Hebrews and Real Warnings

by Reed DePace

This evening a friend sent me a link to an excellent article on the warning passages of Hebrews (found here). In the article Colin Hansen of the Gospel Coalition Q&A’s Dr. Peter O’Brien (Professor Emeritus, Moore College, Sydney, Australia). Dr. O’Brien provides an exceptional explanation, demonstrating that the key issue is between real faith and spurious faith.

Real faith is described at that which perseveres in adherence to and reliance on the person and work of Jesus Christ. Spurious faith is described as that which knowingly rejects sole reliance on Christ and returns to some form of self-reliance (in the case of Hebrews, expressed via the Mosaic system).

O’Brien’s description of spurious faith is consistent with the idea of temporary faith discussed here in the past at length.

This article deserves your attention.

Posted by Reed DePace (H/T: Dr. R. Fowler White)


  1. danseitz said,

    January 13, 2012 at 12:38 pm

    This is a Baptistic understanding of the Hebrews warning passages. As a Presbyterian, I believe what is missing here is that the Hebrew congregation were, as a result of their baptism (see the WCF), in the Christian Church and in covenant with Christ (the New Covenant). As such they were Christians, but not all necessary in the decretal elect sense. They have some connection to Christ as a result of their entry by baptism into the Church. Their situation is a parallel to the rebellious Israelites left in the wilderness for their unbelief, Hebrews 3:19. They, as are all of us in the New Covenant, are required to believe in Christ and repent of their sins. We are required to continue believing to the Last Day, and if we are God’s decretal elect we will (perseverence of the saints). “He who perseveres to the end will be saved.” The book of Hebrews is real warnings to Christians not to apostatize.

  2. danseitz said,

    January 13, 2012 at 12:52 pm

    Oh, and apostasy was stupid because Christ was superior to Moses (Judaism) and the angels and suicidal because the Roman General Titus was in a very short time coming to destroy Jerusalem. God was coming in judgment to serve the divorce papers to the Old Covenant people (the Jews) and put an end to Judaism. You history buffs will recall that this coming of the Lord took place in A. D. 70. Even though persecution was bad for the young Christian Church (both from the Jews for “the Mesiah heresy” and the Romans for recognizing Christ as their king not Caesar), the Hebrew church was told to stay the course.

  3. Reed Here said,

    January 13, 2012 at 6:49 pm

    Dan: I’m sorry, but how is O’Brien’s a baptistic understanding of the text?

  4. danseitz said,

    January 14, 2012 at 9:29 am

    A Presbyterian should understand that the Hebrew church would have been made up of those who were baptized into the Church (see WCF) and were part of God’s covenant people. Baptism in view here is real baptism exactly as Jesus commissioned as the entry rite into the Christian Church. The responsibility of God’s covenant people once in the Covenant is to repent and believe in Christ. The Hebrews are being warned not to do what most of God’s covenant people did in the wilderness. They didn’t believe (apostasy) and were wiped out proving they were reprobates. But they were not just extraneous people tagging along with the Israelites. They were Israelites; part of God’s covenant people. The Scripture states that their problem was that they didn’t believe. They were in the Covenant but they failed to keep it. They didn’t believe.

    Baptists don’t understand the Covenant God has with his people. They don’t understand the Scripture’s teaching on being baptized into Christ–real water baptism, not some indeciferable association of sorts–and sadly neither do a lot of Presbyterians. The wilderness group is not being contrasted to the Hebrew church here. They are parellel situations, not contrasting situations. The Hebrew church made up of baptized covenant people were considering going the same way as did those in the wilderness. This should be very simple to understand, IF you have any understanding of Scripture’s teaching about the Covenant.

    The Baptistic handling of the Hebrew warnings is a clumsy attempt to explain why some apparent “believers?” are thinking of chucking their redemption and going back to Judaism. To Baptists who don’t understand the Scripture on baptism, Hebrews with all the warnings is puzzling. Since they don’t understand that everyone baptized into the Church (God’s covenant people) are not elect in the decretal sense and that apostasy happens, they stumble through an exercise to explain these seeming mysteries. And while the author arrived at a correct understanding that those who would leave are not God’s decretal elect to begin with, It is a really an easy exegesis, if you understand the Scriptures teaching on the Covenant and what is the makeup of the visible Church. Apostasy happens.

