“Therefore we ought to give the more earnest heed to the things which we have heard, lest at any time we should let them slip. For if the word spoken by angels was steadfast, and every transgression and disobedience received a just recompense of reward; How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation; which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed unto us by them that heard him; God also bearing them witness, both with signs and wonders, and with divers miracles, and gifts of the Holy Ghost, according to his own will?”
The apostle Paul warns the Christian of the very real danger of falling away from the Lord by neglecting salvation. The word “slip” here refers to drifting away. A good analogy, and one that we will use throughout, is of a boat drifting aimlessly away from shore. The pace of drifting away from Christ may not be perceptible, it may be hardly noticeable, until you look up and can no longer see land. Somewhere you have gone beyond His will.
Usually it is just the gentle, subtle breeze of worldliness, compromise, and carelessness that causes us to drift away, but drift away we do when we neglect so great salvation. This is a problem every true Christian faces, maybe even on a daily basis. It is a problem that cannot be ignored. Neither should we give ourselves false assurance by believing “once saved always saved”, that is unconditional eternal security.
In this message I want to examine three important points relating to our text. If we can understand these and put them into action in our daily lives we will not slip or drift away. These are the points:
1. Why the exhortation was given.
2. What causes people to drift away?
3. How to avoid drifting.
1. Why the exhortation was given
You will remember that we are going to use the analogy of a boat drifting away from shore. Such a boat would be adrift because it was moored up correctly. Some time ago I remember watching an old Laurel and Hardy film called ‘Saps at Sea’. In this film Stan and Ollie hired a boat that drifted away from the harbour while they slept. The big problem was that there was, unbeknown to them, an escaped convict on board. What a spiritual mess we find ourselves in when we do not cling to the only Saviour of our souls!
Paul warns us about neglecting salvation. I take that to mean more than just being careless about our spiritual lives. Surely it indicates the fact that so many lose sight of Christ and then go on to lose their salvation. Now, as you know, I do not believe you can lose your salvation like as you could lose your wallet or car keys, but I certainly do accept that a believer can throw their salvation away. In chapter 6 of Hebrews, verses 4-6, we read, “For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost, and have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come, if they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance; seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame”. Did you notice the possibility of falling away in this text? I believe the apostle was connecting the two thoughts together, slip and fall, to reveal that a person can go so far away from God through neglecting salvation that it is impossible to bring them back. He makes a stronger statement in chapter 3:12-14, “Take heed, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God. But exhort one another daily, while it is called To day; lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin. For we are made partakers of Christ, if we hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast unto the end”. You see the point here, a Christian can wilfully and actively depart from God. As a free moral agent he can make a free moral choice to neglect and reject salvation.
We believe in the unlimited atonement of Christ. His blood avails for sin. His blood can cleanse even the darkest of sin. Yet, Scripture proves that it is possible to go so far away that the blood of Christ is no longer available to a backslider. “For if we sin wilfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful looking for of judgement and fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversaries” (Hebrews 10:26-27). The apostle Paul did not teach Calvinism. If believers would only catch sight of the stark realities of drifting away from Christ; if they would only consider the consequences of neglecting their spiritual lives, there would be more victorious believers, we would have revival in our churches. The danger of drifting away is very real. In the verses we have quoted it should be as clear as day, that, a child of God can throw his salvation away through carelessness. Otherwise, why was such an exhortation given? Why give the warning if it were not possible for a believer to step out of salvation. There is no sense in telling your child to be careful about how she crosses the road if the car has not been invented! Both the possibility and the consequences are real. Only a fool would ignore the advice found in Hebrews chapter 2.
You may be thinking to yourself at this point, “This does not apply to me, I’m faithfully serving the Lord”. That’s good to hear, but don’t deceive yourself. Yes, the message is for the backslider, but understand that these verses are more appropriate to the committed believer than the non-committed. It is you that has to watch all the more carefully lest you drift away. Who do you think the devil has his aim on? The fallen on the battlefield or those left standing?
2. What causes people to drift away?
To answer that question we only have to think again of our illustration. A boat will not drift on still waters. The gentle breeze or currents will move the boat away if it is not anchored or moored. Lets look at some of these currents that cause believers to drift away from Christ.
a. The current of time.
