Hebrews 12:12-17

The John 3:16 Christian?

Again, we point out that Hebrews is a letter written to the Hebrews within the church. They believed in Jesus as their Messiah King, but they could not accept Him as their High Priest, so they desired to return to the temple and the sacrificial system. The Judaizes encouraged the Hebrew Christians to "go back", and they urged the Gentile Christians to convert to Judaism, and take part in the Levitical priesthood that was continuing in the temple.

The book of Hebrews, as well as all of the New Testament, tells the readers that to go back going to the old Levitical priesthood and that sacrificial system for their mediation between God and man was apostasy, and worthy of the most terrible wrath of God. Nine times in the New Testament, He is identified as a consuming fire against apostasy.

We certainly live in an age of great apostasy where "Christians" have sought to add many things to "grace alone through Christ alone and through faith alone" for their hope of heaven.

In this section deals with Esau, we are shown that a "John 3:16" Christianity is not Biblical Christianity. Nowhere in Scripture are we told one is a Christian only on the basis of John 3:16. Note the context of v. 16, v. 3 Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.

Without going into great detail, Jesus Christ tells us that a dead man, those who are dead in trespasses and sin, cannot believe on Him. He must first be born again from above, and then he can believe on Jesus unto salvation.

One cannot be a Christian on his own terms, but only on God's terms. We are born again into newness and wholeness of life. Chapter 11 raises the question that if one claims to be a Christian based on John 3:16, or on Romans 10:13 and faces no chastisement unto maturity, then is he a son or a bastard?

Since the Lord has promised that he will not allow temptation above what his people can endure, we understand that the hatred of the world against his people brings glory to God, in that he uses that hatred to form Christ in them.

Surely the wrath of man shall praise thee: the remainder of wrath shalt thou restrain. (Ps 76:10)

This letter to the Hebrews was written to deal with their desire to return to the temple and its Levitical priesthood, and to convince them that to do so was wrong; it was sinful idolatry.

After the completed work of Christ and the veil of the temple was rent from top to bottom, any effort to worship or serve the Creator through the Levitical priesthood and sacrifice was and is idolatry. The priesthood passed away with the destruction of the temple in 70 A.D. But the effort to serve God according to one's opinion continues. Accordingly, any effort to add anything to "Christ alone" is idolatry.


Faith is the supernatural gift of God. Faith is God centered. Arminian teaching presents faith as man centered, and as the answer to man’s problems: “Believe in Jesus, and your troubles will be over”, "Believe in God", "Turn your life over to God", and many other false promises: "Say this prayer, and God will come rushing to your aid". Can there be salvation without "confessing with the mouth the Lord Jesus", and living that confession out daily? We know from the lives of the past saints, Paul's especially, that such offers without the "Lordship of Christ over the believer" contain no eternal hope.

As we have visited various churches, we have noticed that the vast majority of their hymns are man centered, particularly the “modern” songs. (In the past, we also sang man centered hymns and thought nothing about it, but now that we are aware, it seems that the vast majority of church songs are man centered.)

Paul’s troubles began at his conversion. The saint who have gone on before did not have a free ride to glory on flowery beds of ease; rather, they were persecuted and even killed for their faith in God and His Son.

How many have fallen away because following the Son brought down the wrath of the world upon them?

Saint Paul’s troubles began with his conversion, which has been the experience of millions since then. In a fallen world, the man of faith finds the world warring against him, as David said: “I am for peace, but when I speak they are for war.”

Ps 120:7 I am for peace. Properly, "I am peace"; desirous of peace, peaceful, forbearing, Р—Р in fact, peace itself.

But when I speak, they are for war. My kindest words appear to provoke them, and they are at daggers drawn at once. Nothing pleases them; if I am silent they count me morose, [brooding, ill tempered] and if I open my mouth they cavil and controvert. Let those who dwell with such pugilistic company console themselves with the remembrance that both David and David’s Lord endured the same trial. It is the lot of the saints to find foes even in their own households. Others besides David dwelt in the place of dragons. Others besides Daniel have been cast into a den of lions. Meanwhile, let those who are in quiet resting places and peaceful habitations be greatly grateful for such ease. "Deus nobis haec otia fecit": God has given us this tranquility. Be it ours never to inflict upon others that from which we have been screened ourselves. (Spurgeon)

