Calvary Road Baptist Church

“A ROOT OF BITTERNESS”

Hebrews 12.15b 

Turn in your Bible to the letter to the Hebrews, chapter 12. Once there, please stand as we read Hebrews 12.14-17: 

14  Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord:

15  Looking diligently lest any man fail of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you, and thereby many be defiled;

16  Lest there be any fornicator, or profane person, as Esau, who for one morsel of meat sold his birthright.

17  For ye know how that afterward, when he would have inherited the blessing, he was rejected: for he found no place of repentance, though he sought it carefully with tears. 

I have commented about holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord, and once delivered a sermon on failing of the grace of God. But I’ve not preached a sermon on “any root of bitterness springing up trouble you, and thereby many be defiled” in a long while. “Holiness” in verse 14 refers to sanctification, that process of growth in grace and in the development of spiritual maturity that results in a believer being conformed to the image of Christ, as Paul declared must be so in Romans 8.29. If there is no conforming to the image of Christ going on in your life, Paul and the writer of Hebrews both show us, you are not really converted.

I have also preached about “watching diligently,” which is a pastoral function, and the phrase translates the verb form of the word we usually see in the Bible as “bishop” or as “overseer.” Why should there be a diligent watching? Because no Church is without unconverted members, who need to be watched. Because of unconverted members, from time to time in even the best of congregations, there will be some member who fails of the grace of God, who abandons the means of grace by dropping out of Church, or ignores the preaching, and fails to apply the sermon personally and pointedly to his own heart’s condition.

What can this failing of the grace of God lead to? Look at the phrase, in verse 15, “root of bitterness.” It is wrongly assumed most of the time that “root of bitterness” is a phrase that refers to a bad attitude, that if you were somehow offended, and you didn’t deal with that offense, you would become bitter in your heart and that bitterness would affect many people. I still believe that to be true, though that is not what this verse teaches.

This verse is not dealing with a particular attitude that someone might hold, but with a particular kind of person. The “root of bitterness,” literally refers to a source of bitterness, someone who is bad at the very root of himself, is a person! How do we know? As the writer of Hebrews commonly does, this verse is an allusion to an Old Testament passage, Deuteronomy 29.18-20. Please turn there so we can read it: 

18 Lest there should be among you man, or woman, or family, or tribe, whose heart turneth away this day from the LORD our God, to go and serve the gods of these nations; lest there should be among you a root that beareth gall and wormwood;

19 And it come to pass, when he heareth the words of this curse, that he bless himself in his heart, saying, I shall have peace, though I walk in the imagination of mine heart, to add drunkenness to thirst:

20 The LORD will not spare him, but then the anger of the LORD and his jealousy shall smoke against that man, and all the curses that are written in this book shall lie upon him, and the LORD shall blot out his name from under heaven. 

The person among them who is a root that beareth gall and wormwood, and this comes into the New Testament as “root of bitterness,” is a lost man or woman who has been traveling with converted people, but who turns away, provoking the anger of the LORD, Who will not spare him, but will blot out his name from under heaven.

Now turn back to Hebrews 12.15, so we can learn some things about this person in our midst, and what potential harm can be done by him or by her. Three things: 

First, THERE IS HIS DEFICIENCY 

It’s astonishing how the world portrays the Christian as someone who misses out on fun, who has to do without. But the reality is, it’s they who are deficient. Let’s see how this individual, this person who attends Church, is deficient, just like everyone else out there, missing something important in his life:

First, he is deficient in what he does. He fails of the grace of God. He stops doing something. He quits the means of grace. He stops attending Church. Or he stops pleading with God for mercy. Or he stops reading his Bible. Or he stops meditating on the condition of his soul. Up until the time, he stopped doing one or more of these things he had both an advantage and a disadvantage over other lost people. The advantage he had was his access to the means of grace. He sat under preaching that other lost people did not listen to. He prayed and read his Bible, while others did not. While he did this, he had a distinct advantage over others who were lost, in that he was placing himself within reach of the Gospel and the possibility of being converted. The disadvantage, of course, is that with the privileges he has he greatly expands his responsibilities. He has the far greater light of truth than do others who are lost, and will thus be judged far more harshly at the Great White Throne judgment than those who never used the means of grace, who never attended Church, who never prayed or read their Bibles. So, that man who has attended Church and then stopped, who has read his Bible and then stopped, who listened to sermons and then stopped, who pleaded for his soul and then gave up on being saved, is in a far worse situation before God than a naked cannibal on some remote island who has never heard the Gospel.

