No Root of Bitterness

See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no ‘root of bitterness’ springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled” (Heb. 12:15).

- Hebrews 12:15

Again and again, the author of the epistle to the Hebrews makes it clear that those who live after the first coming of Christ are much better off than those who lived before Him. Those who live after the first coming of Christ, unlike those who lived before Him, live in the day when God has begun to bring His people to perfection (11:39–40).

However, we find that our perfection has not yet come in full. Though the promises of God are sure because of Jesus’ obedience, we find that we are still waiting for the full experience of glorification. We find that we still must wait for the new heavens and the new earth to arrive. The full experience of this prize is still to come, making the Christian life a race that must be finished if we are to receive the reward (12:1–2).

In today’s passage, the author continues to tell us how we might strengthen ourselves in order to complete the race and receive the prize. In verse 15, we are told to make sure that no one fails to obtain the grace of God. That is, we must endeavor to do all that God has commanded so that we never fall away from our hope of salvation.

At first glance, this seems problematic because it seems to make the grace of God something that can be resisted, ignored, or lost. However, we know that it is impossible for the elect finally to resist or fall away from God’s grace (Rom. 8:29–30). John Calvin’s comments on this verse help to solve this apparent difficulty. He says that “if any one infers that the grace of God is not efficacious, except we of our own selves cooperate with it, the argument is frivolous. We know how great is the slothfulness of our flesh; it therefore wants continual incentives; but when the Lord stimulates us by warning and exhortation, he at the same time moves and stirs up our hearts, that his exhortations may not be in vain, or pass away without effect.”

When God warns His elect not to fall away, He empowers them to respond. When we heed such warnings and seek after God’s grace through worship, prayer, the sacraments, Bible study, and the like, we demonstrate the reality of our election and the surety of our salvation. Moreover, as we do these things, God’s grace stimulates us to live lives of gratitude and love, enabling us to avoid the “root of bitterness” that defiles and that can disqualify us from the race (Heb. 12:15).

Coram Deo

Take some time to examine your life, and ask yourself whether there is any bitterness in your heart toward God or toward others. If so, go before the Lord in prayer, and ask Him to heal you of such bitterness. Ask Him to help you live in gratitude toward Him and take steps to repair relationships injured by such bitterness.

Passages for Further Study

Deut. 29:18
2 Cor. 6:1
Eph. 4:31
Heb. 4:1; 10:31

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