Drifting is not something one actively does; it is something that passively happens because of what one is not doing. As one pastor observed, drifting results through “a failure to keep a firm grip on the truth, through carelessness and a lack of concern.” We are called to “pay the most careful attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away.” God calls us to the great responsibility of being disciplined to listen carefully to his Word. The vitality of the Christian life is centered on one’s connection to the Word of God.
All day long we hear voices telling us that the problems of this world are the most important issues of life. We listen to those voices. The consequence is that we are distracted from the most important issues to which the Bible calls us to give our attention.
In the book of Hebrews, many of these early Christians were facing great persecution and were contemplating apostatizing back to Judaism as the solution. The author is deeply concerned about this problem and is making clear the importance of receiving God’s redemptive revelation that is being spoken through Jesus, a revelation far superior to that of the angels.
The Heart of the Concern of the Author of Hebrews Is the Danger of Drifting Away from Jesus’ Voice
It is from heaven that the Son of God is speaking to us in an intimate way through the ministry of the gospel, giving us everything that is needed for us to persevere through this life. But the author of Hebrews, after explaining the superiority of Jesus to the angels and as seated at the right hand of God, now gives a sobering warning:
Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it. For since the message declared by angels proved to be reliable, and every transgression or disobedience received a just retribution, how shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation? (Heb. 2:1-3)
Some people are concerned that these warning passages in Hebrews, if left alone, will undermine the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints. The Scriptures are clear, salvation cannot be lost. All those given to the Son by Father have eternal life, and nothing can take that free gift away. But the effect of these warnings is often lost when we immediately explain them away in fear of insinuating that salvation can be lost. These warnings are not in conflict with God’s preserving power in the believer’s life; in fact, they are precisely one of the means he uses to preserve his sheep.
The Pathway to Apostasy Begins with Drifting
Within any church community, there are those drifting, and God wants everyone to take seriously the call not to drift from the voice of Jesus.
The description of drifting would have been familiar to the audience as the author uses a nautical metaphor to help them. When a ship entered a harbor, everyone knew that a captain had to be extremely well disciplined and trained to bring the ship to the port. Perception can be disorienting in large bodies of water. A boat can drift off course quickly and without recognition. With this metaphor in mind, the author applies the concern to the spiritual state of Christians.