Why does this individual do this? Why is he deficient in what he does? Why does he fail of the grace of God at great risk to his soul? Because he is lost. Because he is unsaved. Because he is estranged from God and is God’s enemy. Because, being depraved, his mind and heart and soul, his perceptions and thoughts, are perverted and distorted and against God. This wretched fellow gets under conviction and then rejects the ministry of the Holy Spirit. Perhaps he starts thinking seriously about being saved and then recoils at the idea for some ridiculous reason or another. And he does this simply because he is lost. He is dead in trespasses and sins. He is by nature a child of wrath. And for him to do what comes naturally to do is to reject the Gospel and the various means of God’s grace. He’s just like every other unsaved person headed for Hell, except that the light he has been exposed to, the truths he has heard, the ministry of the Holy Spirit in his life that he has rejected, means his damnation is far greater than the average lost man on the street. Of course, this person will blame believers for his rejection of the Gospel. Of course, this individual will attribute his refusal of Jesus Christ to an unkind remark or gesture, or some despicable thing done by a sinning Christian. I do not deny the possibility of that happening. After all, we are sinners saved by grace. But the reality, don’t you see, is that as wrong as other people may be it is Jesus Christ and the Gospel that is rejected. And what of the accusations that are flung toward your brothers and sisters in Christ by the unsaved? First John 2.22 is very direct is showing who the categorical liars are that we deal with every day: 

“Who is a liar but he that denieth that Jesus is the Christ?” 

Next, THERE IS HIS DESCRIPTION 

First, we are given a description of this man’s nature. And it’s a terrible description when you think about it. “Root of bitterness.” What a startling commentary on a man’s nature. This type of person, who associated with the people of God, who may or may not have thought he was a child of God, is, in fact, bad to the bone. It’s one thing to be described as bitter, which to the Jewish people meant poisonous since almost all poisonous plants are bitter to the taste. But to be described by God’s Word as “root of bitterness?” This means you are bitter to the very core of your being, and your very essence as a human being is poisonous. Truly, is the lost man depraved. Verily, is the unconverted person who comes to Church in a very bad way if he isn’t get converted. His end is destruction.

After a description of his nature, we are told of his behavior. This is not the behavior that has yet been seen in the man. This is behavior that is to be watched for diligently, to be guarded against by the pastor, to be on guard for. When a lost guy or woman attends Church, whether the person thinks he is saved or not, he is usually held in check by strong preaching. He is usually kept at bay by the various means of grace. But when he abandons the means of grace, the potential for real trouble in a Church increases dramatically. 

“lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you.” 

This phrase “springing up” refers to a weed or poisonous plant that suddenly sprouts or bursts forth in the midst of a cultivated garden. So, this guy or gal cruises along quietly, and then as a result of failing of the grace of God, abandoning the means of grace, bursts forth in all his unsaved wickedness, sprouts in all her malevolent fury. The “root of bitterness” simply erupts in open sin in the midst of the congregation causing trouble. Sometimes the outbursts are in the form of screaming profanity in the auditorium before a service. At other times it is severe bad mouthing of members as a lost person’s lobs a verbal hand grenade. Who is at fault? Who is to be blamed? Who is in the wrong? My friends, it is always wrong to do wrong, and it is never right to do wrong. However, you will not find any mention in God’s Word, even in the most troubled congregation, of unsaved people’s situation ever being made worse by Christian misconduct. On the other hand, the unsaved are ever and always shown to be a threat to the congregation. Why so? Even sinning Christians are in the Lord’s camp. But every unsaved person who has ever lived is an enemy of God, an opponent of Christ, an adversary to the truth, and an ally of the Devil. 

THE PERSON’S DEFICIENCY, THE PERSON’S DESCRIPTION, AND FINALLY THE DEFILEMENT CAUSED BY THE PERSON 

“and thereby many be defiled” the verse concludes. 

This phrase refers to “many,” which is literally “the people,” being harassed and annoyed, their Christian lives disrupted by the behavior of this lost person in their midst.

So, we see the man’s nature by its description and also by the fruit that it produces; disharmony, confusion, harassment of those who simply want to serve God, disrupting the unity of the congregation, and greatly imperiling their souls. 

What we have just studied is the cause of many Church problems. If the result of this unsaved person cutting loose isn’t a Church split then it frequently results in an entire family leaving, an individual leaving, or unfruitfulness in the congregation. Whenever such a thing happens, it’s a great tragedy, because of the eternal implications for that person and for those affected by that person.

This is such a common occurrence in most Churches, what with people leaving their Church homes and transferring to other Churches, or with people just dropping out of Church, that pastors and people don’t give it a second thought anymore. Bad as it is, they’ve become somewhat used to it. They think it’s normal. But it’s serious business when someone quits the means of grace. And it’s even worse when they spring up, when they sprout, and trouble folks; defiling many and interfering with others coming to Christ.

I pray that God delivers us from much of this. We know that there will always be unconverted members in our Church. But let’s do what we can to raise the spiritual bar, to be fervent prayer warriors, and to intercede for each other at the throne of grace. I, especially, need your prayers. Ask God to give me wisdom and discernment to watch diligently, so that I can see matters developing and, hopefully, deal with folks wisely and see them come to Christ before irreparable problems are caused and before lives are damaged beyond recovery. 

SERMON: 

I have but a few brief remarks to you here today who are lost. You find yourself in much the same situation as those Jewish folks did 2000 years ago that our text talks about. You find yourself in the company of Christian people and people who think they are Christians, but you are not converted . . . and you know it. I seek only to summarize truths you think you already know, but which have had no real impact on your life so far. My prayer is that the Spirit of God will make the truth come alive to you, so you will see your great danger and appreciate your profound need.

