Christianity began approximately 2,000 years ago. A new supernatural leader, God’s own Son, introduced a new way and means of living. A new ethnos of people, indwelt by God’s spirit, were transformed from the inside out. Since Christianity was a complete reformation of religion and culture at that time, it was full of challenges. Jesus came for liberation, not domination and contribution, not conquest. It was an incredible upgrade for humanity.
Christianity challenged the norms of bully governments, cultures, philosophies, humanities, religions and societies of that time. These young Christians and churches were going to have a bumpy ride for a while. You can’t be a reformer and stay friends with everyone. They would learn by experience the difference between the old human power model and the new power of Christ’s model.
Such was the narrative of some Christ followers in the book of Hebrews in the Bible. The writer helps them navigate the rough waters these reformers were experiencing. The church in the book of Hebrews was under siege. Church members were being imprisoned and “ill-treated.” Others were made public spectacles, some had their property seized, and some were imprisoned (Hebrews 13:3; Hebrews 10:32-34). Ouch!
These new Christians were becoming bitter from the suffering they experienced. The chaos on the outside of them was getting to the inside of them. And the chaos was driving them from God, not to God. Maybe they thought everything would be perfect when they became Christians. But sparks always fly when a despot’s power is threatened.
So, because of the chaos, some started forsaking the assembling of the Christ followers (Hebrews 10:25). Some were closing their homes to strangers and homeless Christians (Hebrews 13:2). Some forgot to visit the Christians imprisoned unfairly for their faith (Hebrews 13:3). Some believers were letting bitterness destroy their marriages (Hebrews 13:4).
Perhaps we would feel the same way as those believers. That is a lot to go through. But the writer of the book of Hebrews writes them a letter of “exhortation,” not a letter of warning or condemnation. He encourages them to keep on keeping on. It’s as if the writer was exhorting them. “Don’t give up. Christ will turn this mess into a message. So don’t go to the dark side.”
The book of Hebrews reveals the five progressive steps of going to the dark side if they get bitter at God, Christians, churches or Christianity. The first step is when some in the church started slip sliding away from the church. They were drifting from the Word of God. “For this reason, we must pay closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it” (Hebrews 2:1).
The second step is doubting God’s Word. If people don’t handle tough times correctly, they become hard-hearted and hardheaded. The writer of Hebrews says, “But encourage one another day after day … lest anyone of you is hardened…” (Hebrews 3:17). The antidote to doubting is people who encourage people to refocus on God’s ability to make all things work together for good.
The third step is dullness towards God’s word. We become sluggish. “…concerning him, we have much to say, which is hard to explain since you have become dull of hearing” (Hebrews 5:11). Dullness deadens us and puts us in a toxic bubble. If you live in a bubble of trouble, you eventually suffocate.
The fourth step is despising God’s word. “For if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth…” (Hebrews 10:26). Despising someone or something is a choice. It’s intentional, deliberate and caustic. And it hurts the person who despises more than the despised person or object.
The last step is defying God’s word. That means intentionally refusing to hear. “See to it that you do not refuse Him who is speaking” (Hebrews 12:25).
Drifting, then doubting, then dullness, then despising and then defying. Do you see the progression of slip sliding away from God listed in the numerically ascending chapters? Where did it all start? By slip-sliding away from an object, person or whatever. In the case of the Hebrews, it was the word of God and then the God of the word.
The church and church people back in Hebrews time had a dilemma. Amid their horrible storm, they could draw near to God or drift away from God. The Christian life is often like riding a bike. Keep pedaling or you fall. The only safe way for Christian’s is to keep on going on. There’s a difference between not quite and never quit. That’s the main idea of Hebrews — endurance, not shrinking back, persevering, holding fast and mental toughness.
The book of Hebrews refocused the church of that time and gave them their road map. “Let us go on to the hope set before us.” That’s salvation. “Let us finish the race set before us.” That’s sanctification or Christlikeness for finishing God’s purposes. “Let us go on to the joy set before us.” That’s called glorification or heaven. Slip-sliding away? Never! That’s not arrogance; that’s confidence in God. When you can’t see God’s hand, trust in God’s character.
These days many people and nations seem to be slip-sliding away from God. But did you know there are Christ awakenings happening all over the world, currently with young adults in America? Maybe the end is just a beginning in disguise like in the 1970s Jesus movement, with a new generation of young people. As I recall, there was cultural tension then, too.
Lesson: In our darkest hour lies God’s greatest power.