

Depends on human effort

Depends on observing the law

Spirit received through faith

Depends on the Spirit

Depends on faith

Gal 4:1-7

In slavery under the basic principles of the world

God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts

No longer slaves but sons and heirs of God

Note that this contrast is followed through right to the end of Galatians 4.

Gal 5:4-5

Tries to be justified by law

By faith, through the Spirit, eagerly wait for the righteousness for which we hope

Gal 5:17

Desires what is contrary to the Spirit

Desires what is contrary to the flesh

Gal 5:18

Under law

Led by the Spirit; not under law

Note that the rest of Galatians 5:19 – 6:10 applies this contrast to the practical choices of life.

Phil 3:3

Puts confidence in the flesh

Worship by the Spirit of God

Glories in Jesus Christ

Before our conversion we stood alone and exposed in the presence of God – simply ‘flesh’, trying, if we were religious, to gain and maintain a relationship with God by our own ability to keep his Law. This was in impossible quest that kept us enslaved and condemned. After our conversion we live in a relationship of acceptance with God in which we consider our own perceived law-keeping to be worthless and in which we depend not on ourselves but on Christ through the revelation, regeneration and indwelling of the Spirit. We no longer relate to God kata sarka – according to flesh, but kata pneuma – according to Spirit.

This works two ways:

[1] in that, we have ceased to give saving significance or condemning significance to our works – we think a new way in which we relate to God always, ever and only in and through Christ, and

[2] in that we now seek to live our lives directed by the Spirit – we live a new way under the control of the Spirit.

B.4.2 The Holy Spirit as our teacher

Just as it is the Holy Spirit who reveals the Father and the Son to us in bringing us to salvation in Christ, so it is the Holy Spirit who continues to teach us the message and the meaning of Jesus Christ and his death.

What do these verses teach us about the teaching/instructing ministry of the Holy Spirit?

Ephesians 3:14-19

 

 

Ephesians 6:17

 

 

1Thess 4:8

 

 

1Thess 5:19-20

 

 

1Tim 4:1

 

 

1John 5:6-8

 

 

Revelation 2:7,11,17,29

3:6,13,22

 

 

Rev 14:13

 

 

Rev 22:17

 

 

As we have done before in relation to the Spirit revealing Christ to us, so here we must again return to 1Corinthians 2:6-16.

Reflect on 1Cor 2:6-16. From this, identify the significance of the Holy Spirit for your on-going ability to understand and know spiritual truth. Explain how this passage contradicts the contemporary post-modern perception that ‘truth’ does not exist and cannot be known in any objective sense.

 

 

 

 

B.4.3 The Holy Spirit and godly living

Part of the teaching and instruction given to us by the Spirit is about how to live our lives as God’s dearly loved children. But his action in this is more then just telling us how to live; it includes enabling us; it includes changing us so that our minds and actions are increasingly conformed to the mind and actions of Jesus Christ. This impact was anticipated in the prophetic expectations of the Spirit, where, for example, God said ‘I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws’ [Ezekiel 36:27] and ‘I will put my law in their minds and write in on their hearts …’ [Jeremiah 31:33].

The New Testament has a lot to say connecting the Holy Spirit with a godly Christian life. How do these verses explain the impact and action of the Holy Spirit in the life of the individual believer?

Rom 14:17

 

 

Rom 15:13

 

 

2Cor 3:17-18

 

 

 

2Cor 6:6

 

 

Galatians 5:5

 

 

Gal 5:16,22-26 Ephesians 5:9

 

 

Ephesians 3:16

 

 

Ephesians 4:3

 

 

Ephesians 4:30

 

 

Ephesians 6:17

 

 

Ephesians 6:18

 

 

Phil 1:19

 

 

Colossians 1:8

 

 

1Thess 1:6

 

 

1Thess 4:7,8

 

 

2Timothy 1:14

 

 

Jude 19,20

 

 

B.4.4 The Holy Spirit and Christian fellowship

A small number of verses identify the Holy Spirit as the basis of inter-personal Christian fellowship or unity:

  • Ephesians 4:3-4: because there is ‘one Spirit’ [along with various other unifying facts] believers are to ‘make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit’.
  • In 2Corinthians 13:14 Paul’s final greeting prays for ‘the fellowship of the Holy Spirit’ to be with all his readers.
  • In Philippians 2:1 Paul bases his encouragement to the Philippians to humbly care for each other’s interests on the fact of their common ‘fellowship with the Spirit’.

Thus the indwelling Spirit is the basis of Christian unity and the motivation for practical Christian unity expressed in mutual love and concern.

B.4.5 The Holy Spirit and the suffering believer

In the chapter in which Paul speaks most of the Holy Spirit [Romans 8] he also speaks of the Holy Spirit’s ministry to the believer in the context of suffering.

