And we desire each one of you to show the same earnestness to have the full assurance of hope until the end, so that you may not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises.
For when God made a promise to Abraham, since he had no one greater by whom to swear, he swore by himself, saying, “Surely I will bless you and multiply you.” And thus Abraham, having patiently waited, obtained the promise. For people swear by something greater than themselves, and in all their disputes an oath is final for confirmation. So when God desired to show more convincingly to the heirs of the promise the unchangeable character of his purpose, he guaranteed it with an oath, so that by two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us. We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain, where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf, having become a high priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.
There is no doubt that in this section of Hebrews we are being reminded of the certainty of God’s promises. But what is the point of reminding us of the promises of God? Why does the author of this sermon go to great lengths to remind us of the certainty of these promises? Is it so that we might believe them? What is the point of “a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul”? Is it only so we can have peace and comfort in the gospel?
One of my favorite promises of God in the Old Testament comes in 1 Samuel 16. In 1 Samuel 15 the Lord rejects Saul as king, but He does not remove him. Instead, the Lord sends Samuel out to anoint a new king. After examining Jesse’s children Samuel anoints David:
And the Lord said, “Arise, anoint him, for this is he.” 13 Then Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the midst of his brothers. And the Spirit of the Lord rushed upon David from that day forward. (1 Sam 16)
The promise is made to David that he will be king. He has the anointing of the Lord. Think about that promise from God. He was told by God’s true prophet he would be king of Israel one day.
Given a deep trust in the promises of the sovereign king of the universe, you can see how David could walk out confidently in front of the giant Goliath. Goliath might be big and he might be scary, but he cannot thwart the promises of God. In other words, David can go to battle with Goliath knowing that he will live to be king someday. Why? Because the true and living God made a promise to David. Some giant isn’t going to kill him and stop it. Knowing and trusting the promise of God allows David to live faithfully when the rest of Israel could not.
The context of Hebrews 6 tells us that the whole point about the promises of God is so that we may not be sluggish:
11 And we desire each one of you to show the same earnestness to have the full assurance of hope until the end, 12 so that you may not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises. (Heb 6)
God’s grace is amazing and his promises are a wonderful encouragement, but neither God’s grace nor His promises are meant merely to comfort us or pacify our anxieties-that would be cheap and selfish grace. Selfish because it places us at the center. And cheap because it misses the full bounty of God’s blessing and call. God’s grace and God’s promises are meant to spur us on.
We have the anchor for our soul so that we may not be sluggish. At the very least this means that as we come to know and trust the promises of God, we should examine how each specific promise is calling us to act faithfully in this moment. By doing so, we will experience the assurance that Hebrews is talking about. Or as Calvin says in his Institutes “Only if we walk in the beauty of God’s law do we become sure of our adoption as children of the father.”