Drifting Away… (3)

(continued from previous blog…you may want to read or reread the previous two blogs)

What is this salvation that we are in danger of neglecting? The rest of Hebrews 2 (specifically verses 9-18) describes this salvation:

It is a great salvation that Jesus Christ has given to all those who continue to hang onto Him: the forgiveness of our sins, the transformation of our lives; the freedom from the fear of death; the hope of future glory; and a ready access to a God who loves us, cares for us and understands our brokenness and suffering.

So, are you drifting away from this? Are you floating down the river because you think you have found something better? You have to be spiritually blind, deaf, and mute to cash in this great salvation for the pleasures of this world which are shallow, insipid, and bankrupt in comparison. It would be like basing the stability of your life on the stock market or the wild promises of a political candidate. But as for me, the words of Rhea Miller describe my desire: “I’d rather have Jesus than silver or gold; I’d rather be His than have riches untold; I’d rather have Jesus than houses or lands; I’d rather be led by His nail pierced hands. Than to be the King of a vast domain or be held in sins dread sway. I’d rather have Jesus than anything this world affords today.”

Many years ago (18th century) there lived a man by the name of Robert Robinson. He was converted to Christ at the age of 17, under the preaching of George Whitefield. He became a pastor who composed several hymns and wrote extensively on theology. We do not know the details, but his neglect of spiritual things caused him to drift away from Christ toward Unitarianism. A widely-told, but unverifiable, story relates that one day as Robinson was riding in a stagecoach, a lady asked him what he thought of the hymn she was humming. He responded, “Madam, I am the poor unhappy man who wrote that hymn many years ago, and I would give a thousand worlds, if I had them, to enjoy the feelings I had then.” (Christianity.com/churchhistory/11630313/)

Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing, tune my heart to sing thy grace;                                              Streams of mercy never ceasing, call for songs of loudest praise.  

Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it, prone to leave the God I love;                                                                Here’s my heart, O take and seal it, seal it for Thy courts above.

My brother or sister, have you drifted away from Christ and are you neglecting this great salvation? Do you see the subtle signs of lukewarmness and apathy in your life to the things of God?  Do you notice a disinterestedness in Scripture reading and prayer, sharing the gospel, and caring for the poor? Do you remember a time when these things were real and full of meaning? Do you see how far you have fallen from where you once were? Can you imagine the disappointment of a praying parent or grandparent who once interceded for you? Dear drifting saint- the streams of God’s mercy are still flowing back to Christ…come home.

“Lord Jesus, forgive me for neglecting You, Your Body, and Your Word. I seem to have time for everyone and everything but You. I am floating and not sailing. Forgive me, Lord. Bend my heart back to You. Recapture my heart; I want it to be yours. Set me on fire once again to love You and serve You. I don’t want to float away! Hear my cry, O Lord!” Amen!

Now, get off of your knees and “fix your eyes on Jesus, the Author and Finisher of your faith” (Hebrews 12:2).

Drifting Away from God (2)…

(Cont’d from last blog; please read it first)

Where will it all lead if we do drift away? Heb. 2:2- “For if the message spoken by angels was binding, and every violation and disobedience received its just punishment, how shall we escape if we ignore such a great salvation?” The author of Hebrews uses the method of arguing from the lesser to the greater. If people in the Old Testament days received severe punishment for disobeying and consciously violating the lesser covenant (the Law at Mt. Sinai) given by God and mediated by angels, how much more severe will the judgment be upon those who neglect the greater salvation mediated by Christ? The word neglect or ignore goes along with the image of drifting; amelesantes means to be apathetic or to care little for something or treat it with little value. Like Esau didn’t value his birthright so he traded it for a bowl of stew. [The word is also translated as rejected in 1 Timothy 4:4.]

I believe the writer of Hebrews has in mind a rejection of Christ that is not characterized by open hostility, but due to apathy; of no longer caring or treating as valuable the salvation which Christ accomplished. Such apathetic drifting may lead to a complete rejection of the faith, which will bring serious consequences. How serious? Hebrews 10:26-31 says, “If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice is left, but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God… How much more severely do you think a man deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified him, and who has insulted the Spirit of grace?… It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” (cf. Hebrews 6:6, 2 Peter 2:21)

Wow, this is serious stuff! The first reaction of most Christians when they read such a passage is to ask the question, can a Christian lose his/her salvation? I don’t mean to diminish the importance of the question, but we must be careful not to overlook the main point of the author. Such a warning is here not to prompt theological debate, but to challenge us to wake up if our attention is not on Jesus Christ; that we may be drifting away to the place of rejecting the gospel we once claimed to believe! And remember the characteristic of saving faith is “if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end” Heb. 3:14. The Apostle John says the same thing in 1 John 2:19, “They went out from us because they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us.” Thus John’s theme in all of his letters is on walking and abiding– of continuing in the faith.

If a person who professes to be a Christian drifts away from Christ and ultimately rejects his faith, there is no salvation left for him because his faith was not genuine in the first place. This is not because God’s grace is not sufficient, but because the heart of the once professing Christian is hardened and calloused to the truth. The dose (or the taste, as Hebrews 4:4 puts it) has inoculated them from the real thing. You can see this evidenced on Atheist websites where people stridently testify to their unbelief, many of whom once identified as Christians–some even as pastors. This is why it is essential to understand that the  characteristic of saving faith is its enduring quality; it lasts.  Jesus said, “…the love of many will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end will be saved” (Matt. 24:12, 13). I don’t think this means that we merit salvation by our endurance, but that endurance is the hallmark of saving faith.

