Updated: Nov 18
A Study of Spiritual Lethargy by Pastor James C. Johnson
"Therefore we ought to give the more earnest heed to the things which we have heard, lest at any time we should let them slip. For if the word spoken by angels was stedfast, and every transgression and disobedience received a just recompense of reward; How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation; which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed unto us by them that heard him; God also bearing them witness, both with signs and wonders, and with divers miracles, and gifts of the Holy Ghost, according to his own will?" - (Hebrews 2:1-4)
This amazing passage of Scripture cautions us against spiritual apathy, lethargy, and the gradual process of becoming disinterested or calloused toward the things of God. The text instructs us to value and obey the voice of the Lord as He speaks through the Old and New Testaments.
From this passage, we will see the Lord’s caution, revelation, salvation, confirmation, and validation; each of which will help us understand the dangers of slipping spiritually.
1. The Caution
“Therefore we ought to give the more earnest heed to the things which we have heard, lest at any time we should let them slip.” (Hebrews 2:1)
Envision a foot resting on a slippery surface and see that foot sliding slowly, gradually, and soon the person falls. One commentator mentions that this text possibly has “nautical connotations.” The idea of slipping could picture a boat slowing drifting. If the boat is not tied to the dock, it is at the mercy of the waves. One of the waves that was causing people to slip during the time of these Hebrews was angel worship. Instead of worshipping Jesus people were worshipping angels.
The word “Therefore” in Hebrews 2:1 primarily serves two purposes. First, it ties us to the previous content. Hebrews 1:4-14 explains Christ’s superiority over angels.
Angels are amazing messengers of God and as you think about angelic involvement throughout the Bible, maybe you can sympathize with these people’s interest in angels.
Second, the word “Therefore” calls us “to give more earnest heed” to the person of Christ. Let's do both of the things that "Therefore" calls us to do, and let's do them now...
~ Hebrews 1:4 tells us that Jesus has a more excellent name than the angels.
~ Hebrews 1:5 explains that Jesus is God‘s Son and no angel is the son of God.
~ Hebrews 1:6 tells us that angels worship Jesus and rightly so. It’s not the other way around. Jesus doesn’t worship angels.
~ Hebrews 1:7-8 explains that angels do God’s bidding. They are His ministers, specifically His lowly messengers, but Jesus is God and He sits on a throne that is forever with His scepter of righteousness!
~ Hebrews 1:9-13 give us Jesus’ heavenly credentials, if you will. Many of his divine attributes are mentioned.
This passage is a marvelous Christology culminating with Jesus sitting on the right hand of God where His enemies have become His footstool.
The writer of Hebrews cautions us to “give the more earnest heed to the things which we have heard.” This brings us back to Hebrews 1:1-2. The “things which we have heard” is a reference to when God spoke.
The writer of Hebrews wants us to embrace God‘s voice, and avoid being carried away with the winds of supernatural fascination through angels, or anything else that we might prioritize over Jesus.
The writer of Hebrews is crying out, "I caution you! Do not slip into prioritizing anything over Jesus. He is the author and finisher of our faith! Keep looking unto Him!"
2. The Revelation
“For if the word spoken by angels was stedfast, and every transgression and disobedience received a just recompense of reward;” (Hebrews 2:2)
See Deuteronomy 33:2, and Galatians 3:19 to read about angelic involvement in God’s revelation.
On Mount Sinai, the holy law of God was given. Myriads of angels accompanied God. Receiving God‘s revelation can change your life. Moses’ entire life was shaped by his encounter with God at the burning bush.
Indeed, receiving God‘s revelation can change your life, but so can disobeying God‘s revelation. As the verse explains, “every transgression and disobedience received a just recompense of reward.” The Old Testament is full of historic accounts of God executing judgment on those who willfully disobeyed His revelation. How we steward the Word of God can bring both wonderful benefits or terrible consequences.
3. The Salvation
“How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation;” (Hebrews 2:3a)
The answer to the opening question of verse 3 is, “you can’t.“ You will not escape if you neglect so great salvation. In spite of the pluralistic world in which we live, the Bible explains the exclusivity of Christ. Jesus Himself declared, “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.” (John 14:6)
The only way to get to the Father is through the Son. The only way to heaven is through Jesus.
