Thursday, May 01, 2008

The Peril of Turning Away

“ 1Therefore leaving the elementary teaching about the Christ, let us press on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, 2of instruction about washings and laying on of hands, and the resurrection of the dead and eternal judgment. 3And this we will do, if God permits. 4For in the case of those who have once been enlightened and have tasted of the heavenly gift and have been made partakers of the Holy Spirit, 5and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, 6and then have fallen away, it is impossible to renew them again to repentance, since they again crucify to themselves the Son of God and put Him to open shame.” (Hebrews 6:1-6; NASB)

The exhortation here is that the Hebrews embrace saving faith in Jesus Christ as their Messiah. Many were sitting just at the brink of saving faith, but were not taking the next step and embracing Jesus as Savior. In fact, they were slipping back into the Old Testament teaching, rather than moving “on to maturity”, that is, salvation through Jesus as Savior. The Old Testament teaching was only meant to lay the foundation for faith in Jesus as the Messiah. The Old Testament teaching could be revisited if it was used to help them move on to faith in Christ (“if God Permits”), but it is only God who can enable that faith to take place (John 6:44-65).

It has been proposed by some that this passage indicates that one can lose their salvation, which is how they interpret verse 6. However, if that is the case, then it is also true that person can never come back to the Lord (“it is impossible to renew them again to repentance”, v. 6). Yet those who take the position that once someone is saved that they can fall into sin and lose their salvation, constantly plead with people to repent. So it should appear obvious that this passage does not mean that. Furthermore, there are numerous passages elsewhere in Scripture that speak of the believer’s security in Christ (Philippians 1:6; Romans 8:38, 39; John 10:27-29).

But the real intent of this passage is not directed at Christians who fall into grievous sin, but rather the peril of rejecting Jesus Christ as Savior. In fact, the overall focus in Hebrews is on illustrating that Jesus was the appointed Savior prophesied and spoken of throughout the Old Testament.

The term “maturity” also translated “perfection” in some translations (KJV & NKJV), is the Greek word “teleiotes”, and means moral and spiritual perfection, an accomplishment achieved. Here it is referring to the accomplishment that Christ achieved through the cross to declare us righteous through His finished work. In other words it is speaking of salvation. It is not referring to spiritual growth in Christian character and sanctification in daily living, though that should become apparent once someone comes to genuine faith in Christ.

The problem with many of the Hebrews addressed here is that they were in danger of ultimately turning from the truth of God’s saving grace, drifting back into Old Testament teaching. Apparently they seemed like they got off to a good start, giving the appearance that they were true believers. This is similar to the description of those in the parable of the sower in Matthew 13:18-23. Verse 20 describes the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy, but falls away once trouble ensues. In a similar fashion, many of the Hebrews had wonderful spiritual encounters, but soon fell away. Just like the seed planted on rock never is able to take root, so these people were never were able to become grounded in the faith. They were “enlightened”, receiving instruction in biblical truth and were able to at least understand on an intellectual basis. They had a “taste” of the “heavenly gift”, but seem to not have feasted on and digested it. They were in some sense “partakers” or “shared” (NIV& ESV) in the ministry of the Holy Spirit, even witnessing His mighty work, or even falling under the conviction of the Holy Spirit, but fell short of experiencing salvation. Even the presence of signs and mighty works does no necessarily mean that those involved are genuine believers, as Jesus warned in Matthew 7.

Those who willfully turn from the knowledge of the truth of the gospel, defecting from the faith are apostates and no longer have a sacrifice that provides a covering for their sins. There is no sacrifice for sin apart from Jesus Christ. To disregard the finality and efficacy of Christ’s sacrifice is to hold Jesus in contempt and is “insulted the Spirit of grace” (Hebrews 10:29), essentially committing blasphemy against the Holy Spirit (Matthew 12:31, 32).

Once the gospel is refused, a hardening of the heart sets in and once that hardening takes place, the heart is no longer receptive to the truth. Earlier in Hebrews, they were exhorted not to harden their hearts as their ancestors did in the book of Numbers (Chapters 13-14). There, the children of Israel witnessed the mighty work of God, but allowed unbelief to settle in and slipped into grumbling and complaining, resulting in their turning away from God (Hebrews 3:7-19).

The rejection of God’s offer of grace after receiving the full instruction and enlightenment of the truth is a sin that inhibits their restoration to a place of forgiveness. Repentance becomes impossible for them (Hebrews 6:6; 10:26). In this state, “they again crucify to themselves the Son of God and put Him to open shame” placing themselves in the same position as those who crucified Christ, treating Him as a mere man that deserved to be crucified.

The more that I read of the final necessity of Christ’ s sacrifice and the strong exhortation of the Jews to receive Jesus as Savior, the more grieved I am over the blunder of men like John Hagee who wrongly teach that the Jews are covered under the Old Testament Covenant. How can anyone misunderstand this? Have they not read Hebrews and Romans? I just cannot fathom how anyone could teach that the Jews can be saved any other way except through Jesus Christ.

But I believe that there is a strong exhortation here, not just for the Jews, but for anyone who comes to the brink of saving faith, but turns and essentially dismisses the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. It is vital to respond in faith to the Gospel. To reject the Gospel is to create a hardening of the heart and places that individual in the peril of sealing their fate for eternity.

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