Today in our series in the book of Hebrews, we tackle one of the most threatening verses in the bible. This powder keg has given religion so much power, while simultaneously confusing so many that the intension of the author has been almost completely lost. How can I make such a claim? Well, let me back up. When interpreting the scripture, it’s vital to not only recognize the difference between an indicative and an imperative, but to teach them as they are. Some verses are prescriptions (imperative) and others are descriptions (indicative), and I’m willing to bet that you, just like me, read have always heard this “mic drop” as an imperative, because that is how most pastors teach it.
I’ve been saying throughout this study that modern evangelical theology could not have existed within the author’s intent, and therefore we must endeavor not to eisegete (insert a meaning) where such meaning couldn’t exist. That is not what has happened. The tangent if you recall is from verses 5:11-6:20 when the author metaphorically lays down the bumpers in the bowling alley so our ball cannot get stuck in the gutter when he says this:
“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.” (6:4-6)
How does that verse hit you?
In Greek, the aorist passive indicative means that the author is outside of the the thing being described. Because most of us think in binaries, the result of this verse is forced into one of two gutters: either prideful denial, or hopeless tailspin. When we cannot resolve the tension we remain confused and drop the conversation. Remember, bible geekery or interpretive rules always require context. My hermeneutics professors always said: “A verse out of context is pretext for endless error.” The context flows like this:
a. Finding rest or peace is not a “one-day” thing, it’s a now thing.
b. Christ is the High Priest much like Jewish High Priests, but not from Aaron, he’s from another order entirely.
c. You need to mature beyond your religious framework
d. You need to get beyond the basic binary instructions and purity codes, and bad theology.
e. for example, God will reject you forever if you screw up
f. I say this stuff so you can see that there is something better.
g. God is not unjust and forgetful of you.
Can you see how this is nestled “WITHIN” a message, not THE message? The idea of an apostate heart is real, but religion got it wrong. In fact the greater context of the book of Hebrews is that religion gets the main thing wrong. Now some of you who know your bibles are pushing back on me because you know the author takes this subject up again in chapter 10, which I’ll read now.
“For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries. Anyone who has set aside the law of Moses dies without mercy on the evidence of two or three witnesses. How much worse punishment, do you think, will be deserved by the one who has trampled underfoot the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has outraged the Spirit of grace? For we know him who said, “Vengeance is mine; I will repay.” And again, “The Lord will judge his people.” It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” (Hebrews 10:26-31)
This passage has caused factions within Christianity for centuries as it establishes the question of whether a person is “once saved, always saved” or “a potential apostate.” This is a pathological root found in every institutional religion seeking to control it’s constituents. Turn and reject Jesus–> go to hell. Reject Islam and the 5 pillars–>go to Hell. Reject the Mormon Church and it’s doctrines–>go to hell. Reject Hinduism–>live a living hell repeating forever. Become a suppressive in Scientology–>get banished and face a living hell. Reject evolutionary science–>banished to social and economic hell. Enough examples? I’ve made my point.
Institutional powers use threat, fear and intimidation to gain compliance. This book is endeavoring to liberate us from such control.
Since context points the way to the true meaning of the text, we must read this verse within the larger context of all that is being said. When we do this, we discover that the author is offering something so much better than religion’s threat of “union with God via gunpoint.” The author will systematically dismantle the “Sinners in the hand of the Angry God” theology of retribution in the coming chapters, (sorry Jonathan Edwards) so we cannot plant a flag in this verse and create a doctrine out of it. Judaism did it, and now every religion has done it too.
Please keep in mind that the message of this book is that the justice of God is based in restoration not retribution. If you miss this, your theology will poison yourself and the world. In this case, tribal, binary religion is a prison based on fear, intimidation, and threat, but there is something better….much better. A promise so good it cannot be understood or experienced from within any binary tribal framework. Each religions framework can, and in some measure, does point to it, but none can actually take us there… BECAUSE WE ARE ALREADY THERE. Religion says “Only our road leads to Heaven,” this Author shows us “No roads lead us there, because we can’t get there, Heaven has come to us…ALREADY, through the cosmic work of the Christ.”
Simply stated, we can’t be good enough to avoid retribution. Who among us has not deliberately sinned? We are note either good or bad, apostates or faithful, we are both. What’s more, the love, mercy and grace of God restores us even in our inability to be faithful. There is a plan for the apostate within us all…to free the true soul by loving it out of it’s rejection of the Truth.
Next week I’ll show you how the author systematically deconstructs the Jewish religion by peeling it back to the true diamond which was placed within it. Once deconstructed, he offers the most simple, universal, accessible way to live that religions have hated for thousands of years. Before we get there, I want help give you a new way to understand these loaded passages.
Divine union, or getting to Heaven, or oneness with the Universe, or however you frame it, IS NOT and NEVER WILL BE a result of human effort. There is no religion, ritual, prayer, song, meditation, dance, or austerity, that can manipulate or cajole the “jeanie out of the bottle.” It is not a meritocracy, it is not earned, there are no merit badges, rank or file. God is not impressed with our obedience which polishes our pseudonyms, falsehood and sin to a high gloss finish. Our Maker sees the real “us” through all of that. The flunky, the insecure, the imperfect, the proud, the arrogant, the hostile, the impure, He sees all of that surface stuff and window dressing. He is neither offended, nor surprised by any of it-thats the point of a High priest who identifies with us. He was pleased to live in and with it and share our experiences, yet without sin. We are a dirty, self despising, whore is so beloved by our Kinsman that he has taken care to bring us into his palace, and make us worthy of a kingdom which cannot be lost, is open to all, and will last forever. That’s the promise of Hebrews. That is the good news. This is why this tangent ends with this verse:
“We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain, where our forerunner, Jesus, has entered on our behalf. He has become a high priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.” (6:20)
God is not watching us with a Stink Eye. Or a score card. Nor does he care for our religious affiliation any more than the audience of this book. He cares about one thing which refracts the light differently within every soul who has ever lived and which is uniquely designed for our sphere of living. It is this thing we are admonished to hold on to. Our faith. Religion tries to claim that for itself and offers us “a faith in a faith.” This book is revealing to the religious mind what it means to have a “faith in the Christ.“
In short, or confidence is just this: “But we do not belong to those who shrink back and are destroyed, but to those who have faith and are saved.” (10:39)