In Part I of Sinners and the Struggle against Sin – Taking Insult away from Injury, I highlight a connection between enduring hostility from sinners, as Jesus did on the cross, and our own struggle to resist sin, looking at Hebrews 12:3-4:
“Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.”
We might think of our struggle against sin as a completely internal affair. Hebrews 12:3-4 suggests that there is an external component to it. The hostility we endure from sinners is part of our own struggle against sin. It isn’t hard to see why: the hostility from sinners triggers a guttural, visceral pride response in us, and pride is the root of all sin.
Think of any time you were slighted and how you responded to it. This is what the hostility of sinners triggers within us. We want to fight back. We want to return insult for insult. We want to defend our honor. We want vindication. We might even want vengeance.
In this passage, though, we are exhorted to look to Jesus who resisted sin to the point of actually shedding his own blood. We are reminded by the that we have not yet resisted to the point of shutting our own blood. It isn’t resisting sinners, but resistong sin, that is the key point here.
We might be tempted to think that these words were meant for comfort to a 1st Century church that was suffering the persecutions of the hostile society in which they lived, and that would be true, but it is also meant for us. We don’t escape that easily. We don’t suffer the kind of persecution that believers in the 1st Century had to endure, but these verses have application for us nonetheless.
The next verses give us some clues. The writer goes on to urge us not to “regard lightly the discipline of the Lord… for the Lord disciplines the one he loves”. (Hebrews 12:5-6) Clearly, there is some discipline from God in the experience of the hostility from sinners that we are urged to consider. There is some purpose of God that is fulfilled in our endurance of hostility from sinners and that is related to our struggle to resist sin within ourselves.
I am reminded of The Sermon on the Mount where Jesus exhorts the crowd:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.” (Matthew 5:38-42)
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says, do not resist the sinner who is showing hostility toward you; whereas, the writer of Hebrews urges us to endure the hostility of sinners because, in doing so, we are resisting sin. But we are not just to endure the sinner and resist the sin.
More than resisting the urge to respond to the hostility from sinners, we are to love them. We are to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. (Matthew 5:44) And, in doing this, we are resisting sin within ourselves according to the writer of Hebrews.
It makes sense. God is love. Enduring the hostility of sinners is exactly what Jesus did. Jesus was the embodiment of God in the flesh. The examples in the Sermon on the Mount were perfectly illustrated in the life that Jesus lived, enduring the hostility of sinners to the point of dying on the cross. Following Jesus in the example of enduring hostility from sinners turns out to be critical in our own struggle against sin, according to Hebrews 12.
There is nothing like hostility from another person to stir up prideful sin within our own heart. God often uses other people to expose that prideful sin that lurks, sleeping in the shadows when everything is going well. At the first sound of insult, pride leaps to its feet, roaring within us, demanding it’s honor, ready to fight.
This is a sinful response. This is not how Jesus responded. Jesus turned the other cheek. The gentle answer turns away wrath, but even if it doesn’t we are to endure it. We are to love our neighbors; and more than that, we are to love our enemies. Vengeance is God’s. We should not even wish vengeance upon our neighbors, as that, as well, is a way of feeding that sinful, prideful nature within us that is so strong and so powerful.
We have not yet struggled against sin, resisting it to the point of shedding our own blood, but Jesus did. When Jesus was being mocked, he did not return insult for insult. He went like a lamb led to the slaughter. Yet Jesus was the one who rose victorious from the dead. He conquered sin. The victory was in not returning kind for kind. He absorbed the hostility from sinners without allowing that hostility to well up pride within his heart.
We can be very quick to feel insult and to respond in kind. Sometimes the insult is intended, but often it may not even be intended. Yet, we may still internalize the insult and stew on it. This is pride. This is sin within us.
Even if we endure intentional insults from sinners, we should resist the pride that swells up within us that demands recompense. This is sin. This is our struggle. This is what the writer of Hebrews tells us to resist. This is how we follow Jesus – to forgive as we have been forgiven, keep no record of wrongs, turn the other cheek, love as we are loved.
The writer of Hebrews says that this is God’s discipline for us, leading us in a different direction then the inertia of sin. If we resist, we rise above the sin and partake of Christ. This is the narrow path. This is the way to the kingdom of God. In this way, death is swallowed up in life. The flesh is crucified, and the spirit is freed from the sin that feeds on the flesh within us. This is God’s plan for us.