If the author of the book of Hebrews had ended his letter at 6:8, we might go away thinking that there was no hope for his original audience. The strong warning of verses 4–8, without today’s passage, might lead us to think that the Hebrews to whom he wrote had already committed final apostasy. Moreover, the original audience of the epistle might have believed that as well.
However, Hebrews 6:8 is not the last verse of the letter. Many verses follow it, beginning with verses 9–10, which hold out hope for the original audience. The author tempers his warning, telling his audience that he “feels sure” of better things that “belong to salvation” (v. 9). Plainly, the author believes that the first readers of this epistle, at least many of them, have true faith and will persevere.
Why does the author feel this way? Verse 10 provides the answer. He sees the work and love of his audience in their continual service to the other saints of God. Today’s passage, therefore, stands in full agreement with the many other biblical texts that connect faith in Christ and love for God with good works and love for fellow believers. First John 4:20 explains that anyone who claims to love God without loving his brother in Christ is a liar. James 2:14–26 explains that saving faith demonstrates its presence to other people when those who possess it do good works. Ephesians 2:8–10 asserts that we are saved by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone so that, having been saved, we may walk in good works. If professing believers want to know if their faith is real, they should look in their lives for the presence of sincere, albeit imperfect, love for other believers and good works that serve them. We do not find assurance exclusively by looking for these works, but good works constitute one of the outward evidences of saving faith.
These good works and the faith in Christ and love for God and others that they demonstrate are not means by which we merit salvation. God is just not to overlook them, not because we make ourselves worthy of salvation by our good works but because, as John Calvin writes, He graciously promises to reward us for the good, fruitful works that He generates in us by grace. Calvin also comments, “Reward then is reserved for works, not through merit, but the free bounty of God alone; and yet even this free reward of works does not take place, except we be first received into favor through the kind mediation of Christ.”
As we examine our lives, looking for good works, we must take care not to become morbidly introspective. In fact, though we must look for fruit, we must look first and foremost to Christ and His promises as the ground of our assurance. Still, we should expect to see sincere but imperfect love in our hearts for God and for God’s people, displayed in service to them. Do you see evidence of this in your heart this day?