“See to it that no one falls short of the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.” (Heb 12:15)
Here, the Greek word for ‘falls short of’ is ὑστερέω (hustereo), which basically means, “to be left behind in the race and so fail to reach the goal, fail to become a partaker, and fall back from.”
It means that we’re excluded from certain benefits because of our faults. In the view of salvation, it can mean to lose salvation. I think a key expression regarding our salvation is ‘to the end.’
We tend to think that we’re completely saved the moment we first believe in Jesus, but it’s not that simple. If it were, many authors in the Bible wouldn’t have had to urge their readers to keep their faith and try to live lives worthy of God.
Rather we find in the Scriptures many cases that warn us not to lose our faith. Paul said in Php 2:12,
“Therefore, my dear friends… continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling” (Php 2:12)
Why do we need to continue to work out our salvation? That’s simply because our salvation isn’t complete yet. As I said before, biblical salvation consists of three steps. The Bible uses past, present, and future tenses regarding our salvation.
Paul wrote in Rom 5:10, “While we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son” (Rm 5:10). This refers to our past salvation, namely, our justification. When we first believe in Jesus, we experience true forgiveness of sins and redemption. Our sins are washed white and we are ‘justified’ by Jesus’ precious blood.
That’s the starting point of our salvation. And I would say, that’s ‘only’ the start. Now, we’re on the track of faith heading toward the final goal. We have just started the race.
Paul also uses the future tense regarding salvation. He continued in Romans 5:10, “how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!” (Rom 5:10)
Paul says that there will come a time when we will be saved, which means that our salvation hasn’t been completed yet. There is a race we’re to run and there’s a fight we’re to fight with our faith. As the saying goes, “it ain’t over ‘til it’s over.”
So, until we pass the finish line and get to the goal, we should continue to diligently work on our salvation with fear and trembling. Otherwise, we’ll be left behind in the race and ultimately fail to reach the goal.
It’s still possible for us to fall short of the grace of God if we harden our hearts toward him and give up running the race of faith.
We see many examples in the Bible of people who started their journeys of faith but ultimately failed. Even though a lot of Israelites came out from Egypt, most of them died in the wilderness, and only a few of them entered the promised land.
Even though Saul was a humble king who followed God’s will, he ended up abandoning God. Even though Ananias and Sapphira sold a piece of property for the church, they ended up dying because they deceived the Holy Spirit by keeping some of the money that they said they had given.
These examples serve as a warning to us. It’s good to start your salvation by believing in Jesus. But that’s not the end. After that, we should run the race of faith until we finally enter the kingdom of God. Until then, we must continue to check our faith to see to it that we won’t fall short of the grace of God.
We should also see to it “that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many” (Heb 12:15)
Here, the expression ‘bitter root’ is a quote from Deuteronomy 29:18-19.
Moses said to the Israelites,
“Make sure there is no man or woman, clan or tribe among you today whose heart turns away from the Lord our God to go and worship the gods of those nations; make sure there is no root among you that produces such bitter poison.” (Dt 29:18)
Here, the bitter root is the root that produces poison. If we let the root grow in our hearts, it will produce bitter poison that will cause trouble and defile many.
Then, the question is, “What is this root that causes deadly, bitter fruit to sprout in the church?” The next verse in Deuteronomy 29 gives the answer.
“When such a person hears the words of this oath and they invoke a blessing on themselves, thinking, “I will be safe, even though I persist in going my own way,” they will bring disaster on the watered land as well as the dry.” (Dt 29:19)
This verse begins by defining the root. It refers to those who ignore God’s words of judgment and deceive themselves by invoking a blessing on themselves. Even though they have heard the message of judgment, they just bless themselves in their hearts, saying, “Everything will be fine, even though I keep doing things my way.”
So, the root that brings forth the bitter fruit refers to those who have a wrong view of eternal security. They feel secure even though they really aren’t. They think everything is okay, but in reality it’s not.
They misunderstand God’s word and his covenant. They simply think that they are safe no matter what, but the reality is that they are the closest to God’s judgment. As the next verse says,
“The Lord will never be willing to forgive them; his wrath and zeal will burn against them. All the curses written in this book will fall on them, and the Lord will blot out their names from under heaven.” (Dt 29:20)
This kind of presumption is what the book of Hebrews talks about repeatedly. There are Christians who think they are secure because of some past spiritual experiences or some religious works they do for the church.
The reason it’s hard for them to repent is that they don’t know the problem. They don’t feel insecure about their salvation although they should. They are satisfied with what they are doing now and think it is already enough no matter what the Bible says about working on salvation with fear, sacrifice, and discipleship.
And since they don’t feel insecure, they don’t feel the need to repent. That’s the bitter root Hebrews says that causes trouble and defiles many. That’s the bitter root that God wants to cut down and burn.
There are many cultural Christians. Their faith is not based on the living word of God, but on culture. They have their own standards of faith which are not in line with the Bible at all. They aren’t really interested in following Jesus, but still consider themselves Christians.
They think that as long as they at least do something, it’s enough, but I think it’s much better not to do anything at all if it gives us false comfort and confidence.
It reminds me of the golden calf the Israelites worshiped in the wilderness. When Moses went up to Mount Sinai to receive instructions from God, Exodus 32:1 says,
“The people saw that Moses was so long in coming down from the mountain, they gathered around Aaron and said, “Come, make us gods who will go before us. As for this fellow Moses who brought us up out of Egypt, we don’t know what has happened to him.” (Ex 32:1)
Then they gathered gold earrings and brought them to Aaron. He made it into an idol the shape of a calf. He said to the Israelites,
“These are your gods, Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.” (Ex 32:4)
Then they began to worship the golden calf the way they wanted. Verse 6 says,
“The people rose early and sacrificed burnt offerings and presented fellowship offerings. Afterward they sat down to eat and drink and got up to indulge in revelry.” (Ex 32:6)
The Israelites sinned by worshiping an idol. But they said the idol was their God who brought them up out of Egypt. They acted like they still worshiped the true God when they were actually ignoring Him and replacing Him with an idol.
I think many Christians worship God in this way. They are not interested in who God really is. They don’t care what it means to be a Christian. Their God is different from the God in the Bible. They seem to believe in Jesus but their lives have nothing to do with him.
So, let’s look back on our faith and worship. Do we really have the true faith that God wants us to have or do we have our own standards of faith that we’re satisfied with?
Hebrews tells us to “see to it that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many” (Heb 12:15). Moses said, “make sure there is no root among you that produces such bitter poison.” (Dt 29:18)
The purpose of the author writing the book of Hebrews is to rid Christians of such an incorrect presumption, and to cultivate earnest faith and holiness. So it keeps warning throughout the book that we must not neglect our great salvation but be alert and fight the fight of faith every single day so that we won’t become hardened or fall back from our faith.
We should make every effort not to fall short of the grace of God. And what separates us from His grace is our own standard of faith, our own gods we’ve made, and our own way of worship that gives us a false sense of security.
So if you think you have some false presumptions about your faith and salvation, please lay them down at Jesus’ feet so that our faith can be built upon the truth of Jesus Christ again.