“Once Saved, Always Saved” - Fact or Fiction?
Part III of V
Previously, we have considered three prime examples of those who at one time belonged to God, being counted among the saved, but whom, through apostasy, fell away from the grace of God. One of these (Judas Iscariot) was lost completely; another (Simon the magician) was warned of impending doom associated with an unchristian attitude of unrestrained pride and told to repent or perish; and the third (fornicating brother) was disciplined by the church through withdrawal of fellowship, “delivering him to Satan” until such time as repentance was completed and salvation restored.
Many warnings by the Lord Jesus and the apostle Paul have also been surveyed, providing evidence that the possibility of apostasy was a general theme resounding urgently from the Savior and His chosen witnesses. We will now consider various statements by the apostles Peter and John, along with words of caution from another inspired prophet.
Warnings from Peter
(1) Peter cautions Christians to “be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. But resist him, firm in faith, knowing that the same experiences of suffering are being accomplished by your brethren who are in the world” (1 Peter 5:8-9). If a Christian cannot be lost, there is no reason for Peter to issue a warning of danger related to Satan’s activities.
The early church experienced faith-shaking persecution. Christ warned of terrifying maltreatment, even unto death (Matthew 10:21), resulting in the apostasy of many as their love for Christ grew cold (Matthew 24:9-12). Peter writes to encourage faithfulness to Christ amidst the turbulence of persecution which was creating a happy hunting ground for Satan.
Christians were departing the faith to escape persecution, but unwittingly falling prey to the device of the devil who was instigating the persecution. Peter exhorts the brethren to “resist him,” remaining “firm in faith.” To become un-firm in faith is synonymously equated with being devoured by the devil. The imagery presented by Peter is meant to strike fear among Christians waffling on their commitment to Christ. Satan possesses no power to independently “snatch” a child of God away, but is standing by ready to consume those who willfully choose to “give up one’s faith” (Newman, 1993).
(2) In his second epistle, Peter further instructs Christians, exhorting them to apply “all diligence” to grow in Christ wherein they stand. Maintaining this exalted status requires constant attention, and Peter offers a recipe for success by which Christians may be confident of gaining “entrance into the eternal kingdom” (2 Peter 1:1-11). After listing the qualities of Christian character, Peter affirms, “For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they render you neither useless nor unfruitful in the true knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ” (v. 8). It is important to recall the warnings Christ issued concerning the fate of the “unfruitful” tree (Matthew 7:15-20), the “tasteless” or “useless” salt (Matthew 5:13), and the “unfruitful” branch (John 15:1-6).
With an underlying urgency, Peter encourages Christians to “be all the more diligent to make certain about His calling and choosing you (“election” – KJV); for as long as you practice these things, you will never stumble” (v. 10). How can an admonition like this make any sense if the child of God cannot “stumble” so as to fall? Calvinist contend a child of God’s “calling and election” are sure – regardless of what they say, do, or come to believe. The apostle Peter never subscribed to the Calvinistic opinion, but soundly refuted such an illogical proposition in this very passage.
The child of God can “stumble,” and Peter urges constant vigilance in the effort to maintain the cleansing from sin acquired by the Christian. The virtues he listed are the remedy against apostasy – the recipe for Christian maturity by which “entrance into the eternal kingdom” is made sure (vv. 10-11). Recognizing the impending danger of carelessness, indifference, and apathy, Peter writes “to stir you up by way of reminder” (v. 13), instructing Christians how to protect themselves from apostasy.
(3) The entirety of 2 Peter 2 is a prophetic announcement of impending apostasy within the church. Peter concludes chapter 1 by heralding those who “spoke from God” and were “moved by the Holy Spirit” (1:20-21). The 2nd chapter opens with an adversative particle – “but” – distinguishing what follows in the text from the previous affirmation. Peter then introduces “false teachers”; referring to those who “also arose among the people” in the days of old when the inspired prophets were speaking from God (2:1a). Looking ahead, he warns “there will also be false teachers among you” (2:1b).
Because the condemnation of these “false teachers” is so powerfully asserted, Calvinist are forced to conclude that these were never genuine Christians who fell away, but only crass pretenders, professing Christianity (cf. Roberstson, 1933). This allegation, however, violates the explicit testimony of Peter. For example, Peter compared the coming false prophets to Balaam (v. 15).