  5. Reed Here said,

    January 14, 2012 at 2:18 pm

    Dan: yeah, so … aside from I don’t think you are accurately representing the best of baptist theology (not the point),

    How exactly is O’Brien’s take baptistic?

    He demonstrates from Hebrews that the perseverance in view was the Bible’s view of perseverance, one of faith antecedent with its fruits/works consequent. How is this not Reformed 101? More importantly, how is this not Bible 101?

  6. Jack Bradley said,

    January 16, 2012 at 9:24 am


    I’m stretching my loose associations just a bit, but, speaking of “covenant”. . . I gave away both of my daughters in a double ceremony Saturday, and wanted to share the video link for it: http://www.youtube.com/user/foucachon

  7. Reed Here said,

    January 16, 2012 at 9:43 am

    Jack: well, yeah, that’s stretching. But hearty congratulations anyway! :)

  8. Jack bradley said,

    January 16, 2012 at 10:39 am

    Thanks, Reed!

  9. Jeff Cagle said,

    January 16, 2012 at 1:00 pm

    Dan, do you agree or disagree with Calvin in Comm Heb 6?

    “God indeed favors none but the elect alone with the Spirit of regeneration, and […] by this they are distinguished from the reprobate; for they are renewed after his image and receive the earnest of the Spirit in hope of the future inheritance, and by the same Spirit the Gospel is sealed in their hearts.”

    And since Calvin says of the elect that “The elect are also beyond the danger of finally falling away”, would you agree that ‘elect’ refers here to those who have been chosen from eternity to be saved and to persevere in their salvation?

  10. danseitz said,

    January 16, 2012 at 7:34 pm

    Nowhere in Scripture do we find any reference to God’s decretal elect falling away and losing their salvation. That won’t happen. In Hebrews 6, though, we hear the author warning the Hebrew Christians to stay put and the language tells us that this is a serious situation and not some generic message for the ages. Having been baptized into the Church, as Christ commanded, the Hebrews are all Christians in the same sense as a man who undergoes a wedding ceremony becomes a husband. If the husband deserts the wife, he is a bad husband but still a husband. This is how the Covenant should be understood. There are “…false sons in her pale.” (Can’t remember the Hymn.)

    If by the word elect, you are talking about the decretal elect, those determined before the foundation of the world, I’m certainly in agreement with you. In a sense, though, the word “elect” can mean those “saved” out of the darkness of the pagan world and placed in the Church as God’s covenant people. They may or may not be the decretal elect. So we want to be careful to see how the word “elect” is used. Those considering apostasy are indeed Christians and have tasted the Word, the Sacrements, the work of the Spirit and appear indistinguishable from their other baptized brothers and sisters. But because they are reprobates from before the foundation of the world, they ultimately leave the Covenant, Christ’s church, like Demas because they don’t believe. Sometimes such apostasy comes as a great surprise.

    So we see the responsibility of man and the sovereignty of God. In the Covenant man is responsible to believe and repent and God in His sovereignty determines if he will. This is all to the praise of His marvelous grace.

    So, yes, I agree with Calvin, with the proviso that the word “elect” doesn’t always mean “decretal elect” as I have explained above.

  11. Jeff Cagle said,

    January 17, 2012 at 6:22 am

    Thanks Dan,

    Would it be fair to say, then, that the non(decretally)elect have the appearance of regeneration, have some “common operations of the Spirit”, but then ultimately fall away?

    To push this further: are the non(decretally)elect justified before God in any sense?

  12. danseitz said,

    January 17, 2012 at 11:56 am

    I would agree with your first paragraph. We must keep in mind that God in His sovereignty ordains everything that comes to pass. So when we think of the determination made before the foundation of the world as to who is elect and who is a reprobate, we should not forget that the path to either conclusion is also ordained by God. “Common operation of the Spirit?” I don’t see how you can avoid that conclusion.