The apostle Peter explained, “Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12)
To “neglect so great salvation,” is to leave oneself with no way to escape. Jesus is the way of escape from the wages of sin.
4. The Confirmation
“…great salvation; which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed unto us by them that heard him;” (Hebrews 2:3b)
The gospel was spoken by Jesus (the Lord) and was confirmed to these Hebrews "by them that heard him," the apostles.
This is the succession of evangelism. The salvation of the Hebrews is spiritual fruit that resulted from the faithfulness of the apostles. These Hebrews are second generation Christians. This is an example of Christians begetting Christians. The fruit of the Spirit is listed in Galatians 5, but the fruit of a Christian is “a tree of life and he that winneth souls is wise.” (Proverbs 11:30)
The apostles' faithfulness in witnessing was what confirmed the Gospel to these Hebrews. As 21st century Christians, we are all instructed to be faithful witnesses for Christ’s sake and the gospel’s, which then confirms the message of the gospel in the hearts of those who come to Christ.
5. The Validation
“God also bearing them witness, both with signs and wonders, and with divers miracles, and gifts of the Holy Ghost, according to his own will?” (Hebrews 2:4)
The point of signs, wonders, diverse miracles, and the gifts of the Holy Ghost is to validate Jesus’ Messiahship. And, indeed they did. The Bible records many of these amazing occurrences that only Jesus, the Anointed One, could accomplish.
But now, we have something even better. We have a “more sure Word.” The Apostle Peter is the one who used that phrase. And, Peter was a first-hand witness to many of the signs, wonders, diverse miracles, and certainly a first-hand witness to the gift of the Holy Spirit, and yet it’s Peter who writes that we have a “more sure word of prophecy whereunto ye do well that ye take heed as unto a light that shineth in a dark place.” (2 Peter 1:19)
Some Christians think they need a sign, wonder, or a miracle and then they’ll get back in a right relationship with God.
The Apostle Peter would tell you to turn to the “more sure word.“
And the writer of Hebrews would tell the slipping Christian to look “unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith” (Hebrews 12:2).
If Jesus Himself were counseling the slipping Christian, He would tell them to, “Build your life on the sure foundation of the Word of God, and not the sinking sands of contrary ideologies. That way, when the rains descend and the floods come, when the wind blows, the superstructure of your life will not fall because it’s built on the Word of God. However, if your foundation is the shifting sands of this world‘s philosophy, your life will fall apart, and great will be the fall of it.” (Consider Matthew 7:24-27)
Instead of telling God that you need a miracle before you continue to serve Him, the apostle Paul would also point you to the miracle of the inspired Word of God.
Paul might tell the slipping Christian, “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works.” (2 Timothy 3:16-17)
He would tell you to pour yourself into the study of the Scriptures.
By the way, Paul writes 2 Timothy 3:16-17 to Timothy at a point when he was slipping. Timothy was intimidated by the culture around him and Paul tells Timothy to cling to the Holy Scriptures that he has known since he was a child.
Even the Old Testament hero Joshua tells the slipping Christian that the only way to have "good success” is to meditate on the Word of God day and night. And, the only way to be strong and of good courage is to “observe to do according to all that is written in this book.” (Joshua 1:8)
A strong Christian’s faith is validated over and over again as they read the promises and prophecies of Almighty God contained in Scripture.
Are you slipping?
Are you lethargic about the things of God? The writer of Hebrews wants us to know that the best way to overcome spiritual lethargy (slipping) is to get your eyes off of yourself, and pour yourself into others for the sake of the Gospel.
Remember, a Christian doesn’t become an atheist overnight. It is a gradual process. It is slowly slipping away from regularly reading the Bible. It is slowly, gradually slipping away from faithful church attendance. It is a process that starts small with less and less interest in the things of Christ and more and more interest in anything other than Christ. Are you slipping into worshipping or adoring anything more than you adore Jesus? In this Hebrews passage, it’s angels.
Avoid this kind of slipping and get back into the Bible. As you read the Word of God, you will find yourself falling in love with Him all over again. The Word of God is a love letter sent from heaven, with your name on it. Avoid slipping by firming up your love relationship with Him and rediscovering your purpose for living: Him.
The above article was written by James C. Johnson. He is the Pastor of NorthStone Baptist Church in Pensacola. To offer him your feedback, find him on twitter, @JamesJohnsonSFL or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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