Author: Ron Graham
Pressing On to Perfection
—Not falling away through neglect
The writer to the Hebrews is painfully aware that he is writing to people who are not anxious to be taught, who have become dull of hearing, and who are in danger of falling away.
In the previous lesson we learned of the eternal Rest which God has prepared for his people. It is clear in the book of Hebrews that this heavenly hope of everlasting life is conditional upon our diligence.
Nobody remains spiritually static. We either backslide, or we advance in growth. Spiritual maturity should be our aim. Fear of God’s wrath should be among our incentives.
On four occasions in the course of his letter, the writer to the Hebrews interrupts his teaching on the priesthood and glory of Christ. He pauses to exhort and rebuke his hearers to grow up and get strong. He warns them about their lack of diligence and their potential to backslide.
1 Neglecting Salvation
The word spoken through the Lord Jesus is stronger even than the word previously spoken through angels. God has borne witness to the word of Christ, so "we must pay much closer attention" to it.
We depend for "so great a salvation" on the word of Christ. If we "drift away" from his word, and "neglect" our salvation, we cannot escape the "just recompense" for our transgression and disobedience.
We must pay very close attention to the word of Christ. We must not neglect our salvation because We can drift away. If we drift away, we shall not escape God’s wrath.
2 Falling away from the living God
Hebrews 3:12-19 Hebrews 4:1-3
This exhortation begins with the words, Take care brethren". Why? What is the danger? The danger is that we could develop "an unbelieving heart" and we could become "hardened by the deceitfulness of sin".
Through lack of care we could be "falling away from the living God".
The Hebrew writer warns that salvation is conditional upon our faithfulness. We are "partakers of Christ if we hold fast" and not otherwise. Our only assurance is in Christ, and we must cling to him with all our being.
If you were in extreme danger, trapped in a burning building, bitten by a deadly snake, or having a severe heart attack, would you not listen carefully to the emergency service person who came to your aid? Likewise, when Jesus comes to the aid of the tempted (Hebrews 2:18) the tempted must take care to follow his words.
We notice also, that in this exhortation, the Hebrew writer speaks of God’s anger (Hebrews 3:17) and of our fear (Hebrews 4:1).
This does not cancel our God’s love and our assurance of course. What we fear is falling away from God’s love and from our assurance. This fear is positive because it encourages us to remain in God’s love and maintain our assurance.
It’s not like the fear of water. That fear can cause a person to drown. It’s more like the fear of getting a speeding ticket or a drink driving conviction. That fear can cause a person to drive carefully, safely, and lawfully.
We can go back to an unbelieving heart and become hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. We can fall away and fall short of the promise of Heaven. We can fail to profit from the word of Christ. We must take care not to let our assurance weaken but hold fast firm to the end. We must encourage one another in the fear of God.
3 Being Babies, Not Growing Up
Hebrews 5:11-14 Hebrews 6:1-12
The Hebrews had become "dull of hearing" and although they had been Christians long enough to be teachers of others, they had not even properly learned the "elementary principles". They were babes on milk instead of being mature and full grown and on solid food.
The exhortation is, "Press on to perfection" that is to say be diligent and work hard to become strong, mature, and secure.
People can have "been enlightened and have tasted of the heavenly gift and have been made partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come" — yet fall away and become so hardened "it is impossible to renew them to repentance".
Although the Hebrew writer is speaking in this way, he is "convinced of better things" and there is no need for anyone to fall away from God if we just press on in God’s blessing.
We can be dull of hearing, babes who cannot take solid food. We can forget even the elementary teaching and lose our ability to discern good and evil. We can fall away, and even crucify and shame the Son of God. We can become worthless and end up being burned. We can certainly do better than this however. We must press on to perfection, hold to the things which accompany salvation. We must not be sluggish but show diligence, imitating the faithful.
4 Going On Sinning Wilfully
This is the strongest exhortation of all in the letter to the Hebrews. It is strong about the assurance we can have, but it is also strong about the end of those who "go on sinning wilfully".
We are urged to "hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful". To this end —the Hebrew writer urges— we should stimulate and encourage one another and not get into the habit of staying away from our gatherings where we are taught and encouraged.
The Hebrew writer designs his words to shake us out of any complacency, and of any soft view of grace that might make us think that "sinning wilfully" does not incur the wrath of God.
Here the Hebrew writer speaks of one who has been "sanctified" by the blood of Christ and by the Spirit of grace. You cannot get any more sanctified and saved than this one has been.
Yet this one has "trampled under foot the Son of God" and he has "insulted the Spirit of grace". You cannot be any more apostate than that.
This person has "a certain terrifying expectation of judgment and the fury of a fire which will consume the adversaries". You cannot get any more condemned and punished than that.
By contrast, there is something else we can go on doing wilfully. We can "draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith" and you cannot get any more assured than that.
We can sin wilfully and reach the point where we no longer have a sacrifice for sins. We can fall into terrible condemnation and judgment and become the adversaries of God. We can trample under foot the Son of God and insult the Spirit of Grace. We can throw away our confidence in Christ. We can do all that even though we were sanctified. We need to draw near to God in full assurance of faith and hold fast to our confession. We need to encourage one another, remember our early zeal, and have endurance and faith to possess our souls.