Saturday, July 19, 2014

Confidence through Christ

One of the repeated motives of Hebrews is a call to faithfulness and confidence on the basis of Christ's accomplished work of salvation. This is a point the author repeatedly emphasizes, a signal heralded again and again throughout the entire work. It is important because Christ's accomplished work gives us the confidence and the fidelity to know that our sufferings, travails, and misfortunes are not too much to bear.

The story of salvation as the book of Hebrews knows it is the same classic one from the beginning of the church. The Son of God assumed a condition like ours so that we might receive a condition like his; he became as we are so that we might be made like he is.

He saw that we share in flesh and blood (Heb 2.14) and that we are mortal, and so he took them upon himself so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone (2.9). Seeing that the existing covenant cannot perfect the conscience of the worshiper (9.9), that the law . . . can never . . . make perfect those who approach (10.1), he assumes the condition of those under the law and through his death redeems them from the transgressions under the first covenant (9.15). These are all references to the downward aspect of Christ's incarnation: he becomes as we are.

But there is also an upward aspect of Christ's incarnation, namely the sanctification of his human nature, its divinization, its uplift to the image of God. Thus Christ, after offering himself, entered into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God (9.24). When he had made purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much superior to the angels as the name he inherited is more excellent than theirs (1.3-4). The resurrected Christ is now crowned with glory and honor (2.9). In this respect he embodies God's goal for all of humanity: man was created to have dominion and power in the image of God (Gen 1.26-8); this is not yet a reality for all (Heb 2.8) but it is for the risen Christ, the goal of humanity.

Stăniloae is on the same page when he writes that Jesus Christ has come to ask humans to advance higher toward the goal of their fulfillment as human persons, a goal He already attained (The Experience of God: Orthodox Dogmatic Theology, vol. 3: The Person of Jesus Christ as God and Savior, p. 20).He likewise writes that Christ is the man fulfilled (p. 21).

Because we see where Christ has ended up, because we see what he has accomplished, and more importantly because we see that he did all of this for us, therefore we can have confidence and trust in this life. He knows what it is like to be tempted; therefore he is able to help those who are being tested (Heb 2.18). He is a priest forever; Consequently he is able for all time to save those who approach God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them (7.25). He has entered into the goal a forerunner on our behalf (6.20), and he calls us and beckons us to follow after him.

This, of course, will mean suffering. But Jesus suffered for us! Therefore, since Jesus also suffered outside the city gate in order to sanctify the people by his own blood, the author calls us to go to him outside the camp and bear the abuse he endured (13.12-3). In any case the alternative is not without suffering: how can we escape if we neglect so great a salvation? (2.3). Those who've heard the message of Christ's salvation and opt to live in sin anyway have nothing but a fearful prospect of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries (10.27): How much worse punishment do you think will be deserved by those who have spurned the Son of God, profaned the blood of the covenant by which they were sanctified, and outraged the Spirit of grace? (v. 29). Suffering inevitable: either now or then.

The point, however, is that suffering is not a necessary reality. The sufferings of the moment will pass for those who trust in Christ and who call upon him in their striving to enter the promised rest (4.11). Christ has gone and suffered it all for us, that having attained that which was intended for us, he might share it with us and strengthen us to bear the necessary burdens along the way. Thanks be to God! Therefore we can have confidence in the face of all suffering and evil through Christ, who is with us.