We are working on the very sobering subject of apostasy these last couple of episodes. This is a good time to be dealing with this, because in the ST episodes we are currently talking about the doctrine of sin and salvation.
The subject is not pleasant, but it is necessary. We would ask you to take a moment to perhaps write us a short note on if this has been of help, and in what way. Or, what is still a point of struggle or question for you. Do not assume someone else will do it because frankly it doesn’t happen.
We want to get into some key bible passages over the next couple of episodes that have been the source of much angst and worry of so many Christians. These passages are found in the book of Hebrews. They are scary to read and if you are honest with yourself likely they are passages that made you stop and think.
Background to the book of Hebrews is critical to understanding these passages, so we need to spend some time on it.
A unique book that leans heavily upon the Old Testament throughout it. It assumes you know about the entire Levitical system of priesthood, temple, and sacrifice.
The author is unknown, and no amount of insisting will change that fact.
Who the primary recipients are, is a debated subject, but it is also the most important issue to take a stand upon. The author does not overtly tell us who is in view in this book. However the content makes this rather obvious.
However, there is much evidence that it was a treatise (more than a letter) written to Jewish believers.
It is filled with references and allusions to the Old Testament system. The whole foundation upon which chapter 6 is based, implies that they were Jews who had been part of the “washings, etc.” The same with chapter 9:15, where there is a discussion of the Old Covenant.
The author makes a strong point that the Old Covenant is passing away, but that would be pointless discussion if his readers would not be predisposed to want to still be living under it.
The purpose of the book is two-fold. These two points are woven together and need to be remembered together:
The first is the supremacy of Jesus Christ over all things, especially those connected to the old covenant.
The second is to exhort and warn the people to not go back to the old ways but to remain faithful to the end in their faith toward Jesus. To say it simply, Do not fall away! Christ is more than sufficient.
Keeping these two points in mind we can now talk about a unique point made in this book---the warning passages.
The warning passages (2:1-4; 3:7-4:13; 5:11-6:12; 10:26-31; 12:25-29).
Five of them in total. They are spread throughout the book, so they fall like hammer blows on those who read them.
This gets into some very complex points of biblical theology. It is why these passages trouble people so much, because they are not taught and grounded in sound theology.
- The perseverance of the saints.
- Anthropology and the nature of man’s will.
- The nature of saving faith.
- The entire doctrine of salvation.
- Christology, &c.
If you are going to talk about apostasy there is no way to do it properly without dealing with these passages, and so we will. We hope these will help you all to be all the more convinced of the utter sufficiency Jesus to bring you safely into His presence, AND to stir you up to press onward in your walk of faith.
One point needs to be made here, is that these passages are dense with theology. They can’t just be vaguely referenced to be understood, nor can we give a quick and simple statement about what is meant.
To do that would mean that we just want you to simply trust us that we did our work on the text.
Far too many teachers do that, and it is not helpful to the health of the church. So we are going to work hard with you in these passages.
Having said that, understand that there is still so much more that could be drawn out from the texts, than what we will do in these episodes.
If at all possible, listen to these when you can have your bible open. These are not commuting podcasts. These are “sitting in a straight-backed chair while wide awake and with a pencil in my hand and paper on the table" kind of podcasts.
So with those points in mind, let’s start…..
The Scary Passages
Hebrews 2:1-4 is the first warning in this important book and it sort of prepares us for the harder ones to come.
"For this reason we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away from it. For if the word spoken through angels proved unalterable, and every transgression and disobedience received a just penalty, how will we escape if we neglect so great a salvation? After it was at the first spoken through the Lord, it was confirmed to us by those who heard, God also testifying with them, both by signs and wonders and by various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit according to His own will."
The “for” in vs 1 tells us that it is connected to what just was written. To summarize chapter 1 would go something like this: “The Son is the better revelation and is higher than the angels.”
With that in mind then the point in vs 1 is that if that is true then we better listen to Him! But why? The “so that” tells us, so we don’t drift away. From what? From what they just heard which is the gospel of Jesus Christ.
This is a key principle that we see played out time and time again.
People who make a strong declaration of faith. Their lives appear to be unique and different. But they do not keep the gospel and its promises central.
When this happens, they begin to drift (there is no such thing as ‘coasting’).
Why is it so bad to drift away?
(Vs 2) God did not wink at the breaking of the Law. Ultimately the whole of Israel’s history proved that out. Even at the writing of this letter they were still in captivity, under God’s judgment. The promise in the Law was very clear, obey and you will be blessed, disobey and you will be cursed.
It is here that he makes an argument from the lesser to the greater.
If angels’, who are lesser than the Son, gave words that were unbreakable. How much greater are the words of the Son?
