Wednesday, August 24, 2022

Neglected Salvation

“How shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation?”

The “great salvation” spoken of in Hebrews provokes a variety of reactions. Some who hear it are offended by the message itself. After all, it tells them the very best they can do in this life is of no account to God, and that there is no way to approach the Infinite on anything but his own terms, which turn out to revolve around glorifying a Jewish carpenter rejected and murdered by the world of his day.

You can understand why people might initially find that proposition makes them grind their teeth. It seems like nonsense to them.

Causes of Offense

Others are offended that the message of a great salvation from God contradicts some existing way of looking at the universe. Saul of Tarsus came from a tradition of religious understanding that had become so stagnant and legalistic as to be intellectually indefensible. It was impossible to mount rational arguments in favor of the first century Judaism practiced by the Pharisees, with all its inconsistencies and hypocrisy, so Saul simply signed up to kill anyone who contradicted his worldview. Today, adherents of Islam do much the same thing.

Still others are offended by the people who respond to the message, among whom they would be numbered if they chose to accept it. At some level they feel themselves to be above that sort of riff-raff. So in the first century, they asked questions like “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?” and “Why are you talking with her?”, or passed judgments like “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him.” Later, they would write things like “Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature” and “the opium of the people”, as if only the credulous and addled masses could be expected to acquire a taste for objective truth.

Halfway There

Yet others see some value in the message of a great salvation, or at least in the culture it produces, but cannot see the importance of a personal response at this present moment. King Agrippa believed the Hebrew prophets but was unprepared to act on Paul’s interpretation of what they said with any urgency. His response was something to the effect that a decision on such matters required more time. Impressed with the brevity of his remaining time on earth, the thief on the cross did the opposite, embraced the instant and found himself in paradise. But for some, more time to think about the offer of a great salvation is simply an excuse never to think about it.

The writer to the Hebrews appeals to his readers not to neglect this great salvation.

Taking It Lightly

Now, neglect is not precisely the same as delay (though it may be), and it is definitely not the same as hostile opposition. It is simply not doing anything about the offer you have in front of you, the reasons for which may be many: distraction, forgetfulness, inattention, fear, lack of understanding … you name it. Neglect seems to me to be by far the most common reason men and women fail to lay hold of the great salvation on offer and find themselves lost for eternity. It is certainly the danger that the writer to the Hebrews was most concerned about.

Neglect is the means by which otherwise “good” people end up lost. Perhaps they think that making a public stand for Christ is a choice they will be offered over and over again. Often, this not the case. In fact, neglect is really quite a poisonous and vile thing. It takes lightly the most important message a human being will ever hear.

Repentance with Direction

The man who takes offense at the message of the gospel is at least paying attention to what he hears. He may view Christ as his enemy and his followers as dangerous lunatics, but at least he does not doubt the significance of what he is hearing. He knows that when taken seriously by enough people, a great salvation spells the end of the world order in which he now lives. It will turn the whole culture on its head. Books will be burned, revenue will be lost, men and women who used to be the center of attention will be marginalized and those at the margins will become significant. The various profitable means by which men exploit one another will have to be abandoned entirely.

Such a man is actually closer to the kingdom than the man or woman who neglects the offer of a great salvation because if he chooses to repent, he at least know which direction he needs to go in. The neglectful person has no such insight.

“How shall we escape?” indeed.

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