"Lest We Drift Away"
The author of Hebrews was concerned with the spiritual well-being of those to whom he wrote. They were fellow-Jews who had become Christians and he is concerned that they not drift back into Judaism. He deals with this problem in two ways. First of all he emphasizes the superiority of Christ and the New Covenant, and then he gives a series of exhortations for them to remain steadfast.
In the first three verses of chapter one he shows the superiority of Christ to the prophets. Then in the rest of the chapter he shows the superiority of Christ to the angels. That brings us to the first of the exhortations or warnings in chapter 2:1-4. In this passage is found a warning of the danger of "drifting." The figure suggested is that of a boat drifting along at an almost imperceptible speed, but none the less being carried along in the wrong direction by a subtle current.
In the study of this passage it is essential to look carefully at three points. First of all you must understand the reasons behind such an exhortation. Then you must determine some of the various "currents" that can cause you to "drift away" today. And finally, it is critical that you learn the key to keep from "drifting away."
Reasons for this exhortation.
The first reason for this exhortation is that there is a real danger of "drifting." It is actually possible for us to "drift away" from our salvation. In 2:3 we learn that we can "neglect" our salvation. Later in 3:12-14 we are told that we can "depart" from God. In 6:4-6 we are told that we can so "fall away" that it becomes impossible to renew us again to repentance. And then in 10:26:27 we are told that we can reach a point where the sacrifice of Christ is no longer available for our sins. So the danger of "drifting" is very real! It is possible for a child of God to so sin as to be lost eternally! If it were not such an exhortation would be meaningless!
The second reason for this exhortation is the dignity of the One through whom God has spoken. As we are told in 1:1-2, God now speaks to us through His Son. We are also told in chapter 1 that the Son is superior to the prophets and angels. But we have also seen in chapter one that this Son is the appointed Heir of all things. He is the brightness of God's glory, the express image of His person. He is our Sustainer and Redeemer, the "Firstborn" who receives worship. He is "God" enthroned and anointed. He is the "LORD" (Yahweh) who is the eternal Creator. And He is the "Sovereign" reigning at God's right hand.
When God spoke through angels, His Word proved steadfast and every transgression and act of disobedience received a just reward according to v. 2. If that happened when God spoke through mere prophets and angels, how much more should we pay attention when He speaks to us through His Son? Now this is the point! Don't we think that His Word will prove just as steadfast today? Don't we think that every unrepented transgression and act of disobedience will still receive a just reward? In other words, the second reason for this warning is: "Dare we neglect the Word of God spoken to us through His Son?
The third reason for this warning is the confirmation given to this revelation. The word spoken by the Son was confirmed by His apostles. And so we need to pay attention to what Jesus says because it was confirmed by individuals who were eyewitnesses. On two occasions Peter made this claim. When he was preaching the gospel of Christ to the household of Cornelius, he said in Acts 10:39-41, "And we are witnesses of all things which he did both in the land of the Jews and in Jerusalem." And then later in 2 Peter 1:16 he said that he and the other apostles "did not follow cunningly devised fables ... but were eyewitnesses of His majesty." And so these men were eyewitnesses who gave their testimony even though they had nothing to gain personally. But the word spoken by the Son of God was confirmed by much more than just the testimony of mere men! God Himself confirmed it with signs, wonders and miracles. Jesus said in John 10:37-38, "If I do not the works of My Father, do not believe Me; but if I do, though you do not believe Me, believe the works, that you may know and believe that the Father is in Me, and I in Him." But that is not the only confirmation either! According to 1Cor. 12:7-11, the Holy Spirit also confirmed the words of Christ with gifts given according to His will. So, are we going to neglect the Word to which all of these have born witness?
A fourth reason for this warning is what we lose if we do "drift away." In v. 3, the writer says that we will lose "so great a salvation"! And it is a "great salvation" because it offers such things as the forgiveness of sins, the transformation of character by providing power over sin, the assurance of God's fatherly presence, a clear and peaceful conscience and a glorious hope for eternity. Dare we lose all of this just because of "neglect"? Just as those who neglected the word spoken through angels (like the Law of Moses) lost their "Promised Land," so there are grave consequences for those of us today who neglect the salvation spoken to us by the Son of God!
"Currents" that can cause us to drift.
There are several "currents" that can cause us to drift. The first I would like to suggest is "the current of time." In Gal. 6:9, Paul expressed concern for the "time" in which we grow weary of doing good. He said, "And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart." It is not uncommon for us to lose some of the fervor of our devotion as time gently passes. Do you remember how this was one of the things the Lord held against the church in Ephesus in Rev. 2:4? The danger is that we can begin to rest on our past accomplishments and stop pressing forward as Paul encourages us to do in passages like Phil. 3:13-14. And so the first "current" is simply the gradual passage of time.
