Hebrews 2:1-4 – Do Not Drift Away

This paragraph is the first of several “exhortations” from author to drawing practical implications of the theology he is presenting. These are not secondary afterthoughts to make the theology look practical, they are the logical outworking of the theology and are probably the real reason he is writing, to exhort his readers to live a proper Christ-like life. (See Hebrews, 13:22, the entire book is intended as a “word of exhortation.”)

This is a logical a fortiori argument. The writer starts with an accepted truth, then moves to a logically related truth which has even more reason to be accepted. His argument is: if our salvation is greater than what Israel experienced under the Law, then so too the judgment will be greater if someone drifts away. He offers warning, then the reason for the warning, then he offers evidence from Scripture and experience.

First, the writer gives a stern warning: Pay careful attention and do no drift away (2:1). “Pay careful attention” is the command given based on the deity of Jesus. This is not a clear break from chapter one, it is based on the logic of chapter 1. If Jesus is truly the Son of God, and God himself, then the message that he brought is worthy of attention. In the New Testament the word translated “pay attention” is used for devoting oneself to a task, such as prayer and scripture reading (1 Tim 4:13) , or even an individual listening to the Gospel and accepting Christ (Lydia, in Acts 16, for example.)

The reason for the careful attention is the possibility of “drifting away.” Since the writer raises this issue in his first exhortation, he may be addressing a real problem his readers were facing. The word for “drifting away” (παραρρέω) is only used here in Hebrews 2:1. It refers to something floating aimlessly on the surface of the water. The word is used for allowing a ring to “slip from one’s finger” (Bruce, Hebrews, 27).

The image is carelessness and lack of attention. This is not a person who suddenly recants their faith in a moment of fury, but rather someone who makes many tiny compromises over a long period of time. Instead of being careful devoted to their faith, this person just floats along with the tide. In fact, in verse 3 this is described as neglect (ἀμελέω). The writer thinks this drifting away is as bad as apostasy, denying the Lord.

After stating the warning, he now proceeds to tell us why it is important that we do not drift.

Second, this “drifting away” is a serious problem. If our salvation is superior, then so is the consequence for ignoring it. (2:2-3a). The first part of this argument is based on the idea that the “Great salvation” that we have is greater than the salvation of the Old Testament. The writer says that the Law was delivered by angels. The Old Testament says nothing about angels being involved in the delivery of the Law, but they are active in other passages doing service for God. It was a Jewish tradition that angels were the ones that delivered the Law to Moses.

The law was binding to the Jews, and there were “curses and blessings” promised based on the obedience of the people. The judgements for disobedience were certain, just as the rewards were. Therefore, if the salvation that we have is a better salvation than in the Old Testament, the judgement for drifting from that salvation will also be greater.

Finally, the writer offers evidence for this warning. Jesus revealed our salvation, and it was testified to by the apostles and signs, and by the Holy Spirit (2:3b-4). There is a pattern of revelation similar to the law, it came through Christ to the apostles (including Paul), and then to the generation reading the letter. The writer includes himself in those who received the revelation from the apostles, rather than from the Lord.

The message of salvation was witnessed by signs and miracles. The miracles themselves do not prove that Jesus is God, since he would be God even if he did not do miracles. The miracles were intended to verify that Jesus and disciples were in fact from God. The Jews expected the Messiah to do miracles, some even ask Jesus to show a miracle to prove he is the Messiah (which he does not do, interestingly enough!)

The final step in his argument is that the salvation is witnessed to by the gifts of the Spirit. The word for gifts here is not the more common charismata, but rather a word that is used to emphasize the distribution of the gifts. Not that the miraculous gifts are not in the mind of the writer, they may or may not be. The main idea here is that the salvation that we share in was first witnessed by Christ, then the apostles, and then through the function of spiritual gifts in the church.

The writer’s warning, then, is the readers need to carefully devote themselves to spiritual growth because the judgment for drifting away and spiritual negligence is great indeed.

But what does “drifting away and spiritual negligence” look like from a contemporary perspective? What sorts of things can be safeguards against this drift? I am sure this will be different in various cultures, so a Christian in a non-western culture will struggle differently than a young, western (American) Christian.

