Upon hearing that sin leads to God's wrath and curse, the natural question that follows is, how can one escape these consequences? This is addressed by the significant question in the text, "How shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation?" We can interpret this in two ways: (1) There is no escape for sinners if they neglect this great salvation; they will perish without remedy. (2) Those who do not neglect it will certainly escape. Let us consider the following:
The danger sinners face due to their sin. They are at risk of perishing under God's wrath and curse, as this is the just recompense for every sin (Heb. 2:2). God's wrath will consume them, and his curse will bind them under it forever. The text implies that all are exposed to God's wrath and curse, as it says, "How shall we escape, etc.?"
The means by which they may escape: namely, by not neglecting but embracing the great salvation. The words suggest that (1) there is a possibility of escaping; sinners are not hopelessly trapped under the curse. (2) The way to escape is not by running from the Judge or avoiding the execution of his sentence. He is all-knowing and ever-present; no one can outsmart him or hide from his sight or reach. Nor is escape achieved by resistance, for he is all-powerful, and no one can defy him or stand against him. Instead, escape is possible by accepting the means of escape that he has provided and asks us to use. He has given us a salvation, a great one; that is, the gospel, which teaches the path to eternal salvation. He asks us not to neglect it but to use it for our escape. It is neglected through unbelief, impenitence, and not using the means prescribed. Conversely, he asks for our faith and repentance, which form the essence of the gospel (Acts 20:21), "testifying to the Jews and also to the Greeks, repentance towards God, and faith towards our Lord Jesus Christ;" and he asks that we use the means by which the salvation offered in the gospel is attained (Prov. 8:34), "Blessed is the man who listens to me, watching daily at my gates, waiting at the posts of my doors." For those who do not believe, repent, or use the ordinary means of obtaining salvation certainly neglect and disregard the gospel.
The text presents the following doctrine: DOCTRINE: 'Whoever wishes to escape God's wrath and curse must not neglect, but embrace the great salvation,' or, 'To escape the wrath and curse of God due to us for sin, God requires from us faith in Jesus Christ, repentance unto life, and the diligent use of all the outward means through which Christ communicates to us the benefits of redemption.' To explain this, I will discuss:
I. The necessity of faith in Jesus Christ to escape God's wrath and curse. II. The necessity of repentance for the same purpose. III. Answer the question: Are faith and repentance within our power since God requires them of us? IV. Explain the connection between faith, repentance, and escaping the wrath and curse of God. V. The necessity of diligently using all the outward means through which Christ communicates the benefits of redemption. VI. Deduce an inference or two.
I. I will demonstrate the necessity of faith in Jesus Christ to escape the wrath and curse of God due to sin. It is absolutely essential; no one can escape God's wrath and curse without it. For,
There is no pleasing God without faith (Heb. 11:6). The reason is that God is only pleased with Jesus Christ and those who are in him or united to him (Matt. 17:5). If a person were to weep for their sins until their body had no moisture left, fast until their body became a skeleton, and vigilantly guard against sin, but lacked faith, they would still be lost; they could not please God and would remain under his displeasure forever.
Faith is the central duty of the gospel, through which one becomes a participant in the remedy provided, and without which neither your person nor your actions can be accepted. Faith is 'the work of God' (John 6:29) and 'the command of God' (1 John 3:23). Without faith, you will always be under condemnation (John 3:18). All your other duties will amount to nothing in God's eyes, no matter how much you multiply them, if faith is not at the forefront.
Faith is what brings one into the covenant of peace, unites them with Christ, and allows them to partake of all saving benefits. If you want to escape God's wrath, you must be within the covenant; you must believe, that is, consent to the marriage-covenant (John 6:35). There is no escaping wrath without being in Christ and united with him (Rom. 8:1). This union is achieved through faith (Eph. 3:17). We must be justified, which is by faith (Rom. 5:1), and sanctified, which is also by faith (Acts 15:9).
Salvation and damnation hinge upon this very point. The outcome is determined by Mark 16:16, "Whoever believes will be saved; but whoever does not believe will be damned." Unbelief will undoubtedly ruin you (Ps. 2:12), "Embrace the Son, lest he be angry, and you perish from the way when his wrath is kindled but a little." Unbelief is a rejection of Christ, and those who refuse the remedy for sin cannot escape (Luke 19:27), "But those enemies of mine who did not want me to be king over them—bring them here and kill them in front of me."
II. I will now discuss the necessity of repentance in order to escape the wrath and curse of God. No adult person can be saved without it. As for infants who pass away in their early years and others who are not capable of actual faith and repentance, insofar as the Spirit dwells in them, they possess the seed of those graces and will undoubtedly be saved.
- The word of God assures us that whoever does not repent will perish (Luke 13:5). Therefore, your souls are at stake. The sinner has strayed from God and fallen under the curse. Their soul is held as collateral, promising that they will return; if they do not return, the collateral is lost and lost forever.
- Heaven's door is closed to all unrepentant sinners; it is not wide enough to admit a sinner carrying a burden of unrepented guilt (Rev. 21:27), "Nothing impure will ever enter it, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful." Therefore, you cannot see heaven and cannot escape hell if you do not repent. The gospel calls you to repent; if you do not obey, see the consequences (2 Thess. 1:7-8), "The Lord Jesus will be revealed from heaven with his powerful angels in blazing fire, punishing those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ." The matter comes down to this: repent or perish (Ezek. 18:30-31), "Repent and turn from all your transgressions, so that your sins will not be your downfall. Cast away all your transgressions and create a new heart and a new spirit. Why will you die, O house of Israel?"
