What is Faith?

             I.      Introduction

We’ve just spent the last two months studying Hebrews with just a few weeks left to go, but our study of Hebrews has a purpose.  Hebrews, as you may recall, was written to the new Christians in trying circumstances and persecutions.  The first 6 chapters of Hebrews sought to reassure the new Christians that Jesus is a superior person, the source of all good news, that He alone is the son of God, He is higher than angels, and He is our perfect Savior.

Then Hebrews 7-10 explained that, not just a superior person, but Christ is a Superior priesthood.  He alone is the Lamb of God, able to take away the sins of the world.  He alone is a perfect, unblemished sacrifice, perfectly acceptable to God.  And He alone led to the tearing of the veil that separated us from the Holy of Holies, and that we are now able to approach God without fear, knowing that our salvation is secure in Him.

The next four weeks will complete our study of Hebrews and wraps up everything we’ve studied.  Since Jesus is a superior person who identifies with us, and since Jesus is fully God and blameless, and since God provided this perfect sacrifice to us so that we may have eternal salvation… so what?  What are we supposed to do with all this information?  So Jesus is great, I get that.  But what does it mean for me?

The answer is that, since God first loved us, since God has provided a perfect sacrifice, we can live our lives as a demonstration of God’s glory and power and love.  We begin our Christian lives on faith in this love.  But what is faith?

          II.      What Faith is Not

We all place our faith in something.  In fact, we place our faith in a great many things, often without realizing we are doing it.  When we go to a doctor, we have faith that they know what they’re doing.  When we put our key into the car ignition, we have faith that the car will start and we can drive to our destination.

We can have faith in ourselves and in our own abilities.  There are lots of self-help books out there.  I went to Amazon and made a list of Self-help books.  I found 13,149 books on how to find happiness, 51,511 books on motivation, and 75,093 books on personal transformation.  There were 351,562 books in total.

Self-Help
Abuse (5,646)
Anger Management (841)
Anxieties & Phobias (1,883)
Communication & Social Skills (140)
Creativity (5,301)
Death & Grief (16,156)
Dreams (4,928)
Eating Disorders (2,739)
Emotions (857)
Handwriting Analysis (710)
Happiness (13,149)
Hypnosis (2,066)
Inner Child (554)
Journal Writing (216)
Memory Improvement (1,894)
Mid-Life (729)
Motivational (51,511)
New Age (955)
Personal Transformation (75,093)
Relationships (72,510)
Self-Esteem (13,639)
Sex (19,569)
Spiritual (19,191)
Stress Management (11,539)
Success (27,513)
Time Management (2,233)
Total (351,562)

I’m thinking that relying on ourselves might possibly not be working as well as we like.  We may find we come up short and we need some more help.

We can also have faith in others.  But can people let us down?  We can be disappointed in others.  They may not be there when we need them, maybe say or do something hurtful to us.  People can let us down sometimes.

We may even have faith in faith itself.  Perhaps if just believe strongly enough, something good will happen.  Just going to church will make be a better person and win favors with God.  That’s probably my 2nd biggest criticism of a “Name it and Claim it” church, a great deal of it is based on wishful thinking.  (My 1st biggest criticism is against the arrogance that if we just have enough faith, we can tell God what to do).  Don’t get me wrong – positive thinking is very helpful.  The bible tells us to “capture every thought” (2 Cor 10:5) and “focus on what is pure and lovely” (Philippians 4:8).  It’s just that positive thinking on its own has no power to give us what we need most.

And what we need most is Jesus.  The good news about the superiority and sufficiency of Christ Jesus.

       III.      Does Faith Replace Reason?

Now, when you read stories about faith in the news or in secular books, faith doesn’t always get the respect it deserves.  Secular humanist and atheists put a great deal of faith in themselves because frankly, they don’t want to put faith in a being that holds them accountable for their beliefs.  Some may imply that faith is the opposite of reason.  If you can test it and verify it, it’s reason.  If you have no proof, but want to believe it anyway, that’s faith.  Pop culture would have us believe that faith is a blind leap in the dark.  They might say, “If you have all this evidence, why do you need faith?”

If we open up the dictionary, one definition of faith is a “questioning belief that does not require proof or evidence.”  But that couldn’t be further from the truth.  Faith without reason is stupid.  If I have faith that I can walk off the edge of a building and just float away, does that faith make any sense?  Faith must be built on things that are true for faith to mean anything.  In 1 Corinthians 15:17, Paul says “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins.”  In other words, Paul pins all of our faith on a single historical event:  Christ is raised from the dead.  If that is not true, then it doesn’t matter what you believe.  Jesus just died and there is no resurrection to save us.

But we have ample evidence that Jesus lived, died, and was raised from the dead.  Three days after the crucifixion and burial, the tomb was empty.  Jesus made dozens of appearances over the next 40 days, corroborated by hundreds of witnesses.  The two disciples on the road to Emmaus, Doubting Thomas touch His wounds, appearing to Saul of Tarsus.  And just before Paul says, “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins,” he lists James and 500 people that saw Jesus at a single appearance, most of whom were still alive when Paul wrote it.  And then Jesus ascended into heaven in view of the apostles.

