I can recall, many years ago, visiting Shelly Beach for the first time. One day we went to the beach, and I was swimming in the sea without paying much attention to what was happening. Before long, I realised that I was far further from the shore than I intended. Slowly, but surely, I was drifting further out to sea. I began to panic a little, and this was heightened by a strong undercurrent that seemed to be intent on not letting me get back to shore. I gave serious thought to raising my arms for the lifeguard, but about the time that I had some reprieve and was able to make some good progress towards shore.
That was over twenty years ago, but to this day I remember the danger of drifting every time that I enter the ocean. I learned the power of unseen forces to carry me to regions where my life was in danger. I have been a bit paranoid of the sea ever since. Such fear has been a means to keep me paying attention when I swim and paying attention to others who are with me. Drifting can be life-threatening. And when it comes to spiritual drifting, when it comes to drifting away from Christ and His gospel, such drifting can ultimately be damning. The writer of Hebrews was well aware of this.
Richard Phillips has recognised,
The Book of Hebrews is a sermon on the theme “Do not fall away.” . . . Drifting away is something that happens largely unnoticed. While it is happening the changes are imperceptible; only later do its consequences become clear. This is a grave danger, against which we must respond with careful attention.1
As we have come to learn over our last several studies, the epistle to the Hebrews was written by an anonymous author to a group of Hebrews, who had professed Christ as their Lord and Saviour. But due to various pressures, they were in danger of turning away from the gospel of Jesus Christ. Some, no doubt, were tempted to turn back to old covenant Judaism, while some were probably being tempted to give way to apostate second temple Judaism. Still others were perhaps on the verge of caving completely to a more secular apostasy, where Caesar was deemed to be lord. Whoever this writer was, he was deeply concerned to remind his readers that Christ is preeminent; that He is Lord and therefore the one through whom they had and could experience a salvation that is so great. And because of this concern, he writes as a means to keep them from drifting; to exhort them to look to Christ; to believe on Christ lest they experience the awful damnation that awaits those who do not persevere but who rather drift away from the gospel.
The author states in 13:22 that he wrote in order to exhort these Hebrew Christians. Our text is the first of several such exhortations.
Having presented a glorious biblical vision of Jesus Christ as having a more excellent name than the angels (1:1-13), and having introduced the theme of salvation in Christ (1:14), he now exhorts his readers to not drift away from such a great salvation. He exhorts them to hang tenaciously to the gospel. He realises that, as with the waters at Shelly Beach, there are unseen forces–faith-drowning undercurrents–at work that seek to undermine trust in the gospel of Jesus Christ. And he realises that, if they don’t pay attention, they can end up eternally lost, forever suffering the wrath of a God who is a consuming fire (12:29). He is well aware of the spiritual drift that leads to damnation. What applied to them applies to us as well.
In this study I wish to exhort you, from this passage, to pay attention to the gospel; to pay attention to that which you have heard and to continue to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ. In fact, paying attention has everything to do with saving faith.
The Danger of Drifting
As mentioned, this epistle is full of exhortation and therefore it reads much more like a sermon than it does a theological lecture. It is full of theology, to be sure, but like all good preaching, it is theology applied and this first application is found in v. 1: “Therefore we must give the more earnest heed to the things we have heard, lest we drift away.” In the words of Karl Barth, “Scripture exposition is for this man not an end in itself. It is a brotherly service to a congregation that is in actual temptation.”2
The word “therefore” (more literally, “for this reason”) introduces the first exhortation. We know that when we come across the word “therefore” in Scripture we need to pause and ask what it is there for. That is, what has been said before to which what follows is connected?
In chapter 1, the writer shows that Jesus Christ is superior to any and all angels, for He is has a better name, namely “Son.” Jesus is the Son of God, which means that He is God. His Divine sonship was vindicated and forever to be proclaimed upon His exaltation following His humiliation. As we saw, after making seven glorious descriptions of the character of Christ, the author substantiates such glorious language by quoting seven Old Testament Scriptures. The passage ends with a reference to the salvation that Christ gives to those who, by divine grace, are joint heirs with Christ (Romans 8:16-17). It is on the heels of all of this that the writer exhorts his readers. And his exhortation is quite straightforward: Pay attention. He tells them (and us) to pay attention “to the things we have heard.” They are to pay attention to Christ, God’s final Word.
