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Hebrews 2:1-4

01.28.2011

Pretend this went up yesterday, yeah?

This first part of chapter 2 draws from the preceding themes (Jesus is greater than prophets, priests, and angels, yo!) to highlight the first exhortation: Don’t dismiss the saving work of Christ!

Chapter 1 ended with the idea that we are priveleged to witness the divine dialogue of love between Father and Son, including the story of salvation.  The author, like our very own Uncle Ben,* turns that privelege into an obligation.

That obligation is that we have to pay attention to the message.  The message, like we looked at on Tuesday, is the life and work of Jesus Christ.  He is the Word which we are to receive and know.  If you remember from last year’s post on John 8, Karl Barth describes the spiritual concept of knowledge as something much more involved than just cognitive recognition — rather, in knowing Christ we submit our identity to His and become unified with Him. 

The greek words behind ‘transgression or disobedience’ are really ‘overstepping and ignoring.’  Unlike the Israelites in Deuteronomy 1, we have to pay attention to Jesus’ life and receive His gift of grace.  Tying it back to chapter 1 of Hebrews, the author points out that if the penalties (i.e., 40 years in the wilderness) were so harsh for ignoring angels and prophets, how much worse will they be for ignoring God’s divine revelation through Christ?  The implication is clear: to ignore Christ and reject His grace is to perish.

The final note I want to dwell on here is the language used in verse 1:

Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it.

(Emphasis added.)

We are warned against drifting away from the message of Christ.  The commentary says that this indicates how apostasy and rejection of Christ can often be subtle and unnoticed, so we should be vigilant lest we find ourselves too far away from Him without ever having made a conscious decision to that effect.  This is all well and good.

But what I’m interested in is who the author is talking to.  This is a letter to fellow Jewish believers, if I recall, so this phrase raises issues to me about the possibility of losing our salvation.

A Calvinist take on this issue (one that believes in the perseverence of the saints) would either say that this message is for people who listen to Christ’s message but do not submit, meaning that they were never believers, or it would say that ‘drift away’ refers not to losing salvation but to drifting from God’s purposes and blessings in this life so as to lose one’s effectiveness as a witness and to miss the fullness of a life led in the Lord.

Fair enough.  But the alternative viewpoint, Arminianism, would not hold this view.  They would argue that the verse means exactly what it says: we need to stay invested in the knowledge of Christ lest we drift away from our salvation.  Arminians believe strongly in man’s free will that they even believe man has the will to separate himself from God.  This interpretation benefits from what seems a plainer reading of the text (of this passage at least). 

However, despite my continuing evolution from determinist to … hmm … NON-determinist(?), I still think that the possibility of losing one’s salvation undercuts God’s (1) power and His (2) love while investing too much in our (3) rational capabilities. 

  1. I’ve mentioned this before, I think, but Paul says that death, life, angels, rulers, present, future, powers, height, depth, and anything else in all of creation are not able to separate us from the Love of God.  I consider myself to be a ‘thing in all of creation,’ which means that I am not able to separate myself from God.**
  2. The strongest claim that an Arminian theology has is that it more fully grasps God’s loving nature than does Calvinism.***  However, this example is an exception.  Leading a life where you can lose your salvation has to be terrifying and paralyzing.  If I sin, do I need to re-accept Christ to get saved again?  What level of apathy or theological error or misjudgment is enough to get me un-saved?  This is not the ‘peace of God, that surpasses all understanding,’ that I was led to expect.  The freedom in salvation is the knowledge that we cannot be touched by sin and death, including the sin of apostasy.
  3. Lastly, I think that this doctrine places too much power in our rational capabilities.  It’s tempting, in our culture, to equate free will with rational choice.  However, there are plenty of thoughts and actions in our lives which are rightfully counted as products of our will (and for which we are justly held accountable) that can in no way be described as rational.****  A doctrine of losing your salvation cannot take into account moral confusion, response to grief, mental illness, and other actions and dispositions that are not rationally considered revisions of one’s faith. 

I short, I believe in a doctrine of free will.  Of that much I am sure.  But free will does not equate to rational, calculated decisionmaking.  God can reach us through many of the other faculties which make us human, and I believe He is loving enough and powerful enough to recognize our will and hold us to Him even when we respond negatively or destructively to the ups and downs of life.

————

* You know, ‘With great power comes great responsibility.’  Spiderman?  Anyone?

** This does not mean that I am a universalist because I think that this verse is referring to our relationship to God after accepting Christ.  Those who do not allow Christ to bring them into relationship with God are not with God to be in danger of being separated from Him — they already are separated.

*** I promise that my references of Calvin and Arminius are not meant as an opening salvo of my charge into the Reformed/Arminian biblioblog battles.  I have no dog in the fight, I swear.  Whichever is your boy, you’re just as likely to see me defend him in this post against the other as you are to see me defend the other against him in another post.  I’m feckless like that.

**** If my boss bullies me me and yells at me and demeans me enough, it’s not unlikely that I will punch him in the face.  This will be an act of my will, an exertion of self expression.  However, I don’t think that I will aftwards consider it to be a rational decision.

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