The next "current" we need to be aware of is "familiarity." As we become familiar with the truth it may become common place to us. We may lose our appreciation of it. We may begin to take it for granted. And as we do so, we become just like the Ephesian church and we too leave our "first love."
But there is also the current of "society." Is it not amazing how the tides of modern opinion can so easily influence us? This is exactly what Paul was talking about when he warned in 1Cor. 15:33 that "Evil company corrupts good habits." We are bombarded daily by secular humanism, false religions and even plastic Christianity offered as "truth." And so it is hard to maintain our course. Such things can easily move us away from the simplicity and wisdom of our Lord as Paul says in 1Cor. 11:2-3.
Then there is the "current" of "the flesh." Our warfare is not only without! It is also within! Peter pleads with us in 1Pet. 2:11 to "abstain from fleshly lusts which war against the soul." Our flesh is constantly waging war against our souls, against the Spirit who wants us to follow Him. We must remember Paul's warning in Gal. 5:17, where he says, "For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish."
And then there is simply the "current" of "daily concerns." There is no denying that the constant pressure of daily cares, anxieties and duties can distract us. Jesus warned against this in the "Parable of the Soils" in Luke 8:14 when He said, "and the ones that fell among the thorns are those who, when they have heard, go out and are choked with cares, riches, and pleasures of life, and bring no fruit to maturity." He also said in Luke 21:34, "take heed to yourselves, lest your hearts be weighed down with carousing, drunkenness, and cares of this life, and that Day come on you unexpectedly."
The key to keeping from "drifting away."
Any of these "currents" can slowly move us away from the Lord and His great salvation if we are not careful! And the key to preventing it is that "we must give the more earnest heed." Just imagine for a minute that you are in a canoe on a river with a slow moving current, and failure to pay attention will lead to "drifting." Now the drifting might be subtle. But by the time you realize it, it can be too late! Last minute corrections can be made, but even then you may still run into the brush, crash into the rocks, or even go over the falls. And so only by giving earnest heed can all of that be avoided. And so it is with your salvation! You must give "diligence" to the task at hand as Peter tells us in 2Pet. 1:5-10. You can not be half-hearted about this! Paul says in Phil. 3:12-15 that this is the "mature" attitude.
But notice that we must give the "more earnest heed." We are to be more earnest than those who heard the Word of God spoken through angels, namely the Israelites, because we have the Word of God spoken through the Son. And this Word pertains to a salvation that is far greater than that enjoyed by them. In fact, Jesus said in Luke 12:48, that "to whom more is given, more is required." So, are you more earnest in giving heed to what you have heard than those saints in the Old Testament were?
But the passage says that we must give such heed "to the things which we have heard." Now that refers to the Word of God spoken through His Son. It refers to the great salvation. In other words, this refers to the gospel of Christ in every respect.
But how do we do this? Well, the Bereans are a good example for us to follow. Luke tells us in Acts 17:11 that "they received the word with all readiness, and searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so." And so, we can follow their example in listening and then in the way in which they followed-up on what they heard and "search the Scriptures daily." But we can also "give the more earnest heed" by giving earnest attention whenever God's Word is proclaimed, by earnestly studying God's Word on our own, and by earnestly studying in preparation for Bible classes. We can do this by entering into the study of God's Word with a prayerful devotion to God, just as expressed by David in Psa. 119:18, when he said, "Open my eyes, that I may see wondrous things from Your law." And we can do this by concluding our Bible studies with a prayerful desire to please God as David expressed in Psa. 119:10-11, when he said, "With my whole heart I have sought You; Oh, let me not wander from Your commandments! Your word I have hidden in my heart, That I might not sin against You!"
We have been so blessed to receive "so great a salvation." A salvation first spoken to us through God's own Son. A salvation that was then confirmed by God Himself, by the Holy Spirit, and by all of those who heard Him. A salvation that is far greater than any offered before.
But please be warned! You do not have to "reject" or "actively fight against" this great salvation in order to "receive a just reward." If you simply "drift away" through "neglect" you also will not escape. But you say, "Escape what?" Escape from what the writer calls in 10:28-29, a " much worse punishment." Listen to how the writer expresses it.
28 Anyone who has rejected Moses' law dies without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. 29 Of how much worse punishment, do you suppose, will he be thought worthy who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, counted the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified a common thing, and insulted the Spirit of grace? NKJV
Have you been neglecting this great salvation that Jesus is offering? If so, I pray that this first warning found in Hebrews will move you to repent and cause you to "give the more earnest heed" to the gospel of Christ!
By Joe Stroud
From Expository Files 8.5; May 2001