Though we speak in this way, yet in your case, beloved, we feel sure of better things–things that belong to salvation. For God is not unjust so as to overlook your work and the love that you have shown for his name in serving the saints, as you still do. 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. –Hebrews 6:9-12
This passage comes right after the very sobering words of vv. 1-8. They can be quite depressing if you have had someone you love who has apostatized or love someone in the process of drifting there. The writer then offers some encouragement. He feels sure of better things—things that belong to salvation—for those who are still listening. He suggests he counts them as the good and fruitful field from v. 7 rather than the worthless and fruitless field of v. 8.
Then he offers something that might sound foreign to our Evangelical ears. He says that God will count your good works that you do for others in the church to you and that He’d be unjust to overlook those good works. I went through a phase quite a few years ago now where I had disdain for human good works. “Your best works are ‘but filthy rags,’” I’d say. I have repented of that view. Surely preaching the gospel, teaching your children the scriptures, taking a meal to a church member who is sick, or showing various kindnesses to the people of the church is not filthy rags. If we count on those things to merit our salvation, then sure, they are worthless. But if they are the fruit of our faith, then God will not overlook them. These are the things that belong to salvation.
The writer goes on to say that people who act this way should be copied. Be imitators, he says, of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises. It’s so good to know that the power to do this comes from the Lord. Think of Paul’s exhortation in Philippians 2 to “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” God does the work in us for the sake of the church, but does not overlook that we do that same work and counts it to us. And that’s the gospel.
Come hear it preached and enacted in the Supper this Sunday!