We have a number of consistent accounts, we have people like Thomas that demanded evidence, and the gospels were written while the people who witnessed these things were still alive.  The evidence was so strong that Jesus was raised from the dead and was who He claimed to be that the apostles died proclaiming the divinity of Jesus.  Why would they die for a lie?  But knowing Jesus is Lord, the apostles could not say otherwise.  They knew who He was.

No, our biblical faith is based on reason.  Not instead of reason, not in spite of reason, but built on reason.

          IV.      Dead Faith

Knowing what we know, it should spur us to put our faith into practice.  If we do not, our faith is dead.  Dead faith is when we do nothing with the revelation we have.  Like going to the medicine cabinet for some pain medicine.  We can look at the bottle and read the instructions that says it will relieve our pain.  We know who the doctor was that wrote the prescription, we know the pharmacist that filled the prescription.  I believe the person who prescribed it, and I trust the person who fulfilled it, and I believe the medicine will work.  I believe everything about this medicine.  But then we put the medicine back on the shelf and the pain goes on.  That’s dead faith, useless faith.

No, we must do something with the faith.  James 2:14-19 says,

“What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them?  Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food.  If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it?  In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.

But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.”  Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds.  You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.”

Our faith demands action, or our faith is a dead, useless faith.  The path to salvation leads to Jesus, and we are saved.  Knowing that, can we let those we love perish?  What kind of useless faith is that?

             V.      Little Faith

Maybe we’re afraid of putting of faith in action.  Afraid to do something publically because of how others perceive us.  After all, we just come to church, sing our songs, and get a bible lesson.  Surely that is enough?  We’re not church elders or pastors or staff.  It’s those people that have an abundance of faith.  It’s enough that I’m here, right?

I haven’t been a Christian long.  I spent much of my life as a heathen, went through an agnostic phase where it didn’t matter to me if Christianity were true.  Even when I discovered my path in life was leading to destruction, I tried to get by with small corrections.  I called myself a Christian and would say that Jesus is the Son of God, but I lacked conviction.  I was 35 years old before I finally understood that Christ died for me personally and I called Christ my Lord and Savior.

I guess it’s been longer than I thought.  That’s coming up on 20 years ago.  I came to church regularly and attended church functions and went to bible study, but it still felt like I was missing something.

I remember taking a Spiritual Gift test one day at a bible study.  You know the spiritual gifts; they include exhortation, giving, hospitality, mercy, teaching, evangelism, discernment, and so on.  Romans 12:4-6 says we all have different gifts according to the grace given to us.  But each of us has something, given to us by God, for us to use for the glory of God.  The test was a series of questions to help me identify what my gifts were.  I suppose if I had the gift of discernment, I could have figured it out myself.  But I didn’t; my talents leaned toward administration and teaching.  If you disagree with me, I’m open to other suggestions, let me know after class, ok?

Anyway, I didn’t do anything with this knowledge.  I wasn’t smart enough, or experienced enough, or devout enough, or pious enough.  I didn’t have enough faith.  I needed just to keep coming to church and bible studies until my faith increased enough to do something worthwhile with it.

And I remember having this discussion with a bible teacher who told me that God didn’t ask me to do something with tools I didn’t have.  Today is the day that the Lord hath made, not yesterday or tomorrow.  The Lord has equipped me for today.  So take the skills and gifts that I have today and do something with them besides sit in a pew.  I was given a chance to substitute teach and I’ve been doing it ever since.  And a lesson I learned from that is that, no matter where I am in life, God has equipped me for today.   I only had a little faith, but that was enough.

Doesn’t Jesus admonish us the same?  I used to read the story of Jesus in the boat during the storm and think Jesus was criticizing His disciples.  They were frightened, Jesus was asleep in the boat, so they woke Him up and begged Jesus to save them.  Jesus said, “Why are you afraid, o ye of little faith?”  I thought Jesus meant they were ill-equipped, they didn’t believe enough, they didn’t trust enough.  They were like me and needed to sit in the pews for a few years longer.

But these men of little faith went a long, long way.  They were given the task of evangelizing the world.  It doesn’t take much faith.  In fact, it takes very, very little faith.  With faith the size of a mustard seed, we can move a mountain.  You and I have enough faith, right now, to be equipped for what God has in store for us today.

          VI.      What Can Faith Do?

What can our little faith do?  God will do amazing things with our faith.  Let’s turn back to Hebrews 11 because I forgot that’s what we were studying today.  This is what faith can do –

  • By faith, we can gain understanding of the universe that God created;
  • By faith, Abel was able to make offering pleasing to the Lord and be called righteous;
  • By faith, Enoch experienced eternal life;
  • By faith, Noah saved his family and became heir to righteousness after the flood;
  • By faith, Abraham and Sarah had descendants as numerous as stars in the sky;
  • The rest of Hebrews 11 is often called “The Hall of Faith,” faithful and righteous people who put their faith in action. Isaac, Jacob, Esau, Joseph, Moses, Rahab, Gideon, Samson, David and Samuel and the list goes on and on.

