Monday, October 12, 2020

The Danger of Apostasy

"It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened … if they fall away, to be brought back to repentance" (Hebrews 6:4–6)

If you’ve ever read Hebrews, you know that Hebrews 6 contains a warning that people can fall away from the faith and be permanently lost. This passage has caused a great deal of consternation in the church, and there are two ways to understand it.

According to the first interpretation, the passage does not say that the elect of God can be lost. Those whom God elects, for whom Christ died in the full substitutionary sense, and who are fully regenerated by the Spirit, cannot fall away from the kingdom of God because God will sustain them. This is a fact taught many places in Scripture.

But we also have to reckon with the visible covenant of God in history, and in terms of the covenant, there are people who come into the church and then leave the kingdom. Such people were never truly saved, of course, but for a time they thought they were. In the parable of the sower, Jesus says that some people are like soil that receives the Word of God but then let thorns choke it out or let the sun burn it up, and are lost (Matthew 13:1–9, 18–23).

The problem is that only God knows who the truly elect are. We cannot look at the church and know who is really saved and who is only a temporary believer. The proof is that the truly saved person perseveres in fighting the weeds of sin and perseveres under the sun of affliction and adversity. And because each of us has a deceptive heart, we cannot look at ourselves and be certain of which category we fall into. But we can know this: If we persevere, we shall be saved.

Hebrews 6:4–6 says that the temporary believer is just like the true believer in some ways: He has received an enlightenment, has experienced the good gifts of the kingdom, and has shared in the Spirit’s work in the church. The one thing the temporary believer does not have is perseverance, and if he falls away, it will prove impossible to get him interested in the faith again.

The other interpretation is that this passage describes real believers, but is only hypothetical. If someone really could renounce his salvation, he would be crucifying Christ afresh. Just as that is impossible, so it is impossible for a true believer to be lost.

The author of Hebrews is persuaded of better things concerning those who get his letter (6:9–12), and I am persuaded of better things regarding you who read this blog! Daily study and prayer, and active participation in your church, are signs of true faith and perseverance. Keep on “muddling through” by faith - and thank you for reading!