You will recall that this epistle opens with the wonderful declaration that God has always revealed Himself and that He continues to do so. He spoke in time past and was still speaking in the early 60s AD. Of course, He is also speaking today. He speaks today through His Son, His final, pastoral and preeminent Word. We might say that God speaks through His gospel. It is through the gospel that God reveals Himself. Perhaps this is why John Piper has said that God is the Gospel.
The writer was deeply concerned that these dear believers were in danger of moving away from the gospel. They were in danger of moving away from Christ. And in their case, they were in danger of moving back to the hazy shadows of the old covenant.
Note that the writer includes himself in this exhortation when he says, “We must give the more earnest heed.” This was a pastoral word in due season, for the writer was identifying with those to whom he wrote. He realised that if one fell away then, in a very real sense, the whole was affected. Further, he most surely was indicating that no one is exempt from the possibility; no one is completely safe from the danger of drifting. This is a truth that we would all do well to contemplate. As Paul said in 1 Corinthians 10:12, “Let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall.”
A Clear and Present Danger
In a moment, we will look more particularly at what it was that they had “heard” and hence what they needed to pay attention to. For now, let’s pause to consider the clear and present danger of the spiritual drift.
It has become clear to me that the book of Hebrews does not address the problem of grace versus law/works that loomed so large in the early days of the church (and which throughout church history has been a prevailing problem). It would seem that this particular audience understood that salvation was indeed by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. Neither does this epistle seem to address the serious issue of wilful and belligerent turning away from Christ. Though it does address the matter of apostasy, it is not the kind of Desmond Tutu apostasy where Christ is openly denied and mocked. It does not appear from the contents of this epistle that these Hebrews, who were identifying themselves as Christians, had any struggles with the doctrine of the virgin birth or with the factual reality of the death, burial and resurrection of Christ. They certainly held to the inspiration of Scripture, which is why the writer quotes the Old Testament at least on forty occasions. They were thoroughly orthodox. Their problem was far more subtle. Theirs was the problem of drifting. In a sense, by spiritual lethargy, they were in danger of falling away from the Christ whom they claimed was their Lord and Saviour. Hence, they were in danger, not of losing their salvation, but rather of losing out on salvation.
Thiers was the sin, not of belligerent unbelief, but rather of simply doing nothing. They were on the precipice of great spiritual danger simply because they were not paying attention. And, like me at Shelly Beach, they needed to come to grips with their predicament, look to the horizon and swim to the shore of safety.
C. S. Lewis wrote in Mere Christianity,
If you have once accepted Christianity, then some of its main doctrines shall be deliberately held before your mind for some time every day. That is why daily prayers and religious readings and church-going are necessary parts of the Christian life. We have to be continually reminded of what we believe. Neither this belief nor any other will automatically remain alive in the mind. It must be fed. As a matter of fact, if you examined a hundred people who had lost their faith in Christianity, I wonder how many of them would turn out to have been reasoned out of it by honest argument? Do not most people simply drift away?3
Please note that the first “therefore” (out of fifteen in this epistle) introduces the imperative for them to pay attention. In a sense, the writer does not exhort them to do anything but to listen up. This, of course, will lead to more activity, but first things first. They needed to pay attention to what they had heard. They needed to take themselves in hand and force themselves to pay attention to the gospel. They dare no longer merely drift along, carried by the currents of their surrounding influences. They needed to stop the slide by pausing to ponder the gospel of Christ.
Work at Paying Attention!
The language that the author uses is strong. Literally, the exhortation is that they “much more pay attention.” This implies effort. Yes, it requires effort and commitment to pay attention to truth. And it is precisely because effort is required that far too many find themselves drifting from Christ—and some perilously so. Edgar Andrews says, “In order to drift, all we have to do is nothing! To remain true to the gospel takes effort.”4
Other persons and Scriptures also exhort us to pay attention. The Lord Jesus on several occasions told His hearers to pay attention (Matthew 6:1; 7:15; Luke 17:3). The apostle Paul exhorted the Ephesians elders to pay attention (Acts 20:28). Peter exhorted his audience to pay attention to Scripture (2 Peter 1:19).