Balaam was not a pretending prophet, but was recognized as one endowed with the ability to bless or curse (cf. Numbers 22:6). Peter even calls him, not a false prophet, but a “prophet” (2 Peter 2:16). Furthermore, Balaam enjoyed special communications with the Lord (cf. Numbers 22:9-12), referring to the “command of the Lord my God” (22:18). Balaam was a child of God who willingly forsook the right way.
Peter characterized the coming false teachers as “accursed children; forsaking the right way, they have gone astray, having followed the way of Balaam, the son of Beor, who loved the wages of unrighteousness; but received a rebuke for his own transgression, for a mute donkey, speaking with a voice of a man, restrained the madness of the prophet” (2 Peter 2:14-16). Balaam was no mere pretender, but by transgression, he went astray. The phrase “accursed children” indicates children under God’s curse. These were once children of God, but now, by sustained and willful disobedience, stand accursed.
Peter warns the church of men, like Balaam, who would forsake (abandon) the right way, introducing “destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them” (2:1). If it is impossible for the child of God to fall, then who would be destroyed by a heresy introduced into the church? A person already standing condemned outside of the body of Christ could not be destroyed by a false teaching – thus the warning is for Christians.
The phrase “denying the Master who bought them” indicates Peter is speaking of Christians who fall away from the truth. The term “bought” is used multiple times in the New Testament to denote the redemption price paid by Christ” (cf. 1 Corinthians 6:20; 7:23; Revelation 5:9; 14:3-4). Christ “purchased” the church with His own blood (Acts 20:28), and those denying that the term “bought” refers to Christians in 2 Peter 2:1 do so only in protection of their vain Calvinistic theory of “Once Saved – Always Saved.”
Peter labored under no such illusion, but spoke of those once redeemed by Christ, but who, for the love of money, turned away from the truth, becoming vocal advocates and practitioners of gross lasciviousness and licentiousness. Peter’s choice (by inspiration) of Balaam, a true prophet of God turned false prophet for material gain, was the perfect illustration to warn of the coming danger to arise within the church.
Balaam sought to profit financially through willful disobedience to God. The future apostates in the church would also be motivated by “greed” (2:3), enticing the church by promising freedom through fleshly indulgence (2:18-19). It is interesting to note that Balaam, apparently subsequent to the incident recorded in Numbers 22, counseled sexual relations between the sons of Israel and the Midianite women in opposition of God’s law, causing sin and the destruction of many among the people of God (Numbers 31:16).
Peter continues the dramatic denunciation of the coming apostates, stating, “for by what a man is overcome, by this he is enslaved. For if, after they have escaped the defilements of the world by the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and are overcome, the last state has become worse for them than the first” (2:19-20). What Peter declares here is an echo of what both Jesus and Paul had also taught (cf. John 8:34; Romans 6:16).
If having “escaped the defilements of the world by the knowledge of the Lord” does not indicate a Christian in a saved relationship with Christ, then it must be admitted that Christ is not the only way (cf. John 14:6) by which a man may escape the defilements of the world, but another way, without and apart from Christ must exist! Be not deceived, Peter alludes to Christians, those “bought” by the “Master” (2:1), having escaped the defilements of the world through their redemption, but who have willfully chosen to forsake “the right way,” becoming again “entangled” in sin and “overcome,” to the extent that their last condition has become worse than their first condition (2:20).
Before becoming a child of God, one is lost, but there is the hope of salvation through obedience to the gospel. However, in the case of one who has become a Christian, but who chooses to abandon the right way, willfully engaging in unrestrained sinful behavior, the last condition is worse than the first. What is worse than being lost? It is to be lost after being saved; coming to deny Christ as the Savior and becoming disobedient to the terms of the gospel by which one may remain in a covenant relationship with Christ.
To be lost initially but with the hope of being saved through the gospel is one thing, but to be lost (after being set free from defilement) by willfully denouncing and walking away from the terms of the gospel is another issue entirely. The last condition is to be lost despite the gospel, having “fallen from grace” (Galatians 5:4), thus deserving an even greater punishment (cf. Hebrews 10:26-29).