Ver. 7. When l speak, they are for war. He spoke with all respect and kindness that could be; proposed methods of accommodation; spoke reason, spoke love; but they would not so much as hear him patiently; but cried out, To arms! To arms! so fierce and implacable were they, and so bent on mischief. Such were Christ’s enemies: for his love they were his adversaries; and for his good words and good works they stoned him; and if we meet with such enemies we must not think it strange, nor love peace the less for our seeking it in vain. "Be not overcome of evil," no, not of such evil as this; "but," even when thus tried, still try to "overcome evil with good". (MH)

Observe: No matter how kindly we may speak to the ungodly, words of truth are to them words of war. Thus, the Christian faces two problems.

First, this fallen world hates the believer because he is a Christian, and represents the sovereign Lord God of Heaven who will judge all men according to their works in the last day.

And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; (Gen 3:15)

The Lord himself said he would put enmity between the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent. That enmity can be traced throughout history, e.g., Cain against Able, Pharaoh against Joseph, Haman against God's people, and the modern-day hatred of the world against any kind of a Christian testimony, e.g., the sodomites’ war against Christianity. That enmity has been shown to us in chapter 11, and it will continue until the Lord God himself says, "That’s enough".

The wicked plotteth against the just, and gnasheth upon him with his teeth. 13 The Lord shall laugh at him: for he seeth that his day is coming.
(Ps 37:12, 13. See Ps 2)

Second, God chastens and disciplines the believer as a son. It is the bastard who lacks discipline. But the adopted son of God is being prepared for time and eternity. This is why the wicked prosper while the righteous are troubled, “plagued, and chastened every morning.” (Ps 73:14)

Vv. 12, 13. Knowing these things, we who are strong are to strengthen the weak. We are to strengthen those who are discouraged in their Christian work and walk. We are to make sure that our paths in that walk are straight and even, so we might prevent problems in the faith of the weak; we must not place a stumbling block in the path of the lame. The Christian's goal must be healing those who are weak and discouraged in the faith. (Heb 10:25)

V. 14 Follow peace with all men… If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men. (Rom 12:18)

First, if it be possible… Paul was at war with many men because he spoke and stood for God’s Truth. Clearly, no matter how "pure" a Christian life one may live, conflicts must arise if he lives and speaks the Truth. But the conflict must not originate from the His adopted sons.

Second, as much as life in you… Peace requires work and humility to preserve. Pride certainly gets in the way of humbling ourselves and making things right with our neighbors.

Third, with all men… It is our Christian duty to live peaceably with both the saved and unsaved, but especially with those who are fellow members of the household of faith.

I have found that many times there is more conflict and warfare in the household of faith then there is in secular households, such as the Masons. However, wherever sinful men gather, there will be power struggles.

Fourth, we must not stir up strife, but continually strive for peace as a peacemaker, appeasing anger and malice when possible. An argumentative spirit will certainly bring conflict.

A soft answer turneth away wrath: but grievous words stir up anger. (Prov 15:1)

How many times have we seen this truth in action in the face of the most hostile anger?

Fifth, we are not to begin or to originate a quarrel.

Surely the churning of milk bringeth forth butter, and the wringing of the nose bringeth forth blood: so the forcing of wrath bringeth forth strife. (Pro 30:33)

[S]o the forcing of wrath bringeth forth strife; irritating the passions
of men, and provoking them by scurrilous and reproachful words to wrath
and anger, produce contentions, feuds, and lawsuits, which are not soon
and easily ended; and therefore such a conduct should be carefully
avoided. The same word is used in the three clauses, and signifies
pressing, squeezing, forcing. (Gill)

So far as we are concerned, we are to seek peace. But then it does not always depend on us. Others may oppose and persecute us; they will hate religion, and may slander, revile, and otherwise injure us; or they may commence an assault on our persons or property. For their assaults we are not answerable; but we are answerable for our conduct towards them; and on no occasion are we to commence a warfare with them. It may not be possible to prevent their injuring and opposing us; but it is possible not to begin a contention with them; and when they have commenced a strife, to seek peace, and to evince a Christian spirit. This command doubtless extends to everything connected with strife; and means, that we are not to provoke them to controversy, or to prolong it when it is commenced. See #Ps 34:14 Mt 5:9,39-41 Heb 12:14. If all Christians would follow this command, if they would never provoke to controversy, if they would injure no man by slander or by unfair dealing, if they would compel none to prosecute them in law by want of punctuality in payment of debts or honesty in business, if they would do nothing to irritate, or to prolong a controversy when it is commenced, it would put an end to no small part of the strife that exists in the world. (Barnes. And the strife that exists in the church, I must add.)