- Repentance is the other essential duty of the gospel, indicating that without repentance, there is no possibility of escaping God's wrath and curse. John the Baptist preached repentance, as did Christ himself and the apostles. How can anyone think they can escape without it?
- True faith always brings genuine repentance (Zech. 12:10), "I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and supplication. They will look on me, the one they have pierced, and they will mourn for him as one mourns for an only child and grieve bitterly for him as one grieves for a firstborn." Repentance is the great gift that Christ is exalted to give (Acts 5:31) as a Saviour. Unrepentant sinners have no share in Christ or his salvation (Matt. 1:21); therefore, they must perish.
III. I now address the question, "Are faith and repentance within a person's power, given that God requires them?" The answer is no. God's demands are the measure of our duty, but not of our strength, which does not extend to these. For,
Faith and repentance are gifts from God and the result of His special grace (Ephesians 1:19; Acts 5:31). When God's sovereign will does not grant or bring about these gifts, an individual remains under the influence of unbelief and impenitence. Thus, it is God's grace and goodwill, not human free will, that causes one person to differ from another. As Jesus said, "I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this is what you were pleased to do" (Matthew 11:25-26).
By nature, sinners are incapable of doing good and therefore cannot believe or repent (John 15:5; 2 Corinthians 3:5). Specifically, they cannot believe without the Father drawing them to Jesus (John 6:44) or repent without divine intervention (Jeremiah 13:23). They are dead in sin and need to be made alive in Christ Jesus for good works. They are enslaved to sin and Satan (2 Timothy 2:26) and cannot come to Christ or turn to God until God's effective grace leads them forward (Acts 26:18).
Objection: If this is the case, how can God require faith and repentance from us?
Answer: 1. God initially endowed humanity with the power to believe and repent, but we have lost it through our own fault (Ecclesiastes 7:29). If a debtor wastes their resources, the creditor still has the right to demand repayment. Similarly, even though humans have lost the ability to fulfil their obligations, God has not lost the right to require them.
- People often refuse to accept their own powerlessness. They make promises, resolutions, and delay believing and repenting as if these duties were within their control. They disregard the promptings of God's Spirit and squander the remnants of natural light and strength that survived the fall. In light of this, God is entirely justified in requiring faith and repentance from individuals, both to convince them of their powerlessness and to encourage them to seek His grace.
IV. I now demonstrate the connection between faith and repentance and escaping the wrath and curse of God that we deserve due to sin. Those who believe and repent will certainly escape. God has assured us of this in John 5:24, "Whoever hears my word and believes in the one who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; they have crossed over from death to life," and in Ezekiel 18:30, "Repent and turn from all your transgressions, so that they will not be your downfall." Indeed, they have already moved beyond it, as stated in Romans 8:1, "There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus." The moment a sinner comes to Christ, they are no longer subject to eternal wrath or the curse; they are no longer under the law but under grace. At most, they are liable to fatherly chastisements (Psalm 89:30-33). Thus, faith and repentance have the connection of appointed means prescribed by God Himself, which, with His blessing, serve the purpose of obtaining salvation. Faith is the hand that receives Christ and His righteousness as the totality of salvation (John 1:12), and repentance unto life involves godly sorrow for sin, arising from faith, which is the practice of all who care about the salvation of their souls (Jeremiah 50:4; 2 Corinthians 7:11).
V. I will now highlight the necessity of using all the outward means by which Christ imparts to His people the benefits of redemption.
God has unequivocally required this in Luke 13:24, "Make every effort to enter through the narrow door," meaning that we must strive within the appointed means of grace and salvation. Consequently, He has specifically instructed us to conscientiously perform each of them.
We have no reason to anticipate grace or salvation without using the means, as seen in Proverbs 8:34, "Blessed is the one who listens to me, watching daily at my doors, waiting at my doorway," and Proverbs 2:3-5, "Indeed, if you call out for insight and cry aloud for understanding, and if you look for it as for silver and search for it as for hidden treasure, then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God." Romans 10:17 states, "Faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word about Christ."
Neglecting the means signifies a disregard for the outcome. If we desire healing, we would wait by the pool. Otherwise, we are expressing that we do not care about being cured.
In this context, a diligent, rather than a careless or superficial, use of outward means is required. This includes embracing every opportunity that God's providence offers for attending to them, making the most of them, and earnestly seeking His blessing upon them, without which they will not contribute to our spiritual benefit (1 Corinthians 3:6-7).
Question: What is our ability in this regard? Answer: The use of outward means is within our reach. One can read, hear, pray, and consider their situation without possessing saving grace. Through these actions, one may reach the highest level of preparation for God's grace, experiencing legal convictions, fears, sorrows for sin, and natural (though not saving) desires for grace. Therefore, do what you can; perhaps while you are doing what you can, God will do for you what you cannot do for yourselves (Acts 8:22).
Question: Has God promised to save and convert those who do what is within their power in the use of means? Answer: We dare not say it. However, 1. It is possible. 2. It is probable.
I shall conclude with two inferences.
Inference 1: If you ever wish to escape God's wrath and curse due to us for sin, repent and believe. Come to Christ; turn from your sins to God. There is no safety otherwise, but in this way, you shall be secure. No sin of yours will ruin you if you believe and repent; and nothing will save you if you do not.
- Be diligent in the use of the means of salvation. They are presented to you, while, by the sovereign disposal of Providence, they are withheld from others. Do not neglect them, as you would not want to be found rejecting God's counsel against yourselves. And do not be satisfied with merely using them, but seek grace and salvation in them from Jesus Christ, as they are the appointed means of grace.