3 things, according to O’Brien:
1. Passive dangers
Continually throughout the letter, there are signs that the recipients have developed ‘a certain weariness in pursuing the Christian goal, or making progress along the road of Christian discipleship’.
2. Active dangers
The author warns many times about the seriousness of rebellion and ‘falling away’.
3. External and Outward Pressures
People giving them a hard time for being Christians, bringing suffering through persecution.
[P.T.O’Brien, The Letter to the Hebrews. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2010: 9-13.] (citing Ellingworth)
Keller, in some sermons I have listned to, reckons the people who received Hebrews are those who are asking the question: if God is for us, committed to our God, and has redeemed us for all eternity, then why is it so hard living for him right now?
Reading to prepare this Sunday’s sermon on James 4:1-12, I came across this quote, which I think is equally true for Sydney-siders:
Why can’t anyone in the grip of greed see it? The counterfeit god of money uses powerful sociological and psychological dynamics. Everyone tends to live in a particular socioeconomic bracket. Once you are able to afford to live in a particular neighbourhood, send your children to its schools, and participate in its social life, you will find yourself surrounded by quite a number of people who have more money than you. You don’t compare yourself to the rest of the world, you compare yourself to those in your bracket. The human heart always wants to justify itself and this is one of the easiest ways. You say, “I don’t live as well as him or her or them. My means are modest compared to theirs.” You can reason and think that no matter how lavishly you are living. As a result, most Americans think of themselves as middle class, and only 2 percent call themselves “upper class.” But the rest of the world is not folled. When people visit here from otehr parts of the globe, they ae staggered to see the level of material comfort that the majority of Americans have come to view as a necessity.
Jesus warns people far more often about greed than about sex, yet almost no one thinks they are guilty of it. Therefore we should all begin with a working hypothesis that “this could easily be a problem for me.” If greed hides itself so deeply, no one should be confident that it is not a problem for them.
Tim Keller, Counterfeit Gods (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 2009), 52-53.
Ultimate reality is a community of persons who know and love one another. That is what the universe, God, history, and life is all about. If you favour money, power, and accomplishment over human relationships, you will dash yourself on the rocks of reality. When Jesus said you must lose yourself in service to find yourself (Mark 8:35), he was recounting what the Father, Son and Holy Spirit have been doing throughout eternity.
You will, then, never get a sense of self by standing still, as it were, and making everything revolve around your needs and interests. Unless you are willing to to experience the loss of options and the individiual limitation that comes from being in committed relationships, you will remain out of touch with your own nature and the nature of things.
Tim Keller, The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism, 216-217.
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Sin and evil are self-centredness and pride that lead to oppression against others, but there are two forms of this. One form is being very bad and breaking all the rules, and the other form is being very good and keeping all the rules and becoming self-righteous.
There are two ways to be your own Savior and Lord. The first is by saying, ‘I’m going to live the way I want.’ The second is described by Flannery O’Connor, who wrote about one of her characters, Hazel Motes, that “he knew the best way to avoid Jesus was to avoid sin.” If you are avoiding sin and living morally so that God will have to bless and save you, the ironically, you may be looking to Jesus as a teacher, model and helper but you are avoiding him as Savior. You are trusting in your own goodness rather than in Jesus for your standing with God. You are trying to save yourself by following Jesus.
That, ironically, is a rejection of the gospel of Jesus. It is a Christianized form of religion. It is possible to avoid Jesus as Savior as much by keeping all the biblical rules as by breaking them. Both religion (in which you build your identity on your moral achievements) and irreligion (in which you build your identity on some other secular pursuit or relationship) are, ultimately, spiritually identical courses to take. Both are “sin”.
Self-salvation through good works may produce a great deal of moral behaviour in your life, but inside you are filled with self-righteousness, cruelty and bigotry, and you are miserable. You are always comparing yourself to other people, and you are never sure you are being good enough. You cannot, therefore, deal with your hidesousness and self-absorption through the moral law, by trying to be a good person through an act of the will. You need a complete transformation of the very motives of your heart.
Tim Keller, The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism (New York: Penguin, 2008), 177.
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