Peter introduces a dramatic proverb to demonstrate the perversion of apostate Christians, saying, “For it would be better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than having known it, to turn away from the holy commandment handed on to them. It has happened to them according to the true proverb, ‘A dog returns to its own vomit,’ and, ‘A sow, after washing, returns to wallowing in the mire’” (2 Peter 2:21-22).
Peter illustrates apostasy through two graphic and unsettling metaphors – a dog returning to consume his own vile regurgitation and the recently washed sow returning to wallow in the filth, muck, and mire. The dog and hog comparison speaks much louder than the Calvinistic theory of “Once Saved – Always Saved.” Giving up one’s faith in Christ through determined disobedience to the terms of the gospel is equally disgusting as the dog and hog. Apostate Christians are a repugnancy.
Warnings from John
(1) The life of the Christian is marked by daily prayer and confession of sins to God. The apostle John describes this process as “walking in the light” (1 John 1:7). If a person claims “fellowship” with God while walking in unrestrained sin and willful abandonment of Christian worship, principles, and attitudes, his claim to “fellowship” with God is a “lie,” and he does “not practice the truth” (v. 6). On the other hand, to “walk in the light” (present action, denoting continuous activity) is to walk with restraint, not in darkness, but in the light of Christ’s teachings, repenting of and confessing sins in order to maintain forgiveness. One is not saved by simply “trusting Christ as their personal Savior” – popular opinion notwithstanding.
A Christian walks under the direction of Christ, enjoying fellowship with other Christians in the body of Christ (i.e. the church) while benefiting from the continual cleansing of sins provided through the blood of Christ (v. 7). Some might be inclined to infer from this arrangement the impossibility of apostasy, but John is careful to attach a condition to the continual pardon of sins, expressing, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (v. 9). Simon the magician was ordered to “repent of this wickedness of yours, and pray the Lord that, if possible, the intention of your heart may be forgiven you” (Acts 8:22). The same conditions for forgiveness are present in both passages with reference to the Christian.
When the Christian sins, repentance and confession to God are in order; not with an attitude that God is obligated to extend pardon, but in sober reality that God is under no obligation to forgive. The gospel provides adequate instructions pertaining to how the Christian maintains salvation. Simply “trusting Christ to save you” while walking in determined rebellion of the apostles’ doctrine of “obedience of faith” (Romans 1:5; 16:26) is a ludicrous notion – one spawned by the enemy of truth.
In light of John’s condition for continued forgiveness, what will befall the child of God who refuses to repent, not confessing sins to God? The answer is blatantly obvious: God will not forgive the sin or cleanse the sinner. To claim one can be saved by “faith alone” while willfully snubbing the nose at moral restraint and sustained reverent worship of God according to His pattern is the height of arrogance; it is shaking one’s fist in the face of God, demanding that He save you while enjoying every act of disobedience that suits your fancy. “Do not be deceived, God is not mocked” (Galatians 6:7).
(2) John writes his letter to Christians for the stated purpose – “so that you may not sin” (1 John 2:1). He offers confidence, not that the child of God cannot fall away, but that provisions are in place to deal with sin in the life of a Christian. John knew nothing of the claims made today that God extends salvation without and apart from repentance and reformation of life.
Joel Olsteen is currently one of the most celebrated “Pastors” perpetrating the teaching that saying the sinner’s prayer and “trusting Christ to save you” will bestow the blessing of eternal life – irrevocably. Although speaking before thousands upon thousands (even millions via media outlets), Olsteen can never be heard teaching on the subject of sin and repentance. Obedience to the commands of God are conspicuously absent from Olsteen’s sermons – except for the command to “give” of your money to his ministry.
But the apostle John preached a different message of hope than Olsteen. John says, “By this we know we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments. The one who says, ‘I have come to know Him,’ and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him; but whoever keeps His word, in him the love of God has truly been perfected. By this we know that we are in Him: the one who says he abides in Him ought himself to walk in the same manner as He walked” (1 John 2:3-6). Jesus taught people to repent (Matthew 4:17; Luke 13:3-5). He commanded the apostles to preach “repentance for forgiveness of sins” (Luke 24:47); and they did so (Acts 2:38; 3:19; etc.).
