Like a good dark brew (of either coffee or beer), this portion of the book of Hebrews delivers the kind of “kick in the pants” that is always appreciated when the pressures and temptations of this life have got us feeling like compromise is the only option. If you are beginning to feel like the Christian life is too hard, or that the preservation of God’s people will (at times) require a little “letting off the gas”, now is the time to take a sip of the following dark-brewed truths:
1. Countless saints have run the Christian race w/faithful endurance until the end (1).
The overwhelming evidence (“so great cloud of witnesses”) proves we can do it (“run w/endurance the race”; Deu 30:11).
2. Jesus is the One Who establishes the standard/definition of faithful endurance expected of us (2-4).
We are to be continually “looking to Jesus” as the def.of faithfulness (which means no excuses until you are “shedding your blood”).
3. One of the biggest reasons we fail to faithfully endure is b/c we have the wrong perspective on trials (5-13).
Trials are incredibly vital to our Christian growth and salvation (We are “not sons” anymore if we continue to fail when they come).
4. Faithful endurance requires a church with the right focus.
What does God say the church should be most concerned w/? Where should she spend the majority of her time? What must be the essentials of her ministry? That is what is meant by “right focus”. And that is what the author of Hebrews reveals in this last section of verses (14-17). They represent God’s prescriptive focus for the church; those areas vital to faithful endurance in the Christian Faith; those areas (then) which must be the “majors” (versus the minors) in the pursuit, practice, preaching, promotion and prevention of the church, if her people are to (Verse 1), “run w/endurance the race set before” them. With that in mind (then) consider what the author reveals as the areas of focus: 4.1. The Pursuit Of Justice For All People (14a); 4.2. The Practice Of Careful Obedience To All Of God’s Laws (14b); 4.3. The Preaching Of The (G&M) Gospel (15); 4.4. The Promotion Of Sexual Purity (16a).
4.5. The Prevention Of Apostasy
(16b) “(See to it) that no one is…unholy like Esau, who sold his birthright for a single meal. For you know that afterwards, when he desired to inherit a blessing, he was rejected, for he found no chance to repent, though he sought it with tears.” = The author’s reference to Esau is in relation to two separate events. The first – the sale of Esau’s “birthright” to his brother Jacob for a bowl of stew, is recorded in (Gen 25:29-34). The second (i.e. the portion the author mentions as “afterwards”) takes place in (Gen 27:1-38) and refers to when Jacob tricked his father into believing that he was Esau (or the firstborn) and steals his inheritance. What however is important not to miss about these two events – at least as we find them recorded here, is the way the author connects them together. Notice again (from the verse), the latter is made the cause of the former. IOW: The reason (the author tells us) Esau “was rejected” and “found no chance to repent” was b/c of his previous “unholy” act of selling “his birthright for a single meal.” Though nothing in the original accounts ties them together in this way, this once more according to the author of Hebrews (under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit) is how we are to understand those two events. B/C Esau treated his birthright as such an “unholy thing” – as something no more valuable than the few minutes of pleasure he would receive in satisfying his hunger, (b/c of that), God saw to it that later, when it came time for Isaac to transfer the blessings associated w/that birthright (which was again, the blessing associated w/the firstborn male – they receive the king’s share of the family assets), Esau would (indeed) miss out. It would (instead) be given to the one that he had so frivolously sold it away to (i.e. his brother). An event Isaac (no doubt) knew nothing of – but God did, and saw to it that Esau reaped what he had sown. And as author of Hebrews states, that regardless of the incredible anguish or sorrow he felt and expressed the day it was all taken away. Nothing (then) was coming back to Esau, no restoration or recuperation of what was lost, not even the opportunity to do so. Why? B/C as the author again states, “he was rejected, for he found no chance to repent”. These two phrases (btw) also function in a causative way (w/the latter being the reason of the former). IOW: The reason Esau was “rejected” was b/c (or “for”) he “found no chance to repent”. According to the Bible, without repentance, there can be no forgiveness or even the thought of restoration (1Ki 8:44-49; Psa 7:11-13; Isa 1:27-28; Eze 18:30-32; Luk 3:8-9, 13:1-4). According (also) to Bible, repentance is a gift that God must grant (2Ti 2:26). Not (however) from the standpoint of ability (i.e. all people have the ability to repent, hence why we will all be held responsible for our actions), but rather acceptance. God must be willing to accept the repentance a person gives/demonstrates – otherwise it will not produce the end result of forgiveness or restoration. And such was the case w/Esau. God gave him “no chance” in this respect. As before, there was nothing Esau could do. What was done was done. There would be no acceptance of his repentance (though he did seek it and demonstrate it in complete emotional anguish). God had utterly “rejected” him. Going back (then) to the important connection the author makes between Esau’s former frivolity and its ensuing consequence, here is what we are meant to conclude: that there are certain crimes (or sin) from which there is no coming back, no chance to repent and make it right, no possibility of restoration. All inheritance that was at one time ours (by birth-right) is now gone w/no hope of ever getting it back. Not only are we no longer a part of the family, such expulsion is permanent. That is what the author of Hebrews is telling us through the example of Esau. Not in relation to physical loss (as was the case w/Esau), but spiritually. We can become spiritual Esau’s – those who are considered guilty of selling our spiritual birthright (in Christ). Those whose heavenly inheritance has been forfeited w/no chance of ever seeing it again. We can go from being God’s children (in a saving relationship w/Him), to the very opposite and even worse – not His children w/no salvation ever to be offered to us again. We (too) can be rejected and receive no chance to repent. And that regardless of whether we (also) attempt to seek it (or shed many tears). That (once more) is the author’s point and what (therefore) he expects to be the focus of a church that is attempting to keep their people on the path of faithful endurance. They wb a church who “sees to it” that “no one” goes down that path. They will (iow) commit as part of their focus, to hold people back from this perilous state known historically as “apostate” through teaching, pleading and warning them on a regular basis. To do that (however) requires:
