No “root of bitterness” (Hebrews 12:15) - by Dan Stephenson The book of Hebrews is a deep well. It is full of both warnings and words of encouragement. Many of its themes and thoughts are links to Old Testament events and people. One of the phrases in Hebrews that has always puzzled me is the “root of bitterness” in Hebrews 12:15. We are cautioned not to “fall short of the grace of God, lest any root of bitterness springing up cause trouble” (NKJV). I wondered what the connection was between grace and bitterness, and what kind of trouble that could get me in. The key to unlocking this puzzle came when I realized that the writer is quoting (of course) from the Old Testament. Deuteronomy 29:18, to be specific. Moses is in the desert, leading the people of Israel to the edge of the promised land. He lays before them the blessing of obedience and the curse of disobedience. He reminds them of their story: They lived as slaves in the land of Egypt. They saw first-hand the idols, the false gods of wood and stone, silver and gold. He warns them that when they enter the land of Canaan, they will again be immersed in a culture of idols and idolatrous practices. And he warns them not to let their guard down. “Those who hear the warnings of this curse should not congratulate themselves, thinking, ‘I am safe, even though I am following the desires of my own stubborn heart.’ This would lead to utter ruin!” (Deuteronomy 29:19, NLT). So, what does that have to do with us today? First of all, it’s not about being bitter about anything that I have experienced. The Deuteronomy passage is about a bad root, one that should have been pulled up, but has been left in place, and now it is bearing bitter, poisonous fruit. In our day and age, those old idols of wood and stone, gold and silver are not really a big problem. But there are other idols. Anything in my life with a priority higher than God is basically an idol. Any time I know what God wants me to do, but decide to go my own way instead, is watering that root so it can bear its bitter fruit. Am I really “safe, even though I am following the desires of my own stubborn heart”? After all, it looks like fun. What’s the harm? No. Don’t fall for that lie. I know it sounds like legalism. But it’s really not. If our faith is in Christ, we will not fall away. Even the “scary” book of Hebrews is clear on that. But if we follow our own desires, we will certainly experience the corrective discipline that Hebrews 12 talks about. But let’s resolve to follow the Lord, knowing that his way is best.
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