A little faith is enough.  A little faith is more than enough.  The first verse of Hebrews 11 shows the power of faith, “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.”  Faith gives us confidence and assurance of our eternal life.

       VII.      Conclusion

Forsaking

All

I

Take

Him.

FAITH.

Faith is taking God at His word.  His entire word.  Full confidence that every word is true.  That we take this assurance and confidence and put it into action to demonstrate our faith to a fallen world and show the power of Jesus in us.

I commend you all for your little faith and I am happy to be a man of little faith, too.  God can use my little faith to move mountains.  My little faith, my trust in Jesus, is sufficient.  And day by day, I grow my faith by putting it into action, and doing something with the good news that we have been given.

Augustine, approximately 400 years after Christ, said,

“Faith is to believe what we do not see; and the reward of this faith is to see what we believe.”

To God be the glory.

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Don’t Walk Away

             I.      Introduction

Hope doesn’t come easily.

This world is troubled.  Dr. Young has been speaking on the problem of evil this month, and evil has been a problem ever since the fall of Adam to the beheadings in Syria.  And it permeates our lives, confronts us on the television, on the internet, in the news and even in marketing and advertisements.

And from a worldly perspective, it’s not getting better.  When our hope is based on circumstances, those same circumstances can be depressing.  When tragedy hits close to home, we are faced with a choice:  run from God because we feel that somehow He has let us down, or run toward God as the only source of peace and comfort in a troubled world.

I don’t know what you’re going through, or what you’ve been through.  We will all go through trials – loss of a job, or loss of a home, or loss of a loved one.  I do know that you’ve been through fire – we all have – and they can be difficult things to talk about.  But you’re here, and that’s good.  The fact that you’re here speaks volumes about your faith and your hope.  If we trust in our own abilities during difficult circumstances it often leads to disappointment, but hope in our Lord Jesus Christ will never disappoint.

Today’s lesson is on Hebrews 6, and since we’ve recently mentioned the “once saved, always saved” as a tenet of our faith, at first glance, today’s verses look to give us trouble with “once saved, always saved.”  Let’s look at Hebrews 6:4-8.

It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit,  who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age and who have fallen away, to be brought back to repentance.  To their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace.  Land that drinks in the rain often falling on it and that produces a crop useful to those for whom it is farmed receives the blessing of God.  But land that produces thorns and thistles is worthless and is in danger of being cursed. In the end it will be burned.

Is this a contradiction to “Once Saved, Always Saved?”  I don’t believe so, and I’ll tell you why, but first let us lay a foundation so that we may fully understand this.

          II.      Infallibility of Scripture

Let’s talk first about the law of non-contradiction and the infallibility of scripture.  It’s important to understand that faith and reason go together.  Faith in unreasonable things is nonsense.  Reason, without faith, leads to futility.  Faith and reason together lead to truth.

First, the Law of Non-Contradiction.  This law simply states that something cannot be both true and false at the same time.  If I tell you “A is B” and then later say, “A is not B,” then something is wrong.  Both statements cannot be correct at the same time.

If you meet with some friends of yours, a married couple, and you say, Is it true that you are pregnant?”  And she says “Yes!” and he says, “No!” you know something is not true.  Maybe he doesn’t know.  But one thing *you* know is that they both cannot be right.  Numbers 23:19,

God is not man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should change his mind. Has he said, and will he not do it? Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it?

And God exists, or He doesn’t.  Can both statements be true?  God is eternal, or He isn’t.  Can both statements be true?  Reason and faith go together to either accept or reject God, God cannot both be true and untrue at the same time.

God himself is a perfect demonstration of the Law of Non-Contradiction.  God is His Word.  If He says something, it is true.  So, is the bible true?  What does the bible say about itself?

2 Timothy 3:16

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness

Some bibles use “inspired” here, but “God-breathed” is more accurate.  The Greek scripture uses two words meaning “God” and “breathed” so I’m going to translate that as “God-breathed.”

And 2 Peter 1:20-21

Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation of things.  For prophecy never had its origin in the human will, but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.

What the bible says about itself is that the Holy Spirit himself wrote the bible through men.  If God is truth, and God is His Word, and the Word is the bible… there is no wiggle room.  The bible is true, or the bible is not.  It cannot be both true and untrue.

What does Jesus say about scripture?

