The Danger of Drifting

 

After extolling the supremacy of Christ in the first chapter of Hebrews, the author enters into an interlude of exhortation in verses 1-4 of chapter 2 on the dangers of drifting and neglect of the message which they (we) have heard. The practical nature of this exhortation cannot be limited to the original audience of Hebrews, but must by necessity extend to us, as believers, today just as his message concerning Christ must by necessity stir our hearts towards affections for Him.

Beginning in 2:1, we see the warning that follows on the heels of the majesty of Christ

1Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it. For since the message declared by angels proved to be reliable, and every transgression or disobedience received a just retribution, how shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation? It was declared at first by the Lord, and it was attested to us by those who heard, while God also bore witness by signs and wonders and various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will.”  

In the passage quoted above we have what is often referred to as an imperative statement. Biblically, the imperative most often follows the indicative. This simply means that Scripture often indicates for us a truth, here concerning Christ, His person, and work and then proceeds to give a command based on that truth. In Hebrews 2:1 the command is to “pay much closer attention to what we have heard”. In the immediate context, what has been heard refers to all that has just been said in Hebrews chapter 1. In the broader context of Scripture, it refers to the entirety of the Gospel message that holds Christ the center. The truths about who Christ is, namely that He is the eternal Son of God, the Exalted King, His supremacy over the angels (vs. 1:5-14), His purification for sins and His sitting down at the right hand of the majesty on high. That Christ, the exclusive message about Him and His work, along with all that follows in the remainder of chapter 2, requires us to pay much closer attention. A similar warning is also given in Luke 8:18 as Jesus concludes the parable of the soils whose primary focus is on rightly hearing the word of God, Take care then how you hear, for to the one who has, more will be given, and from the one who has not, even what he thinks that he has will be taken away.”

Interestingly, the exhortations of Hebrews have often been controversial as to whom they may be speaking, believers or unbelievers.  In this case, it is clear that the author includes himself in the warning as he states “we” three times in the first verse, two more times in verse 3 and uses us in that verse as well.  It’s clear that his intention is to arouse those true believers who may be sleeping for the purpose of motivating them.  Those found with disingenuous faith will succumb to the results of the warning and drift.

This term carries with the idea of a ship that has sailed past its port and it is emblematic of the Christian life. Our lives are not to be thought of as a pontoon on a placid lake, instead we are actively engaged in a faith-based, Spirit-fueled effort to row in the swift stream of life. Drifting therefore does not take us closer to our destination, but instead leaves us further away. In fact, the argument could be made that the one who drifts is not even aware of the incremental movement, until he or she has drifted quite some distance away.

How then can we avoid drifting and ensure that we are paying closer attention to the message of Christ that we have heard? John Owen offers 5 practical solutions centered around diligent attention to the word of the gospel:

  1. Esteem the Gospel in your thoughts. “Constant high thoughts then of the necessity, worth, glory, and excellency of the gospel, as on other accounts, so especially on account of the author of it, and the grace dispensed in it, is the first step in that diligent heeding of it, which is required of us. Want of this was that which ruined many of the Hebrews to whom the apostle wrote. And without it we shall never keep our faith firm unto the end.”
  2. Diligent study of the Word. “Silver and treasure are not gathered by every lazy passenger on the surface of the earth; they must dig, seek, and search who intend to be made partakers of them, and they do so accordingly; and so must we do for these treasures of heavenly wisdom.”
  3. Mix the Word with faith. “To hear and not believe, is in spiritual life, what to see meat, and not to eat, is in the natural; it will please the fancy, but will never nourish the soul.”
  4. Labor to conform your heart and life to the express Word. “When the heart of the hearer is quickened, enlivened, spirited with gospel truths, and by them is molded and fashioned into their likeness, and expresseth that likeness in its fruits, or in a conversation becoming the gospel, then is the word attended unto in a right manner. This will secure the word a station in our hearts, and give it a permanent abode in us.”
  5. Be watchful. “Watchfulness against all opposition that is made either against the truth or power of the word in us, belongs also unto this duty. And as these oppositions are many, so ought this watchfulness to be great and diligent.”

May it never be said of us that “For this people’s heart has grown dull, and with their ears they can barely hear” but instead may Christ count us among his mother and brothers, “But he answered them, “My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it.”

As the argument progresses to verse 2, the intensity picks up as the author reinforces the statement he has just made by providing an argument from lesser to greater using the judgment for disobedience of the angels message (the lesser) and the judgment for those who neglect the Gospel (the greater coming up in verse 3), “For since the message declared by angels proved to be reliable, and every transgression or disobedience received a just retribution”.

The reference to angels here serves to reflect back to the entirety of chapter 1 where the superiority of Christ over the angels was established. Additionally, we gain a little insight into why the questions of Christ’s authority over the angels came up to begin with. Given Acts 7:53 and Galatians 3:19, it would appear that the role of angels in the establishment of the Old Covenant at Mt. Sinai was at least a belief held by some. Within our context of Hebrews, it becomes apparent that this is the case as the author will unfold his collective argument of the superiority of Christ over the entirety of the Old Covenant.

The fact that the message declared by angels was reliable, was transgressed, and warranted a just retribution cannot be overlooked. As the argument from lesser to greater progresses the message declared by the Lord is even more reliable (this doesn’t mean the old was untruthful; this is simply an added degree; greater validity if you will) and the punishment for transgression of His message will be more severe. “How shall we escape” then becomes rhetorical because none can escape the punishment handed out by neglecting the message of Christ.

This message of salvation, i.e. the Gospel, has been attested to by 1) The Lord Himself 2) Those who heard, believed, and subsequently proclaimed and by 3) God through various signs, wonders, miracles, and gifts distributed by the Holy Spirit.  The message therefore carries with it Trinitarian validation.  Can there be any wonder then why the author of Hebrews exhorts his listeners/readers and us on the dangers of drifting?  How can we hear such a message about Christ, testified to by the 3 Persons of the Trinity, given to men who proclaimed it and had their message validated by divine works, and expect to escape a great and just retribution for neglecting it?  Answer: There is no escape, therefore don’t neglect what you’ve heard.

The call is clear and the message should not be muted for Christians.  Yes, there is perseverance/preservation of the saints, but the warning here is very real.  There is a danger in drifting, a just retribution, therefore, don’t neglect the message of Christ that you have heard.

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