4.5.1. A right understanding of what makes a person apostate.
The word apostasy comes from the Greek word (avpostasi,a) which means “abandonment of obedience”. (And) the kind of rebellious abandonment it refers to, is in re: to God’s OT Law (Act 21:21). As such, any Christian who refuses to obey what God has said in His Word -including what is found in His OT Law (i.e. is unrepentant) – or (like the accusation against Paul), decides to believe that such laws no longer are authoritative is apostate. This understanding of apostasy is supported (and reinforced) wherever this particular doctrine is taught in the Bible (Deu 29:18-20; 2Pe 2:20-22; Heb 10:19-30, 12:16 = by viewing what Esua did in selling his birthright as “unholy”, the author is telling us that God saw this as an act of unrepentant disobedience against His Law since – as discussed in verse 14, holiness means careful and faithful obedience to God’s Law). In addition, apostasy includes unrepentance in re: to the ruling of the church since they are Christ’s authority on earth and the voice for God’s Word – i.e. the voice of the HS (Num 15:30 w/Deu 17:12 w/Mat 18:17 w/Act 15:28 and Joh 20:22 w/Mat 12:22-32; The church or covenant community’s authority is also what is being referred to Heb 6:6 when it speaks of those who have “fallen away” since this is not only where they have fallen from, but also where they were disciple in right doctrine and received the gifts mentioned in the previous verses, 1-5.). Contrary to popular opinion then, apostasy does not simply refer to those who decide to no longer “believe in God” or want to be Christians or saved by the blood of Jesus. In this respect, consider again Esau. He still believed/wanted to be saved as demonstrated by his repentance.
4.5.2. The reality of apostasy among real Christians.
The prevailing view w/in the Reformed camp is that apostasy can only happen to those who were never genuine believers in this first place. The warning passages therefore exist only to “scare” true Christians in the right direction. This view however fails to honestly consider the immense biblical evidence to the contrary -including what we find in the book of Hebrews (Heb 12:5 = Those he is now warning are considered “sons” of God; Heb 6:4-6 = These verses speak of things which could only be true of someone who was at one time a genuine believer – e.g. “shared in the Holy Spirit”, “restore them again to repentance”, “crucifying once again the Son of God”. The same could be said about the things mentioned in Heb 10:29-30 – “profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified”, “The Lord will judge His people.” This is equally true for apostasy under the OC. It pertained to those in covenant relationship w/God not those who never were – Deu 29:20 – “blot his name out” referring to the Book of the Covenant. You cannot be taken out of what you were never in. See also 2Pe 2:20 – “escaped the defilements of the world through the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” = 1:3-4 makes it clear that what Peter is referring to in 2:20 is indeed salvation). Additionally, believing that apostasy cannot happen to real/true Christians and (and as a result) explaining such verses as nothing more than a scare tactic to keep real/true Christians on the straight and narrow creates a moral dilemma as it relates to the person of God – since if that were true, God would be guilty of lying to people (e.g. parent telling their kid there is a monster under their bed which will eat them if they get out of bed). Not only that but if this were true, then how effectual could it really be (since we know God doesn’t really mean it)? Denial of the reality of apostasy for real Christians can (in most cases) be chalked up to poor thinking and a failure to deal with a person’s cognitive dissonance. Once again, these individuals represent the vast minority when it comes to church history.