So you have been a Christian for a long time. You attend church, read your Bible, say your prayers. But over time a certain amount of mechanism has entered into your spiritual life. The joy and excitement about serving Christ has gone. Paul would say to you, “Let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not” (Galatians 6:9). Sometimes it takes time to come to maturity, but very often believers throw in the towel, they lose the fervour of their devotion, they become stale.
Time is an enemy if not used correctly. Those who become disheartened soon become careless. They have forgotten Jesus somewhere down the line. To the Ephesian church Jesus said, “Nevertheless I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love. Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick out of his place, except thou repent” (Revelation 2:4-5). I wonder if Paul saw the same in them and was led to write to them, “Redeeming the time, because the days are evil” (Ephesians 5:16)?
What happens usually in many Christians lives is that they settle down. They rest on past accomplishments, and cease pressing forward. Paul would not allow himself to settle down and take his ease. He had done great things for God, he had preached all over Europe, he wrote much of the New Testament, surely he could have a spiritual picnic? No! Listen to what he said about himself, “Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:13-14). He had no time to relax his commitment to Christ.
b. The current of society.
Christianity is no longer acceptable in the modern world, not Biblical Christianity anyway. We live in an age when political correctness, multi-culture and multi-faith rule the day. It is certainly not being “with it” if you are a Christian. There is the risk of hiding our light under a bushel (Matthew 5:15-16). You see, the tide of modern opinion affects the commitment of some believers. It weakens their resolve, their faith ebbs away. How hard it is to disassociate ourselves from those who call themselves our friends but seek to destroy our faith! “Be not deceived: evil communications corrupt good manners” (1 Corinthians 15:33).
On every side Christianity is attacked. It comes from evolution, humanism, false religion, and even what we can call ‘plastic’ Christianity. How can you offer absolutes in a society that accept no moral or spiritual absolutes, where everything is relative? You see how easy it is to feel intimidated enough never to open your mouth for God again? That is drifting!
c) The current of the flesh.
There is a war going on for the believer’s soul. This battle is taking place within our spirits, souls, and minds. This is what we call ‘the flesh’. Not the actually skin that covers your bones, but the sin nature that continually seeks to dominate our lives again. “Dearly beloved, I beseech you as strangers and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul” (1 Peter 2:11). Often such fleshly lusts, desires, and temptations are blamed on the devil, but really we should take the responsibility for resisting the flesh. As Christians we alone have been given the power to overcome sin in our lives. In Galatians 5:16-17 Paul writes, “This I say then, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh. For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would”. What are we saying here? Simply this, if we obey the voice of the Holy Spirit we will not fulfil sinful desires, drift away, or be lost. A point of interest here; the Israelites lost their Promised Land through sin, disobedience, and the lusts of the flesh. These are the consequences for those who neglect so great salvation. Those who drift away can very easily make shipwreck of your faith (1 Timothy 1:19).
d) The current of daily concerns.
Constant pressure, worries, anxieties, duties, and fears can so easily distract us. To those who have recently had new babies, what out for this. There is a trend amongst new parents that I call “New Baby Backsliding Syndrome”. What happens in this ailment is, less time is spent in Bible study and prayer, fewer meetings are attended (you know what I mean, baby has a cold and the whole family have to stay home to wipe its nose!), you allow the child to distract the meetings you do attend. Don’t misunderstand me here. Looking after your child, that God has given you, should be your daily concern, but just remember to put God first. How many families I’ve seen fall away because they failed in this area.
All this is true, but it also illustrates what happens if we allow daily duties get control of us. When they do, we lose sight of God – we drift away. In the parable of the Sower, Jesus said, “That which fell among thorns are they, which, when they have heard, go forth, and are choked with cares and riches and pleasures of this life, and bring no fruit to perfection” (Luke 8:14) and again in Luke 21:34, “And take heed to yourselves, lest at any time your hearts be overcharged with surfeiting, and drunkenness, and cares of this life, and so that day come upon you unawares”. I want you to notice that most of our daily anxieties are over legitimate things rather than sinfulness, but that doesn’t make them any more acceptable, since they cause us to slip our moorings and allow the undercurrent to drift.
Any and all of these currents (there are more, but these reveal the point we are making) can slowly move us away from the Lord and His great salvation if we are not careful. However, as we return to the text, we learn how we can avoid drifting.
