The New Testament has more to teach us on Christian patience, the fruit of the Spirit (makrothumia)1 in the Epistle to the Hebrews.
The author of Hebrews2 commands his Christian readers to “go on unto perfection” (Hebrews 6.1), through making progress in the Christian life. In persuading the Lord’s people to persevere toward perfection, which “go[ing] on” is a Holy Spirit-wrought sanctifying work (see Philippians 2.12-13), he lays upon us two arguments; the second of which has to do with patience:
- Firstly, he warns Christians about the consequences of falling away (vv.4-8)—even though he knows true Christians will never fall away3: “But, beloved, we are persuaded better things of you, and things that accompany salvation, though we thus speak” (v.9). He knew they had “salvation” and all that accompanies it. Salvation is eternal as he said in the previous chapter (Hebrews 5.9), and therefore it cannot be lost.
- Secondly, he encourages us in our progress: “And we desire that every one of you do shew the same diligence to the full assurance of hope unto the end: That ye be not slothful, but followers of them who through faith and patience [makrothumia] inherit the promises” (vv.11-12).
God has given Christians many promises in the gospel. You will desire to be reminded of these promises that the author of Hebrews has in mind, which each and together make the second argument above more impactful. So, here are several of these gospel promises, mentioned earlier in Hebrews—promises of:
- “Great salvation” (2.3);
- Being brought to glory (2.10);
- Deliverance from death (2.15);
- Partaking of the heavenly calling (3.1);
- Being members of Christ’s household (3.6);
- Partaking of Christ (3.14);
- Entering into Christ’s rest (3.18-4.11);
- Obtaining God’s mercy and grace in helping (succouring) providences in a times of need (4.16);
- “Eternal salvation” (5.9);
- “Perfection” (6.1);
- And all “things that accompany salvation” (6.9).
After the passage we are considering (Hebrews 6.11-12), the author also describes this great, eternal salvation as the Christian’s “eternal redemption” and promised “eternal inheritance” in the New Testament in Christ’s blood (9.12-15). And in chapter 10, the author of Hebrews affirms that it was God’s will to send his Son to die for our sins, and that it is by this same will of God that “we are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all” (vv.9-10)—through that one sacrifice that takes away sins, and not though countless animal offerings that can never take sins away (vv.1-8). Then he further affirms of this sanctification by Christ’s blood, this salvation, that it never ends: “For by one offering he hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified” (v.14).
The Holy Spirit’s fruit of patience (makrothumia) is manifested in the Christian’s sustained and outworked faith throughout their remaining life in this world. All that Hebrews teaches on the Christian life pertains to it.
- True Christians are not “slothful” (6.12)—they don’t lose interest in the Lord Jesus Christ, or in his gospel, and so stop following him.
- They do go on to perfection, and they are full of “better things” than those who fall away (6.1-9).
- Whatever the cost or hazard, Christians would rather obey and follow Christ (5.9).
- Christians come boldly to God’s throne of grace in prayer (4.16).
- Their life’s labour is one of continuing, persevering faith in Christ (3.18-4.11; cf. John 6.28-29).
- They hold the beginning of their confidence in their Saviour steadfast unto the end (3.14).
- They hold fast the confidence and the rejoicing of the hope firm unto the end (3.6).
- They have a genuine profession of Christ their High Priest and Apostle (3.1)
- Christians are freed from bondage to the fear of death—and what they know they deserve for their sins against God (2.15).
- They know that the Captain of their salvation has been made perfect through his sufferings, in that he has endured all the wrath of God for them (2.10; cf. Romans 3.5; 1 John 4.10).
- Now, they remain patiently (i.e. with makrothumia) in the faith and they never forget the “great salvation” that their great Saviour has bestowed upon them (2.3).
Though we have said it before numerous times, it bears repeating that none of these works that Christians do are saving works—no, for we are already saved by our Saviour, alone. But these works we do are proof of our ongoing sanctification, and they are worked in us by God the Holy Spirit.4
As the apostle Paul says to Christians who during his time with them had “always obeyed,” i.e. who now lived their life according to their belief and profession of Christ: “Wherefore, my beloved [Christian brothers and sisters], as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure” (Philippians 2.12-13).
All these things promised in our list above, and much more, belong to the Lord’s people. These promises are extended to all who are covered by the “eternal redemption” that our Saviour has purchased with his own blood. These things (and more) are the “eternal inheritance” that our Saviour has secured for his people as the Mediator of the New Testament (Hebrews 9.12-15). As Paul declares elsewhere: “He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?” (Romans 8.32; see the context for what the “all things” are).
The apostle Peter explains the same truth: “Grace and peace be multiplied unto you through the knowledge of God, and of Jesus our Lord, According as his divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of him that hath called us to glory and virtue: Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust” (2 Peter 1.2-4).
Having been given these promises—or, better said: having been promised these things by God in the gospel (eternal life and all things pertaining to the godly Christian life—which is described as partaking of the divine nature, since it is wrought by God the Holy Spirit), what are we to do? Of course, we should live it out!
Peter continues: “And beside this, giving all diligence, add to your faith5…Wherefore the rather, brethren, give diligence to make your calling and election sure: for if ye do these things, ye shall never fall: For so an entrance shall be ministered unto you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.” (2 Peter 1.5-11).
And how can we forget what James said on this matter. Brothers and sisters in Christ, whose faith is not dead, your living faith will not remain for long “without works”; but if you are a Christian, you will show your faith by your works (James 2.14-26).
Where there is the Christian change of heart in regeneration, there will inevitably be the Christian change of life in growth in sanctification—this is because the new birth brings new spiritual life into the soul. Where there is genuine Christian spirituality there will be genuine Christian practicality.
The sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit is a consequence accompanying salvation—we do not do strive to do it, and we cannot do it, in order to save ourselves.
However, this outworking of salvation, this Christian life of spiritual growth and spiritual fruit-bearing, comes with patience, diligence, and perseverance. This patience is both fruit of the Holy Spirit and evidence of the Holy Spirit’s indwelling the soul.
Makrothumia is a hallmark of saved soul.
See the Westminster Shorter Catechism, Question and Answer 35: “What is sanctification? Sanctification is the work of God’s free grace, whereby we are renewed in the whole man after the image of God, and are enabled more and more to die unto sin, and live unto righteousness.” ↩︎
See Add to Your Faith: Virtue, Add to Your Faith: Knowledge, Add to Your Faith: Temperance, Patience and Godliness, Add to Your Faith: Brotherly Kindness and Charity, and Make Your Calling and Election Sure. ↩︎