If we do not pay attention to the Scriptures, to our Saviour, then it will not be long before we find ourselves waking up—if we wake up at all—a long way from Christ. The writer points us to this reality when he uses a unique word, found only here in the Scriptures.
“Drift away” translates one Greek word, which means “to flow by” or “to slip away.” In ancient Greek, this word was sometimes used to describe a ring slipping from a finger and driftwood floating with the stream. Primarily, however, it was a nautical term, which described a ship that had lost anchor: “to hold a ship toward port, or to fasten the anchors to the sea bed.”5
As an anchor lost its grip on the floor of the sea, the ship would imperceptibly begin to move. Disaster could result. So it is with the Christian who fails to pay attention to the forces that would seek to unsettle his anchor of faith in the gospel of Christ.
Let me summarise the results of spiritual drifting. Like a ring slipping off of a finger we can lose something very precious. Like a piece of driftwood we can find our faith swept out to the sea of unbelief and ineffectiveness. Like a ship unmoored we can find ourselves spiritually shipwrecked and wrecking the faith of others along the way. Therefore, listen up; pay attention to God’s Word!
How Drifting Happens
With so much at stake, we would be wise to ask how such drifting comes about so that we can avoid it. Let me suggest some ways that a spiritual drift may come about.
First, spiritual drift may come about because of familiarity. The saying “familiarity breeds contempt” is quite true. If we are not careful, if we do not pay attention, we can become bored with the gospel. Such a danger highlights the depravity of even believers! How could we be bored with the gospel? To be bored with the gospel is tantamount to being bored with Jesus Chris the Lord!
It seems to me that the first chapter of Hebrews sets the stage for everything that will be said in the rest of this epistle. The writer’s point was to get his readers to pay attention to their glorious Saviour. As long as they remained focused on His eternally matchless glory there was little danger of their faith slipping off the finger of their soul.
To be consumed with the richness of the gospel is to have the anchor of your devotion deeply embedded in Christ and will ensure that your love for Him will not be carried away by the current of public opinion.
This may sound strange, but I think that one of the keys to overcoming a numbing spiritual familiarity is the practise of familiarity. Reverent routine is a must if you will maintain love and wonder and praise. We need the routine of daily Bible reading, of daily meditation and prayer. We need the weekly routine of corporate worship that disciplines our thoughts and helps us to pay attention without the silly and mindless novelty of a church culture that says we need freedom. In fact, the quest for novelty in worship is both exhausting and distracting.
I would go so far as to say that the “freedom” of so much corporate worship is a testimony to an undisciplined age that needs to learn to pay attention. We are foolish to think that we can improve on God’s prescribed elements of and His order in worship. When we move from these, we can be sure that our anchor has cut loose from the bedrock of Christ and drifting will be our lot.
Consider, for example, the matter of Communion. Some have allowed themselves to actually hold the means of grace in contempt by an irreverent familiarity. For example, some may have no intention of attending Communion services because they simply are not hungry. They are not hungry for Christ, and therefore the opportunity and invitation to share a meal with Him holds little, if any, appeal. They would rather stay home in front of the television, or remain obsessed with family, or choose to “rest” for the workweek ahead. Whatever excuse they cling to, such professing believers will find themselves drifting out on the sea of unbelief.
Consider, further, the matter of community. Some do not prioritise gathering with the church for Bible study and prayer—even if they may once have done so. They have convinced themselves that their excuses are noble and justified, but the reality is that their anchor has slipped. The valuable fellowship with God’s people that they once enjoyed has slipped from their life and, like a piece of driftwood, they are controlled by the whims of their own desires and the deceptions of the world.
If this describes you then pay attention. Look upward to Christ and, by God’s grace, reset your anchor in the Rock that will not move. Don’t wait until some catastrophe strikes before you realise that you are a long way from the shore.
Let me say one more thing ay with reference to the drifting that results from familiarity: If we want to escape this then we need the power of the Holy Spirit. We need His ministry of guiding us into the truth of the gospel and helping us to see and savour Jesus Christ. Ask Him to open your eyes that you might behold wonderful things out of His Word. Ask Him to show you the glories of the triune God. Ask Him to show you something of the everlasting richness of the gospel of Christ. When you gather on the Lord’s Day with other believers, do not come as a drifter but rather as a participator with a sense of expectancy. Come prepared to engage by faith as you pay attention to the truth you hear, sing and pray.