For if this does not happen, no matter how well you think your life is going for the present, you will someday fail of the grace of God, which is to say you will quit what little you may be doing now, and you will spring up like a poison weed in the midst of a well-tended garden, and your actions will result in your removal from Calvary Road before you’ve come to Christ. You will leave here unsaved, possibly never to return. I don’t want that to happen.

Over the past several years it’s happened to a number of people. Some left with a little bit of trouble; others were told to leave with just a little bit of trouble. But a number of years ago the same thing happened with a Church split being the result. In each case there was a failing of the grace of God, sermons no longer listened to, with a resulting dramatic slide into open sin.

And it will happen to you (unless you are converted) with truly catastrophic consequences. And here is why it will happen to you. 

YOUR HEART IS CORRUPT BEYOND SALVAGE 

You see, you are “a root of bitterness.” You are the person described in our text. Not that you feel bitter toward anyone, or that you hold any grudges. I like you. There’s not a person in this auditorium I don’t like, who I am not concerned for. But I am speaking, now, of your nature, what you are like at the core of your being, how God estimates you because He knows the innermost recesses of your heart. God looks, not on the outward appearances or personality, but on a man’s heart.

My friend, you are one who has heard of God’s goodness, and you have been told of His grace and mercy. You know all about the sacrifice of His Son, Jesus, for your sins. Pray, tell me then, what kind of a person turns his back on the Lord Jesus Christ? What kind of man or woman scorns the Savior’s invitation to life and forgiveness and cleansing? What kind of mother or father doesn’t make sure he or she is truly converted, at the very least, so the children you claim to love will not follow you to the pit.

You have heart disease. Your heart is corrupt. It’s deceitful above all things. You will lie. You will cheat yourself. And you take slight notice of the wrong of it because your heart is also desperately wicked. Now, I know you’ve tried to turn things around. You’ve tried to be good. You’ve even made resolutions, only to break them, one after the other after the other. That pattern of behavior only serves to show what the Bible declares, that your heart is corrupt beyond salvage. My friend, there is simply no hope for that wicked heart of yours. It’s too far gone for any restoration. Sin far too damages it for any possible repair.

And what I am afraid of is that someday soon you will give up all the means of grace, you will fail of the grace of God, and stop everything you’re currently doing, be it reading God’s Word, praying, or attending Church. And then? Something bad will happen that will cause the kind of trouble I will have to deal with to protect this Church. I don’t want that to happen. But it will happen, or something akin to it, unless God intervenes somehow. 

YOU SEE, WHAT YOU NEED IS A NEW HEART 

Since your corrupt heart is beyond salvage, what’s needed is a miracle so dramatic, bringing to bear the power of such magnitude, that you will be left with a new heart. That’s what the Lord Jesus Christ was talking about to Nicodemus in John chapter 3 when He referred to being born of water and the Spirit. Not God is reforming a man and letting him turn over a new leaf since even the bottom side of the leaf is rotten, but a new heart!

In Ezekiel 36.25-27 we read of this new heart that every sinner needs: 

25  Then will I sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean: from all your filthiness, and from all your idols, will I cleanse you.

26  A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh.

27  And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments, and do them. 

In the midst of this prophetic language, I’ve just read to you, pay attention to the fact that God says He will give you a new heart and will take away the stony heart that plagues your existence now. And that will signal the beginning of your new life. Your problem right now is that your heart disagrees with your head. You know sin is wrong, that it damns the soul, that your sin destroys your relationships with the very people you love. But it’s your head that says sin is wrong, and your heart is what rules you. So, what do you do with a wicked and corrupt heart? You get a new one.

But you see, you don’t want a new heart. You don’t want to come to Christ. You don’t want to be saved. This is because your want to is in your heart, not your head. The Bible says that with the heart man believeth unto righteousness. But a corrupt heart like yours doesn’t want to be saved, and therefore will not believe unto righteousness.

Since God doesn’t save anyone against his will, you have a serious problem. You know in your head that you need to become a Christian. You know in your head that if you aren’t get saved, you’ll end up in Hell. And you know that if you don’t come to Christ your whole life on the way to Hell will be miserable.

But what you know is in your head, your mind. What you want is a matter of the heart. You have to want to be saved to become a Christian, and to want Christ really, or you will not believe with your heart unto righteousness. You will not give your heart to the Savior. So, there it is with you the conflict between your mind and your heart. 

You who attend Church on a regular basis who are lost, you know perfectly well the conflict that exists between your head and your heart. You know as well as I do that your head can perfectly recognize your need to come to Christ, but you remain lost because of your heart’s refusal.

Is there no hope for you? Can nothing be done for the man or woman who knows the truth in his head, but who refuses to obey with his heart? Of course, something can be done. How do you think I was converted? How do you think others here were converted?

If you find yourself conflicted in this way, with your head knowing you need to be saved, but your heart still refuses to believe unto righteousness, then you and I need to talk. There is medicine for what ails you, but it’s not distributed in bulk. Sit down with me for a few minutes, and I will be glad to tell you what is called for so that maybe you will someday come to Christ.

Would you like to contact Dr. Waldrip about this sermon? Please contact him by clicking on the link below. Please do not change the subject within your email message. Thank you.

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