The angels mediated the Old Covenant. The Son is the mediator of the New Covenant—something the author is going to remind them of later on in the letter.
This was spoken first through the Lord, then those who heard it, then spoke it to the author of Hebrews, and then the author of the Hebrews to his recipients.
So the fact that the apostles went forth with that message and had the signs/wonders/miracles along with it, was, then, further attestation that God was validating the message.
Why does he bring up the miracles and such? [Remember, Moses confirmed that he was from God… and how?... through miracles.]
Here is the point, it is one thing to embrace/believe/hold to the gospel of Jesus Christ, it is another thing to remember it.
The act of believing is not a punctiliar act, but an ongoing act.
This is key to understanding the New Testament, salvation, and faith.
No, we are not saying you can lose your salvation, but we are saying that what it means to be truly saved is much more than merely saying you believe and even looking like you believe.
So, our question to you who listen is simple. Do you set your mind to hear the truth of the greatness of the gospel? And when hearing do you rest in what is said? Are you drifting away because your heart is distracted by other things?
"Therefore, just as the Holy Spirit says, "TODAY IF YOU HEAR HIS VOICE, 8 DO NOT HARDEN YOUR HEARTS AS WHEN THEY PROVOKED ME, AS IN THE DAY OF TRIAL IN THE WILDERNESS, WHERE YOUR FATHERS TRIED Me BY TESTING Me, AND SAW MY WORKS FOR FORTY YEARS. "THEREFORE I WAS ANGRY WITH THIS GENERATION, AND SAID, 'THEY ALWAYS GO ASTRAY IN THEIR HEART, AND THEY DID NOT KNOW MY WAYS'; AS I SWORE IN MY WRATH, 'THEY SHALL NOT ENTER MY REST.'" Take care, brethren, that there not be in any one of you an evil, unbelieving heart that falls away from the living God. 13 But encourage one another day after day, as long as it is still called "Today," so that none of you will be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we have become partakers of Christ, if we hold fast the beginning of our assurance firm until the end, while it is said, "TODAY IF YOU HEAR HIS VOICE, DO NOT HARDEN YOUR HEARTS, AS WHEN THEY PROVOKED ME." For who provoked Him when they had heard? Indeed, did not all those who came out of Egypt led by Moses? And with whom was He angry for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the wilderness? And to whom did He swear that they would not enter His rest, but to those who were disobedient? 19 So we see that they were not able to enter because of unbelief."
Quotes Psalm 95, which is a song of the failure of Israel in the Exodus.
It’s referring to the end of a 40 year wandering, where they were witnessing the work of God (3:9), but then not entering the rest. The rest to which he refers is the promised land of Canaan.
By the way, this is one of the many examples of why the original readers were likely Jewish. The writer is assuming that they know the story of the Exodus and wilderness wanderings. And he assumes they know the psalm itself, which almost no Gentile would at this time.
By choosing this portion of Psalm 95 the writer emphasizes the rebelliousness of the situation. The rebellion of Israel in the wilderness is perhaps the most powerful example in the bible of sinful hearts in the Old Testament.
Think about the ways God showed Israel grace in the Exodus:
- Hearing their cries in captivity.
- Keeping them safe in the plagues.
- Warning them of the angel of death.
- Plundering the Egyptians.
- Sending Moses.
- The Red Sea.
- Manna from heaven.
- Water from a rock, &c.
What is important to understand is that they forgot some very important things. They forgot and failed to remember the goodness of God and the power of God to save them. To use the idea of chapter 2, they drifted away from the truth of God’s saving grace.
Listen again to verse 10, “'THEREFORE I WAS ANGRY WITH THIS GENERATION, AND SAID, 'THEY ALWAYS GO ASTRAY IN THEIR HEART, AND THEY DID NOT KNOW MY WAYS';”
Notice where their sin began--in their heart.
It also says that they did not know the ways of God, though God had revealed them! What can we learn from that?
There are different levels of knowing God and His ways. Intellectual assent is not enough. Seeing/experiencing/receiving the works of God in your life is not evidence that you truly know Him (remember vs. 9 - for 40 years they saw His works).
Then in v.11 we see the word of judgment, “They shall not enter My rest.”
This is not merely a reference to entering the promised land.
Chapter 4 lets us know that there are other aspects to the rest as well, the greatest being entering into the eternal kingdom, which is what many people will simply call heaven.
Vss 12-19 he now brings a word of warning to the readers of this letter, and to us.
The concern is that we are not diligent with our faith and the faith of others and people apostatize.
That little phrase, “take care,” tells us that history is not static. This is a lesson that can easily be repeated by any of us if we do not heed the warning.
