Gospel Matters (A)

Erroneous beliefs have consequences. They have consequences because they are carried out in our behavior. Our core beliefs determine our values, and our values determine our behavior. When the mandate was stated in Scripture to “belief on Jesus,” it was assumed that the believer would follow through with gospel behavior.

Emphasis on the gospel according to Hebrews reveals the inner core of our beliefs, and thus our hearts. Legal religiosity deals more with the head, but gospel deals with our hearts. So the Hebrew writer now takes us into the inner sanctuary of our hearts lest we turn away from our gospel commitment that was initiated at the time when our belief in Jesus was carried out in our obedience to the gospel in baptism.

A. Gospel announcement (2:1-4):

Because it is the gospel that motivates correct responses in reference to the commandments of God, “we must give more earnest attention to the things that we have heard so that we do not drift away.” The writer now brings up the example of the Israelites who did not give the more earnest heed to the things that were spoken to them. Being of Jewish heritage, the readers remember their apostate history as a nation in the past.

These statements reminded the readers “not to drift away” from those things that they heard. The assumption is that there is always the possibility of apostasy from our initial commitment to the gospel. For the Christian, obedience to the gospel is never a “once-saved-always-saved” conversion. There are no guarantees on faithfulness that work outside our own volition to remain faithful to our call through the gospel. Faithfulness is never enforced by outside influences, nor by the Holy Spirit inside us. Faithfulness is always the responsibility of the individual.

For example, “The word spoken [to Israel] through angels proved steadfast” (See At 7:53). Under the Sinai law that was delivered to Moses through angels, “every transgression and disobedience received a just punishment.” With disobedience to the word of God through the Sinai law came consequences. Embedded within the Sinai law was the principle that one must be taught obedience to that which was commanded (See Dt 6). Their being taught obedience assumed that if they were not taught, they would fall from the grace of God (See Hs 4:6; 2 Pt 3:18). And this they did.

The above illustration concerning Israel is understood in reference to turning from something that is far greater than the Sinai law. If the readers “neglect such a great salvation” that came to them through the Son of God, then they must not assume that there will be no consequences. Since the message of the gospel was initially spoken from the mouth of the incarnate Son of God, and then was confirmed by the signs that followed, how can we question the truth of the spoken word of the gospel? How can we escape just punishment if every we turn from the gospel?

It was Nicodemus who came in the night and said to the Lord, “Rabbi, we know that You are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him” (Jn 3:2). In the beginning of the gospel, the Christ-sent apostles initially proclaimed the gospel through spoken words. As did Jesus, they too had their message of the gospel miraculously confirmed (See Mk 16:20).

If the truth of the good news was miraculously confirmed and obeyed, then there is no excuse or escape for those who turn from the gospel. It is not that they have revised or changed some outline of law. They have turned from the blood of the Lamb of God who cleansed them.

The writer will not let this point go, for he will return to the subject of apostasy later in the book (See Hb 6:4-6). He will so return because of the eternal consequences of the one who turns from the gospel. His or her example of apostasy would be manifested before the world. In another context, the Holy Spirit gave a commentary on this matter:

“For if after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overcome, the latter end is worse for them than the beginning. For it would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than having known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered to them. But it has happened to them according to the true proverb, “A dog returns to his own vomit,” and, “a sow that was washed, to her wallowing in the mire” (2 Pt 2:20-22).

The spoken word of the gospel was miraculously confirmed, not by miracles being worked on the obedient, but on those who had not yet believed. Confirming miracles revealed the power of God in the messengers of God in order that people believe the message. But once they believed, there was no demonstration of miracles among the disciples for the purpose that they continue to believe the gospel. The Spirit correctly assumed that the power of the incarnation, crucifixion, resurrection, ascension and coronation of Jesus Christ would motivate individuals to remain faithful. These who were on the verge of apostasy in this historical context could not blame God for not working any miracles in their lives in order that they remain faithful.

Once one was obedient to the gospel, then there is no excuse for turning from the heart of God that was revealed on the cross. There is no excuse for rebelling against King Jesus who now reigns. The Hebrew writer continues through his description of the incarnation, crucifixion, resurrection, ascension and reign of the incarnate Son of God. The good news of the events were miraculously confirmed by the Holy Spirit. There is no desire for repentance on the part of those who have turned their backs on this gospel that God has revealed for the salvation of the apostate. The writer seems to indicate that the potential apostates to whom he is writing had all the blessings in order to encourage them to obey the gospel. However, the lure of legal Judaism was so strong that they were turning their backs on the heart of God that was revealed through the gospel of the Son of God.

It is relevant to mention here that the writer is addressing baptized disciples who had been blessed with the Holy Spirit. From what was transpiring in their lives at this time, the writer made no mention of the Holy Spirit guarding them from their apostasy. He makes no mention of miracles in their lives to encourage their faithfulness. This is significant in reference to our understanding of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in our lives.

At least we understand from what the writer states in this context that it is not the Spirit’s responsibility to guard us from apostasy. It is not because the writer makes no mention of the Spirit being responsible for their apostasy, or for them to call upon the Spirit to guard them from falling. Neither are there any instructions that they turn to the Spirit for help in reference to their faith in the power of the gospel.

There are no calls for miracles in the lives of the potential apostates in order to keep them faithful. The writer’s efforts to restore those who were wavering is based solely on reminding them of their knowledge of the gospel of God’s grace that was many years before miraculously confirmed to be true. Their problem was that they did not grow in the knowledge of who Jesus now is and the gospel of grace (Hb 5:11,12; see 2 Pt 3:18).

[Next in series: February 17]

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