Second, drifting can also come by laziness. Hughes notes, “Such dangerous drifting is not intentional, but comes rather from inattention and carelessness.”6
I need to emphasize again that we must pay attention to the unseen world. That sounds strange, but it is in many ways at the heart of what the writer is saying. He has already mentioned the unseen angels and now He mentions the unseen Saviour (vv. 3-4).
The temptation they were undergoing was very much attached to the visible. As we will see later in our studies, they seemed to be tempted to turn back to the old covenant with all of its visible manifestations: a priesthood that could be seen, a visible temple, a city that could be experienced, and ceremonies that could be engaged, to name but a few. The writer hence exhorts them to pay attention. He tells them to wake up and to focus on Christ as He has been revealed through apostolic testimony, confirmed by signs and wonders and exalted by the Holy Spirit.
As we saw previously, we need to be deliberate and intentional in meditating upon the King and His kingdom. The lazy will ultimately find themselves spiritually lame and eternally lost. Listen to J. C. Ryle:
I will never shrink from declaring my belief that there are no “spiritual gains without pains.” I should as soon expect a farmer to prosper in business who contented himself with sowing his fields and never looking at them till harvest, as expect a believer to attain much holiness who was not diligent about his Bible- reading, his prayers, and the use of his Sundays.7
Third, sometimes we drift because of busyness. Life in our culture is hectic and even frantic at times. But from what I have seen in other parts of the world, this is pretty much the norm. If you are not busy, you are probably dead! God is not surprised by this, and His command that we pay attention remains—whether you are busy or not.
If you are too busy to read the Bible, to chew on biblical truth, to pray, and to worship then you need to reprioritise. In reality, it is not that you are too busy but rather that you are busy with the wrong things. Space will not permit a thorough exploration of this issue, but let me simply to exhort you that if what you are involved in is leading to your spiritual drift then stop it. Literally.
Stop the recreational activities that are factors in your drift. Stop your obsessive money-making pursuits if they are carrying you away from seeking first the kingdom of God and His righteousness. Stop your incessant obsession with travel and holidays if it is a factor in your spiritual drift. Too many weekends away may lead to drifting away. Stop your over-involvement in ministry if it is a means of the valuable fellowship with Christ slipping away. It is possible to be so involved in church activities that you lose sight of the one whom you are serving. If you can’t keep your eyes fixed on Christ because you are so busy “serving” Him, then stop, pause and regroup. How do you know that you are guilty of this? Simply assess whether the joy of the Lord is really your strength or whether other motives are driving you. Ask yourself how you treat those whom you are called to serve. You may find, as I personally have at times, that you have actually drifted from serving Christ to serving self.
Fourth, sometimes we drift because of relationships. Much could be said here, but suffice it for now to highlight that this is a huge factor in the matter of spiritual drift.
Solomon wrote, “He who walks with wise men will be wise, but the companion of fools will be destroyed” (Proverbs 13:20). Paul echoed this when he wrote, “Do not be deceived: ‘Evil company corrupts good habits.’ Awake to righteousness, and do not sin; for some do not have the knowledge of God. I speak this to your shame” (1 Corinthians 15:33-34). Paul was concerned that the Corinthians’ closest companions were those who had no saving relationship with Christ but in fact denied His truth. That was a shame to them.
There is an intriguing illustration in 2 Samuel 13 of how evil company corrupts good habits. Amnon, son of David, fell in love with his sister, but realised that it was improper to follow through with his lustful feelings. “But Amnon had a friend” (v. 3). Jonadab, a “crafty” man, devised a plan by which Amnon could be alone with Tamar. The result was an incestuous rape, a strained relationship between siblings, and ultimately murder.
The point is that, in every relationship, generally speaking, a conversion takes place. Be careful of whom is influencing whom, and in what direction the influence is heading. Is the relationship helping your anchor to hold or is it unmooring your devotion to Christ?
R. Kent Hughes helpfully notes a fifth potential element in the dangerous drift: age. I recently wrote an article titled “Finishing Well.” I am now in a phase of life where that exhortation is increasingly important. There is much water under the bridge, and I don’t know how much more lies before me. But I know that, when I cross the proverbial Jordan, I want to hear, “Well done, my faithful servant.” And I want that to be in the present tense.