4.5.3. The diagnosis of apostasy can be made by the church.
Jesus makes it clear that the keys (or authority) of the kingdom is for the purpose of judgment – most specifically as it relates to the issue of who can be brought into the kingdom as well as who must be put out (Mat 16:18-19, 18:18-20; Joh 20:22-23). That being said, there are those who claim no such diagnosis can be made since it is impossible to know the heart of another person. The problem w/this kind of thinking is three-fold: 1) The heart is every person is known by their deeds – hence why even the final judgment wb according to our deeds. IOW: we are what we do (versus we are what we feel – Mat 7:16; Pro 20:11), 2) If indeed judgments like apostasy are impossible (i.e. those re: to “binding”), then so are those re: to “loosing”. Why only one side and not the other – since the criteria is the same (i.e. declared submission to Christ as Lord so that we may have Him as Savior)? In both cases, however, the answer is much easier given the fact that God honors what the church decides (see again Mat 16:19 and 18:18 – “whatever you bind/loose on earth…shall be bound/loosed in heaven” = Heaven’s decision follows that of the church. And is in full support – Mat 18:19-20 – “if two of you agree on anything they ask, it will be done by My Father in heaven…for there I am w/ you” – i.e. The Father and I support you!), 3) If (once more) the church has no ability to diagnose individuals as apostate, then it is ultimately God (not the church) Who is guilty of abuse. Why? B/C He has granted authority/power to people who do not have the ability to rightly wield it.
4.5.4. That preventing of apostasy is as much about putting out the apostate as it is pleading w/people about it
Going back to the previous point, most churches will not tread on this ground. The only time (then) someone is declared apostate, is after a person has already made that decision for themselves (i.e. they decide they no longer want to be a Christian and so the church then views them as apostate). Not only does such an approach deny the authority of the church (i.e. that they are ones holding the keys of kingdom/salvation – not individuals), but also neglects one of the most important tools given to the church in order to keep her healthy. IOW: Others faithfully enduring and remaining strong in their faith is absolutely dependent on the removal of those who have become apostate (see again Deu 29:18, 19 – “Beware lest there be among you a root bearing poisonous and bitter fruit…This will lead to the sweeping away of the moist and dry alike”; Heb 12:15 – “See to it that…no root of bitterness springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled” = Those who are apostate will destroy the faith and faithfulness of those who are not if they are allowed to remain; see also 1Ti 1:18-20 w/2Ti 2:16-18; Rom 16:17-18). Tragically (and ironically) then, those churches that rarely (if ever) declare anyone apostate all also those filled w/apostate people (their gangrene has spread). Preventing apostasy therefore requires more than simply talking about it (or pleading w/others not to go down that path). It means also declaring and removing those who have (so that others are not infected). The examples from the majority of church history are (once more) helpful in this regard. Both excommunication and declaration of apostasy were regular practice.
4.6. Closing takeaways: 4.6.1. The difference between what God’s Word (spec. the book of Hebrews) tells us the focus of our churches must be and what most churches practice today is so great that it would seem as though the comparison is between two different religions. Only one can be true and saving. It sb obvious which one is (and which one isn’t).; 4.6.2. Our election to salvation can be lost (e.g. 1Th 1:4 w/3:5).; 4.6.3. Being like apostate Esau only requires that you continue acting before you think (i.e. that you let strong temptation to brief pleasure be an automatic disconnect to the brain).; 4.6.4. Final means “never-again, forever”.
 Saying that Esau “sought it w/ tears” may be too mild given the Genesis record. According to 29:34, Esau “cried out with an exceedingly great and bitter cry and said to his father, ‘Bless me also, O my father!’”. And in verse 38, after learning that Isaac’s blessing of Jacob w/the firstborn’s inheritance would not be corrected, “Esau lifted up his voice and wept”. Total emotional devastation is what is in focus. So much so that Esau (we are told in 27:41) initially plans to kill his brother after his father’s death as the means to consoling his own pain.
 At this juncture, it is important to emphasize that a person cannot be apostate unless they were Christians. This means that those who were baptized into believing an anti-Law/antinomian gospel cannot be apostate since they are not genuinely saved or Christian. This would include many within Evangelical Christianity, all of Lutheranism and those who embrace the theology of Dispensationalism.
 That an individual can also be guilty of apostasy by refusing to obey/forsaking the church should come as no surprise given the fact that it was to her that Christ gave the authority to interpret and enforce God’s Law (as again, the voice for His Word/of the HS). Though not commonly held today, this has been the majority view w/in Christianity for the last 1800 years since her inception.
 Cognitive dissonance refers to the mental/emotional discomfort that occurs when a person is confronted with new information that contradicts existing beliefs, ideals, and values. The unfortunate result of such discomfort is that many people view it as the trustworthy sign that the new information should be discarded rather than indication that their existing views may be the ones that are wrong (and need to change). This is especially true when dealing w/a person’s religious beliefs. It could be argued that many who rejected Jesus did so for this very reason (Luk 2:34-35).