What is his immediate concern? An evil/unbelieving heart.
"Take care, brethren, that there not be in any one of you an evil, unbelieving heart that falls away from the living God."
How is that manifested? In falling away from the living God.
In other words, they are people who have professed faith/allegiance to God, but then reject Him. They look like part of the redeemed, but the heart is actually an evil heart.
Tthis is the idea of apostasy. It’s the turning away from the living God to some false, or dead idol. It doesn’t matter what idol, but it’s the fact that it’s replacing the living God.
Vs 13 gives us hope by way of an exhortation. He says encourage one another; constantly, always and ever.
And why? There is that corporate responsibility that we have for one another. The assumption is that without mutual accountability and encouragement hearts will harden and apostatize.
And how often is this encouraging to occur? Day after day.
The assumption again is that this is something that on this side of heaven we can never be safe from.
How long is this to occur? As long as it is still called "Today,"
So what does that mean? How long was “today” in the day of Moses? 40 years.
What would be the end of “today” in this context? The eternal rest of the new heavens and earth.
Note who is a “partaker” of Christ in this letter in vss 14-15. This term is almost only used in Hebrews. A partaker of Jesus is not merely one who claims it, but one who remains with Christ to the end. If we can get that in our minds, and the next episode when we look at chapters 6 and 10, things will make a lot more sense to us.
In vss 16-19 we have some final warnings given to take heed of the Israelites of the exodus. He asks; “who were the ones who heard, but provoked God?”
And he gives the answer-- “The ones who left Egypt with Moses.”
What is the connection between those people and us? Remember what vss 1-6 was teaching--- namely, that Jesus is greater than Moses.
The point is that we “leave” with Jesus, but will we stay with Jesus as we travel through the “wilderness?”
So the “rest” that Adam and Eve lost was fellowship with God in Eden.
The “rest” that Israel lost was the promised land.
The implication is that the “rest” that the professing Christian will is the new heavens and earth.
This loss of rest is due to two things:
Very similar to the words in the Gospel of John: "He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him." (Jn. 3:36)
We will deal with the other two passages in Hebrews in our next episode. Specifically, we will consider chapter 6 and 10, which are the two passages we get questions about the most.
What stands out to us so far in this study is the way the bible describes a believer in different ways regarding his standing before the Lord.
In some passages you have the certainty of salvation. An example of this is Romans 8:29-30. We are told that from being foreknown all the way to being glorified the entire chain is unbroken. Therefore, nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.
Then in that very same chapter we read, “and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him in order that we may also be glorified with Him.” (Rom. 8:17)
So we are children of God and therefore heirs of God with our Lord. Good stuff! And all of this is due to the Spirit of God testifying to our spirit that we are truly children of God.
Then the phrase, “if indeed” (εἴπερ) comes into view. Will we suffer with Christ? Will we persevere? If we do we will be glorified. And by clear implication, if we will not suffer with Him, then we will not be glorified.
Apostasy is that point in time when the person in full knowledge and acceptance of the gospel looks at the promises of God and the person of Christ and says, “No more.” And they do not persevere.
Up to that point, they, and possibly everyone else, thought they were a child of God. They were called, justified, and glorified. But now it is obvious that they are not. They turn their back upon the gospel to go their own way.
Well from what we have learned so far, they did not pay close attention to what they heard. They allowed their hearts to drift away. They neglected their claims of salvation until something clicked and they turned away.
Or, to put it a slightly different way, they hardened their hearts. Something or someone came into their life and it became their true love and god. And so they stopped hearing the encouragement of the people of God through baptism, Lord’s Supper, song, and preaching of the Word. They presumed all was well until one day nothing was well.
This is apostasy and it is heartbreaking to watch. Foolish speech will brush it away and say, “Well it is obvious that they were never really saved.” And that is true. But it reflects a coldness in it and it reveals a mind that appears to assume that their own salvation is certain.
The author of Hebrews would warn that person to watch over himself as well, so that an evil and unbelieving heart is not lurking within himself.
So, let us encourage each of you to watch over your soul all the more in these evil days.
Do not assume that because you can point to events and moments in the past where God worked great things in your life that therefore everything is fine.
See yourself rightly and see the goodness of God and His mercy as your only hope through Jesus Christ.
Would you call someone you know today and inquire with them how their soul is? Would you give them a good word related to the gospel that you might all the more spur them forward?
And do not stop doing this until you are safe in the presence of God Himself.
Such a sobering topic and one that is personal to both of us as we have watched so many walk away. So next time, we will look at Hebrews 6 and 10 and break them down to see why they are so scary. But we will also remind you how to make them not frighten you so much; but instead learn to use them to push you onward in your pursuit of your Lord.