Resisting Gospel Drift

This is an adaptation of a sermon on the same subject, based on Hebrews 1:1—2:4.


Many years ago, long before GPS’s were affordable, a friend and I went fishing and decided on a specific spot called ‘Fairway Buoy’, a shipping channel marker that attracted large pelagic predatory fish. We had found that the best time to fish this spot was during the night, so we launched his boat and began the 10km trip out to sea. I set the anchor just as it was getting dark, and I remember looking back toward where we had just come from and seeing the glittering lights marking numerous coastal townships far off in the distance, scattered across the horizon.

We fished a good part of the night and only stopped when the current became too strong to get our lines to the depth we needed—following which, we rolled out our swags on the floor to get some sleep.

We woke to a calm and gentle sea with overcast skies. We had some breakfast, then fished some more. I don’t remember who first noticed, but at some stage my friend and I realised that we could no longer see land—an unbroken horizon stretched a full 360º around us. We suddenly felt infinitely small, hauntingly alone, and dangerously exposed.

Our anchor had lifted. We were drifting. We had not noticed.

Drifting at sea has immediate dangers, but drifting from the gospel has eternal dangers—and it is this drift we need to address today.

Gospel Definition

Yet before we address the main topic, we need to pause and define a key term; without doing so may lead some of you to completely misunderstand the point of this article.

The title of this post is, Resisting Gospel Drift, which means that it must be possible to drift away from the gospel, which is the very fact that I believe our passage from Hebrews is warning us of, and showing us how to resist.

So it is of vital importance we understand the term gospel, for it is the gospel that we are in danger of drifting from.

Biblically, there are two ways of approaching the term ‘gospel’: 

One, is what I like to call the substance of the gospel—which is a way of explaining the content of the gospel message. So if I were to ask you to spend 5 minutes brainstorming the essential elements of the gospel message that should be included as you present to someone in order that they may come to know Christ and his salvation—you would be compiling the substance of the gospel. This is the message you heard when you received the gospel, repented of sin, placed your faith in Christ, and were transferred from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of light.

The second, is what I like to call the essence of the gospel—which is a way of explaining the ongoing effect of the gospel as it’s truths shape our life of faith and we are transformed (what the Bible calls sanctification) into the likeness of Christ. So if I were to ask you to again spend 5 minutes brainstorming the essential elements of God’s dealing with mankind, of who we are in light of what God has done, and how we should think of ourselves in light of our sin and the holiness of God—you would be compiling the essence of the gospel.

Neither of these ways of thinking about the gospel exists in isolation—the integrity of one will always impact the other. Yet often, the Bible will have one of these ideas more in mind than the other when it speaks of the gospel.

So repeatedly though books like Acts, and other narratives of the Bible, you read about those who went out ‘with the gospel, proclaiming the good news everywhere they went’. Or, specific examples of people proclaiming the gospel, like Peter with Cornelius, or Paul on Mars Hill in Athens—this is primarily presenting the substance of the gospel.

Sometimes the two ideas are presented in unison, like when Paul reminds the Thessalonian church of his ministry, he says:

1 Thessalonians 1:4–8 (ESV) — 4 For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you, 5 because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction. You know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake. 6 And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit, 7 so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia. 8 For not only has the word of the Lord sounded forth from you in Macedonia and Achaia, but your faith in God has gone forth everywhere, so that we need not say anything.

Yet on other occasions, it is primarily the essence of the gospel the Biblical writers had in mind. Take for example the later to the Galatians where Paul states:

Galatians 1:6–9 (ESV) — 6 I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— 7 not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. 8 But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. 9 As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.

Remember, Paul is writing this letter to Christians. He is absolutely astonished that they would desert God and his grace and turn to a different gospel. Paul’s concern here is that the Galatians were abandoning the essence of the gospel, and the entire remainder of the letter is singular in it’s focus—remember the gospel we brought to you, know the gospel we brought to you, live out the gospel we brought to you. 

Paul wrote Galatians because they had drifted from the gospel.

Christians today are drifting from the gospel.

The currents of this age are swirling around every single person and we are all at risk of drifting from the gospel.

So how should we resist gospel drift?

Setting Your Anchor In Christ

At first read, you can easily miss the point of Hebrews 1:1—2:4 by getting caught up with what God says about angels and who they are and what they do—I’ve heard sermons on angels that preach from this passage, which completely miss the point the writer is trying to make. He’s not interested in angels, he doesn’t want you to be interested in angels—he wants you to see Christ! To see him in all his majesty and might. If you read this and go away thinking, “Oh, that bit about angels has me so intrigued”, read it again, read it over and over until God fills your heart with a vision of Jesus that leaves you breathless—breathless but immovably secure in your position in him.

So let me give you the point of this entire passage, and then I’ll show you from Scripture how you can be absolutely assured that this is so.

Pay careful attention to God’s truth, as revealed in Christ, as this will save you from drifting from the gospel.

Pay Attention

The main point of this entire passage is found here:

Hebrews 2:1 (ESV) — 1 Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it.

This is the most significant command in the entire text, everything else is information, but this is what you must do!

In this one verse we have stated an action, “…we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard…” (we’re going to explore what this means in a moment), and also an implication or warning about what will happen if we don’t do what we’ve been commanded to do, “…lest we drift away from it.”

Everything else we read exists for this purpose. In fact, everything in chapter one is designed to set you up for this single verse, and everything from 2:2-4 is designed to summarise chapter one and then extend our confidence. I want you to hold onto this truth, we’re going to use it as a marker as we circle back around the two great supporting arguments the writer uses, and then we’ll finish off back here again at the end.

Argument One—God Has Spoken

All of chapter one hinges on the introduction in the opening verses, and then unfolds to us a grand vision of the absolute supremacy and value of Jesus Christ.

