Therefore we must pay greater attention to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away from it.Hebrews 2:1 (NRSV)
This comes as the first of five warnings given in Hebrews: “Pay careful attention to the message of salvation through Christ”
But how can such a drift occur? How do we square the security of salvation with a warning about drifting from the faith?
Love God With All Your Mind
Every now and then I read a book that reorients the way I think about pretty much everything. “Love God with All Your Mind” by J.P. Moreland was just such a book. In it, Moreland explained the five basic components of a belief, and as I read I realized this was a core teaching every Christian needs to learn.
The Five Components of Belief
Moreland outlined the formation of belief in this way:
- Formation. A belief is formed when you and I are willing to open our minds to the possibilities, when we approach a subject as a student willing to have our minds changed, should we accept the evidence provided.
It was exactly upon this principle that the Apostle John counted when he wrote his gospel, saying,
These are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believingyou may have life in his name.John 20:31 (NRSV)
- Plausibility. As we weigh the evidence presented to us, there is a profound force already at work—the culture we have been formed by, and the culture we inhabit.
Certainly, you and I have heard of peer pressure, the influence the people in our lives have on us—our family of origin, our extended family, friends, and colleagues (peers). We tend to believe what our culture says is plausible. And we tend not to believe what our culture says is not plausible.
In some cultures, for instance, it is immediately assumed illness is caused by dark spiritual forces. In other cultures, it is assumed illness is brought on by viruses and bacteria. Both exist, both have great power, yet how you and I interpret the data (and believe) depends on which culture you and I inhabit
- Content. This is the data, the “what” that is believed.
- Strength. According to Moreland, when you and I say we believe something, it simply means we believe more than we do not believe.
We may believe something is true, while at the same time remain somewhat skeptical. We may also believe two different things that do not harmonize—for example, I believe processed sugar causes inflammation in my body and is responsible for a host of serious medical ills (such as heart disease and type 2 diabetes).
But, I also believe processed sugar makes me feel good. There are times when I eat something sugary, and enjoy it immensely!
What is going on?
Well, I do not believe strongly enough that processed sugar is seriously harmful.
Nevertheless, as I sit with my belief, continue to take in evidence that supports it (read medical papers on sugar, for instance), arrange my life around it (avoid purchasing foods with processed sugar), over time, my belief will gain strength.
- Centrality. But there remains how important this belief is.
You and I can gauge the importance—or centrality—of a belief by trying to imagine life where it might be untrue. Would life change?
Let us say we believe strongly that earth’s moon is made of rock and mineral. Let us say we have been completely convinced by the evidence. Then, NASA sends a new probe, much more sophisticated, which discovers the moon is actually made of some other material, let us say compacted dust and ice. An exciting discovery!
Sit with it.
Would your life change if you became convinced by this new evidence?
Mine would not be either. It is not central to our existence, to the lives you and I live.
Strength and Centrality of Belief in Hebrews
The Jewish Christians comprising the writer of Hebrews’ audience had the right things to believe.
The problem was, they did not believe them as deeply as they believed what they had grown up with.
In addition, what they had grown up with was more central to their way of life than the apostles’ teachings had become. It was hard work not to drift along with the current of their culture. They had not thrown an anchor into the firm foundation of the gospel, and the apostles’ teaching.
Instead of seeing Jesus’ sacrifice as being not only once and for all, but also continuing moment by moment to cover them, the Jewish Christians were going back to relying upon obedience to the rituals, sacrifices, and ceremonies found in the Books of the Law, the Torah, and their own oral law, in order to somehow gain God’s favor.
Instead of living by faith, they were trusting in their old religion again.
Maybe the gospel seemed too good to be true. Maybe they felt they should hedge their bets, play both sides. Maybe they were succumbing to the pressure of their Jewish friends, family, and colleagues who had not put their faith in Christ.
Either way, they were drifting away from the freedom and joy of the gospel.
It is so easy to fall back into what our prevailing culture believes.
The Drift was about drifting back into a works-based relationship with God and with other people. It was about drifting away from a grace-based relationship with God, and with other people.
How serious were the implications?
We will find, later in this epistle, that the writer thought the implications were nothing short of eternal.
Jesus had warned that some of the gospel’s seed would fall on rocky ground, and in thorny patches. Those seeds would at first joyfully sprout up, but the troubles of the life,
- calamities and tragedies,
- traumas and suffering,
- crushing losses
as well as the enticements of life,
- the pull of ambition,
- pleasures of wealth,
- worship of self and creation,
would prevent any deep root from forming, and the gospel would get choked off. That initial enthusiasm would wane, the old life would seem more real, more sound, more plausible.
And whatever had begun to grow would wither and die.
Sometimes people warm up right away to what they think Jesus can do for them. He can fix their problems, He can pour out blessing on them, He can get them what they want—perhaps a life partner, or money, or a job, or a feeling of joy, or love, or some spiritual experience. But when God does not grant that heart desire, or when God seems to take away . . . they drift away.
How can we escape if we neglect so great a salvation? The writer asked. This is a crisis! God has reached through heaven to earth, taking on human form, living as we live, and opening the portal to reconciliation and eternity through the tearing of God’s own body. Evil has been conquered, corruption and death along with it. The cup of God’s cleansing wrath has been drunk to the dregs by none other than God!
Why would anyone want to neglect so great a salvation, and rather to take their chances with God’s wrath instead?
[Field of Wheat | Pxhere.com]