  • Having just taught that the indwelling Spirit testifies that the believer is a child of God enjoying an intimate relationship with the Father [8:14-16] he then goes on to say that this relationship in which we are identified as co-heirs with Christ will of necessity involve suffering [verse 17].
  • In 8:18-39 Paul teaches that suffering is common not only to all people but to the whole of creation – a condition resulting from the human fall [Genesis 3] which will not be removed until the consummation of all things at the end of the age. Thus suffering must not be seen by the believer to indicate a severance of the believer from the love of God. Nothing – no suffering – has the power to do that.
  • In the interim, in this life in which suffering in some form or other is the inevitable common lot of believers and unbelievers alike, the Holy Spirit has a specific ministry to believers:
    • The Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness [8:26]
    • When our suffering is so heavy or complex that we don’t even know how or what to pray, the Holy Spirit intercedes for us [8:26]
    • He does so without words, without speech of any kind [8:26]
    • In doing so he groans – just like the creation [verse 22] as it suffers, just as we do when we suffer [verse 23]. This assures us that the Holy Spirit within us feels with us in our suffering. He knows. He suffers. [Note the significance of ‘in the same way’ in verse 26.]
    • His intercession for us is thus not based on any divine ignorance of our human suffering, but on God’s intimate knowledge of our hearts [8:27]. [Let us not forget here that the incarnate Son of God was pressured in every way, just as we are, and so is able to sympathize with our weakness (Hebrews 2:10-18: 4:14-16), and that the Holy Spirit within us is the Spirit of Jesus.]
    • His intercession for believers is also based on his divine perspective [8:27]. [Note: the Greek text reads ‘according to God’; it does not include the words ‘the will of’. This is an interpretation added by translators.]

In addition, Peter encourages believers who are suffering because of the name of Christ by assuring them that ‘the Spirit of glory and of God’ rests on them [1Peter 4:14], and that they therefore ought not to be ashamed, but to praise God that they bear that name [verse 16].

B.4.6 Empowerment by the Holy Spirit

Empowerment by the Spirit has been given to various people in both Old and New Testaments. In the post-Pentecost era we find the following:

  • Jesus promised that when he poured out the Spirit the disciples would ‘receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you’ and that as a result of this they would be his witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and to the ends of the earth [Acts 1:8].
  • Acts reports that various disciples were ‘filled with the Spirit’, which empowered them to speak boldly [see Study 7 on being filled with the Spirit].
  • In Romans 15:13 Paul prayed that his readers would ‘overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit’.
  • Paul said that when he brought the Gospel to the Corinthians his message and his preaching were ‘a demonstration of the Spirit’s power’ [1Corinthians 2:4].
  • The apostles were empowered by the Holy Spirit to do signs, wonders and miracles which confirmed their message and their apostleship [Romans 15:19; Hebrews 2:4; see also 2Corinthians 12:12].

[For further on empowerment in the post-Pentecost era see Study 7]

 

C. Negative attitudes to the Holy Spirit

It is difficult to know just where to include the verses in this section. In one way or another they each express a negative human response or relationship to the Holy Spirit. I have decided to include them is this study on the Holy Spirit and the Believer, as they help us to think through that difficult question – ‘Can genuine Christians lose their salvation?’

C.1 When a genuine believer refuses the Spirit’s direction and thus grieves the Spirit

In Ephesians 4:30 Paul tells us not to ‘grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption’. This is clearly addressing genuine believers. In this verse Paul is telling us not to do the kind of things that grieve the indwelling Spirit, things that are totally inappropriate for people whom God has forgiven [4:32] and who are God’s dearly loved children and also children of light [5:1-14]. The salvation of people who grieve the Spirit is not at risk. Indeed Paul reminds them that they were ‘sealed for the day of redemption’, making their assurance of salvation the motivation not to grieve the Holy Spirit by their disobedience.

C.2 When a genuine believer stifles the Spirit

In 1Thessalonians 5:19-22 Paul warns believers against quenching the Spirit. This happens when the proclamation of God’s word is treated with contempt, with no discernment being exercised between ‘evil’ and ‘good’ teaching. Again, the believer’s salvation is not at risk here; rather Paul goes on to pray for the continuing sanctification of the believers, and assures them that God, who calls them, is faithful and will accomplish this [5:23-24].

C.3 When unbelievers resist the Holy Spirit

In Acts 7:51 Stephen accused the listening Jews of always resisting the Holy Spirit, just as their ‘fathers’ had done when they rejected the prophets right through their history. This rejection of the Spirit of God is the same thing as rejection of the Word of God, both in the history of Israel and when confronted with the incarnate Word, Jesus Christ [7:51-53]. About unbelievers, not believers. Note that belonging to the physical people of God [here the nation of Israel] does not indicate membership of the spiritual people of God.

