Thursday, June 8, 2017

CAN YOU DRIFT AWAY FROM GRACE? SOME SURPRISES

"Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it." -Hebrews 2:1

I have had true Christians tell me that reading the Letter to the Hebrews troubles them. Some have called it scary. If I remember correctly, some have even admitted to avoiding it. Have you ever had these thoughts or heard others say such things? If the gospel is so beautiful and so powerful, then why do true Christians have this response to reading this inspired letter? I have heard this about the letter of First John as well.


Who is the Audience?


The Letter to the Hebrews was written to the community of Jewish Christians living around Jerusalem between Pentecost and the destruction of the Jewish temple and its rituals. That community had been previously under the law of Moses for centuries and had recently been freed by Jesus to live in unmerited favor. They were surrounded by pressure to go back to the old ways. 

Which Message is Superior?


The message of Jesus is about His faithfulness and His work of "putting away sin by the sacrifice of Himself." The message given by angels to Moses at Mt Sinai was of personal faithfulness and the work of the temple system to take away sin. Jesus sits in authority and the angels are merely servants. Therefore since Jesus is greater, His message overrides the old message. 

Is it Good to Get Confused about the Two Messages?


It is never good to be confused about anything, but since Satan is the author of confusion, it certainly is possible to get muddleheaded about what is good. It is easy to get fooled about how law and gospel fit together. It would have been especially easy if one lived in the neighborhood of the beautiful Jewish Temple with its old, respected, and inspired system of sacrifices and rituals.

Confusion in the Word Must


The little word must has two general senses. It is commonly used as some form of threat. "You must give me your money or I will shoot you." "You must clean your plate or you won't get ice cream." "You must give that back because I had it first." "You must change or I won't forgive you." Do you hear the threat in these statements. Another common meaning, that isn't so noticeable, relates to what is natural, fitting, or proper. "You must get here before noon if you want to see your grandmother, as her ride to the airport leaves at noon." There is no threat in this kind of statement. It is simply a declaration of how consequences naturally follow actions. The latter is the true sense in our verse. Those who unwittingly read this verse in the threat sense, can easily turn this verse into a command from God. But this verse is simply helping to set the stage for the first command (3:1). That command naturally follows chapters one and two.

Is it Possible to Drift Away?

 Is it possible to drift away? How confident are of your answer? Let me paraphrase this verse, but set it in the negative for emphasis and clarity. "In light of the above reasons, it is not good, fitting or right for us to not give more careful attention to the message of Jesus, that He has put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself, lest we drift away." I suggest that drifting away is a far greater and more common problem than we think. Have you ever wondered if you or someone else might be guilty of drifting away? Have you ever thought that you need to be careful to not drift away? Have you ever thought that you can't drift away? The surprise is that it is not something that we do but rather something that happens to us naturally.  

Notice that the verse states that drifting away is the fruit of neglecting to do something else. That something is to give careful attention to the message of grace. In short, drifting away is the natural consequence of not considering the work of Christ. To be even more blunt, you do drift away when you don't consider grace. I drift away often every day. I don't intend to drift away, bit it is the natural result of forgetting to see in the moment through the lens of grace. It takes practice to notice that it is this simple.


Here are some examples. When a preacher declares that people must be careful to not drift away, he has already drifted away himself, because he has unwittingly not considered that it is Jesus' job to keep a person from drifting away. When you sin in any way, you have already drifted away from grace. When you are looking at life through the telescope of grace, it is impossible for you to sin. You can't keep yourself from sinning or drifting away, but God can--WHILE you are considering grace properly.


Where Does Salvation Fit?


Salvation is like marriage. Marriage doesn't end with the ceremony; it begins there. In the same way salvation is a new kind of life, relationship, or identity with God--one of unmerited favor. It begins in the moment of conversion and continues on forever. It begins when one for the first time finds satisfaction in God's goodness or faithfulness without holding in reserve any satisfaction in one's own faithfulness. We are all born with our faithfulness in the equation of life. After conversion, only Jesus' faithfulness is in the equation. Thus Christianity is life in the faithfulness of Christ free from the pressure of pretended personal faithfulness. No one is faithful when compared to Christ, so let's get over ourselves. 

Since all Christians have their identity purely in Christ's faithfulness, it is impossible to drift away from one's own identity in grace. Period. If you think otherwise then you have been tricked into thinking that there is some merited favor in the Christian life. It is Jesus' job to keep you from drifting away and, unlike you, He handles His job perfectly. Satan has created many counterfeits and many of God's dear children have been tricked to see counterfeits where there is pure grace. I am currently preaching through Hebrews and in my first sermon declared that I plan to shine the bright light of the gospel on every scary verse so as to reveal the glory of the cross and remove all scariness for the Christian, all the while maintaining that God is a consuming fire. This includes chapters 3, 4, 10, 12, and especially 6:4-6. An article on the last one is almost finished and should appear here soon. Counterfeits, counterfeits, counterfeits. Let's put the blame where it belongs: on us for being fooled by the counterfeits. I have much experience here. Do you?


Whose Faithfulness Do You Consider?


Let's get real. Whose faithfulness are you considering right now? It is never good to be unfaithful. Therefore only perfect faithfulness is good. It is not good to have expectations that are not good. Therefore goodness includes expectation of perfect faithfulness. This makes it simple to realize that 1) only God's faithfulness counts, and 2) it is a deception to expect flawed human faithfulness to count. But the spiritual battle rages--the flesh versus the spirit--flawed human faithfulness versus God's faithfulness--trying to do good versus success at doing good. In the heat of the moment the pressure is on to drift from a vision of perfect faithfulness into Satan's counterfeit of flawed human faithfulness. We need to retrain our minds to what is good if we are to stand firm in God's faithfulness and not drift away into valuing counterfeit faithfulness. If you want to prepare your mind for battle, I would suggest frequent prayer of thankfulness for what God declares to be good, for example:

"Father in heaven, thank you for calling me to always value what is good. Thank you for making your faithfulness is to be all my satisfaction even when I fail or other people fail. Thank you for calling me to remember your faithfulness and to remind others of your faithfulness. Thank you for making Christianity to be the community of satisfaction in your goodness. Thank you that it is your job to keep me from drifting away. Thank you that your son fully put away sin by the sacrifice of himself, and that he did this without my help. Thank you for making sin to be overcome easily by a vision that only perfect faithfulness counts. Thank you for making my job to be simple--to consider your son's faithfulness at the cross as the only hope for anyone in any situation."   

Consider Jesus the high priest of our confession, that "He has put away sin by the sacrifice of himself."


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