Sadly, I have fund that far too many times the reprobate has more honesty, uprightness and integrity when it comes to finances than do those who claim to be His people.

In the late 1960s, I worked for a man who supplied used school buses to churches. He would tell me now churches expected him to give them the buses because he was a Christian, and the church was doing the Lord’s work. I do not think they made the same plea to their bank.

Sixth, we are absolutely forbidden to seek peace by compromising the word of God:

It may so fall out, that some men are of such froward and unpeaceable tempers, that it is impossible to live peaceably with them, or by them: or such conditions of peace may be offered as are not lawful for you to accept; it will not stand with the truth and glory of God, and with a good conscience, to agree with them. But, however, do your part, let there be no default in you why you should not live in peace with all men whatsoever. (Pool)

While conflict is at times necessary, normally we should follow peace with all men, and in relationship to God.

V. 14, Holiness; without which no man shall see the Lord. The authors are moving toward their reference to Esau, vv. 15-17.

We need to keep in mind the special circumstances of those to whom this letter is addressed. They were Hebrew Christians living among unbelieving Jews. The Judaizes worked to separate the Hebrews from their faith alone in Christ alone. They also did all they could to stir up hatred and turmoil among their fellow Jewish citizens against the Christians – they considered the Hebrew Christians apostates, who were warring against the faith of their fathers. They worked to poison the minds of their fellow-countrymen against the Gospel of Peace, and those who followed that gospel.

Being hated by their fellow countrymen for no reason made it difficult to live peaceably with them; it opened the door for hatred with bitterness of heart against their fellow countrymen, as Esau was bitter against his brother Jacob.

“Many be defiled…”

Your glorying is not good. Know ye not that a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump? (1 Cor 5:6, Gal 5:9)

From the very first days of both the Old and New Testament Church, there has been grave danger of the poisonous root of bitterness destroying individuals and the church.

V. 16. Esau! One single act has often the greatest power either for good or for evil. (JFB)

Then Jacob gave Esau bread and pottage of lentiles; and he did eat and drink, and rose up, and went his way: thus Esau despised his birthright. (Gen 25:34)

Despise: Scorn, contempt, vile and worthless.

He was controlled by his passions. He was pleased with the agreement, and he rose up and went his way. For a moment of fleshly pleasure, he sacrificed the blessings of God.

Esau was the elder son. Thus, he was the logical heir to the blessing or the promise, yet he threw his heir-ship away for a morsel of bread. The Hebrews of apostles’ day were the natural kinsmen of the Messiah. They, like Esau, were the natural and logical heir to the blessings of the blessing or promise of the Messiah. Yet when the Messiah presented Himself to them, they followed their passions, and wanted to return to the temple and its Levitical system. They despised the blessing that was theirs, which made their sin far more reprehensible than was Esau’s.

Esau or Edom became a plague to Israel. Even at the time of this letter, an Edomite ruled. Herod was an Edomite, and the Hebrews hated the house of Herod, the Herodians. (See Rulers of New Testament Times, by Charles Ludwig.)

This letter tells the Hebrews that the idea of returning to the temple and forsaking Jesus was the sin far greater sin than was Esau’s. Sin:

First, lest any man fail of the grace of God, or fall back from the grace of God. That is, become deficient of the grace needed to prevent bitterness from taking root.

Being confronted with the Grace of Christ Jesus, they wanted to turn from that Him back to the old priesthood. By virtue of their birth as Hebrews, they were the logical heirs. Their offense was that they turned their backs on Him. The offense of the Hebrew leaders who crucified Christ was a dreadful offense, and the Hebrews turning back from him was at least as dreadful.

Second their problem was apostasy, which permits a root of bitterness to grow.

