See to it, brothers, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness. We have come to share in Christ IF we hold firmly to the end the confidence we had at first. (Heb. 3:12-14 NIV, emphasis added)
May all reading this – especially those who were taught “once saved, always saved” in error (as I was) – receive the Spirit of wisdom and revelation as we set ourselves aside from distractions and press into the Scriptures below. I pray this in order that we all may KNOW our astounding God Jesus Christ even better than we do now. Amen.
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The Epistle to the Hebrews repeatedly addresses the possibility of Christians falling into apostasy, and strongly exhorts us to remain in the faith. In our opening Scripture above, note first that the writer is indeed admonishing brothers, not unbelievers. Then, note it is the heart which turns away from the living God. Recall that Jesus taught in His Parable of the Sower that a man’s heart is the soil which receives or rejects the word of God. All the Hebrews passages we’ll cover today address the heart in Jesus’ second case therein: the one who received the seed that fell on rocky places… who hears the word and at once receives it with joy [i.e. is born again, but]… has not root, [and]… falls away due to trouble or persecution (Matt. 13:20-21). As our opening passage explains, the believer’s falling away is because of his heart being hardened by sin’s deceitfulness; as Jesus’ parable of the soil and so many other Scriptures indicate, we fall prey to deceit to the extent that we do not welcome and abide in the Word and let it transform us from within.
Note that this first Hebrews passage emphasizes the apostate Christian turns away from the living God. God is always faithful! Yet, valuing love at all costs, He always grants us free will. By divine design, we can deny either self or Christ every moment in time throughout our blessed walk with Him.
Taking a brief sidebar here, remember that both Judas and Peter denied Christ. The key difference between them was the state of their hearts, how each man chose to respond when confronted with his sin. Judas sinned by acting in greed/lust, then he failed to repent. Judas hardened his heart and fell away from the living God despite the grace available to all men (see next paragraph), then he hung himself, overcome with worldly grief. Peter sinned by acting in fear of men, but he repented. When convicted of his sin by the Lord’s gaze, Peter repented and responded with godly grief (he grieved that he had sinned against the Lord, not that he himself had suffered a setback). This enabled him to receive God’s grace of forgiveness and be restored in his faith and strengthen us, thus fulfilling the Lord’s prophecy, “Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift all of you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.” (Luke 22:31-32).
Recall that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came through Christ Jesus (Ro. 3:23-24 emphasis added). Praise God! But where sin increased, grace increased all the more, so that, just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord (Ro. 8:20b-21). Hallelujah! May ALL believers apprehend this much more fully than we do!
Combining our opening Scripture with Ro. 8:38-39, we understand this key truth: whether we are presently unregenerate or have already been born again, it is incumbent upon us to hear God, repent, and receive His love for us in Christ Jesus; nothing except our own hardened hearts can separate us from it.
We must remain sensitive to the Holy Spirit and repent every time He graciously and lovingly convicts us of sin (see 1 John 1:8-10, Prov. 28:13). We believers must [e]ndure hardship as discipline; God is treating [us] as sons… we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of spirits and live! (Heb. 12:7, 9). So long as we keep our hearts from becoming hardened by sin’s deceitfulness (Heb. 3:13) and quickly repent and receive God’s forgiveness as Peter did, then we also will receive the goal of [our] faith, the salvation of [our] soul[s] along with him (1 Peter 1:9).
Note the word “if” in the last sentence of our opening Scripture: We have come to share in Christ if we hold firmly to the end the confidence we had at first. Multiple Scriptures addressing our salvation contain conditions such as this, and they are overlooked or awkwardly dismissed by persons teaching the “once saved, always saved” false doctrine. Here are just three others not yet mentioned in this series:
But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation—IF you continue in your faith, established and firm, and do not move from the hope held out in the gospel. (Col. 1:22-23 emphasis added)
But Christ is faithful as the Son over God’s house. And we are his house, IF indeed we hold firmly to our confidence and the hope in which we glory. (Heb. 3:6 emphasis added) Albeit more subtle, I believe this is the first reference in Hebrews to the possibility of apostasy (please let me know if I missed another).
As for you, see that what you have heard from the beginning remains in you. IF it does, you also will remain in the Son and in the Father. And this is what he promised us—eternal life. (1 John 2:24-25 emphasis added)
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Let us continue with the Epistle to the Hebrews’ next warning given believers against falling away from Christ This key passage is in Chapter 5 continuing on into Ch. 6: 11 We have much to say… but it is hard to make it clear to you because you no longer try to understand. 1 …let us move beyond the elementary teachings about Christ and be taken forward to maturity… 4 It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, 5 who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age 6 and who have fallen away, to be brought back to repentance. To their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace. 7 Land that drinks in the rain often falling on it and that produces a crop useful to those for whom it is farmed receives the blessing of God. 8 But land that produces thorns and thistles is worthless and is in danger of being cursed. In the end it will be burned. (Heb. 5:11, 6:1, 4-8, emphasis added).
Note first that the writer is encouraging Christians who are immature because they are not trying to understand God’s word to them. They can be likened to those Jesus described in the Parable of the Sower who hardly hear with their ears, and they have closed their eyes (Matt. 13:15). Such a state necessitates rebuke and exhortation!
Then note the metaphor of land with worthless vegetation in danger of being cursed and burned, and compare it with Jesus’ words in the Gospel of John: I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned (John 15:5-6 emphasis added).
God doesn’t specify the length of time we are given before our lack of repentance becomes irreversible, but He repeatedly exhorts us throughout His word to make the right choice and humble ourselves. For starters, see 2 Sam. 22:28; 2 Chron.7:14; Psalm 18:27 & 149:4; Is. 2:12 & 66:2; Dan. 4:37; Luke 14:11; Phil. 2:8; James 4:10, and 1 Peter 5:6.
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Continuing in Hebrews, we come to this fourth exhortation against apostasy in Chapter 10: 23 Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, 25 not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching. …28 Anyone who rejected the law of Moses died without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. 29 How much more severely do you think someone deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified them, and who has insulted the Spirit of grace? (Heb. 10:23-29, emphasis added)
First, note the necessity of our acting properly in addition to God’s ever-present grace. This is addressed in other Scriptures, including this well-known one of Paul’s: continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose. (Phil. 2:12b-13).
Then note in v. 29 the reason for the severity of punishment God must inflict upon all believers, such as Judas, who fall out of His grace by their own free will into apostasy. As stated earlier in Hebrews, it is impossible for [such apostates] to be brought back to repentance. To their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again. (6:6 emphasis added).
[to be continued… God-willing, we will contrast “tares” with apostates next time, and wrap the series up with more Scriptures addressing the need to persevere in our faith.]
Praising God with you for His wisdom, love, mercy, and grace to us in Christ Jesus, your sister deanna