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A Misunderstood Warning

Joe and Marissa have never met. But they have a lot in common. Both found that spending 4 years in a state university was hard on their faith.

Marissa became a follower of Jesus at a spiritual retreat during her last year in high school. Joe made his decision of faith at the age of 11 at a Christian camp.

Neither, however, was ready for the way campus life would test their belief in God. Joe’s faith seemed to flounder in proportion to the partying he did on the weekends. Marissa had a philosophy class that caused her to doubt whether anyone can know the truth about anything.

A few years after graduating, however, both found themselves wondering how they could have wandered so far from their belief in Christ. Joe saw his need of forgiveness. Marissa saw her philosophical doubts answered by the honesty, realism, and wisdom of Jesus’ life and teaching.

Yet, while trying to jumpstart their lapsed faith, Joe and Marissa stumbled separately on a Bible passage that caused both of them to wonder whether they had reached a spiritual point of no return. This New Testament text seemed to say that some who wander away from Christ cannot return to Him even if they want to (Hebrews 6:4-6).

Even though the stories of Joe and Marissa are not meant to be taken literally, they represent the real worries of many. Countless readers of the New Testament have feared for themselves or someone they love when they read in Hebrews, “For in the case of those who . . . 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 6:4-6 NASB).

What people like Joe and Marissa need to know is that they are not the only ones to wonder what it means to fall away or to be renewed to repentance or to crucify to oneself the Son of God and put him to an open shame. This is one of the most debated and difficult texts of the Bible.

Many interpretations have been offered. Some are convinced that this text means that it is possible to wander so far from Christ that it is impossible to turn back. Others think the author was primarily concerned about first-century, Jewish followers of Jesus who were tempted to fall back into the practice of temple ritual sacrifice. Still others suggest the reason it is impossible for someone to be renewed to repentance is that, if the gift of salvation is eternal, then it cannot be either lost or repeated without implying that Jesus’ once-and-for-all sacrifice was not sufficient.

So what then can we say to someone like Joe or Marissa? To begin with, we can assure them that this text was not written to cause anyone to wonder whether they had wandered from Christ to a point of no return.

The author is clear in his intent. He is writing to urge those who have stopped growing in their faith to go on to spiritual maturity and fruitfulness (Hebrews 5:11–6:1).

To get their attention, he uses a word picture that those in an agricultural community will understand. He reminds them of the worthlessness of farmland that, after drinking in the rain, deserves only to be burned if it doesn’t produce a harvest (Hebrews 6:7-8).

But even though the author finds it necessary to use such an alarming illustration, he wants to make sure that his readers don’t get the wrong impression. He assures them that he has already seen evidence of their relationship to Christ (Hebrews 6:9-10).

However, he has seen something else. In all candor, he acknowledges that his readers have become like infants who are failing to thrive (Hebrews 5:12-14). Whether they are being held back by outward persecution, inner complacency, or some other factor, we don’t know. He doesn’t say.

So does it matter if we can’t be certain about what slowed their growth? Do we need to be sure about all that the author was saying as he urged them on to maturity? Or is it possible that being kept in the dark on those matters can actually help us to see that anything that keeps followers of Christ from going on to a fruitful life is a problem (Hebrews 6:10-12)?

Maybe what we can’t know for sure is meant to help us focus on what we do know—that our failures, whatever they are, don’t have to stop us from moving forward in Christ.

What the author of the letter to the Hebrews says with clarity and certainty is that his readers can keep moving forward with confidence because, in Christ, we have a great High Priest who will intervene eternally on our behalf.

By offering Himself as a once-and-for-all sacrifice for our sins, He has entered into the presence of God, on our behalf, to anchor our souls in a hope that because of Him is firm and secure (Hebrews 6:18-20).

Father in heaven, thank You for answering our fears with the certainty of what Your Son has done for us. Please help us to show our eternal gratefulness through a harvest of Christlike actions and attitudes. —Mart DeHaan

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11 Responses to “A Misunderstood Warning”

  1. BruceC says:

    Thank you Mart for a wonderful and timely post.

    Laus Deo!

    Soli Deo Gloria!

  2. poohpity says:

    When my son went to college that same thing happened to him as it did to Marissa. I held to the thought of how far from God I had once been and how Christ accepted me back and knew that once we were God’s we were always His and how He brought me back. This is my son’s final year although His major turned from Biblical studies to Sociology from a youth Pastor to helping the needy, he has returned to His Lord and Savior. God is so faithful when we are not. Praise God!!

  3. poohpity says:

    I have found just in my life how many things come against me to have a fruitful life. Things that can take my attention off of what is important to those things which have no importance in the grander scheme of things. Complacency seems to be very harmful and the hardest to detect or the thinking someone else will do something because I have enough problems of my own. Although we can get frozen by our failures by thinking we can do nothing for the Lord that does not stop His ability to work through those failures to bring light to Jesus and what He has done.

  4. remarutho says:

    Good Afternoon Mart & Friends –

    As you quote from the Letter to the Hebrews, Mart, we might remember the central idea of that book. The writer says he is writing to members of the Jewish community – perhaps still worshiping in the Second Temple. It is a call to realize once for all that Messiah Jesus is superior to any older notion of ultimate authority: Moses, the priesthood , the prophets or angels. Jesus is so far superior to any of the sources of authority mentioned that there is no comparison, since he is eternally God the Son.

    I believe the writer is saying that the party of the circumcision is going over the same basic teaching again and again, to force new believers to confess that the whole of Judaism must be adhered to in order to be a true Christian. To remain in that useless circular thinking is to miss what the Lord has for us in ministry to the world.