John 10:34 discusses a very different topic, but it’s interesting what Jesus says –

Jesus answered them, “Is it not written in your Law […] and Scripture cannot be set aside…

Jesus says “It is written” and quoted scripture to make a point, and he even confirmed many events that seem supernatural.  He confirmed Adam and Eve were created by God, he confirmed the flood of Noah, he verified the destruction of Sodom, he quoted and referred to a dozen Old Testament prophets and kings.  He even confirmed Jonah was swallowed by a big fish.  And in Matthew 4:4, when answering the devil,

Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”

“Every word.”  Jesus says one cannot set aside scripture, picking up the best parts and disregarding the rest.  We can either accept the bible as the wholly, inerrant Word of God, or not.  Excluding verses because they are uncomfortable, or we don’t understand them, makes no sense.  The word is true, or it is not true.  It cannot be both.  And every word of the bible is important.

Divine inspiration means you can trust God’s Word over everything else. It means there are no contradictions. It means Scripture contains the objective revelation of God and is the basis of authority. Even though human authors wrote the words, the Bible originated as an action of God.

       III.      Once Saved Always Saved

So where do we get “Once saved, always saved” from?  Let’s start with 1 John 5:13

I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may *know* that you have eternal life.

John doesn’t say “think” we have eternal life.  John says so that we may *know* we have eternal life.  It’s not arrogance to say that I know I will go to heaven.  It’s confidence, not in my ability, but in Christ’s sacrifice.  Once a person places their trust in Jesus, God immediately and irrevocably grants that person eternal life and salvation and a guaranteed place in Heaven that can never be lost, regardless of what they do or what they don’t do. It’s not based on you or me, it never was. It’s entirely based on what Jesus did.

How about John 5:24, where Jesus says,

I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life.

Jesus uses certain Greek tenses of verbs here to make His point.  When He says, “has” eternal life, Jesus uses the present tense.  Then He switches to future tense, “will not be condemned”.  Jesus says believers have it already!  And if that wasn’t clear enough, Jesus says the believer “has crossed over from death to life.”  Jesus switches present tense to perfect tense, and is saying that the believer has already crossed, always will be crossed over from death to life.  We are new creations already, we don’t become new creations after we die.  We *have already* crossed over, we *have* eternal life, and *will not be* condemned.  Past, present and future.

1 Peter 1:3-5,

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time.

John 3:36,

Whoever believes in the Son *has* eternal life.

John 6:47,

I tell you the truth, he who believes *has* everlasting life.

It’s an irrevocable contract Jesus makes with us when we confess Him as our Lord, written here in the Good Book for us to read the fine print anytime we wish. What does Jesus promise to do for us as our Lord?  Well, here’s the fine print of the contract.

Hebrews 10:17, God says, “Their sins and lawless acts I will remember no more.” You and I can’t forget, as hard as we try, but God will remember no more. Poof, it’s as if they never happened. With the blood covering from Jesus, we become pure in God’s sight.

Philippians 4, our names are inscribed in the Book of Life. Again, not *will be* inscribed. They *are* inscribed.

Romans 8:1, “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Now. No condemnation. Freedom.

Micah 7:19, “You will again have compassion on us; you will tread our sins underfoot and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea.” Deeper than the Titanic, our sins are buried in the sea.

1 Corinthians 6:19, “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God?” The Holy Spirit lives in us, takes up residence, and gives our conscience a kick-start.

Galatians 4:6, “So you are no longer a slave, but a son; and since you are a son, God has made you also an heir.” We become adopted by God, we are His children, His heirs. We are no longer slave to sin and the death that comes with it.

Romans 8:31-33, God has chosen us, we are God’s elect, and if God is for us, who can be against us?

Ephesians 1:13-14, “Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession.” Marked, sealed, identified, stamped. Seems like every translation I read used a different word here. Signed, sealed, delivered, I’m yours. We are indelibly branded, permanently stamped, and guaranteed our inheritance.

John 10:27-28, Jesus says, “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand.” Jesus becomes our shepherd, we becomes His sheep, He gives us eternal life, we will never perish, and no one can change that.

Any loopholes left in this contract? Romans 8:38, “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Looks like an absolutely iron clad contract to me, how about you?

This salvation we already have. This eternal life we already have. Heaven is a destination where we go when our mortal chores are through, but our place there is already guaranteed. Peter says praise be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, that our inheritance awaits us and to rejoice. Rejoice! Again I say, rejoice! I rejoice because I know if I could do something to lose my salvation, I’d have done it already. I’ve messed up so many times and if I was given a second chance, I’d just lose it again. Sometimes I can go for 6 or 8 hours in a row without sinning, but then I wake up and have to get out of bed. This is great news, knowing we’re eternally saved. In order for us to lose our salvation,

somebody would have to find some sort of loophole in the contract that isn’t up or down, present or future, angel or demon, and convince Christ not to love us anymore,

change us from Christ’s sheep into a toad,

remove the brand He sealed onto us,

snatch us right out of the hand of Jesus even though He chose us,

cancel God’s adoption papers and write us out of the will,

evict the Holy Spirit out of His home in our heart and tell him to find someplace else to live,

dive to the very bottom of the ocean and dredge our sins back up,

remind God of all the things He’s promised to remember no more,

and make God into a liar for putting all these promises down in writing.

