“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?” (Hebrews 2:1-3, ESV).
The law that God delivered to man “proved to be reliable.” Yet this seems like a paradox. If this law was impossible for any person to keep, how could it be reliable? First of all, the law was never meant to be the means of our salvation; it was meant to show us our need for salvation. And the law reliably did that. Yet time after time Scripture reveals how miserably man failed to keep God’s law.
Note something else in this passage. Once again, the writer uses the word “great” to describe what Jesus has done. Christ has made the perfect covenant with the Father, one that works to secure “such a great salvation” (2:3). Talk about something reliable! Christ’s gift of salvation sets us free from the law of sin and death and is designed to work in our lives. Moreover, the New Covenant of grace is the power of God at work in our lives. It empowers us to follow His commands with His strength, not our own. “God also bore witness . . . by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will” (2:4).
With such a great gift of salvation, why would anyone neglect it? Here’s why: We are conditioned to respond to laws with works. Even in the realm of faith, we tend to fall back on works. We may give mental assent to being saved by grace, but deep down many of us still believe works are the way to secure God’s blessings.
Our minds are conditioned since childhood to fall back on law-keeping whenever we fail. There are basic rules in every household: Clean your room; help clear the dinner table. It’s a conditional arrangement based on rewards and punishment, and most parents use it to maintain their sanity.
This system may work well in family life, but not in Kingdom life. Yet, since most of us grew up this way, years later we continue to see life through this lens. Whenever we fail in anything, our reflex is to fall back on works.
Works can never achieve what only the cross could provide or add a single degree of holiness to our lives. Works that are truly holy are the result of God’s grace. They’re what we do in gratitude, joy and faithfulness because we’ve been provided “so great a salvation.”