The Danger of Doctrinal Drift.


Therefore we must pay closer attention to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away. For if the message spoken through angels proved to be so firm that every violation or disobedience received its just penalty, how will we escape if we neglect such a great salvation? It was first communicated through the Lord and was confirmed to us by those who heard him, while God confirmed their witness with signs and wonders and various miracles and gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will. – Hebrews 2:1-4 ESV

After his powerful opening regarding the supremacy of Christ, the author of Hebrews provides his readers with a warning against slipping away from the truth regarding salvation. That message of salvation came from the lips of Jesus Himself and by virtue of His bodily sacrifice on the cross. Jesus had clearly taught, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6 ESV). He claimed, “I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved” (John 10:9 ESV). He had told Martha, just before he raised Lazarus from the dead, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die” (John 11:25-26 ESV). And Jesus told Nicodemus, the Pharisee, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16 ESV).

So the author tells his readers, “we must pay much closer to attention to what we have heard” (Hebrews 2:1 ESV). The message of Jesus, carried on by His disciples after His ascension into heaven, had been circulated among both Jews and Gentiles, resulting in many people coming to faith in Him as their Savior. But there was always the real possibility of drifting away by those who had embraced the good news of the gospel. The Greek term the author uses is pararreō and it means to “let slip, glide by.” Rather than remain anchored to the truth regarding their salvation, they could easily find themselves drifting away, carried by the current of moral subjectivity and doctrinal heresy. In chapter six of this same letter, the author reminds his readers, “So God has given both his promise and his oath. These two things are unchangeable because it is impossible for God to lie. Therefore, we who have fled to him for refuge can have great confidence as we hold to the hope that lies before us. This hope is a strong and trustworthy anchor for our souls. It leads us through the curtain into God’s inner sanctuary” (Hebrews 6:18-19 NLT). We will not drift as long as we remain firmly attached to the truth of the gospel. Those who fled to Jesus for refuge from condemnation and the penalty for sin, can have great confidence that He will one day return for them. Drifting always begins with doubting. When our assurance weakens, the likelihood of our drifting increases.

That church’s experience 2,000 years ago intersects our lives in this way: drifting is the besetting sin of our day. And as the metaphor suggests, it is not so much intentional as from unconcern. Christians neglect their anchor—Christ—and begin to quietly drift away. There is no friction, no dramatic sense of departure. But when the winds of trouble come, the things of Christ are left far behind, even out of sight. – R. Kent Hughes, Hebrews

The author compares the message concerning Jesus with “the message declared by angels,” which refers to the Mosaic law. Moses recorded in the book of Deuteronomy, “The Lord came from Sinai and revealed himself to Israel from Seir. He appeared in splendor from Mount Paran, and came forth with ten thousand holy ones. With his right hand he gave a fiery law to them” (Deuteronomy 33:2 NET). Paul expanded on this in his letter to the Galatians. “Why then was the law given? It was added because of transgressions, until the arrival of the descendant to whom the promise had been made. It was administered through angels by an intermediary” (Galatians 3:19 NET). And the author of Hebrews says that message, the law, proved to be reliable. What is said about sin and punishment was accurate, just and righteous. It revealed that all men are sinners and incapable of living up to God’s holy standard. So, the author asks, “So what makes us think we can escape if we ignore this great salvation that was first announced by the Lord Jesus himself and then delivered to us by those who heard him speak?” (Hebrews 2:3 NLT).

This passage is not talking about losing your salvation. But it is talking about drifting away from the truth and hope of the gospel. It is talking about allowing doctrinal drift to subtly creep into your life, causing you to doubt the hope promised to you in Christ. The message of salvation declared by Jesus was carried on by the apostles. It was supported by signs and wonders. It was proven by the gifts of the Holy Spirit given to the church. But in spite of all this, there is always  the temptation to lose our grip on the solid rock of salvation by faith alone in Christ alone. The issue has to do with doctrinal drift that begins with doubting the promises attached to the gospel message. When we begin to wonder if faith alone is enough, we will begin to add to the gospel. This usually begins when we allow present circumstances to define the veracity of the gospel message. In other words, if things do not appear to be going quite the way we expected, we begin to wonder if something is missing. We begin to question whether there is more that we need to be doing. Difficulties can bring doubt. Doubt can lead to drift. Drift can result in shoddy doctrine. And we end up neglecting or making light of “a great salvation.” As soon as we start taking our salvation for granted, we will find ourselves prone to doctrinal drift, a subtle, but dangerous unmooring of our faith in the one thing that can truly provide us with hope. It does not mean we lose our salvation, but we will most certainly lose our ability to enjoy peace in the storm, joy in the midst of sorrow, hope in spite of setbacks, and assurance in the face of uncertainty.

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