John teaches that love reaches its goal in loving obedience to the commands and decrees of God. By keeping His word, the Christian knows that he has a relationship with the Lord. Christianity is based upon living consistently in fellowship with the Lord through faithful observance to the law of Christ. Entreating the Lord for mercy in conjunction with confession of sins and repentance, keeps the Christian in a saved condition throughout life. Jesus did not live His life practicing “Once Saved – Always Saved,” but He submitted Himself to the commandments of God, even to the cross (Philippians 2:8). John says the child of God must “walk in the same manner as He walked.”
(3) The 1st epistle of John closes with this solemn warning: “Little children, guard yourselves from idols” (5:21). The obvious meaning of this succinct statement is, “protect yourselves from damning heathen worship.” No Christian must allow the vain worship practices of the world to entice him/her away from true worship of Jesus Christ. What happens to one who ignores this admonition? Can the child of God replace the worship of Christ with the worship of idols and still retain a place in heaven? If so, why does John warn against such?
The apostles of Christ knew something that “pastors” today have failed to comprehend. The child of God must be warned to avoid evil pitfalls that result in apostasy. Speaking to Christians, Paul boldly exclaimed, “Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Corinthians 6:9-10; cf. Galatians 5:19-21). Sadly, many today have been deceived.
John’s warning against idolatry remains valid for Christians today. While the idolatrous gods of paganism lie buried in the ruins of antiquity, the worship of wealth, fame, power, success, etc., remains a constant danger to Christians living in present day America (cf. Colossians 3:5). “Little children, guard yourselves from idols.”
Warnings from Hebrews
The book of Hebrews is devastating to the Calvinistic theory of “Once Saved – Always Saved.” The recipients of the book are obviously Christians of a Jewish background, and arguably represents those who once officiated as priests, ministering in the Holy Place in the Jewish temple (cf. Acts 6:7). Many of the comparisons involve intimate awareness of the design and function of the inner temple that was the exclusive domain of the priests and High Priest who served on behalf of the people.
Whatever the case may be, the recipients of the Hebrews letter were under direct assault for having severed ties with the former Mosaic regime, becoming servants of Christ. False teachers were denying Jesus was the real Messiah, attempting to persuade Jews to depart Christianity and return to the Law of Moses while awaiting the true Messiah. The author defends Jesus as the only possible Messiah through a variety of arguments and persuasive comparisons. Strong blows are solidly delivered, not only against his Judaist adversaries, but against the modern heresy which claims a child of God cannot fall away from the faith so as to be lost eternally.
(1) After extensively arguing the superiority of Jesus by evincing Him as “God” (1:8) and the “Lord” who created the universe (1:10-12), readers are exhorted to give “much closer attention to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away from it” (2:1). Having previously communicated to men in various ways, the author contends God has recently spoken through His Son. Because of the superiority of Jesus as God in the flesh, an appeal is made to the greater care and urgency which must attend the things spoken by Jesus and confirmed by the apostles who heard Him, “God also testifying with them, both by signs wonders and by various miracles, and by gifts of the Holy Spirit according to His own will” (2:3-4).
That Christians are intended by the exhortation is certain from the triple use of the pronoun, “we” (2:1). The author, obviously a Christian, includes himself with his auditors as those who must give special attention to the means of salvation offered by Jesus Christ. To fail in this matter is to flirt with disaster, because one may soon “drift away from belief” (Louw, 1996). The appeal is made to Jewish Christians not to forsake the church and the teachings of Christ by returning to the dead forms of Judaism.
It has been well said, “Under pressure of persecution, these Jews were discontinuing their attendance upon the Christian assemblies (10:25), and giving less and less heed to the New Testament truth. The reason for this failure to attend earnestly upon the truth of the new dispensation was that these Hebrews were desirous of getting out from under the persecution to which they were being subjected from apostate Judaism. Entrenched and apostate ecclesiasticism was trying to take these Jews away from the visible Church and bring them back to the temple” (Wuest, 1997). If Christians were being lured away by apostate Judaism, in what condition would they find themselves once their departure from Christ was complete? Answer: Apostasy.
The phrase “pay…attention to” or “give heed” translates the Greek verb prosecho, meaning “continue to believe, hold firmly to a belief” (Swanson, 1997); thus the author encourages his readers to “continue to believe” the teachings of Christ as opposed to “drift[ing] away from belief.” The warning concerns the possibility of apostasy.