21 thoughts on “Hebrews 2:1-4 – Do Not Drift Away

  1. Drifting away in an American Christian culture looks like one walking the other way from Christ. It’s the person getting burned out on the Christian walk, and it is a challenge that many of us face, but as Christians we need to be equipped to fight the fact that we will get burned out and that is what the devil wants us to become. Having a strong foundation in Biblical truth and knowing where you stand in Christ will help glue your feet to the ground when the wind blows. It is reassuring that our salvation is so valuable that it becomes a serious problem when we drift away from it, God wants us to treasure our salvation, and stand firm in his word so we remain close to him. We have to give God the anchor of our boat so he can keep us close to him and we don’t drift away.

    • I like the points you made with this post. I feel that another main point of drifting from the faith is not growing in the faith constantly. There is always constant movement in this world, so if you are not moving forwards you are moving backwards. Constantly growing will help us continue to understand how important our salvation is. I liked how you said that God wants us to treasure our salvation. Our personal salvation and the salvation of others should be the most important thing in our lives. This is continually maintaining your relationship with God and reaching out to people so they can have this relationship, too. A great way to do this is not only reading the Bible but actively reading the Bible. Reading the Bible knowing that it is the word of God, wanting to seek wisdom and life from it and coming humbly and with reverence.

  2. Phil,

    Love your exposition on Hebrews 2:1-4! Especially in understanding architecture of the book, e.g.

    “logical outworking of the theology and are probably the real reason he is writing, to exhort his readers to live a proper Christ-like life”

    I work in Silicon Valley, a culture of secularism. Secularism overrides everything! “Burning Man” should be taken with a grain or two of salt… but it’s definitely a tell.

    “Drifting” can easily happen as an unintended consequence of working in the Valley. I work in Venture Capital backed software sales, where men and women, allow their rings to “slip from their finger” as a matter of course. Like gaining 2 inches in your waist line…how did that happen?

    It happened gradually. Because blending in, to become elite is a drug. I was in a forecast meeting the other day when my boss, a Sikh, said,

    “pray to whatever god you pray to!”

    Why? Because, at the end of the day, revenue is the only one true God and the grind is your religion! But feel free to have your personal god as long as you keep him/her in the “lower case.”

    In the Valley there are more mildly religious Muslims, Hindus, atheists, who come from MIT, Wharton, Stanford, IIT, and Harvard than there are empty expresso cups! Go Philz! And all seem to agree on one thing, “what it’s all really about is being a good person!” e.g. Sergey and Larry’s original Google motto: “don’t be evil” and the ubiquitous “No A-Hole Rule.” and as a side note, generally placed in employee handbooks by “A-holes!”

    But remember why you are really in the Valley to begin with, the Revenue and the Grind!

    Sleep is that time you are working on startup problems with your eyes closed. -Dharmesh Shah, Hubspot

    So, “paying careful attention” – being hyper vigilant about your faith in Jesus Christ…is your only option to avoid becoming the next drifter.

    Rich

    PS: Under point two you say, “If was a Jewish tradition that angels were the ones that delivered the Law to Moses.” If it matters, change your f to a t.

    Rich McGhee mcgheerich@gmail.com

    >

  3. Excellent post! I beleive in today’s world, it can be easy to “drift away” with all the outside distractions such as social media, personal image and having a constant “go go go” mentalitytowards life. Drifting away to me means moving your eyes towards the world and away from Christ. Jesus tells us in Matthew 6:24 that no one can serve two masters as either you will hate the one and love the other or you will be devoted to one and despise the other(NIV translation). Drifting away most of the time however is not attention. Last week in a magizine, I read that around 90% of all pastors as well as people in ministry have experience burn out situtions. Spiritual negligance is often the cause of burnouts as you are trusting in yourself and your own works often instead of putting your trust and ministry in God’s hands. Having a strong theological foundation and staying strong in your reading of the scriptures will help you stay connceted with Christ and not “drift away” like Hebrews 2 talks about.

    • Troy,
      I completely agree with your comment that it can be very easy to “drift away” in today’s world. Social media, relationships, ect can be distractions from God and from our spiritual relationship with Him. Coming from a personal view, it is hard for someone (like me) that does not have a lot of spiritual support in my family to not drift away a bit from Christ and if you add on-top of other distractions like social media, personal image, and personal relationships, it is even easier. That is why it is so important to keep at an eye on Christ and His teachings and to keep that spiritual relationship with God and not “drift away.”

  4. Drifting away is ultimately drifting away from Christ and the community of the body of Christ. Like mentioned in the post, it happens through many small steps that lead away from Him. I believe a very important precautionary step is to make sure we remain in community and in fellowship with the church around us. what does that look like? I don’t think it looks like simple chatter after church or geographical closeness. Its real relationships with people that spur one another on to love and good deeds! People who are holding people accountable and growing together. Community needs to be practiced in order to be effective. I believe this is what will keep people from drifting away.

