4-8Once people have seen the light, gotten a taste of heaven and been part of the work of the Holy Spirit, once they've personally experienced the sheer goodness of God's Word and the powers breaking in on us—if then they turn their backs on it, washing their hands of the whole thing, well, they can't start over as if nothing happened. That's impossible. Why, they've re-crucified Jesus! They've repudiated him in public! Parched ground that soaks up the rain and then produces an abundance of carrots and corn for its gardener gets God's "Well done!" But if it produces weeds and thistles, it's more likely to get cussed out. Fields like that are burned, not harvested.
There are several passages in Hebrews that speak to us about "drifting" away from our position in Christ - some call this leaving the faith - still others call this backsliding. The Book of Hebrews was written to Jewish Christians - those who believed in Christ as their Messiah. These were "converts" to the Christian faith. Paul is most concerned because they are drifting back into their former ways of belief - a system of works. They were actually being chastised a little by Paul because they had come to a place of freedom in Christ and now were returning to the bondage of the Law (trying to mix Law with Grace). Just like oil and water, these just don't mix.
First, let me just say this: Drifting is gradual - it is a result of us being inattentive to the relationship we have with our Lord. In order to be growing, we must pay attention to what it is that brings growth to a relationship. If we don't spend time together, we drift apart. If we don't share our hearts in communication with each other, we soon find we have very little in common. Whenever we neglect our growth, we are simply turning away from that which gives us the greatest freedom. We lose the closeness of relationship with Christ and the blessing that brings - but do we lose our salvation?
If "drifting" is caused by inattention, then why do we do it? It is simple - it requires our attention and there are tons of competing voices that demand our attention! We have to be attentive to our relationship with Christ - it is an active pursuit, not a casual occurrence. Nothing suggests that we have drifted away from a position of growth than to become "legalistic" in our worship and service. Whenever we are doing things just for the sake of doing them, we are in a place of "drifting". The problem with being in a place where we are just legalistic in our religion is that we rarely see any need for repentance when all we are doing is going through the motions.
Here this: GRACE is not part of legalism! In a place of legalism, mercy is something we have to EARN. In a place of relationship, mercy is something we are given unconditionally and enjoy freely. Paul was dealing with this fact as he wrote to the Hebrew converts. He observed firsthand, had heard reports, and now he is taking the lead to counter their insensitivity to the leading of the Holy Spirit in their lives. That is the first thing we will miss in our walk whenever we start to drift into legalism - the leading of the Holy Spirit. We will be so focused on "doing" that we miss who it is we are doing it for. Whenever we are growing, we look forward to our time with Jesus - knowing it will be a time of daily renewal. When we drift into legalistic ways, we really are choosing to NOT be renewed - we miss out on the transforming power of Christ in our lives.
Whenever we fail to recognize the value of grace, we drift into legalism. We begin to "miss the mark" on what grace can really do in our lives. Legalism is going through the motions - religion is another term for this. Grace has the potential to produce awesome life transformation when it is given free rein!
There is a similar message in the 10th chapter of this book (10:26-30) - it deals with the attitude of heart that results in a person engaging in sin repeatedly. Paul says that if we deliberately keep on sinning after we received the knowledge of truth, no sacrifice for sins is left. Many use this passage to point the finger at those who struggle with sin after they enter into relationship with Christ and say that this means that if a person were to die with "sin in their hearts", then they would not go to heaven.
In order to really understand this passage, you have to read the whole chapter. In the 22nd verse, Paul has laid out that they need to draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith. Then he goes on in the 23rd verse to outline that they need to hold fast to the confession of faith without wavering. If that weren't enough, he adds that they need to stir each other up to love and good works. When he begins to talk about engaging in sin repeatedly, he is talking to them about what happens when we don't draw near, hold fast, and stir each other up. There were two groups of Jewish people he encountered - those that rejected the Messiah and those who accepted him as Savior. If they would not accept him as Messiah, there was no hope for them - they would assuredly see him as their Judge!
Paul is dealing with the idea of returning to the "traditions of man" and the "rules of the Law" as a form of religious works - they were actually inviting the anger of God by trampling on the grace God had so freely offered them in the gift of his Son's life. This entire book deals with the rewards of serving the King of Kings, the Messiah! If anything else took the place of serving him, the benefits of grace would be lost. If we were looking at the stock market, we might say we could lose what we invested. Jesus did the investing here, not us. What Paul focuses on is that the provision of Christ's sacrifice for our sins is not something we lose - it is something we reject! We did not "take the risks" of dying on the cross to make atonement for sin - Jesus did. So we don't lose our salvation, we reject it.
There is a difference between drifting away into staleness of relationship and never being in relationship at all. In our natural relationships, we periodically experience staleness because we have not made any investment of self into that relationship. Paul's entire focus here is that they not substitute anything for the grace of Christ in their lives and that they remain intent on following Jesus. To not do so is to drift away from the freedom of grace into the staleness of a system of works (religion). Tomorrow, we will build upon this to look at what some call the "unpardonable sin"