These Jewish Christians were in danger of letting their belief in Christ “be washed away” (Lexham, 2011) even as a ship slips away from its mooring, slowly carried away by the current to destruction. Here is an accurate description of apostasy as few believers ever turn away suddenly or abruptly, but so slowly as to be imperceptible at first; even as a vessel gradually floats from the harbor until it is overtaken by a violent storm and dashed to destruction, so is the careless child of God who begins forsaking the sacred assemblies of the church (Hebrews 10:25), slowly they “drift away from belief” into the damning waters of unbelief.
(2) That true Christians, not insincere pretenders, are the intended audience for the Hebrews letter is verified by the address, “Therefore, holy brethren, partakers of a heavenly calling, consider Jesus, the Apostle and High Priest of our confession” (3:1). These “holy brethren” were called into a saved relationship with Christ by the gospel (cf. 2 Thessalonians 2:14), becoming “partakers of a heavenly calling.”
The term “confession” translates the noun, homologias, of which Kittel says, “The noun homología is important in Socratic dialogue as indicating consent to what is found to be valid followed by the appropriate resolve and action; theoretical assent is not enough. In the Stoics there is a shift from the thought of actual conduct to the idea of an integrated state of life” (Kittel, et. al., 1985). The New Testament sense is “to promise…to make solemn statements of faith, or to confess something in faith” (Kittel, 1964).
Being addressed were Christians who had acknowledged Christ as Lord through obedience to the gospel. But a word of caution is forthcoming: “Take care, brethren, that there not be in any one of you an evil, unbelieving heart that falls away from the living God” (3:12). If it is impossible for the child of God to fall away and be lost, why would the author introduce the subject, issuing an ominous warning to “take care,” i.e., “watch out for, beware, pay attention” (Swanson, 1997) – against a non-existent danger?
The entire context of the chapter is clear. In the same way that is was possible for the people of Israel to develop evil hearts of unbelief, straying from their relationship with God, Christians could also develop “an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the Living God” (3:12, KJV). The danger of sin hardening a Christian’s heart against the teachings of Christ is a real and present danger (3:13).
If one is to remain a “partaker of Christ” (i.e. “a sharer,” Strong, 2009), he must “hold fast” the “confession” (i.e. pledge or promise of faithful obedience) which he made at the beginning of his Christian life (3:14). The people of Israel provoked God to wrath by their willful and determined disobedience and were thus forbidden to enter His promised rest due to “unbelief” (3:16-19). Christians are being warned against flirting with the same apostasy that befell the nation of Israel in the wilderness. To “fall away” (“desert, commit apostasy” – Newman, 1993) from the living God is to be lost eternally.
(3) Because the possibility of apostasy is the prevailing theme of the Hebrews letter, Calvinists are forced to contend that those under consideration were never genuine in faith, but were merely professing faith. However, the inspired author of the material held no such opinion, rather, as seen previously, he addressed them as “holy brethren” and “partakers of Christ.” Can one be a sharer of Christ and not belong to Christ? Such is absurd, and has no basis of reason or support from the Scriptures. The impossibility of apostasy is “but a delusion” (Coffman, 1971, p. 117).
Hebrews 6:4-8 provides an interesting description of those who were in danger of falling away: (a) they once were “enlightened,” thus had departed the realm of darkness (cf. Acts 26:18; Colossians 1:13); (b) they had “tasted of the heavenly gift,” an obvious reference to the gift of salvation (cf. Romans 6:23; Ephesians 2:8-9); (c) they had “been made partakers of the Holy Spirit,” something the world could not receive (John 14:17); (d) they had “tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come,” both of which relate to the inspiration, revelation, and confirmation of the gospel through miraculous power. Although it does no violence to suggest this has reference to their receiving the gospel which was confirmed by miraculous demonstration, it appears, because of the previous mention of their being “partakers of the Holy Spirit,” that these Christians had been endowed with supernatural powers through the laying on of hands by an apostle (cf. John 7:37-39; Acts 8:17ff; Acts 19:6; 2 Timothy 1:6-7).
If these qualifications do not represent a first century Christian in the infant church, I must admit that I am clueless as to what constitutes a Christian. However, deferring to the obvious conclusion that these are Christians, the author indicates that when they “have fallen away, it is impossible to renew them again to repentance, since they crucify to themselves the Son of God and put Him to open shame” (Hebrews 6:6). The verb, “have fallen away,” translates parapesontas, defined, “to fall away (from the true faith): from worship of Jehovah” (Strong, 2001); “apostasize” (Lexham, 2011); “to commit apostasy” (Lust, 2003; Swanson, 1997; Newman, 1993). The author clearly uses a word which denotes apostasy, unambiguously intending for the reader to understand defection from Christ by one who was once saved.