  5. Drifting away in the sense of “floating along with the tide” is perhaps a tricky issue although definitely prevalent. Humans have a tendency of categorizing sin from levels of worst to most okay, and living based on their idea of where each sin lies. “Porn is an obvious no-no, but speaking false things about a person I don’t like isn’t that bad, is it? Maybe it is not so wrong to consider the possibility of other gods existing, it’s not like that means God doesn’t exist”. Categorizing sin can be a dangerous thing, and sins we never expected to be problems can be the ones to lead us astray.

    The primary method to help with preventing one from drifting away is the true understanding of repentance. Compared to a more older understanding of “talking about the bad things you did recently”, repentance means to “turn”, or “return”, suggesting more than just a vocalization of sin, but an effort to fight against it. One cannot simply just be aware of their sins, they need to make an effort to always be working on moving away from them and to Christ. Various methods of working towards this are having strong Christian and church connections that one can be honest with and be both supported and challenged, Another is to read the word to get a better understanding of what the Lord recommends to fight against the devil in his word (Ephesians 6:10-18, James 5:16, 2 Timothy 2:22). And finally, it is important to be aware and looking for ways in which we might be drifting, and not afraid to admit when we are indeed drifting away on the waves of life.

  6. I agree with everything that was said! It is very hard in our world today to not be distracted. It says in 2 Timothy 3:2-3 NIV that, “People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God.” This is a good example of someone who has drifted away from God. It can range from a multitude of things like social media and hearing what others have to say about a person’s image and how they should come off to others in a public setting. It is a sad realization but it is a unfortunate truth we all have to face. I would view that in a way of drifting away from God. I know I’m not the only one who believes this but God made all of us a certain way for a certain reason. That is what makes us all unique. For that reason alone there should be no reason why we should let other people dictate our lives and how we should go about our lives on a daily basis. This is also why it is vital to not let those things bring us down. We have to be trusting towards God in the fact that like I previously mentioned, created us for a specific reason and also that He has a plan for each of us. In doing so, it should be more than enough to help combat drifting away from God and his love that he has for all of us.

  7. The description of drifting away used in this post is not a position I have thought about much. I find it intriguing that the true meaning includes a slow, gradual drift rather than an intentional walking away. The true meaning being connected to carelessness and small compromises gives this warning a whole new level of urgency. Now it is clear that the intention and care the author gave to this warning was not written with a light heart. The heart of the author was obviously burdened not only for the people but for the heart of God himself. Because God created man to be in union with him, it must break the heart of Got to see his people drift away slowly with the tide.

    • I feel the same way about the analogy of the drifting away as well Laine. We do get a clear indication of how to not drift away as well, with not forgetting our salvation and what that means in our lives (2:3). I find that it can be quite easy to forget the magnitude and greatness of our salvation, and what that truly has done for us. I know for me personally, I can take for granted the salvation that I was given, and that I can forget how thankful I should be for what Jesus has done for me. Great piece of scripture that definitely applies to an everyday Christian life.

  8. I believe that the term of “drifting away” in this age, has a lot to do with contentment. As a whole, we are very busy. We are constantly working, socializing, and living OUR best lives. We are so obsessed and caught up in the world and material things that our relationship with Christ is so surface level. We do not always search or desire for a deeper relationship with Christ. This leads to constantly going through the motions. We are not focused, or paying attention to what really matters, because we are overcome with so many distractions. These distractions gradually pull us away. We drift. It is important for us, in our busyness, that we give up everything that we hold so dear. We must pay attention.
    -McKenzie McCord- 1/31/18

  9. I totally agree with this post. I think a lot of times when people argue losing their salvation, or giving up on their faith, they seem to think it just happens when someone gets super mad at God and tells him they want nothing to do with him. Sure, that could be how it happens, but I agree with the author of Hebrews, and stated here that it seems more like people periodically having things happen that they lose their faith over a period of time. Of course this correlates with if you believe you can lose your salvation, but still the author poses this very idea. I also believe the idea that if drifting away is a problem worth addressing, then it is something we really should be taking seriously. The only way we can know if someone is living out their faith, is by the works they produce. IF we are called to minister, we are supposed to be doing good works for God, as Christ did.

