Not Like Esau
“That no one is sexually immoral or unholy like Esau, who sold his birthright for a single meal” (Heb. 12:16).
The Christian life is like a race. All of the blessings of God will come only to those who finish the race in faith (12:1–2). If our faith falters, then the blessings of God will not come to us in fullness.
This is not to say that it is possible for the elect to fall away finally. Christ has promised that none of those with true faith will ever be able to be taken away from the hand of the Father (John 10:29). Nevertheless, the security we have in our salvation is not something that is accomplished wholly outside of ourselves.
Rather, God gives us many warnings in Scripture about our need to persevere so that the elect will heed them and maintain their faith. Moreover, as Calvin says, when God warns those of us with true faith to persevere, He also gives us the desire and ability to heed His warnings.
Therefore, when we read in 12:12–13 that we must strengthen ourselves for the race ahead, we must obey. When we heed the warnings, we demonstrate the reality of our faith and our election. When we strive for peace and purity (v. 14), and when we avoid the root of bitterness (v. 15), we strengthen ourselves to finish the race.
Today’s passage speaks of another way we can strengthen ourselves for the race ahead. Verse 16 tells us to make sure that we are neither sexually immoral nor unholy. The reason for these warnings should be fairly obvious. We have been told already that we will not see God without holiness (v. 14). Thus, to live a lifestyle evidencing no sanctifying work of the Spirit demonstrates that we will not finish the race. Such a lifestyle often results in sexual immorality, which is viewed in Scripture as an evidence of unrepentant rebellion against God (Rom. 1:18–27).
Hebrews 12:16 uses Esau as an example for why we should not live such unholy lives. We observe that he desired the sensuous pleasures of this world more than the pleasures of the world to come. As an example, the author recounts how he sold the privilege he had as the firstborn son for the sake of some comfort food (Gen. 25:29–34). We must not be like Esau; rather, we must treasure the position we have as children of the covenant more than we treasure the pleasures of this world.
Sanctification is a process. We do not become holy all at once, but we manifest righteousness slowly and imperfectly. When the Spirit is at work in us, we begin to become more and more sorrowful over our sin and more and more eager to repent. Ask the Holy Spirit to lead you into repentance for sin and to help you walk in holiness.
Passages for Further Study
- Gen. 25:19–34
- Isa. 6:1–7
- 1 Cor. 6:9–11
- Rev. 22:14–15