Do Not Fall Back from Grace
I've been thinking about a sentence in Hebrews. I stumbled over it a week ago, and I've been mulling it over ever since.
See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no "root of bitterness" springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled; that no one is sexually immoral or unholy like Esau, who sold his birthright for a single meal. Hebrews 12:15-16"See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God." What does this mean? Does "grace" here refer to saving faith--the grace that comes through faith in Christ Jesus? If so, we can subsitute the word "salvation" for "the grace of God."
But I don't think that's the point here. Since this letter is written to Christians (who have been known to, ahem, harbor bitterness and sexual immorality), I suspect that by "grace" the author may mean something other than salvation. The church to whom the Letter to the Hebrews is addressed is full of already "saved" people. But the warning still holds: see to it that no one fails to obtain grace.
Perhaps we get a clearer understanding if we look closely at the rest of the sentence. Set against this "obtaining" of grace, we have two counter-examples. So if I'm reading this correctly the sentence is structured something like this: See to it that (A), so that (B) or (C) do not happen.
See to it that: (A) no one fails to obtain the grace of God
So that: (B) no root of bitterness springs up
or: (C) no one is sexually immoral
The avoidance of the negative examples, (B) and (C), hinges upon the obtaining of grace (A). This may not seem clear in the ESV (above), but read it please in the Amplifed version, where the "hinge" is made clear:
Exercise foresight and be on the watch to look [after one another], to see that no one falls back from and fails to secure God's grace (His unmerited favor and spiritual blessing), in order that no root of resentment (rancor, bitterness, or hatred) shoots forth and causes trouble and bitter torment, and the many become contaminated and defiled by it--Okay, I think I'm getting it now. "Falls back from," that's a clue. Grace is something we can have, but fall back from. So the question remains: how do I insure that someone else, someone with whom I have to do, perhaps someone who is a part of my church family, a brother or sister in the Lord, does not fall back from grace?
And what would that "falling back" look like? Well, perhaps it would look like bitterness, rancor, and hatred. Have these things been known to "contaminate" a church body? Have they been known to grow secretly underground, shooting forth their malodorous buds when the conditions are right? I think we all know the answer to that. I think it happens all the time. And I think it happens in marriages as well, and in all kinds of relationships. Roots of bitterness, growing underground. Springing up suddenly, contaminating the atmosphere in a home or a workplace.
So I ask again: how do we keep this from happening? Well, it clearly has something to do with grace. The author of Hebrews is saying, have a care for others, that they do not fall back from the gospel of grace, back into legalism and condemnation. And how do we do that? Perhaps simply by reminding them often of God's grace. Everything seems to hinge on this. Are you concerned about sexual immorality? Rather shockingly, the author of Hebrews does not tie sexual purity to will power, or fighting a good fight, or to reminding ourselves constantly that God hates sexual sin; no, he ties the sustaining of sexual purity to grace alone! Hang on to God's grace, he seems to say. Remind yourself and others of it often. Grace is the climate in which bitterness cannot thrive, and neither can lust (or as Eugene Peterson calls it), "the Esau syndrome: trading away God's lifelong gift in order to satisfy a short-term appetite."
You know, there was a time when God's glory so engulfed an entire mountain, that for anyone even to touch the hillside meant death, and His voice so thundered that people begged to hear no more. But that is not the mountain to which we have come.
But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel. Hebrews 12:22-24See to it then that no one leaves the "festal gathering" through a side door, and returns again thereby to the old bitterness and lust. The blood of Jesus speaks its better word . . . and the word is grace.