Often people express dismay at the statement “it is impossible to renew them again to repentance,” but it must be recognized in the phrases which follow, the verbs “crucify” and “put…to open shame” are present active participles, indicating the apostates continue crucifying the Son of God afresh (in their hearts), and keep on putting Him to public disgrace by their denial of Him as the real Messiah! Every possible motivation for repentance was dead because of their descent into unbelief. No wonder the church is warned against false teachers!
An illustration is introduced to reinforce the magnitude of the loss by apostasy. Tilled land which provides good produce proves itself useful and blessed by God, but land which yields only “thorns and thistles, it is worthless and close to being cursed, and it ends up being burned” (Hebrews 6:7-8). The unproductive land is ultimately “burned,” a rather obvious biblical allusion to hell. As stated by Wayne Jackson, “Unquestionably, the once-saved can fall away and be lost forever” (2011, p. 496).
(4) As previously mentioned, Jewish Christians were abandoning the worship of Christ, returning to the Law of Moses as a means for pardon. The Hebrews writer pleads, “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful; and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some…” (Hebrews 10:23-25).
The encouragement to “hold fast the confession” implies the possibility of letting go the confession. This is precisely what these early Christians were beginning to do. Because of persecution, the love of many was growing cold (cf. Matthew 24:12). These were letting go of their confession, “wavering” in their belief that Christ was Messiah, and thereby refusing to assemble with the church to participate in worship of Christ.
(5) The potential result of descent into unbelief was immediately addressed. The writer says, “For if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a terrifying expectation of judgment and the fury of fire which will consume the adversaries” (10:26-27).
The writer, certainly a Christian, includes himself with all other Christians as a possible candidate for defection, saying, “For if we go on sinning willfully.” No one is exempt from the possibility of apostasy, and that is why great care is to be taken, encouraging and stimulating “one another to love and good deeds” (v. 24).
If a Christian turns away from the Lord, refusing to comply with the terms of the gospel which includes (but is not limited to) continual repentance and seeking the Lord’s forgiveness through confession of sins (cf. John 1:9), “there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins” (Hebrews 10:26). Again, the clear implication is that these were presently under the Lord’s sacrifice for sin. However, if anyone makes the choice to no longer believe in Jesus as Christ, returning to a life of unrestrained sin while awaiting another Messiah, the warning is sternly delivered that no new sacrifice will be forthcoming, but only the fearful expectation of doom in a fury of fire (v. 27).
To further illustrate the calamity to befall anyone who falls away from the faith, the writer explains, “Anyone who has set aside the Law of Moses dies without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. How much severer punishment do you think he will deserve who has trampled under foot the Son of God, and has regarded as unclean the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has insulted the Spirit of grace?” (10:28-29).
It was the Jewish child of God who died at the testimony of two or three witnesses after he had “set aside the Law of Moses” (Deuteronomy 17:2-7), not alien transgressors who were not under the Mosaic Covenant. Likewise, it is the Christian, the child of God under the New Covenant, who will deserve even great punishment if the faith of Christ is set aside (cf. Luke 12:41-48). To renounce your previous allegiance to Jesus as Christ is to “trample under foot the Son of God.”
That the writer is indeed portraying Christians – not insincere pretenders – is again determinable from the phrase “has regarded as unclean the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified” (v. 29; emp. added). The Christian is the one who has been sanctified by the blood of the New Covenant. Paul told the Corinthian Christians, “but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God” (1 Corinthians 6:11). The author of Hebrews speaks of those who had been “sanctified” by the blood of the covenant (cf. Matthew 26:28), but who had renounced Christ and Christianity, returning to sinful indulgence.
These apostate Christians “insulted the Spirit of grace,” refusing to continue in the teachings of the gospel delivered by the Holy Spirit. What would the outcome be for such defectors from the faith? “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay.’ And again, ‘The Lord will judge His people’” (v. 30). The phrase “His people” is a reference to the children of God who turn away from the faith in apostasy. And let the reader be warned, “It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the Living God” (v. 31).