Ya know, I just don’t see any of that happening.

We can *know* we are saved.  Jesus wants us to be confident.  Doubt is washed away, knowing our eternal destination.  Our hope is secure.

         IV.      Don’t Walk Away (Hebrews 6:4-8)

What was our bible verse today?  Oh yes, Hebrews 6:4-8.

It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit,  who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age and who have fallen away, to be brought back to repentance.  To their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace.  Land that drinks in the rain often falling on it and that produces a crop useful to those for whom it is farmed receives the blessing of God.  But land that produces thorns and thistles is worthless and is in danger of being cursed. In the end it will be burned.

Now we know what it does not say due to the Law of Non-Contradiction.  Our salvation is secure.  We must remember that this letter was written to Hebrews, former Jews, now Christians, whose faith was being tested.  Some wanted to return to their Jewish traditions and hope the Romans would leave them alone.  Their hope based on circumstance, not salvation.

It is possible for churches to consist of both true believers and also those who pretend to be believers.  Christians are generally nice people to be around, who can blame them?  But when times get tough, abandoning Christ is a sign of unbelief.  Christians will live with assurance of their salvation and a holy reverence for God.

I think some light is shed on this passage on the Greek words for “falling away.”  The Greek work “apostosia” isn’t used, but “parapipto” is which literally means “to fall alongside.”

I think the writer may have been using a hypothetical case, sort of like this:

“Let’s suppose you do not go on to maturity.  Does this mean that you will go back into condemnation, that you will lose your salvation?  Impossible!  If you could lose your salvation, it would be impossible to get it back again, and this would disgrace Jesus Christ.  He would have to be crucified for you again, and this could never happen.”

If you look at the pervious verses of Hebrews, the author uses “we” and “us”, but this verse switches to “those”.  This supports the author’s may have been using a hypothetical example.

I notice the last verse says, “In the end it will be burned.”  It reminds me of 1 Corinthians 3,

By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as a wise builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should build with care.  For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ.  If anyone builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, their work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light.  It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each person’s work.  If what has been built survives, the builder will receive a reward.  If it is burned up, the builder will suffer loss but yet will be saved—even though only as one escaping through the flames.

I love that part, the builder will receive a reward.  What is this reward?  I have no idea, but if Jesus is handing out rewards in Heaven, I’m going to stand in line.

            V.      Conclusion

I think when we fall away, we miss out on God’s perfect plan for us.  We can choose to be disobedient.  Surely the Israelites did, over and over.  But I think when we do that, we walk off the paved road and into the thorns and brambles.  Last week, Theresa mentioned that in Deuteronomy, God had blessings he was going to provide to Joshua, but because of disobedience, they would now have to work for what God was going to provide for free.  The way we practice our faith is like that.  We may have eternal life, but if we rebel, we will struggle.  And God wins that struggle every time, doesn’t He?

So what does “fall away” mean here?  I think it speaks to the heart.   I think instead of falling away, we should be striving to fall forward.  When in trouble, pray.  When in doubt, seek His glory in the creation around you.  Learn how to doubt our doubts.  When saddened, yearn for peace.  God asks us to depend on Him when we are troubled, not run from Him.  The choice to run away from God or run toward God is up to us.  Running away multiplies the problems, running toward God gives us hope.  Trust in the salvation we already have.

To God be the glory.

Pay Attention, Don’t Drift Away

             I.      Introduction

The book of Hebrews might have been written by Paul – that seem to be the consensus of the experts – but there are certain verses and phrases that only appear in Hebrews, so it’s hard to be sure. In any event, the author is writing to Jewish converts to Christianity who are undergoing hardships like crucifixion, being fed to lions, things like that. Sort of puts our complaints in perspective, I think. “I spilled coffee on my slacks! Why do bad things always happen to me? Doesn’t God love me?”

So the author tells these Jews basic truths to encourage them. Last week in Hebrews 1, as Chris taught, they were reminded that Jesus was the messiah they had waited for and who Jesus was. Now, in the beginning of Hebrews 2, these converted Jews – let’s call the “Christians” – are reminded to pay attention to what they have learned and why.

We only have 4 verses today to study, how long could this possibly take? Let’s look at them.

We must pay the most careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away. For since the message spoken through angels was binding, and every violation and disobedience received its just punishment, how shall we escape if we ignore so great a salvation? This salvation, which was first announced by the Lord, was confirmed to us by those who heard him. God also testified to it by signs, wonders and various miracles, and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will.

II.      Listen & Pay Attention (Hebrews 2:1)

What happens when we do not pay attention? In our car? At work? With children? Unexpected things – mostly bad things – happen. Few people unexpectedly win the lotto when they’re distracted. They’re more likely to get into a fender bender with the car in front of them.

