Tuesday, March 6, 2007

How Shall We Escape?

As promised, this is the second half of my sermon from last Sunday. I pray that it will be spiritually beneficial to you. From now on, any time I quote from the Bible, it will be from the New King James Version unless I state otherwise.

Therefore, we must give the more earnest heed to the things we have heard, lest we drift away. 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, which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed to us by those who heard him (Hebrews 2:1-3).

Having concluded the first chapter by contrasting Christ, who is Lord, with the angels, who are servants, the writer of Hebrews now turns to an exhortation, beginning with “therefore.” Now any time we read a passage of Scripture that begins with “therefore,” we need to go back and answer the question “What is the ‘therefore’ there for?” In this case, “therefore” means essentially, “In light of the greatness of the Lord Jesus, in light of his constancy, in light of all that he has done for us—that is, proclaiming the truth to us, making provision for our sins, and sitting down at the right hand of the Father.” In light of who Christ is and what he has done for us, let us give the more earnest heed to the things that we have heard [about Christ], lest we drift away.

“Giving more earnest heed” means let us give an ever-increasing amount of thought to the knowledge of who Christ is and what he has done for us. This knowledge should not be something that just sticks in our head, like knowledge of history or math (as delightful as those two subjects are). It should, rather, be a knowledge that completely transforms our lives. It should factor into every thought we have, every decision we make, every action we take. If this does not happen, then we run the risk of drifting away.

The Greek word translated as “drift away” is found in the Septuagint translation of Proverbs 3:21, where Solomon tells his son to remember his teachings: “let them not depart (or "drift away") from your eyes,” and again in Isaiah 44:4, with reference to waters that flow by. I love to sit by a lake and watch the ducks slowly drift by. Ever so slowly, their position changes until they are far away. I find this very relaxing, but at the same time it reminds me of how Christians lose their salvation, or, stated more accurately, how they allow themselves to drift off the path of salvation. You see, no one who is walking closely with God wakes up one day and decides to completely abandon Him. Rather, it happens in stages.

Let me give you an example, the example of worship: A person who truly loves the Lord Jesus also will love to worship him in church. Such a person delights in coming into the Lord’s house, saying with the Psalmist, “I was glad when they said to me, ‘Let us go into the house of the Lord’” (122:1) and “How lovely is Your tabernacle, O Lord of hosts. My soul longs, yes even faints, for the courts of the LORD” (84:1-2). He never misses Liturgy unless he absolutely has to. But one day, he wakes up and is very tired. He says, “I’ll stay home and sleep just this one time.” But in so doing, he has just made it easier to miss again. Soon, his absences from worship begin to add up, and he even begins to question the importance of worship, which leads him off the path of salvation. Soon, he no longer darkens the door of a church except on rare occasions. And then when he dies and stands before the judgment seat of God, he is surprised to find himself among the goats rather than the sheep.

This may seem overly dramatic, but it is one common way in which we can drift off the path of salvation. You see, Satan tempts us in different ways, depending on our individual weaknesses. For some of us, the temptation will come through lust; for others, greed; for still others, pride, and so on. But the devil never appears to us and says, “Hi, there, pious Christian. How would you like to throw away your salvation and come live with me in Hell?” Instead, he tempts us to commit minor sins, and only occasionally; then, he tempts us to go deeper and deeper into sin and away from God. The process of neglecting “so great a salvation,” as we read in verse 3, is truly a process of gradual drifting. As the demon Screwtape tells his nephew Wormwood in C. S. Lewis' The Screwtape Letters, "The safest path to Hell is the gradual one."

At the beginning of verse three, the author asks us “how shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation?” The implied answer, of course, is that we will not escape. So, what do we need to do? We need to nip sin in the bud by adopting a policy of what the Desert Fathers call nepsis, or watchfulness. We need to be on the lookout for temptations, which are ultimately attacks by the demons and even Satan himself. We need to be prepared to fight. We can prepare ourselves by reading and becoming thoroughly knowledgeable with the Scriptures and the writings of the Fathers, who have fought the good fight and won. We must, as St. Paul says, “Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against…the fiery darts of the wicked one” (Ephesians 6:10,16; I recommend that you read this entire chapter several times.)

So, brothers and sisters, let us first of all thank God that he does not change and that his truth does not change. Let us thank him that Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever. And let us guard our hearts and minds so that we do not drift away from the path of salvation and forfeit the gift of eternal life that Jesus died to give us. Finally, as the writer of Hebrews tells us, “let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Heb. 12:1). Now unto him be all glory, honor, and dominion, now and ever, and unto ages of ages. Amen.

1 comment:

megan said...

I hope to never ever escape! I really enjoyed this sermon on Sunday, and again reading it now.