Hebrews 1:1–2 (ESV) — 1 Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, 2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son…

Right from the outset, the writer draws our attention to the fact that our God is a God who has revealed himself to us by speaking to us—it used to be through the prophets, but now, it is through his son, Jesus.

So immediately, if you’ve been holding onto our key truth, you should be linking the language—“God speaks” and “pay attention to what we have heard”.

Your God is a God who has spoken into your life, and he has spoken in a particular way. God has always been about the business of revealing himself to his creation, but in these last days, the way God reveals himself to us—so that we might know who he is and what he’s like—he has spoken to us by his son, by Jesus.

So add that now to our understanding of our main point. When we ‘pay attention to what we have heard’, the writer wants us to understand, ‘pay attention to Jesus!’

The Supremacy of Jesus

Hebrews 1:2–4 (ESV) — 2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. 3 He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, 4 having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.

For sake of time, let’s just list out what we see here about the supremacy of Jesus.

  • He is the appointed heir of all things—meaning, ‘Jesus owns everything!’ When it comes to the matter of legal ownership of all of creation, there is no contester, Jesus owns it all.
  • He is the one who created all things—meaning, ‘Jesus made everything!’ When it comes to power, Jesus is unrivalled. God speaks through Jesus and entire universes spring into existence, and more importantly, dead men come to life and are made into new creations.
  • He is the radiating glory of God—meaning, ‘Jesus is the way I can safely experience God’s all-consuming glory’. A way to understand this is to consider the sun whose surface temperature is calculated to be about 5,600ºC. I don’t have to try and touch it’s surface to prove it’s temperature—it wouldn’t be safe—but I can safely experience it warmth by stepping outside and feeling it’s radiance. That’s what Jesus is like, he radiates the glory of God so that we may safely experience who God is in all his splendour.
  • He is the exact imprint of God’s nature—meaning, well, let’s use Jesus’ own words for this from John 14:9, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.” Do you want to know what God is like? Look at Jesus!
  • He upholds the universe—meaning, not only did God speak the world into existence through Jesus, but the power of his Word also sustains this universe. If God stops speaking, everything fails!
  • He has made purification for sins—notice that is written in the past tense. It is already done.
  • He sits now in a position of absolute authority
  • His position and name is greater than anyone else in heaven

The Unrivalled Worth of Jesus

Look at what God says about the angels:

Hebrews 1:5–7 (ESV) — 5 For to which of the angels did God ever say, “You are my Son, today I have begotten you”? Or again, “I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son”? 6 And again, when he brings the firstborn into the world, he says, “Let all God’s angels worship him.” 7 Of the angels he says, “He makes his angels winds, and his ministers a flame of fire.”

But look at what God says about Jesus:

Hebrews 1:8–14 (ESV) — 8 But of the Son he says, “Your throne, O God, is forever and ever, the scepter of uprightness is the scepter of your kingdom. 9 You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness; therefore God, your God, has anointed you with the oil of gladness beyond your companions.” 10 And, “You, Lord, laid the foundation of the earth in the beginning, and the heavens are the work of your hands; 11 they will perish, but you remain; they will all wear out like a garment, 12 like a robe you will roll them up, like a garment they will be changed. But you are the same, and your years will have no end.” 13 And to which of the angels has he ever said, “Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet”? 14 Are they not all ministering spirits sent out to serve for the sake of those who are to inherit salvation?

So argument one works like this:

God has spoken, and he has spoken through the supreme, unrivalled, Jesus!

And this is the anchor of our soul.

This is what the writer says we need to pay much closer attention to—or more accurately, this is who we need to pay much closer attention to!

Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it.

Argument Two—God Has Spoken Of Salvation

Hebrews 2:1–4 (ESV) — 1 Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it. 2 For since the message declared by angels proved to be reliable, and every transgression or disobedience received a just retribution, 3 how shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation? It was declared at first by the Lord, and it was attested to us by those who heard, 4 while God also bore witness by signs and wonders and various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will.

There are two parts to understanding how this argument contributes to our main point:

  1. The angels, as inferior as they are to Christ, still delivered a reliable message that carried judgement if it was ignored. So how much more significant should we consider the message of salvation that comes through Christ? And how great do we consider the consequences will be for ignoring it? (Heb 2:2-3a)
  2. As if the writer needed to do anything more to establish Christ’s sole claim on the essense of this gospel, he now reminds us of how the gospel of salvation came to us in it’s substance (Heb 2:3b-4)
  • It was delivered by the Lord himself
  • It was verified by witness
  • God also bore witness to it by wonders and sign, as well as by the gift of the Holy Spirit—who Paul says in 1 Cor 1:22 is given as a guarantee of our inheritance.

When God speaks, he speaks through Christ, and he speaks of our salvation.

Setting Your Anchor In Christ

Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it.

The truth of God, as revealed in Christ, is the anchor of our souls!

If you ignore Christ, expect to drift.

If you think you can just paddle around on the edges of Christ, expect to drift.

I want you to feel the full weight of the force of this command: “Therefore (or, because of the supremacy and unparalleled worth of Jesus as the means by which God has spoken salvation into our lives), we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard!

If we do not. If we continue to make Jesus a hobby, or simply a friend to turn to in dark times, or only an advisor when I’m unsure which way to turn—we will drift from the gospel. We will be left without an anchor in the currents of this age. And all that will fill our vision will be an empty horizon. We will feel infinitely small, hauntingly alone, and dangerously exposed.

Remember our main point:

Pay careful attention to God’s truth, as revealed in Christ, as this will save you from drifting from the gospel.

I urge you, I beg you—resist gospel drift by setting your anchor in the supreme, unrivalled person of Jesus Christ, God’s gospel of salvation to the world.