There is a danger in what my grandmother used to call “backsliding.” I don’t hear the term much these days. In fact, to be honest, sin in the life of the Christians isn’t addressed much these days. We talk about self esteem and relationships and getting our finances in order. I rarely hear a preacher talk from the pulpit about the things in our lives that we shouldn’t be doing. And perhaps our preachers should begin to preach such things with boldness. There seems to be great weakness within the American Church today. We would benefit from such great preaching.
Hebrews 6:1-6 NASB
Therefore 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, of instruction about washings, and laying on of hands, and the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. And this we shall do, if God permits. For 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, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, and 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.
It is possible to outwardly look and act like a Christian and perhaps not be a Christian at all. Look at the description that the writer of Hebrews gives:
- once been enlightened
- have tasted of the heavenly gift
- have been made partakers of the Holy Spirit
- have tasted the good word of God
- have tasted of the powers of the age to come
Whether this is someone who is truly saved and fell away or someone who acted the part without internal surrender to the Spirit is unclear from the commentaries. Certainly it would be prudent not to assume that this couldn’t mean me! The Lord Jesus Himself talked about those who were sure they were saved:
“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!'” Matthew 7:21-23 NKJV
These people did great things in the Lord’s name. They prophesied, cast out demons, and did wonders! If we were to see such a person, we would be convinced they were Christians. We might even be compelled to follow them, to imitate their lives, the greatness of their works. And yet, the Lord warns us that there are such as these whom He doesn’t know. Are these among those of whom the writer of Hebrews says “fell away?”
There is a former pentecostal Christian minister who is now head of a strong atheist organization. This man spoke in tongues, preached the Word, wrote Christian musicals, prayed in public. He had a church and did everything we would expect from our own ministers and did it well! And now he has openly and completely rejected everything Christian, including Christ. It is obvious that he has fallen away from the faith. Was he ever saved? Certainly if you had asked him at that time if he was a born-again believer, he would have said “yes!” And yet now he rejects Christ.
Such a rejection doesn’t come overnight. One cannot be convinced of the truth of the gospel one day and wake up to openly reject it the next. No, this was the result of a journey, of listening to quiet, seductive voices that gave permission for doubt, for exploration of sin, likely in the name of honest intellectual pursuit. For this man is no dummy. He is convinced that his path is one of intellectual honesty. What he didn’t realize is that we shouldn’t trust our minds, our senses, our own conclusions for those things will deceive us. The apostle Paul knew of this deception and wrote:
1 Cor. 1:26-27 NKJ For you see your calling, brethren, that not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called. But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty.
The things of God are not intellectually discerned, but spiritually discerned through the power of the Holy Spirit. When this man began to trust his own intellect, he began on the road to destruction. But more than that, in all appearances, even to his own heart, he was saved and fell away. If it can happen to him, then the possibility exists that it could happen to me. How, then, do I avoid such a terrible fate? By, as the writer of Hebrews says, pressing on to maturity in the faith. The last verse of chapter 5 stated that “solid food belongs to those who are of full age, that is, those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil” (v. 14, NKJV). The Lord has not left us without resources. We have His Word and the Holy Spirit as our teacher. We need to be in the Word everyday, not just reading, but studying. Not just studying, but learning. Not just learning, but meditating. The Word needs to become such a part of who we are, what we chose, how we behave that there is no doubt that we are maturing in the faith. We need to be listening to those preachers who, rather than appealing to our flesh nature, make us uncomfortable and stretch us spiritually. We need to be seeking not the warm fuzzies of miracles, but the solid food of righteousness. We need to be stepping away from concern about our own needs, and trusting God as we care for the needs of others.
I know that I want to persevere until that day when my salvation is made complete by my presence in heaven with the Lord Jesus. I want to be one of those of whom He says, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” That would be my prayer for all of the saints.