    It seems to me Paul is teaching the pagan Gentiles essentially the same lesson, though with reference to their former way of life in the temples of the gods and goddesses of the Greeks and Romans. He warns: “We must no longer be children, tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine, by people’s trickery, by their craftiness in deceitful scheming. But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ…” (Ephesians 4:14-15)

    The struggles of young believers in colleges and universities in the 21st century are somewhat the same. They are hearing from professors and others in authority that a Christian lifestyle is “ignorant, out of touch, unkind” and judgmental. We must help them find a fellowship in Christ that is offering love, grace and compassion to all who enter, especially in a new setting away from home and familiar people.


  5. bubbles says:

    Mart, THANK YOU for this excellent explaination.

  6. jimgroberts says:

    Mart, Thankyou for raising this controversial and little understood backsliding and apostasy.
    Backsliding or not using your gift of faith is like sowing seeds of doubt This can build up into a destiny of denial in the following way:-
    Sow a thought – reap a deed;
    Sow a deed – reap a habit;
    Sow a habit – reap a character;
    Sow a character – reap a destiny.
    Jesus tells us “if your eye [thought] offends you gouge it out” “If your hand [deed] offends you cut it off” “if your foot [habit] offends you cut it off”
    These visual and graphic illustrations shows Jesus deep need to make us aware of how devastating this sin is to God the result of which eventual seperation from God. Paul likes it the searing of the conscience as a hot iron burns flesh – their remaons no sense and feeling.
    Each of us as Christians sin and for most on a daily basis and need repentance and forgiveness. To turn us back through conviction Jesus has sent us the Holy Spirit who lives in us. We need to have sensitivity to hear the conviction of the Spirit and just as Paul illustrated the more that we do not heed or reject the leading of the Holy Spirit the less able we are to hear Him to the cost at some point that He can no longer reach us and we become apostate. Jesus also illustrated this with a parable of the talents – when we bury our gift of faith [talent] we are told that gift of faith will taken from us [salvation] and we will be cast into the fire. But this at the end of all things judgement seat.
    Jesus also gives us a gauge for our walk with God “A good tree cannot bear bad fruit and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit” If you are bearing good fruit that will last there is hope for you. What are these last ing fruits see Gal 5:22-23
    James further observes that salt and fresh water cannot come from the same well a blessings and curses should not come from the same mouth. This implies that we should walk by faith and not sight i.e. bury the old man and resurrect the new man in Christ.
    Finally Jesus leaves us with this instruction “He who has an ear hear what the Spirit is saying to the church” YOU are th church.

  7. lgrubb says:

    The men and women I reach out to are mostly convnced that they are unforgivable – they are the drug addicted, alcoholic, sex addicted, porn addicted masses that at one time knew somethng of the salvation message, and may have even made a heartfelt committment to Christ, only to have their spirits quashed by well meaning “Christians” who would judge them on their immediate behavior. Salvation as I understand it, occurs the instant my heart turned to Christ with a willingnes and gratitude to make his will my highest calling! But I have fallen short many times, and he continues to re-affirm me as I turn back to him! Your scriptural referances remind us all that salvation is in an instant but sanctification is an ongoing process! Too often we judge a person based upon his or her outward conduct, not taking the time to understand where they are in the process! And many times the individual will give lip service to their faith and not have taken it seriously at all. The ONLY way we know is to spend time with them, draw close to them and share our lives with them! A rescue swimmer doesn’t save lives by watching them drown from the helicopter – he has to dive in, be close, and offer the opportunity of rescue. It’s a dangerous calling and requires skills that most people will never develop – I believe that is the case with many Christians who sit in their pews, or stand in their pulpits and tell us all how it should be done, but when it comes to doing it – well that’s another subject… The greatest thrill I’ve had in my Christian walk since I turned to Christ 27 years ago has come from being willing to do what is needed – regardless of the personal cost, but prayerfully lead by the spirit. Great topic – I will share this with many of the people I deal with! Thank you for the reminder that in Gods economy there is always room for forgivness of a sincere sinner of which I am one! Leonard Grubb, Police Chaplain , Ohio

  8. TommyO says:

    The article takes me back too many years. In 1957, or so, I was in college taking philosophy as an elective, and the professor was Hindu. As I remember he claimed that religion was a hoax and was man-made. Well, there I was in college, and an expert was telling me the “truth” supposedly. That caused me to almost immediately put any connection to church aside, and I was an agnostic until 1996, over 40 years. My life was in a downward spiral, but I met a lady, and we decided to “try” church. In two weeks I/we were saved, and I haven’t turned back. God runs my life, and I just wish I had found Him again, sooner. Praise God! He’s there if you’ll just believe, look around, and find Him.

  9. Helmet says:

    Hi again, thanks for this post. We (my family) were passing throgh many kinds of pain, but again and again with the sight of a mercy Hand working for us, to heal, to rescue, to protect, to strengh. Yesterday we had my brother in law back home after being kidnapped, and as Marissa and Joe, we saw some of family bow clamming God for Him, I hope none of us never forget, we can’t see God throgh circumstances, through bad testimonies, but through His Word, by His Holly Gohst guide. thanks God for his endless love and mercy, and for a great thanksgiving when we knew he would be back in hours.
    In México, we don’t use to celebrate thanksgiving, but I think we should, we must! And by now, I know we will have the reason, we saw God’s Hand for us.
    Be blessed all.

  10. poohpity says:

    Buenos Dias me amiga!! Hi Helmet, it has been a long time. Hoping all is well with you and your family!! So very good to hear from you.

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