In fact, I am increasingly wondering if it is even possible to enter heaven if we do not finish well. After all the exhortations in the New Testament seem to focus on present tense persevering to the end. I recently heard a brother in this church say of his father, “The older he gets, the more gracious he seems to become.” That is a wonderfully encouraging testimony—especially when a man is in his eighties.
Sadly, it is all too common as years advance that many are forced to go back into their memory banks to stir up testimonies of faithfully pursuing Christ. They have in the meantime drifted and joylessness and loneliness betrays this reality.
Let me ask the older generation: Are you well anchored in Christ or are you drifting away? Have you drifted? Are Christ, His church and His purposes still the focus of your life? If not, then pay attention and return to the one who has granted you so great a salvation.
Listen to these words of Robertson McQuilkin:
I fear the Dark Spectre may come too soon—
or do I mean, too late?
That I should end before I finish
or finish, but not well.
That I should stain your honor, shame your
name, grieve your loving heart.
Few, they tell me, finish well . . .
Lord, let me get home before dark.8
The Danger is Inclusive
We all face this danger. No one reading this is an exception. So pay attention. Pay attention today, tomorrow and every day thereafter until the race is done. Here these words of warning: “The Hebrews are exposed to forces that will carry them away from what they have heard unless they repeatedly make efforts to counter them. Doing nothing will result in the loss of everything.”9 Don’t drift!
The Destruction if We Drift
In vv. 2-3a the author warns his readers of the peril they face if they drift: “For if the word spoken through angels proved steadfast, and every transgression and disobedience received a just reward, how shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation?”
Exhortation not to drift is needed. But exhortation must have teeth if it will keep us well anchored. In these verses, we feel the bite that should go a long way to keeping the ring of gospel devotion on our finger of fellowship. Here, the writer pulls no punches when he tells them of the severity of judgement that awaits those who refuse to take seriously their drifting from the truth. In these verses, he argues from the lesser to the greater.
In v. 2 the writer references the well-attested and well-accepted fact that, under the old covenant—a covenant that was mediated by angels (Acts 7:53; Galatians 3:19; see Deuteronomy 33:2)—judgement fell upon those who violated it. In other words, the Lord took the covenant seriously (“proved steadfast”) and those who transgressed the covenant either indifferently or insolently suffered the wrath of God. Examples abound, but the very first example—the golden calf incident—should suffice to prove the point. In that case, some 3,000 lost their lives. But the writer then argues that if judgement was so certain and severe under the old covenant how much more (by implication) will judgement be upon those who depart from the new covenant—a covenant designated as “so great a salvation.”
This is the second time that the word “salvation” has been used in this epistle (see 1:14) and it will appear another five times. It is a major theme, for it is at the heart of the new covenant. Jesus Christ came to save sinners from their sins and from the wrath of God. And He will save all those who do not neglect so great a salvation. However, those who do neglect it will most certainly and most awfully “receive a just reward.” As Bruce notes, “If they yield to the temptation to abandon their profession their plight is hopeless.”10
The word “neglect” literally could be translated “careless.” It is the same used word in Matthew 22:5 that is translated as “made light of.” Fundamentally, all one needs to do in order experience an even more severe punishment in an everlasting hell is to simply ignore—make light of—the gospel. “Inaction in spiritual things is fatal. . . . One need not be violently opposed to the message to suffer loss; one need only drift away from it.”11
It should be noted that anyone and everyone who dies without the Lord Jesus Christ as their Saviour will go to hell. But it is also clear from Scripture, like the text before us, that those who have heard the gospel and yet make light of it, those who neglect to act upon it, will suffer immensely more “just” and hence more wrathful recompense in hell than those who never heard the gospel.
In fact, in this passage, and in this epistle as a whole, there is little if any emphasis upon those who have never heard the gospel. Rather, the concern of the author is for those who have heard it and yet who, for whatever reason, have allowed themselves to drift away from securing Christ as the saving anchor of their sinful and hell deserving soul.
Appealing to the Reached
Those who have heard and yet neglected to accept will suffer more than those who have never heard. There are people in our churches who will one day suffer more in hell than those who are guilty of the recent jihad in Kenya. Think and tremble about that!