It’s hard to consistently pay attention. Distractions easily take away our focus. I struggle with this in my nightly prayers, “Lord please bless Joe and his wife through their struggles, even if he is a University of Texas grad. Texas A&M is such a better school. The football team is great, lean years are behind them, unlike SMU who had that NCAA “death penalty” assessed back in… 1984? 1986? I can’t remember. I think I had already graduated, but when I heard about SMU was I in College Station? Or Oklahoma? I moved there in 2005… sorry, I mean 1985. Man, time flies. I’m definitely getting older. I think it’s starting to show. I wonder whether stretching exercise for flexibility is more important than strength training when you get older… I’m sorry, Lord. Where was I?”

Paying attention takes practice, like Patrick’s syncopation skills. Instead, like a bright shiny trinket dangled in front of us, the world distracts us from importance.

So where were we? Which book are we in again? Oh yes, Hebrew 2, verse 1.

“We must pay the most careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away.” That word in the middle is “therefore,” and you’ve probably heard the phrase that “whenever we see a therefore, we should ask what it is there for.” Therefore refers to all of chapter one which told us how God speaks to us and who Jesus is. God spoke to us first through the prophets, and in these last days – the church age – God has spoken to us through His Son, His Son who is the Incarnate God, Jesus, Emmanuel, God with us, the Son of God, Heir of all things, the Creator of all things, our hope and bread of life, our cornerstone, the Faithful and True, the Great Shepherd, the Horn of Salvation, the King of Ages, the Prince of Peace, and far superior to the angels – “therefore.”

Names of Jesus

No wonder the author of Hebrews tell us to pay attention. God himself dwelt among us to bring us this message, and He suffered and died for it. Is there anything else in your life that you can say is honestly more important than that?

The world around us distracts us. We get busy with “stuff” that’s “important.” Our kids, our jobs, our smartphones. Ooh, squirrel! But is there anything more important that God’s Word? A handbook for life, a reason for living, a prescription for salvation? If we could only learn to pay attention to what God is saying to us. Matthews 6:33 says “Seek ye first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you.” All the things that are important in life – not necessarily what we think is important – will be given to us if we just seek God and pay attention.

How hard is it to pay attention with distractions? Let me show you a very short video. I may have to show it twice, and you’ll understand once you see it. Watch this and pay close attention.

God wants us to continually focus on Him, to pay attention, or we’ll drift away. What does the verse mean by “drift away?”   The actual word for “drift away” is the Greek “pararrhueo” and it’s a passive verb. It means we don’t have to do anything for this to happen, it just happens. It means it slips away from us, it slips my mind. We’re floating down the river in a boat. Up ahead is a dock where want to stop our boat and anchor ourselves so we don’t drift down the river. We’re focused on it. And if we don’t focus on what we’re doing, we’re going to drift right past.

We drift away because we weren’t paying attention. The dock is our anchor, as Jesus is our anchor that holds us fast to him so we do not drift away to destruction.

Verse 2, the message spoken by angels was binding. The word of God is binding upon us. It is the Word of God that explains what salvation is, how to obtain it. The bible is not just a guidebook; it is the Word of God that explains how you will spend eternity. It’s binding, it’s unalterable. Like it or not, this is the way it is. There aren’t any special rules like collecting all that money if you land on “Free Parking” in the game of Monopoly. God has made the rules and given us the rulebook, and this is how our lives are played.

       III.      The Peril of Neglect (Hebrews 2:2-3a)

Also verse 2, every violation and disobedience received its just punishment. Living under the Law, we discovered we cannot live righteous lives.   Did you know that there, technically are 2 ways to get into heaven? One is to accept Jesus as our own personal savior. The other is to be perfect, to do perfect, to think perfect, without sin. But Romans 3:23:

for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God

And Psalm 14:3,

All have turned away, all have become corrupt; there is no one who does good, not even one.

And we have seen sin punished throughout the Old Testament history to one degree or another. God hates sin, and a holy God will eventually destroy all sin. Sin cannot coexist with the light.

Who can live up to the perfection of our Holy and Mighty God? Our efforts at obtaining our own salvation – and we all want to do it, because we’re full of the sin of pride – will always come up short. Way short. Being “good enough” isn’t good enough. Do we strive for a heaven that is “good enough?” We long for that perfect peace and joy and beauty, not a cheap imitation that is “good enough.”

When I taught the 3rd graders long ago – there’s a ministry worthy of people far more skilled than I – I used the example of a chocolate milkshake.

chocolate milkshakeA perfect chocolate milkshake that we really, really wanted. Your mouth is watering as you watch this milkshake being made. First, the vanilla ice cream, two scoops. A cup of milk. A tablespoon of vanilla, then a huge bottle of Hershey’s chocolate syrup just squeezed into the blender. A handful of chocolate chips tossed in. And just before the blender starts up, we cannot help but toss in a bug. Some yucky insect. What’s wrong with this milkshake? Isn’t it “good enough?” Compared to all that good stuff, it’s a tiny little bug. That one tiny little bug, though, makes the entire milkshake unacceptable. Our lives, even if do our best to live a perfect life, will fall short of perfection, and God will not tolerate imperfection in Heaven.

