Recently I’ve been reading the book of Hebrews. It’s an immense and encouraging blessing.
Hebrews is written to people who are feeling discouraged in their newfound faith, and are tempted to leave Jesus and return to Judaism in order to avoid persecution. The writer of Hebrews encourages them to persevere, have faith, and not give up, because Jesus and this salvation they have received are so much better than the law and the old priestly system.
This isn’t the space for a detailed commentary on Hebrews. But one verse in particular really struck me:
“Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it.” (Hebrews 2:1)
The author has just finished expounding the immense superiority of Jesus, in chapter 1. He is “heir of all things”, he created the world and upholds it by the word of his power, he is “the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature”, he made purification for sins, he is greater than angels.
In light of the greatness of Jesus, and as the author will go on to say, the superiority of the new covenant, we must pay much closer attention to the gospel message, lest we drift away from it.
It struck me because we often think of apostasy, or leaving the Christian faith, as a great, dramatic event. Most of the time, it’s not. It begins slowly and quietly and proceeds gradually until, like a lifeboat drifting away from its moorings, it’s too far away from the mothership to be seen or retrieved.
All of us are vulnerable to that process. That’s why we have to pay careful attention to the gospel, and take care to maintain ourselves in our faith, lest we slowly, gradually, and imperceptibly (even to us) drift away past the point of no return.
How do we drift away? I believe it happens with little things. We stop being so interested in reading our Bible or praying. The news or entertainment or spending time with friends or work becomes more compelling. We neglect our spiritual nourishment. Our life is no longer fuelled by dependence on God.
Going to church every Sunday becomes less important. Sleeping in and having a lazy brunch, or going to sports events, is much more appealing. It’s easier to just enjoy one of your two days off a week, than making the effort to go to worship.
We spend more time with non-Christian friends than Christian friends, perhaps doing things we wouldn’t want church friends seeing. We feel relieved when we’re around non-believers because there’s less need for pretence.
Instead of reading Christian blogs and opinion sites, we fill our minds with worldly opinions and viewpoints. Our culture’s view of important moral questions begins to look more plausible than the Bible’s.
We read non- or even anti-Christian philosophy, until the arguments begin to sound more and more logical.
I’m not at all saying we can’t have non-Christian friends, or read non-Christian writings. The problem is when we find those things more appealing than believing friends or the gospel, and when they come first.
Eventually we may get to the point where we declare ourselves no longer Christians, or “Christians” who believe in Jesus but aren’t involved with his body, the church. The drift is complete.
So how do we counteract that drift? The book of Hebrews contains many suggestions:
1. Fill our minds with the greatness of Jesus
To truly understand this great salvation we have, and why it’s worth holding onto at all costs, we must understand who Jesus is, and what he has done for us. The book of Hebrews is full of this. He’s our great High Priest. He sacrificed himself for our sins. He’s sinless and perfect. He provides us with access to God the Father. He takes away the fear of death. He lives forever. Read it, and the rest of the New Testament, continually. Fill your mind and heart with Jesus and his glory.
2. Heed the warnings of judgement
There is no salvation outside of Jesus. Abandoning him means facing God’s wrath. That’s a sobering truth, but truth nonetheless. Hebrews has several of these warnings (2:1-4; 3:7-4:13; 5:11-6:12; 10:19-39; 12:14-29). They aren’t meant to discourage us, they’re meant to spur us on to persevere in our faith, despite the difficulties.
3. Seek Christian fellowship and teaching in a local church
Contrary to those who claim they can be Christians and not be involved with other believers, Hebrews admonishes us:
Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. (3:12-13)
And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. (10:24-25)
This world is hostile to God. It will pull us away from Jesus if we let it. We immerse ourselves in the fellowship of a local church for the encouragement of fellow believers, teaching from God’s word, worship in God’s presence, and correction for our sin.
The reason for this is that sin is deceitful. It doesn’t show up and announce itself as the enemy of our faith and our souls, looking to drag us down to destruction. It can look quite plausible and appealing. That’s why we need others around us who can speak truth to us, encourage us, rebuke us, exhort us, and if necessary, discipline us. The Christian life is not lived in isolation; like an isolated buffalo, a solo Christian is infinitely more prone to being picked off by our “adversary the devil [who] prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” (1 Peter 5:8).