If you refuse to continue to drink from the water of life you will have to die of thirst. If you refuse to continue to eat of the bread of life you will be doomed to starve eternally. If you continue to neglect Christ, the only means of your salvation, you will fall into the hands of the living God.

(finished in next blog….)

 

Drifting Away From God…

This blog is a study of Hebrews 2. Instead of one long blog,  I’ve divided it into three shorter blogs so you can think more deeply about each one. It deals with the very real issue of how we should think about those who drift away from the faith and what we should do if we ourselves are the ones drifting.

I want to tell you the story of a fictitious couple by the name of George and Georgette Jingling. Georgette was born into a Christian family and believed in Jesus ever since she could remember. She was practically raised in Sunday school and was an active member of her church youth group. She went to a Christian high school and then on to a Christian college. After she graduated, she started working in an office and met a man who swept her off her feet. However, while he was not a Christian he showed some real interest in religion and started attending church with her. He made a profession of faith in Christ just before their wedding and everything seemed to be perfect. She stopped working while the kids were young but then went back after the kids were in school. All along Georgette had been very active in her church; her husband less so, but attended church because he knew it meant a lot to his wife.

After the kids we all ole enough for school, she went back to work. She made a whole new group of friends who were not believers, and for the first time her faith was challenged by their frequent questions. Some of her values were scorned and she felt increasing pressure to conform to the behavior of her office mates. She grew increasingly tired of trying to balance the pressures at work along with family and church, so she started to withdraw from her church activities.  Her Sunday attendance became infrequent because it was her only personal day off.

Her husband thought it was great to have her home more and he felt less guilty about his sporadic attendance.  The kids didn’t mind skipping church since they hadn’t developed many friendships there.  Soon the family stopped going altogether and it didn’t even seem unnatural. One day George announced that he no longer considered himself a Christian. Georgette wanted to be shocked but knew it would be hypocritical since she had drifted so far away from her faith. And the kids? Who knows?

This little story might be a contemporary version of why the Book of Hebrews was written. We do not know who wrote the book, but whoever it was had a pastoral concern that long-time believers to whom he was writing were ignoring spiritual truth and were drifting away from their devotion to Christ. As far as we can tell, the probable cause for their deserting the faith was due to the increased persecution and social condemnation that Christians were facing under Emperor Nero (see 10:32-39). Thus our author’s challenge was to encourage, exhort, and stimulate these beleaguered believers to hold on to their commitment to Christ and endure to the end. Apparently, it is not enough to have once believed, but one must continue to do so.

I would say that Hebrews 3:14 is the theme verse of this entire book: “For we have become partakers of Christ if we hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast to the end.” (NKJV) I have been in Pastoral ministry for 44 yrs., and I have seen many professing Christians drift away from their relationship with Christ and from the church, so I know it can happen. And there will be many of you who are reading this blog who believe that you are Christians but will not last in the faith. It is my sincere hope that God will help us all “to examine ourselves to see if we are in the faith,” “to make our calling and election sure,” and challenge us to “hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast to the end.”

What does it mean to drift away?  Whatever it means, the writer of Hebrews includes himself in the danger. 2:1- “We must pay more careful attention…” Thus, the warning is to all Christians to pay greater attention (perissoteros) to Christ, who is the Word spoken by God in these latter days (1:2). The word for drifting (pararuomai) makes use of some powerful imagery. Picture yourself in a boat or canoe heading to a docking point on the shore on a very swift moving river. As you head into that spot, you need to be careful not to stop paddling or cut the motor too soon or else the current will pull you away and you will begin to drift downstream where there is the danger of rapids and a waterfall.  You need to pay close attention to the docking point lest you drift away. The writer of Hebrews says that the docking point is Christ and we must be very careful that we are continuing to move toward Him and not drifting from Him, being pulled away by the currents of life.

The people for whom Hebrews was written were facing the current of persecution. Maybe you are too. People at work or school treat you as an oddity because they know you are a Christian. Georgette, in our opening story, was facing some of that ridicule as well as the current of life’s cares and worries. Maybe that is your situation. You’re just too busy, so many things to think about, so many things to do and not enough time for God. Perhaps you are facing the current of the world’s glitter and attraction, or desire for fame and fortune. These things are causing you to pay little attention to Christ because your focus is on what the world has to offer you.

Perhaps you are facing the current of rebellion; whatever someone in authority tells you makes you want to do the opposite.  Your parents want you to go to church so that is the last place you want to go; they want you to love Jesus and that’s the last thing you want to do. [By the way, this is not to say that a person cannot be a Christian if they don’t attend church. However, the Scripture assumes and teaches that the church is a part of the God’s pattern for our growth and development in the faith (Hebrews 10:24, 25). One could argue that two people don’t have to live together to be married, but such a possibility would raise serious questions about the growth and development of the marriage.]

Perhaps you are facing the current of disappointment and bitterness. You feel that God has let you down, Christians in the past have hurt you, and life has basically dealt you a lousy hand. You are drifting away because you wonder what good it has done to believe in Christ or to try and follow Him.

Perhaps you are drifting in the current of guilt because you keep letting God down. You’ve tried a thousand times to change; how could God listen to one more ineffective prayer of repentance?  Yes, there’s the docking point; it is Christ and we must fix our eyes upon Him. However, some of us are not paying attention (not moving toward Christ) and are in danger of drifting away from Him.

What are we to do?

(More in the next blog…)