But there is one. Jesus, as a man, lived a sinless, perfect life. Jesus, as a sacrifice, tasted death. Jesus, as the son of God, could atone for all of our sins. Jesus is a perfect sacrifice acceptable to God, a just punishment for our violations and disobedience. The bible is unalterable and with consequences for our actions and inactions.

We can never forget that this is the only viable way to salvation. Jesus has paid the debt for our sin. We can either accept that gift, or we can pay for the sin ourselves. But the wages for that sin is death. It’s the only choice. Romans 6:22-23:

 But now having been freed from sin and enslaved to God, you derive your benefit, resulting in sanctification, and the outcome, eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

We may have the idea that believer “under grace” can escape the chastening and discipline of God that was so evident “under law” in the Old Testament. But Luke 12:48 says

From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.

I think this applies to believers, even more so. As believers, we have been given much. Rather than rely on grace, shouldn’t we try to live lives pleasing to God? God doesn’t punish believers, but He does discipline His children. And so far this morning we’ve been studying how we should pay attention and has given us warning signs so that we do not drift away.

Here’s a couple of typical warning signs. What perils will we face if we do not pay attention to these signs?

Warning sign 2

Warning sign 1

Warning sign 3

Warning sign 4

Warning sign 5

Warning sign 6

There are perils ahead if we don’t pay attention to the signs. We certainly do not want to drift away. If we’re not paying attention, we drift down the river and end up where we do not want to be.   What are these perils? In the OT, people were punished for violating scripture. God is unchanging, his love never fails. He still loves us, and He still hates sin.

Our salvation is still secure if we truly believe in Him. Tim said last week that true believers cannot lose their salvation, and he’s absolutely right, but we believers can drift away from the plan God has for us and the blessings that go with it.

Robert Robinson (small)Let me tell you a story about Robert Robinson, a young teenager who lived in London from 1735 to 1790. He was a delinquent teen, but at the age 17 he took his gang to an open air revival service where George Whitfield was preaching. They had planned to laugh at the poor deluded Methodists. God had a different calling for Robert, though, and two and a half years later, Robert Robinson gave his life to Christ. He felt the call to preach, was appointed by John Wesley to pastor the Calvinist Methodist Chapel in Norfolk England, writing powerful sermons and hymns, and at the age of 23 wrote this powerful hymn:

Come, Thou Fount of every blessing, Tune my heart to sing Thy grace;

Streams of mercy, never ceasing, Call for songs of loudest praise.

Teach me some melodious sonnet, Sung by flaming tongues above.

Praise the mount! I’m fixed upon it, Mount of Thy redeeming love.

It’s a beautiful hymn, and 250 years later we still praise our Lord with these words. But these words were a spiritual, prophetic autobiography. Robert Robinson did not stay in the fold of Christianity, eventually dismissed by the church and he returned to his sinful ways, eventually turning his back on Christianity. In his later years, while taking a stagecoach ride, and in a decidedly non-Christian condition, a female passenger offered to share a poem with him, that it might help him as it had helped her, and she began to read “Come Thou Fount” to him, and when she got to the third stanza,

Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it, Prone to leave the God I love;

Here’s my heart, O take and seal it, Seal it for Thy courts above.

Robert Robinson broke down and cried and said, ‘Madam, I am the poor unhappy man who wrote that hymn many years ago, and I would give a thousand worlds, if I had them, to enjoy the feelings I had then.’ Robert Robinson drifted away, alone and unhappy, versus the joy of seeking God’s blessing’s daily.

How do we protect ourselves from this neglect?

  1. Fellowship with believers, come to church and worship.  This is the easiest way to pay attention – somebody else reads the scripture to us.
  2. Pray to the Lord that He will help us understand.  1 Corinthians 2 says that one must have the Holy Spirit to understand God’s Word.  Only believers that honestly try to grow nearer to the Lord can understand; the word is unintelligible to those who are not saved.  James says pray for wisdom so that you may understand.
  3. Remember what was said.  Take notes.  Write in your bible. Memorize a verse.
  4. Look over our notes later.  In particular, read the scripture to see if what we heard it’s true.  When Paul preached to the Bereans, he said the Bereans were noble for checking the scripture to see if what Paul said was true.  As a believer with the Holy Spirit in us, we are responsible for understanding what we’ve heard.  Don’t believe a lie, seek the truth.
  5. Ask God to help us put it into practice.  Do something with what we’ve heard.  This takes work.  The works do not save us, we cannot earn salvation.  But works helps us become holy and sanctified, it helps us cast off worldly sorrows and seek heavenly joy.