Lest there should be among you man, or woman, or family, or tribe, whose heart turneth away this day from the LORD our God, to go and serve the gods of these nations; lest there should be among you a root that beareth gall and wormwood; (Deut 29:18)

The word here and in #De 32:32 rendered “gall,” is in #Ho 10:4 translated “hemlock.” It is the name of a plant of intense bitterness, and of quick growth; and is therefore repeatedly used in conjunction with “wormwood,” {compare #La 3:19 Am 6:12Р} to express figuratively the nature and effects of sin (compare the marginal references.). The herb is probably the poppy. Hence, the “water” (i.e. juice) “of gall” {#Jer 8:14; 23:15Р} would be opium.
This would explain its employment in the stupefying drink given to criminals at the time of execution, {compare #Ps 69:21 Mt 27:34Р} and the use of the word as synonymous with poison. {compare #De 32:33 Job 20:16Р}
Wormwood is the plant “absinthium.” It is used to denote metaphorically the distress and trouble which result from sin.
“The root that beareth gall and wormwood,” means in this place any person lurking among them who is tainted with apostasy. (Barnes)

Accordingly, the Hebrews are warned that apostasy from the true Mediator back to the Levitical priesthood is treason. Apostasy results in a bitterness that consumes the apostate, and defiles those around him.

Third, fornicator: In its Biblical usage, it includes blasphemy and rebellion. It is similar to profane, and so we are told: Lest any fornicator or profane person. That is, someone outside the faith; one who is not and will not governed by the faith. The profane person will not take God seriously enough to be ruled by Him. Esau’s spirit is found in a great many “religious” people in the church. We could call them "John 3:16" Christians; they have “believed in him” without submitting themselves to his absolute and total authority to rule their lives. I have not heard many disparaging words against "Lordship salvation", but is there any other kind? (I understand "Lordship salvation" as meaning He must be both Lord and Christ.)

Or profane person: ßeß???? imports one who had a bitter frame of spirit against the first table, one of an impure mind to God-ward, opposite to godliness, who neglects and spurns at holy things, rolling itself in its own pleasures, riches, honours, with a despising of God, his grace, and glory, #1Ti 1:9 4:7,16 2Ti 2:16. (Matthew Pool)

That is to say, he neglects the holy things as revealed in the law word of God in favor of personal pleasure, riches and honor. Esau did not want a God who ruled and controlled every aspect of life, but wanted a God who would supply his personal needs when he needed Him.

Afterward, when Esau wanted to inherit the blessing, and despite his tears of repentance, he could not. He had rejected his birthright, for which he was sorry, but he was not sorry for his rejection of God's authority over him: There is a difference.

7 And not by his coming only, but by the consolation wherewith he was comforted in you, when he told us your earnest desire, your mourning, your fervent mind toward me; so that I rejoiced the more. 8 For though I made you sorry with a letter, I do not repent, though I did repent: for I perceive that the same epistle hath made you sorry, though it were but for a season. 9 Now I rejoice, not that ye were made sorry, but that ye sorrowed to repentance: for ye were made sorry after a godly manner, that ye might receive damage by us in nothing. 10 For godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation not to be repented of: but the sorrow of the world worketh death. (2Cor 7)

Hebrews comes down hard on "John 3:16" Christianity, as does the whole of Scripture. Esau could have repented of his sin of following self over God, and God would have forgiven him, but the damage could not be undone. But rather than repentance, he sought to nullify what he had done.

God does not repeal our past history. We cannot nullify the past, but we can find forgiveness. How many times did King Saul admit his wrong, yet refused to change? He was unwilling to accept God's choosing of David to replace him, yet Jonathan fully accepted God's will concerning David.

The book of Hebrews was carefully written to make a strong appeal to fellow Hebrews to reconsider their desire to apostatize back to the temple and its Levitical priesthood. It was a plea for the Hebrews to become faithful believers in the only mediator between God and man, “the man Christ Jesus.” Will they be an Esau or a Christian?

Many have made a profession based on solely on John 3:16, and many more hope in the only verse they know, “God is Love.” But He must be much more: He is one to be feared and honoured as both Lord and Christ -- 9 times we are told that our God is a consuming fire.

Esau wanted the carnal benefits of the blessings without the spiritual responsibility placed upon the one who had the blessing.

How do we see Christ: Lord and Master with the total authority to direct our lives from his law-word, or simply a “fire escape” from whom we seek carnal benefits?