In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe. (Heb 1:1-2)
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. (Heb 2:1-4)
When I was finishing up my bachelors degree, I bumped into a girl named Kathy that I had not seen in well over a year. She'd led a college group Bible study in her house that I'd sporadically attended. Then she dropped off the face of the map. We started talking, and she filled me in on what she was up to. She'd moved in with a guy she'd met in San Diego, and they'd run into problems. He was selling drugs and was abusive. She was back living with her mom, but still loved him, and was hoping he would deal with some things in his life so that they could be together. My mouth was wide open—how did she get from who she was when I knew her to the place she was at now? She seemed to have no sense how much this shocked me. I think this was because, for her, it happened bit by bit. One small step after another into a life that was completely different than the one she'd had before. It's called the drift. We all drift. It's not unexpected. More disturbing is the thought that some of us may never make it back.
The book of Hebrews is about this danger. The original audience was a house church of Jewish Christians, and their society was pulling them away from Christ. Their pull was different from ours; they were getting drawn back into Judaism without Jesus, whereas we're pulled into a secular and consumerist society. It's different, but the same; both of us pulled from living for Christ into something that is convenient. Shrinking back to something less than obedience to Christ can make our lives easier. It promises quicker happiness, a way out of our pain. The pressure for us to drift away, in our culture, is growing, which makes the warnings in Hebrews even more important for us. The author is clear—ignoring what we know to be true means we can have no confidence that our salvation is real.
If this world is like a current, pulling you away from God in bits and pieces, what do you do not to fall victim to the drift?
First, you recognize that the one who spoke still speaks. The writer of Hebrews starts in chapter one with that reminder. The God of the Old Testament spoke through the prophets, but now speaks through his son, Jesus Christ. He still speaks. It's a reminder to us that those words are powerful, that they are entirely true, and that they do not change.
The author goes on, through the rest of the chapter, to explain the authority of Jesus Christ, in case any readers might choose to take his words lightly, as if they were no more than the ideas of some wise teacher. There is that tendency out there, even among Christians—to regard the words of Jesus as guidelines or helpful tips for a good life. So the one who spoke still speaks, through Jesus Christ, and that means Jesus' words have total authority and must not be ignored. Jesus calls us to follow him, to fight the current which draws us toward another vision for life, a different set of values.
But that brings us to chapter two, and the opening four verses. “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?” (Heb 2:2).
We won't. It's the most important message of the book. The writer of Hebrews is saying that, not only does the one who spoke in the Old Testament still speak through Jesus Christ—words which should not be ignored—but that the one who ignores them will not escape. By that, he means judgment. There has been a lot of scrambling by theologians to try and explain how, on the one hand, salvation cannot be lost, and verses like the ones in Hebrews (and in some of Jesus' teaching) that imply that a seed of faith can take root, grow, and then later die.
Let me give you the short answer: it's just a question of how you look at it. Salvation is something that begins with trust in God. There must be a moment in time when that happens, but it may not be the moment you bow your head and say a prayer. It may be a dawning awareness that develops over time, a threshold you cross, as you follow him and actively trust him. We won't know the actual starting point until the day we are together with the Lord, but from that vantage point, it won't matter. All that matters is that you are there. Salvation is a journey, not the work of a moment, though any journey begins with one step. Debate about whether you can “lose” your salvation is just our way of simplifying something that is outside our ability to assess. From the perspective of eternity, many people who are today atheists are in fact saved people. C.S. Lewis was one of those for much of his life. What I do believe is that many people think they are saved, but are not (Matt 7:21). So perhaps we are not talking about losing salvation so much as an assumption about our faith that is increasingly disproved by our lives.
Either way, the teaching of Hebrews is clear. You must hear the words of Christ, believe them to the point where you strive to live them, or you face the possibility that you will not escape the consequences of rejecting him. The world we live in isn't going to help us. If you don't hold fast to his words, you will get drawn away. You will get caught in the drift. The farther it carries you, the more you may relax and let the tide pull where it may. Some don't make it back.
Are you reading and obeying the words of Jesus? Are you fighting the drift? You cannot stop paddling, the current is too strong. This is the real work of discipleship. It starts with simple obedience to the words of Jesus, but you also need an ongoing strategy. This is my calling, to help you develop one.