    I can’t think how the non decretal elect (reprobates) could be justified before God in any sense. They may very well have believed to some extent (see the Parables), but they left the faith proving that they weren’t a believer.

  13. jeff2552 said,

    January 17, 2012 at 4:13 pm


    Here was the core of Hansen’s article:

    “Given Hebrews’s distinction between authentic faith as that which perseveres to the end, and spurious faith that may initially show some signs of life but does not endure, the person who commits apostasy is not an authentic Christian and never was one, whatever their first responses to the gospel may have been. And since genuine faith is tied to perseverance that endures to the end, the believer who perseveres in the race marked out for them, with their eyes fixed on Jesus (Heb. 12:1, 2), shows that he or she is a member of God’s family and has already been a sharer in Christ.”

    How would you distinguish what you have said from what Hansen says? Is it a disagreement over the term “authentic Christian”, or is it something deeper?

  14. danseitz said,

    January 18, 2012 at 9:22 am

    To me what is missing is an understanding of the Covenant, its objectivity and how one gets into it. While it is apparently easy for most of today’s reformed folk to look at the Old Covenant and understand that it was objective and palpable, they can’t seem to understand the New Covenant in the same light that there are also “false sons in her pale.” In fact sometimes it is confusing to comprehend how the New Covenant is understood by most of today’s reformed folks at all.

    When you mention that the means by which one gets into the New Covenant, the visible Church of Jesus Christ, is by the rite of water baptism, oftimes apoplexy ensues. I would suggest that happens because the reformed today in reality have linked the New Covenant exclusively with the invisible church. The invisible church, the purified body at the end of time, is not the church we deal with on a daily basis. The visible church, the body of Christ we see gathered every Sunday is the church that the author of Hebrews is talking about. It is not pure by any stretch of the imagination.

    One gets into the visible church, the New Covenant, by the rite of water baptism as commanded by our Lord. Adults coming from outside the Covenant (the pagan world) must confess Christ before baptism. Children are received into the Covenant on the basis of one or both believing parents and at their baptism are given the promises of Christ to be a God unto them. There is no need for a confession from them. And we are not talking about a wet dedication as is in reality what we find in most reformed Presbyterian churchs.

    So being baptised into the Christian Church, one is a Christian covenantally. I don’t like the term “authentic Christian,” because it places those termed non-authentic Christians in the same category as pagans. No one covenantally linked to Christ is a pagan until they are excommunicated. They might be covenant breakers but not pagans. It doesn’t fit the understanding of the Covenant, I explained above,

    So, while I share the author’is conclusion in a way, I don’t think his path to get there, ignoring the Covenant, was the correct Biblical approach. I saw this article before and noticed that the first name on the bibleography was D. A. Carson, a reformed baptist. The author may be a baptist. I don’t know

  15. Jeff Cagle said,

    January 18, 2012 at 1:04 pm

    I don’t actually know O’Brien’s confessional stance either, which is interesting since he is so widely read. My first guess would be that he is Anglican, as his position is with an Anglican college.

    There is little to be found at TGC’s website on Hansen, except that he is a graduate of Trinity, itself not very revealing!

    I agree with you that the notion of visible church is missing, or implied, in Hansen’s treatment. And I would further agree that we ought to call those who are in the visible church by the term “Christian”, on the premise that they should possess the faith which they profess.

    I would disagree with the characterization “The invisible church, the purified body at the end of time, is not the church we deal with on a daily basis.”

    For the term ‘invisible church’ is not used in historic Reformed theology in this sense of a purely future body, characterized only by election.

    Calvin speaks of ‘the church as God sees it’ ; the Confession speaks of the invisible church as ‘the whole number of the elect, that have been, are, or shall be gathered into one, under Christ the Head thereof…’ Both of those bring the invisible church into the present (as well as the future).

    If I may, I would encourage you to re-think the invisible church, not as a future reality (after all: in the eschaton, the invisible church will be made *visible*!), but as a current and invisible reality with attendant benefits. Much harm is done when we push the invisible church into the eschaton. Not least of these is that such a move makes WLC 65 and 69 to be nonsensical.