(6) The writer urges his teetering brethren to remember their former days as faithful Christians, in which, after being “enlightened,” they subsequently endured “a great conflict of sufferings, partly by being made a public spectacle through reproaches and tribulations, and partly by becoming sharers with those who were so treated” (10:32-33). Their strong faith in Christ resulted in rejoicing when personal properties were seized and confiscated, “knowing that you have a better possession and a lasting one” (v. 34).
Contrasted are earlier faithful days in Christianity with the current wavering of faith leading to possible apostasy. A dire exhortation is forthcoming, cautioning, “Therefore, do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God, you may receive what was promised” (10:35-36). Contrary to popular opinion, eternal salvation is not bestowed based upon “faith alone,” but the inspired record consistently affirms that salvation is promised to “he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 7:21); and to “all those who obey Him” (Hebrews 5:9). The gospel contains obligatory acts of compliance – both in primary obedience and in lifelong responsibilities regarding worship and Christian conduct.
The writer admonishes these wavering Christians to “not throw away” their confidence in Christ as the Messiah, but to endeavor to persevere unto the great reward that is promised to those who “have done the will of God” (10:36). To abandon the worship of Christ and the restraints of righteous living as bound by His holy apostles is certainly not the will of God, but is the trampling of the Son of God under foot. The warning is clearly related to the possibility of Christian apostasy.
(7) Before entering into that marvelous cathedral of literature exhibiting the actions of esteemed men and women of faith (Hebrews 11), the writer quotes from the text of Habakkuk 2:3ff, “For yet in a very little while, He who is coming will come, and will not delay. But My righteous one shall live by faith; and if he shrinks back, My soul has no pleasure in him” (Hebrews 10:37-38).
This passage has reference to the coming of Christ against Judaism in the final overthrow of the Jewish nation which had involved itself in the relentless persecution of Christians since the earliest days of Christianity. To persecute Christians was to persecute the Lord Jesus Himself (cf. Acts 9:3-6). The Lord had foretold of His coming against the Jews, resulting in the cataclysmic desolation of the Jewish temple and all that it represented (cf. Luke 21:5-24). The Lord would deal justly with His persecutors (cf. Revelation 18:4-8).
The entire letter of Hebrews was written to stem the tide of Jewish Christians being drawn back into Judaism in order to be relieved from the savage persecution enveloping the early church. God referred to the exodus from Christianity as “shrink[ing] back,” stating lucidly, “My soul has no pleasure in [them]” (Hebrews 10:38).
Those who “live by faith” are “not of those who shrink back to destruction, but of those who have faith to the preserving of the soul” (10:39). The possibility of apostasy from the faith could not be made clearer than it is throughout the Hebrews letter. The word “destruction” translates the Greek noun apoleia, defined, “destruction, utter ruin; hell ( ὁ υἱὸς τῆς ἀ. one bound to be lost or one destined for hell)” (Newman, 1993).
The writer, obviously a Christian, again includes himself in the same category as his auditors, indicating he is writing to Christians and warning against the danger of apostasy. He says, “But we are not of those who shrink back to destruction.” To walk away from obedience to Christ is to “shrink back to destruction.” Christians are encouraged to “live by faith,” meaning an obedience of faith as characterized in the following chapter. Abiding faith, not wavering faith, results in “the preserving of the soul.”
Conclusion (Part III)
The three witnesses examined in part III are wholly consistent with the testimony of Christ and the apostle Paul. Apostasy is an ever present danger facing each and every Christian. While severe persecution was the catalyst resulting in many abandoning the worship of Christ in the first century, Christians of the twenty-first century have generally been spared the harsh persecution experienced by our earliest brethren in the church; however, apostasy now occurs as a result of apathy, unrestrained materialism, a love of sin, and from claims of intellectual enlightenment by atheists and evolutionists.
The love of Christ has grown cold in many who began their Christian walk with enthusiastic zeal, but have since suffered a shipwrecked faith, returning to the world with its allurements. Subsequent to the catalog of faithful servants discussed in Hebrews 11, the writer implored, “Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus” (12:1-2). If God is pleased with the unfaithful and will ultimately save the unfaithful along with the faithful, why is so much emphasis placed upon remaining faithful in the Bible?
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