There are several warning passages in the Book of Hebrews, among them are: Hebrews 2:1-3; 3:7-11; 4:1, 11; 6:4-8; 10:26-31, 38; 12:15, 25. How do you understand these warnings? Do they threaten a loss of salvation? Lost of rewards? Are they directed towards believers? Are they directed to unbelievers?
For the most part, I understand these passages to be directed toward a congregation of both believers and unbelievers. For the believers, we should allow them to exhort us as to a sense of urgency as it relates to our spiritual growth toward maturity. These passages mostly apply to those Jewish people who thought they were Christians, but were not true believers.
I think they make the most sense if you assume that the author’s audience was composed of both Christian Jews and Jewish unbelievers who had received a substantial amount of information and even experience regarding Jesus, yet they failed to commit to follow Him as Saviour; the audience would understand religious terminology, such as salvation, in a Jewish context.
Hebrews 2:1-3 warns the listeners to “give the more earnest heed to the things we have heard.” This could be truths about justification by faith and Jesus the true Messiah, as the author rightly claims, “how shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation.” In 3:12, it is written, “Beware, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God.”
To me, it seems that the writer is aware that it cannot be taken for granted that someone is saved just because they come to church or look like a Christian. I am reminded of Paul’s words to the church in Corinth, “Examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves.” The author of Hebrews apparently wanted to make doubly sure that any of his listeners were truly saved, so he addresses them as “brethren,” while simultaneously warning them about unbelief. In the past, when I have looked at Hebrews 6:4-8, I have recognized that, because of verse nine, this is written to believers, but it is written about unbelievers. Verse nine mentions “things that accompany salvation.”
Hebrews 10:26-29 is a difficult passage because “sanctified” (v29) seems to apply to those who may, because of willful sin, be subject to “fiery indignation” and judgement. Perhaps sanctified in this passage can be taken to mean that he could be sanctified, or should be sanctified. Hebrews 12:15 seems to be a warning to those who think they were believers but not true ones, as the text says “fall short of the grace of God.”
The application for us in the 21st century? Take heed and make sure that we are staying close to Jesus, that our faith is strong, and that we leave no doubt about our salvation.