Does it seem like there’s not enough time in the day to do all of this? If we do not make time, we may drift away. We may be guilty of looking for God only on Sunday and then sparing hardly a thought for Him all week. But if we put him first, we learn to ask for things that please God, and He is pleased to give it to us. So studying the bible or having “quiet time” or re-reading your Sunday notes isn’t a duty or an obligation; don’t let anybody tell you that you *have* to do these things. But it *is* a path toward more joy and blessings. When we focus on the world and the pleasure it offers, we allow ourselves to be satisfied with so little. When we focus on God and His desires, then we are satisfied by much. God is a fount of overflowing blessings, far more than the world can offer.

          IV.      Truth Verified (Hebrews 2:3b-4)

For each of us individually, this is an important message. Verse 3b-4,

This salvation, which was first announced by the Lord, was confirmed to us by those who heard him. God also testified to it by signs, wonders and various miracles, and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will.

This message is so important that he sent prophets like Daniel and Ezekiel and Isaiah and Jeremiah and Habakkuk and Joel and Obadiah and Jonah and so on and so on. This message is so important that God sent plagues to Egypt and divided the Red Sea and sent manna from heaven and protected his people from lions and fiery furnaces and sent a star of Bethlehem to lead the wise men. There are 123 miracles in the bible. And then, like an exclamation point, the point of the entire bible pointing from man’s fall to his redemption, God sent his only son to die for us so that we may live. That’s how much God loves us, and how important He feels about this message.

Focus on God, keep our eyes on Jesus. Remember when Peter was able to walk on water when he kept his eyes on Jesus? But when he looked away, he lost focus, he started to sink. He drifted away. Jesus, who is the Word, came to speak to us directly, and even though Hebrews 1 says Jesus is higher than the angels and sits at the right hand of the father, He was not ashamed to become man and live among us. Glorious sweet Jesus, highly exalted and holy, is not ashamed to call us brothers and sister. We should not be ashamed to call him Lord and listen to what He says.

Hebrews pleads for us to hear and read and study Scripture to stay as close to God as possible and to continue in as straight a line as possible. Peter puts it this way:

Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to confirm your calling and election, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall. (2 Peter 1:10)

             V.      Conclusion

So this is what happens: We don’t pay attention to what God is telling us. We get complacent. What we’re doing is “good enough.” Then, a little less is “good enough.” Then doing nothing at all is “good enough.” We miss the mark. That’s what sin is – it’s an archery term for “missing the mark,” missing the target. We don’t have to consciously commit a sin. We can simply neglect our spiritual growth.

Neglect is a subtle destroyer. You don’t have to go on a wild spending binge to destroy your finances; you can destroy your finances just by not paying attention. Forget to pay bills, forget where you left that credit card. Leave your wallet at a restaurant. Destroy the lives of your children just by ignoring them, leaving them to fend for themselves, neglect to give them wisdom and guidance.

You can lose your relationship with Christ if you neglect Him. Like losing touch with a friend because you never think of calling or writing. Stop reading your bible, stop praying, stop attending church, stop serving others or never start in the first place. Casual Christians become Christian Casualties. There are a lot of Christians believe that all you have to do is go to church every week, or at least at Christmas and Easter, and you get to go to heaven. There are a lot of Christians who believe that going to church is preparation for accepting Christ in their lives and the day they accept Christ is the pinnacle of their faith. The joy they felt that day they accepted Christ, why, how could it get any better than that? But the day you accept Christ is not the peak, it’s the beginning. It’s the day you begin a wonderful, lifelong journey into spiritual maturity. How do we grow? We pay attention. God calls us to prayer, to study, to serve, to share, and to love. We grow in Christ and this sanctification, this purification is a wonderful gift.

As a final thought this week, I want you to remember that your salvation requires active participation from you, to seek, to pray, to learn, to serve. The author of Hebrew was writing to believers who were struggling with their faith. What the author is saying is that is not enough to believe but we have to find a way to put our faith into practice if we want to grow.

Verse 1-3, read again emphasize “we”. We must pay the most careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away. This applies to all Christians. This is not meant for non-believers who reject Christ, but for those who neglect Christ. This is for those who have accepted Christ, but don’t anchor themselves to Christ and then drift away.

The admonition from Hebrews hasn’t lost its power over the centuries. We are responsible for the truths we know. The Gospel is salvation to all those who hear and confess that Christ is Lord. We cannot take that lightly, for without this gift of salvation, we have God’s righteous wrath to destroy all that is evil, including our own sin. And none of us are exempt. All have sinned, and the punishment for sin is death. Instead, we have been given a free gift, one undeserved. And when we are in conversations are work or with neighbors or strangers, we cannot shy away from sharing this good news. It is not love to let another die. Share what we know about God’s plan for redemption.

As a parting thought, I want to leave you with those words from the modern prophets Simon and Garfunkle.

God only knows, God makes his plan

The information’s unavailable to the mortal man

We’re working our jobs, collect our pay

Believe we’re gliding down the highway, when in fact we’re slip sliding away

 

Slip sliding away, slip sliding away

You know the nearer your destination, the more you slip sliding away.

Let us pay attention this week to what God is saying so that we do not drift away. To God be the glory.