    Jeff Cagle

  16. danseitz said,

    January 18, 2012 at 7:48 pm

    Of course the benefits to the invisable church which WLC 65 and 69 speak of are real. I don’t think what I am saying is in disagreement with them. The problem with the invisible church is that the members don’t walk around with the letter “I” hanging from their neck. We can’t tell who they are. We can’t deal with each other on the basis that we are in the invisible church together. 1 John tells us how to test ourselves to see if we are in the faith, but only God knows our hearts. We can’t tell who our invisible brothers are for sure. We can, however, know the members of the visible church by the fact of their baptism. They are our brothers and sisters. They have confessed Christ. The visible church defined in Ch 25 of WCF is clearly the church that we deal with here on Earth. Read paragraphs 2-6. The visible church is where all the action is. If we look at the Covenant rightly, we will conclude that the New Covenant is the visible church where the true religion is professed and is the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ, etc.

    I discussed all of this with a buddy of mine asking him why the reformed community seems to concern themselves only with the invisible church. They staunchly hold to the WCF (a good thing) but don’t believe what it says. Clearly per the above WCF reference (ch 25. 2-6) the visible church is the one we worship with, eat Sunday church dinners with, attend funerals with, sing off key with all the time not knowing whether they are the decretal elect or not. And we should not concern ourselves about their status to the point that a “holy” surveilance becomes part of our church culture. One retired PCA pastor remarked that to join his church a person was “watched” for 6 months before they could join. That is wrong. In effect only people that “passed” and were in the invisible church were allowed to join. Jesus said, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit….” What do you think happened? They preached repentence and belief and those who accepted their Gospel by confessing Christ were immediately baptized into the visible church which is the church of Christ, God’s covenant people. When Peter in Acts 2 called on the his audience to repent, 3000 were baptized and added to the visible church that day. The fact that they lined up to be baptized was their confession of faith. I can assure you that there weren’t individual counseling sessions for each new Christian.

    My buddy’s answer caught me off guard. He said it is dispensationalism that has been incorporated into the reformed community. As he explained, Scofield in his book Rightly Dividing the Word of Truth stated that God’s communication with the Israelites, the old covenant people was earthly in contrast to his communication with the New Covenant church which is spiritual. Spiritual is not palpable. You can’t get your hands around spiritual just like the “invisible” church defined in the WCF.

    I’m getting weary. Enough for today. Thought you might enjoy the dispensationalism angle.

  17. Jeff Cagle said,

    January 18, 2012 at 8:30 pm

    As a former dispie, I did appreciate the angle. Take heart, there are many Presbies who are ‘strong visible church’ folk.

  18. rfwhite said,

    January 19, 2012 at 6:02 pm

    This discussion helps me appreciate that we have to avoid conflating two distinct questions: on the one hand, there is the question of whether one’s covenant identity is authentic (i.e., whether one’s identity is authentically covenantal); on the other hand, there is the question of whether one’s faith is authentic. We might well agree that a person’s covenant identity can be authentic even if his faith proves to be inauthentic. As has been implied above, the author of Hebrews does not question the authenticity of his readers’ covenant identity, but he does exhort them to prove their faith authentic by perseverance. In the Hansen interview, O’Brien follows the lead of the author of Hebrews: O’Brien does not question the readers’ covenant identity either. As O’Brien acknowledges, the author tells us that his readers are not apostates, and they must heed God’s warnings and promises to avoid that end and keep their current covenant identity intact.

  19. April 18, 2012 at 7:41 am

    […] Hebrews and Real Warnings (greenbaggins.wordpress.com) […]

  20. PDuggie said,

    June 5, 2012 at 12:23 pm

    “Real faith is described at that which perseveres in adherence to and reliance on the person and work of Jesus Christ. Spurious faith is described as that which knowingly rejects sole reliance on Christ and returns to some form of self-reliance (in the case of Hebrews, expressed via the Mosaic system).”

    Does spurious faith START OUT relying on the person and work of Christ AND THEN reject that sole reliance to RETURN to self-reliance?

    I’m not sure how this solves anything, if spurious faith and real faith both start at the same place. and if they really don’t how does spurious faith RETURN to anything. Wouldn’t it more properly be said to never have left self reliance in the first place?

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