C.4 When unbelievers blaspheme against the Holy Spirit

Jesus gave a solemn warning to those who blaspheme the Holy Spirit [Mark 3:29] where he stated that ‘whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven; he is guilty of an eternal sin’. This warning is also recorded by Matthew [12:32] and Luke [12:10]. The context in Matthew and Mark is the Jews’ accusation that Jesus was possessed [Mark 3:22,30] and cast out demons by the power of Satan, the prince of demons [Matthew 12:24: and Mark 3:22]. In Luke the context is that of disowning Jesus Christ and being disowned by God [12:8-9]. This blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is obviously identical to blasphemy against God. From Mark and Matthew it is clear that this ultimate, unforgivable sin consists in the failure to recognize God, in the rejection of God, and worse – in the confusion of God with Satan or one of his demons. The same resistance against the Spirit identified by Stephen in the previous point is what is spoken of here. That the Spirit of God is at work in the words of God and in the Word of God, Jesus Christ, and he is either [1] not recognized, [2] resisted and rejected, or [3] identified with Satan. It is impossible for a person in such a state of rejection of God and failure to see or discern God, to ever find eternal life and forgiveness of sin while they continue in that rejection/blasphemy.

C.5 When people assumed to be believers insult or reject the Spirit

We come now to the difficult question: that of the visible falling away of people we had assumed to be genuine believers.

[1] Hebrews 6:4-6 speaks of the impossibility of people who ‘have shared in the Holy Spirit’ being ‘brought back to repentance’ ‘if they fall away’. At face value, this sounds like it is possible for genuine believers to ‘fall away’ and lose their salvation.

[2] 1John 2:18-19 throws some light on this: John teaches that those who apostatized never actually belonged to the believing group to begin with, and their departure from the faith is evidence of that. It is those who remained who have the ‘anointing from the Holy One’ and ‘know the truth’.  In other words, although part of the physical group of believers, and as part of the group being exposed to the truth of God and seeing the working of the Spirit of God, they had never really believed God’s truth or received God’s Spirit.

[3] John further enlightens us in 1John 4:1-6. Here he commands us to distinguish between people [who are claiming to be ‘prophets’ – that is, claiming to be teachers of God’s truth] on the basis of their alignment: they are either aligned with the Spirit of God or they are aligned with the spirit of the antichrist.

Of those who are aligned with the spirit of the antichrist he says:

  • There are ‘many’ of them [1]
  • They are ‘false prophets’ [1]
  • They have ‘gone out into the world’ [1]
  • They do not acknowledge the full humanity and the true deity of Jesus Christ [3]
  • They are not from God [3,6]
  • They are the spirit of the antichrist [3] which is already in the world
  • They are from the world [5]
  • They speak from the viewpoint of the world [5]
  • The world listens to them [5]
  • They do not listen to the teaching of those who are from God [6]
  • They are aligned with the ‘spirit of falsehood’ [6]

The phrase in verse 1 stating that ‘they have gone out into the world’ seems to indicate that they were once in the visible church, but now have left the visible church and returned to the world. This is supported by John’s previous statements in 2:18-19, where he refers to people who have left the visible church, and whom he actually terms ‘antichrists’. This in turn indicates that these people, although they associated for a time with gatherings of believers, and some even having teaching responsibilities, had never been regenerated by the Spirit or indwelt by the Spirit.

In contrast in 4:1-6 John describes those who persevere in genuine faith:

  • Because the Spirit of God is in them they acknowledge the true humanity and deity of Jesus Christ [1-2]
  • The Spirit with whom they are aligned is from God [2]
  • They are from God [4,6]
  • They have overcome those aligned with the spirit of the antichrist [4]
  • They know God and listen to the teaching of those who are from God [6]
  • They are aligned with the Spirit of truth [6]

 

[4] Hebrews 10:29 refers to people who have ‘insulted the Spirit of grace’. The context [10:26-39] identifies these people:

  • They keep on sinning after having received the knowledge of the truth [26]
  • Their rejection of the Gospel is compared to the rejection of the law of Moses [28]
  • They trample the Son of God under foot [29]
  • They consider the blood of Christ common – ‘unholy’ [29]

Their fate is:

  • A fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God [27]
  • They deserve to be punished much more than those who rejected the law of Moses [28-29]
  • They face God’s justice [30]
  • They fall into the hands of God [31]
  • God will not be pleased with them [38]
  • Destruction [39]

 

The bottom line here is that these verses refer to people who because of their presence in gatherings of believers have heard the truth; they have physically heard and understood teaching about Jesus Christ and his death communicated by the Holy Spirit in the proclamation of the gospel. They may even have given lip-service to that truth. Yet it is obvious that they have not been regenerated by the Spirit; as 1John 4 points out, they do not originate from God. This becomes evident at several levels:

  • What they believe about Jesus Christ – they do not really believe in the real incarnation.  
  • In the context of Hebrews the phrase ‘keep on sinning’ is most likely a reference not to moral sin, but to the sin of unbelief; this is the sin to which the writer repeatedly refers, and against which he repeatedly warns his readers. 
  • Unbelief will eventually express itself; the most likely expression is that people go off into false teaching [as in John’s letter] or simply give in in the face of difficulty [as warned against in Hebrews].

Genuine belief is generated by the Holy Spirit; it does not and cannot revert to unbelief. The exhortations to persevere were never meant to generate the fear of losing salvation, but to encourage the expression of real faith that continues to believe. The continuance of belief is the validation of faith.