For most believers, the greatest danger to faith is not some cataclysmic event that dramatically pushes them away from God. Rather, it’s the slow, gradual dulling of their hearts toward Him. They lose all ability to “see” God, to perceive His activity on earth. The author of Hebrews enumerates 5 such dangers.
1. Division (Heb 12:14) – Division and strife have a way of making us forget all about the Kingdom of God. Someone offends us and our pride gets riled up–we are consumed with our rights and our interests. The author of Hebrews encourages us to “seek peace,” which means that we are to be the first to offer forgiveness, even when wronged. It means that we take the towel and wash the feet of those in conflict with us, like Christ did. It means that we serve our “enemies” and seek their well-being. This has a way of immediately renewing our commitment to the Kingdom of Christ. Humility in service and forgiveness is a grace God gives us to renew our faith.
2. Worldliness (Heb 12:14) – The author of Hebrews tells us to pursue holiness, a word the Hebrews used to describe both God’s absolute perfection and “otherness.” The opposite of holiness is worldliness (which means both a toleration of impurity as well as a fixation on material things). When our minds are saturated with worldly pursuits, we will never be able to “see” God.
The Greek word for “pursue” literally means “persecute” or “hunt.” We are supposed to hunt it down relentlessly. Think Jason Bourne. As Charles Spurgeon said,
“You will never gain holiness by standing still. Nobody ever grew holy without agonizing to be holy. Sin will grow without sowing, but holiness needs cultivation. Follow it; it will not run after you. You must pursue it with determination, with eagerness, with perseverance, as a hunter pursues its prey.”
This doesn’t come any more naturally to me than it does to you. I have to discipline myself to read the Bible, to memorize Scripture, to listen to good podcasts, read good books, and be in accountability where I confess my sins. I hear a lot of objections from people that they are “too busy” to read Christian books that stoke their faith. You would be surprised what you can accomplish if you set aside 15 minutes in the morning and 45 minutes a night. The greatest danger to most Christians’ faith is not a Richard Dawkins book but the slow rot of American Idol (which isn’t necessarily wrong in and of itself). “Distraction” is usually a more effective weapon against our faith than unbelief.
Worldliness slowly destroys our ability even to “see” God, i.e. to perceive by faith His beauty and activity on earth.
3. Bitterness (Heb 12:15) – Idolatry is like a poisonous weed, or as the author of Hebrews says, a “root of bitterness.” It starts very subtly, but soon infiltrates the entire garden. Tragically, a lot of us will miss the grace of God because we are distracted by idolatry. We allow something to carry more weight in our heart than God: for some it is money, for others it is the approval of their peers, for others it is the ambition for success. It’s when a good things becomes a God thing.
What dominates your thoughts? What makes you jealous? What has made you bitter? Whatever that thing is, it is an idol to us, and if we aren’t vigilant, it will choke out desires for God. Idolatry removes our ability even to see God.
4. Sensual pleasures (Heb 12:16) – Think about how much people arrange their lives just to “feel good.” Rolling Stone carried an article recently about how the best Hollywood parties go from Friday night to Monday morning and are just flowing with great food, alcohol, ecstasy, and sex.
There has to be more to life than bodily sensations! But for many of us, the addictiveness of immorality or bodily comforts is drugging us and keeping us from thinking about what really matters. Like Esau, we trade the eternal for a fleeting sensation. Can anything be more insane?
5. Inattention (Heb 12:25) – If the Israelites standing before Mt. Sinai, a mountain flaming and shaking with God’s presence, would not have ignored God, how much more should we heed the God speaking out of Mt. Calvary, when God took the lightning and thunder of His wrath into His own body? Isaiah says that he was beaten so brutally that he no longer looked like a human. He became our sin, dying the death of sin in our place.
If God did all this to save us, how could we make His word only a secondary matter? This is God speaking, a God so holy a violation of His law demands death, yet a God so loving that He took that death for us. Our eternity depends on whether or not we listen. J. C. Ryle said that for many people, a lack of seriousness and a carefree attitude are keeping them from eternal life:
“God is serious is observing us. Christ is serious in His death for us. The Spirit is serious in striving with us. The truths of God are serious. Our spiritual enemies are serious in their endeavors to ruin us. Poor lost sinners are serious in hell. Why then should we not be serious, too?”
The preaching of the word of God is not religious entertainment. People’s lives depend on it.