BBC is increasingly committed to reaching the unreached with the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ—and rightly so. We should be burdened about reaching those who have never heard. We should labour and send and go with this goal in mind. But let us never lose sight of the burden that we should be carrying for those who continually hear and yet who continually neglect so great a salvation. Let us lovingly and passionately warn them, just as we are committed to love and to passionately warn those who have yet to hear. And this goes for our children as well.
Children, Listen Well
Children, you are privileged to hear the gospel from your parents and many of you from your grandparents as well. You are regularly blessed to hear of Christ and His gospel from your Sunday school and other children’s ministry teachers, and from your pastors. Do not neglect so great a salvation. Confess you are a sinner and call upon the name of the Lord and be saved. Be saved today!
Wet but Drifting
Some of you have been baptised and yet you are drifting. No amount of water will protect you from the fire of God’s wrath if you continue to neglect the so great salvation offered in the gospel of Christ. Drifting is damnable.
The Defence from Drifting
At this point we might want to ask, but how do we know that this salvation is so great? Verses 3b-4 give us a threefold answer: “in its original announcement, in its convincing proclamation, and in the manifold attestation to its truth.”12
First, this salvation is so great because of who brought it to pass. Morris notes, “Anything Jesus said is of interest and importance to his followers, but his proclamation of salvation must be regarded as especially important.”13
We are told that this salvation “first began to be spoken by the Lord” (v. 3). This, of course, is a reference to the Lord Jesus Christ. It does not meant that the gospel was only first announced in history by Jesus, for we have already been told that God spoke in past times by the prophets (1:1). The gospel, in fact, was announced as far back as the Garden of Eden and was reiterated and prophesied on many occasions in many ways. In fact, each sacrifice offered at the tabernacle and the temple foreshadowed the gospel. It was a proclamation of so great salvation to come. What this verse means is that, with the incarnation and the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry, this great salvation was fully inaugurated. Shadow had become substance, and prophecy had become fulfilment. The all glorious Saviour indeed had come to usher in so great salvation.
Now, follow the argument. If these Hebrew Christians were assured of the greatness of the old covenant because it had been mediated by angels, then how much more should they believe and embrace the gospel under the new covenant—a covenant mediated by the Son of God (see 1:1-14)? As Raymond Brown notes, “If Christ is all that this letter so clearly asserts, then it is essential for us to hold to his gospel. In the passage before us he emphasizes the transcendent superiority of the gospel and insists that the good news of this revelation of God must make a practical difference in our everyday lives.”14
This salvation is so great because of the one who purchased it. If you have not seen that yet in chapter one then re-read those verses and you will be moved—if you pay attention—by the revelation of our glorious Saviour. He who is the Son of God—the Creator and the sustainer of all—and who is exalted to the right hand of the Father became sin for us, though He knew no sin Himself, in order that we might become the righteousness of God in Him (2 Corinthians 5:21).
Related to this evidence of the surpassing greatness of the gospel of Christ is the fact that there was apostolic witness and testimony that the Lord had proclaimed this great salvation. The text tells us that this message was “confirmed” by them. “The saving message was guaranteed to us.”13
For three years, these men had been eyewitnesses of Jesus Christ who proclaimed this salvation. Most importantly, they were eyewitnesses of His resurrection and His ascension. They were eyewitnesses of the coming to pass of the Scriptures quoted in the previous chapter. What is so essential in this argument is that, in a sense, these men were hostile witnesses. They were not exactly stalwart, courageous and zealously faithful believers that Christ would rise from the dead—at least not initially. In fact, they denied and forsook the Lord and then hid on the weekend that He was buried. They were even hiding on the day on which He rose! But the fact that they were then willing to risk their lives to proclaim that He was alive—the fact that they were willing to be martyred because of this salvation—is a wonderful proof that this salvation is great indeed!
Second, not only do we have the witness of the Son and those who followed Him but we also have the confirmation of the Father. Verse 4 tells us that “God [was] also bearing witness both with signs and wonders, with various miracles.” “The ministry of the Lord marked the first phase of God’s final revelation. It was succeeded by a second, which consisted of accrediting the word, in the sense of guaranteeing its accuracy.”16
It has been well noted that, had Jesus never performed any miracles, He would still have been God and we would still be required to believe on Him for salvation. But these miracles and wonders were for the purpose of signifying the salvation brought (and bought!) by Jesus. The Father testified that Jesus is the Saviour of the world—that He is God’s final salvific Word—and for this reason it is the only salvation worthy of the name “gospel.”