  10. It is interesting when reading Hebrews chapter 2 starts off with a warning about neglecting salvation. According to this blog, negligence is like drifting away “with the tide,” slowing departing from the main source of our salvation Jesus Christ. What tide does our current modern time holds? There has been a lot of mixture of religions, taking some from New Age movement, Wiccan, Buddhism, inserting with Christianity, etc. In Revelation 3:16 says, “because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth.” Lately, there has been a lot of lukewarm in our communities, preaching prosperity gospel, sugar coating with tolerance of sin, rather than correction with true doctrine. Most times people rather follow what’s in the New Testament and neglecting the Old Testament. Which, can consider neglect of salvation, because both sides of the Bible reflects one another in completion through Christ Jesus. Several ways to avoid drifting away is staying in constant relationship with Jesus Christ, reading the Bible on daily basis, being part of a body of Christ, and praying every chance possible. To pray for wisdom, understanding, discernment, and perseverance in hope and faith.

  11. I admire the challenge to stay attentive as it gives perspective to my everyday journey as a Christ-follower. It is a passage like this that reminds me to live intentionally and purposefully, giving glory to God in everything I do. However, I did think of a question while I was reading your article. If the original Jewish audience was intended to be swayed in favor of Jesus as the Messiah through this letter, would it have been possible for them to drift back into the salvation of the old covenant? I think it is easy for us to think of drifting away from Christ as becoming atheist or agnostic. But I think since the argument that the author is offering up to the reader is the superiority of the new covenant in Christ, the common pitfall of “drifting away” would just to revert back to their old ways in the previous covenant. I would say considering the severity that the author pairs with acknowledging Christ’s covenant and sticking to it, it would have been slightly common for a Jew who had accepted Christ as the superior avenue of salvation to reverting back to the old covenant. Especially in the case of pressure from the community or family.

  12. This idea of “drifting away” makes me wonder if the author of Hebrews means backsliding in one’s faith or simply losing one’s faith and possibly their salvation. I am a strong believer that once someone has been saved, meaning they have put their faith in Jesus Christ as their personal savior and the Holy Spirit has indwelt them thereby sealing them (Eph 1:13-14), then that person is unable to lose their salvation. I believe that Romans 8:38-39 spells this out very clearly that there is nothing in all of creation that will be able to separate us from Jesus. Just like our salvation is not dependent upon anything we can do, any loss of salvation would also not be dependent on anything we can do. We can’t earn salvation just like we can’t lose salvation. So when the writer of Hebrews speaks of “drifting away” in chapter 2 verse 1, I believe he is speaking of backsliding. I believe backsliding has a few levels to it. There are many people who are committed to loving and serving God and seek to be perfect, but since everyone sins, they backslide once in a while. These people will repent and immediately seek to follow after God again. The second level of backsliding is someone who is more casual in their faith and was never really too committed. These people do not feel too convicted about sin and live a very up and down life, at some points seeming like a spiritually mature christian and at other times being very immature in their faith. Then there is the third level of backsliding that Jobes touches on “people to profess a faith in Christ but later to wander away from the church and away from faith in Christ.” (Jobes 134). This aspect puzzles me the most. As I have seen people serving God and preaching his message and very much seemingly like a strong Christian even working in Churches, then to fall away and no longer be active in church and no longer appear to even have faith in Christ. How can someone make such a transition? Was this person’s faith truly genuine? Was this person ever truly saved? Can someone without salvation be such a strong follower of Christ even preaching salvation from faith in Jesus?

  13. The author of Hebrews states that the judgment is much greater for the new covenant compared to the old covenant because the new covenant is a greater covenant altogether. I think just because the new covenant is greater that does not mean the judgment has not changed (because God is just and His justice does not change). I think that what becomes greater with this new covenant is the grace given under it. The judgment is not harsher. Grace is abounding more. This is not to say that we should keep on sinning because grace abounds (Romans 6:1-2). This is the empowering freedom to live righteously that this new covenant gives. While drifting is not good (and I will get to the main point in a second), this is not a matter of loss of salvation. The author is trying to convey the importance to these Jews that were probably facing persecution from Nero (depending on when you think this was written) that no matter the suffering, staying the course and anchoring yourself in Christ is worth the suffering.
    Now, this denial of faith comes from drifting away. And drifting away deals with small incremental movements away from the place you once were. If you are not strongly anchored to where you should be it is easy to “drift” and get lost. These Jews, if not strongly secured to the Gospel of Jesus Christ were continually moving into a position where denying their faith was okay, beneficial, and necessary. In this 21st Century, Christians can do very similar things. Especially in American culture where things aside from Jesus are idolized and glorified. If you or I do not have accountability, then there is an opportunity to drift. If you and I do not have a faithful community, then there is an opportunity to drift. If you are I are not in prayer daily or the Bible daily then there is an opportunity to drift. If there is a lack of Christian influence on your life then there is a likeliness that you might possibly be drifting. This drifting can go unnoticed until you look up and cannot find your way back home. This drifting can put you in a place of isolation. Not that God’s grace cannot about there but this flippancy is not glorifying and it is not how we should be living as the Body of Christ. It becomes a story similar to the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32) but in some of these drifting cases the son does not come back.