3. How to avoid drifting
a) We ought to give the more earnest heed (:1)
Keeping with our boat theme, let’s transform it a little into a canoe. The canoeist is moving slowly down stream on a gentle current, blissfully unaware of the dangers up ahead. He is enjoying the scenery but paying no attention to the slowly changing conditions his craft is in. At last he sees the danger, makes final adjustments, but it is too late! You see, you may go so far away from the Lord that last minute adjustments are too late, you have already gone over the waterfall.
So how do we avoid getting ourselves into a spiritual situation such as this? The text advises us that “we ought to give the more earnest heed to the things which we have heard, lest at any time we should let them slip” (:1). This is the only way, don’t bother looking for another. Isn’t it great to have only one good option! There is no need to worry about if your are making the right choice. God’s way is always the best. We must be diligent when it comes to our salvation. Peter says, “And beside this, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; And to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness; And to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness charity. For if these things be in you, and abound, they make you that ye shall neither be barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But he that lacketh these things is blind, and cannot see afar off, and hath forgotten that he was purged from his old sins. Wherefore the rather, brethren, give diligence to make your calling and election sure: for if ye do these things, ye shall never fall” (2 Peter 1:5-10). There is no place for half-heartedness with this. If someone gave you a priceless ring to look after, I’m sure you would hardly sleep, you would not neglect protecting it for a moment. Our so great salvation is of more value than you will ever know on this side of eternity, so be diligent over it.
Did you see the word “more” in the text? Few do! Give the more earnest heed to your salvation, to the Lord, than you are doing now. The Israelites heard the word via Moses and angels, and God punished them for taking little notice of it. Paul says, Do you think you will go unpunished if you neglect the salvation that cost Jesus Christ His blood?” How true are the words of Jesus when He said, “For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required” (Luke 12:48). Are you earnestly giving heed to what you have heard? If you are then give even more!
This brings us to one last point:
b) We must give the more earnest heed to the things we have heard.
What things? Those of you who have been paying attention will have already noticed the “things” Paul is referring to. These are:
i. The word of God spoken through His Son. When you read the Bible (if you are reading the Bible rather than it collecting dust from one Sunday to another) do you hear God speaking to you through it? God speaks through the Bible. But what was the message Jesus brought that we are to pay more attention to? Simply stated, the Gospel of the Kingdom – Salvation. It is sad to realise that many are trusting in the so-called sinner’s prayer they said rather than Jesus. These people do not know what they’ve been saved from. It is my contention that it is impossible to know what eternal life is until we know what eternal death is (i.e. Eternal Separation from God). This is where the majority of once-saved-always-saved believers go wrong. “Search the Scriptures” Jesus would say to us, “for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me” (John 5:39). Go and find out what salvation cost, what it means, what you have been saved from.
ii. To give the more earnest heed we will have to become like the Bereans of Acts 17:11 who “received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so”. It is said that if you want to become a master at the piano you will have to practice several hours per day. A disciple is someone who hangs upon every word that comes from his Master’s mouth. You can do this through Bible reading, Bible study, and daily devotion. Whatever you do, make it daily! With this kind of dedication you will maintain your relationship with God, “Open thou mine eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of thy law” (Psalm 119:18). Don’t forget prayer, your daily conversation with God, “With my whole heart have I sought thee: O let me not wander from thy commandments. Thy word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against thee” (Psalm 119:10-11).
iii. Now look back. What was your Christian life like last year? If the truth be known, we all failed the Lord in so many ways. We let spiritual things slip but exalted the desires of the flesh. Is this what the present situation is like? Therefore I predict that the future will be exactly the same unless we stir ourselves up, stand up, and go all out for the Lord. Another day should not go by without rectifying this situation.
We have been blessed to receive so great salvation. This salvation that came through God’s only begotten Son. This salvation had never been offered to anyone in the Old Testament, and it cannot be bettered. What further proof do we need that it is the only way? It has been confirmed as absolute truth by the original followers of Christ. Look for a better deal if you want, but you will search in vain. Instead give the more earnest heed to what is written.
Please note very carefully … You don’t have to reject Christ or salvation to neglect them. To cast away your only hope all you need to do is neglect them. To neglect a child is to mentally disown him. Is neglecting Christ any less serious? If we drift carelessly along we will not escape the consequences.
If you have been neglecting so great salvation then now is the time to get it put right. Attend to this exhortation, don’t slip, slide, drift or backslide any further. Your soul depends upon it!