We need to realize that this confirmed message is preserved for us in the Bible, for the “miraculous verification of their message was reserved for those whose teaching or writing gave us the New Testament.”17
The third and final proof of the greatness of this salvation, and hence the final reason why we should be so careful that we do not drift from the gospel, is the witness of the Holy Spirit. As you can see, the triune God stands behind this gospel. That is all the testimony you need!
The text tells us that the gospel was confirmed by “gifts of the Holy Spirit.” Literally, the term is “distributions of the Holy Spirit,” and such wording is duplicated in 1 Corinthians 12:11. The idea seems to be that the Holy Spirit authenticated the greatness of this salvation by bestowing various gifts or manifestations on those who believed this gospel.
As we have seen in the book of Acts, when a people believed on the Lord Jesus Christ, they received the Holy Spirit. This is the norm in the Christian era. In some cases, the evidence was that the people spoke in tongues, and this was helpful to form a harmony amongst the different people groups that then made up the church. Over time, of course, such supernatural manifestation became redundant. Nevertheless, what remains is the reality of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. When one experiences so great salvation, they experience the life-transforming, powerful and persistent presence of the Holy Spirit. This is another reason that the salvation which we have in Christ is so great indeed.
As we come to a close, consider a final point that summarises all that has been said: This salvation is great because of the greatness of the problem that it addresses and solves.
Sinful man’s separation from God is a horrible reality for every person who enters this world. But the gospel of Christ announces that Jesus has reconciled believers to God. The wages of sin is indeed death (eternal alienation from God), but the gift of God is eternal life in Jesus Christ our Lord (Romans 6:23).
You will never face a bigger problem than your sin and the just wrath that it deserves from God. You and I deserve to be dammed—forever. But the gospel provides a salvation so great that not only are we delivered from such damnation are made trophies of grace! Rather than receiving wrath, we experience everlasting love. In fact, we are translated from a wrath deserving domain unto a glorious, love-encompassing kingdom. We are no longer enemies, but rather friends, of God. More so, we are sons of God! As Luther once put it, the Son of God became the Son of Man so that we, the sons of men, might become the sons of God.
Morris states the solemnity of our need to stay anchored in Christ: “The Epistle leaves us in no doubt but that we who are saved are saved from a sore and genuine peril. Christ’s saving work is not a piece of emotional pageantry rescuing men from nothing in particular.”18 Don’t ever drift from the gospel; do what you need to do to love the gospel.
O hear this! And rather than drifting look to Christ and be delivered unto so great a salvation.
- Richard D. Phillips, Hebrews: Reformed Expository Commentary (Phillipsburg: Presbyterian and Reformed, 2006), 47. ↩
- William L. Lane, Hebrews: Word Biblical Commentary, 2 vols. (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1991), 1:36. ↩
- C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (San Francisco: Harper, 1952), 141. ↩
- Edgar Andrews, A Glorious High Throne: Hebrews Simply Explained (Darlington: Evangelical Press, 2003), 71. ↩
- Lane, Hebrews, 1:37. ↩
- R. Kent Hughes, Hebrews: An Anchor for the Soul, 2 vols. (Wheaton: Crossway, 1993), 48. ↩
- Phillips, Hebrews, 50. ↩
- Hughes, Hebrews, 49. ↩
- Hywel R. Jones, Let’s Study Hebrews (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 2002), 17. ↩
- F. F. Bruce, The Epistle to the Hebrews: The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1964), 27. ↩
- Leon Morris, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, 12 vols. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1981), 12:21. ↩
- B. F. Westcott, The Epistle to the Hebrews: The Greek Text with Notes and Essays (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1977), 39. ↩
- Morris, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, 12:22. ↩
- Raymond Brown, The Message of Hebrews: The Bible Speaks Today (Nottingham: Inter-Varsity Press, 2000), 46. ↩
- Morris, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, 12:22. ↩
- Lane, Hebrews, 1:39. ↩
- Andrews, A Glorious High Throne, 76. ↩
- Brown, The Message of Hebrews, 52. ↩