Last Thursday we began a series in Hebrews 10-12. Throughout, the writer has been urging his readers to persevere in following Jesus, despite the fact that they were being persecuted and shamed by their families and community. Yesterday, he reminded them of the great benefits of following Jesus; today, he takes a different angle…
We persevere – because the alternative is unthinkable
The second strategy the writer uses is a more negative one. We persevere, he says, because the alternative is unthinkable. To shrink back from following Jesus, to return to the world – it’s both dishonourable and to our disadvantage. Look at how he puts it:10:26-27 If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God.
The previous context is important here. This isn’t a general statement about sins a believer might struggle with. If it were, I don’t think there’d be a person reading this who wouldn’t be in trouble. But in context, this is about those who know the truth of God and the deliverance he provides – who still then choose the temporary benefits of friendship with the world. They count the cost of following Jesus, and decide it’s too great; that the benefits Jesus brings are not worth the suffering. In doing so, they’ve cut themselves off from the only means of being free from sin. And they’re left without any further way of salvation.
Have a listen to how this attitude is described:10:28-29 Anyone who rejected the law of Moses died without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. How much more severely do you think those deserve to be punished who have trampled the Son of God underfoot, who have treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified them, and who have insulted the Spirit of grace?
That is, what they’re doing is dishonourable. They’ve trampled the Son of God underfoot, they’ve insulted the Spirit of grace, and they’ve shown contempt for God’s offer of salvation. They’ve looked at God’s favour, and thrown it back in his face, because they preferred the rewards and respect of the world.
A writer by the name of David DeSilva puts it this way. It’s very challenging, but pay attention to what he says:
‘If we care more about success, respect, or being wise as this world defines it, if we keep following its rules and set our ambitions on its promises, we trample upon Jesus. We set too little value on his blood if we refuse to walk in that life for which he freed us. We insult God’s favour if we seek to secure the world’s favour first and then, as far as the world will let us, God’s promised benefits.
If your first thought is for keeping our neighbours’ or coworkers’ or fellow citizens’ approval, and if we seek to live out our Christian life within the parameters of the kinds of behaviours or words that will not “offend” the unbelievers, we show by our lives whose approval really matters to us, and we insult God.
A special danger faces the Christian in the modern, secularized world… Our tendency is to attend dutifully to everything else our society tells us is important and then to give religious concerns any leftover time, resources, and energy. Again, such an approach to life says to God, “your gifts and call are not of the first order of importance in my life”.’ (DeSilva, Perseverance in Gratitude, 373)
But not only do we dishonour God in this way. In the end, it’s to our disadvantage. The writer to the Hebrews ends this section with a stern warning:10:30-31 For we know him who said, “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” and again, “The Lord will judge his people.” It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.
No matter how badly the world will treat us. That’s nothing compared to what awaits those who remain unforgiven; to those who reject God’s grace. If you jump out of the frying pan of persecution, you only end up in the eternal fire.
We persevere – because the alternative is unthinkable.
To think about
I don’t really need to spell out the questions, do I? I think we’ve been given enough to think about by the text itself.
Let me reiterate: if this confronts you and challenges you in your attitude towards what Jesus’ has done for you, then that’s a good thing. But we’re not talking about sinless perfection, here. We’re talking about an attitude that prefers friendship to the world over friendship with Jesus, and actively chooses it. Let it be a helpful warning about where that way of living can ultimately lead, but not a cause for debilitating despair. For those of us who want friendship with God, the cross of Christ has paid the penalty even for our inability to be a good “friend of God.”