  14. After studying the book of Hebrews in the past couple weeks for this course, the passage of Hebrews 2:1-4 immediately stood out to me. I believe that it has a message that still resounds today. Hebrews 2:1 instructs believers to not pay “the most careful attention.” This is important and noteworthy because of the emphasis on careful attention. The author of Hebrews is making it very clear that Christians and believers in God must pay as much careful attention as possible to their faith and what they know and have learned about God. The syntax of this verse depicts the importance of showing careful attention to what we have heard about and know about the Lord. Additionally, the second half of the verse claims that we shall not drift away. The verse is claiming that Christians and believers should not drift away from what they have heard; again, what they have heard reverts back to what they have heard and learned about God and/or Jesus Christ. This verse directly applies to Christians today. I feel as if it applies to Christians and believers of all times, ages, eras, and generations. We hear about Jesus Christ, we learn about God, we read the Bible, we pray to God, we do devotions, etc., but then at times, we allow ourselves to drift away from this relationship with God. Whether it be sports, money, our jobs, schoolwork, hanging out with friends, etc., we let Earthly things pull us away from what we have heard and learned about God. This is a natural tendency that Christians must fight. Because this can be considered a natural tendency, the author of Hebrews stresses the importance of paying one’s “most careful attention” (Hebrews 2:1).

    The initial blog post claims that the author of Hebrews may be referring to a real problem that the readers were facing during this time in history. According to Jobes (2011), the readers of Hebrews during these Bible times were faced with persecution. This could have been the real problem that the readers were facing, and this harsh persecution could have caused people of faith to drift away from that faith because they believed that would prevent them from facing persecution. Though Christians in America may not be experiencing persecution because of their faith, that is still a real thing in other parts of the world. Therefore, this could be a cause of other people drifting away from their faith. That being said, persecution is not the only thing that would cause one to drift away from their faith. American culture offers social media, popularity, money, jobs, sports, etc., that all can cause one to drift away from their faith and what they have learned and heard about Jesus Christ.

    Each of the temptations and struggles that cause people to drift away from their faith fit the description from the blog post that highlights the tiny compromises aspect. The blog post is very specific about the fact that this drifting away from one’s faith comes from carelessness that can be compared to losing a ring off of one’s finger. One does not choose to take the ring off their finger and forget about it. Similarly, one does not typically just choose to abandon their faith, but their carelessness can cause them to drift away. Regardless of where one lives, there are temptations that can distract us and make us careless. These can cause us to lose focus on what is important and drift away from our faith. Another interesting connection is that a major theme of Hebrews is Christology and Christ being fully human (Jobes, 2011, p. 44).

    Jobes, K. H. (2011). The Letters to the Church. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

  15. I find it interesting that the author has chosen to place this exhortation in between the introduction and a section on Jesus’ humanity.
    I appreciate the blog’s explanation of this type of rhetorical argument. The warning to not drift away is interesting for several reasons.

    It seems that the author assumes the group of recipients is primarily made up of believers.
    The blog also notes that it is not a recanting of faith, but a slow drifting way.
    Drifting away is considered worse than apostasy. If they believe that their salvation is that important, letting the faith slowly fade away must be equally great.
    If both of the above are true, is the author implying one can lose his or her salvation? Is “drifting away” closer to a slowly dying faith? Or is it warning against neglecting spiritual disciplines for long periods of time but never actually losing faith?
    Earlier it was determined the book was most likely written to encourage the Jew Christians during a period of persecution in Rome. If they were being persecuted, wouldn’t those “sitting on the fence”, so to speak, already chosen their side?
    Is this something like the Ananias and Sapphira story in Acts, testing and weeding out pretenders? Or is it a warning to not neglect-and possibly lose-salvation? Or is it referring to something else altogether?

  16. Drifting away is something that god never wants from us and I feel that it happens overtime as you get distance from what God really want from us. I feel that if it more people out here giving the word of God and show that it is ok to know that he will guide us through tough times and also showing living testimony showing people that God haves our back no matter what.

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