A sermon on Hebrews 5:11-6:20. Audio here
What do we make of Christians, who belong to our churches, serve in remarkable way, can speak of great Christian experiences. They’ve heard the gospel, maybe they’ve even themselves taught the gospel to others. They’ve been involved in ministry and have spoken personally of God’s goodness. Maybe they’ve even helped you in Christian life and been a real example and mentor to you – and NOW, they are nowhere spiritually. They don’t call themselves Christians anymore. They feel like they’ve out-grown it. They’ve consigned it to the past. What about Christians who fall away?
Well it seems to me there can only really be two answers.
EITHER they weren’t really and truly and genuinely Christians. They called themselves Christians, they went to church, they had experiences, they were involved in things but they weren’t actually converted. And you might think that because – You cannot lose your salvation. Jesus says in John chapter 10, verse 27:
27 My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. 28 I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no-one can snatch them out of my hand.
If you actually belong to Christ then Christ takes responsibility for you, forgives all your sins and takes you to glory no matter what.
On the other hand you might think this. That such people who fall away were really and truly and genuinely Christians. But they sinned once too often or they backslid in such an outrageous way that, though they once were in Christ’s hands nonetheless they managed to themselves away from Christ and lose their salvation.
It’s a big issue. And whenever I’m asked about it, the first verse that springs to mind is one that addresses the question front on. It’s in 1 John 2, p1226. Keep a finger in Hebrews 5 and turn to p1226.
Here John is talking about anti-christs. But don’t think of Hollywood horror films, he’s just talking about people who end up being quite anti – Jesus. They start off pro-Christ, but they end up anti-Christ. They once belonged to church but later they oppose the things of Jesus.
18 Dear children, this is the last hour; and as you have heard that the antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come. This is how we know it is the last hour. 19 They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us.
Do you hear what John’s saying? If they were really and truly and genuinely converted they won’t fall away. If they do fall away it doesn’t prove that you can lose your salvation. It proves that they weren’t really saved.
So the second option cannot be right.
And I think it’s so important to get that. Because it can do tremendous damage if you think Jesus has done the first bit of saving you – and now it’s up to YOU. Good luck! Hope you don’t blow it. See you at the pearly gates. Maybe.
I once heard an awful sermon on Hebrews 6 where the minister was preaching that you can lose your salvation. And he mentioned that Jesus teaches there is such a thing as unforgiveable sin, so don’t whatever you do blow it. And there was a question and answer time afterwards and a young girl asked the question: what is the unforgiveable sin? He said: “No-one knows what the unforgiveable sin is. A lot of people think they know, but they don’t. My only advice to you is – whatever it is – don’t do it.”
Isn’t that the worst thing you could ever hear from a pulpit? What anxiety you put into people’s hearts, all the time thinking ‘Is that the unforgiveable sin? Have I just committed it then?’ It’s dreadful.
In fact I should probably just make sure that none of us have wrong thinking on the unforgiveable sin. I think it’s really straightforward teaching from Jesus. Shall we turn to Mark 3:28 – p1005. Jesus says:
28 I tell you the truth, all the sins and blasphemies of men will be forgiven them.
How many of the sins of men will be forgiven? ALL.
29 But whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven; he is guilty of an eternal sin."
So there is one eternal sin, for which there is no forgiveness. What is it? Morris Dancing. No, not Morris Dancing… It’s described in two different ways. Verse 29 calls it blaspheming the Holy Spirit. Verse 30 explain that it is effectively saying of Jesus “He has an evil spirit.” The eternal sin is to say of Jesus – Jesus is wicked, He’s not God, He’s not my Saviour, He’s evil. That is a blasphemy against the Holy Spirit because it’s the Spirit’s work to reveal Christ to us. By the Spirit we confess Jesus to be LORD (1 Corinthians 12:3). But we blaspheme the Spirit when we reject Jesus. That’s the eternal sin. Jesus takes every sin you ever have committed or will commit and puts it all to death on the cross. It’s all taken care of. But if you reject Jesus, well no forgiveness for you. Because forgiveness is in Jesus.
So it is very straightforward to say what the unforgiveable sin is. The unforgiveable sin is to reject Jesus, because Jesus IS the Forgiver.
That’s just a little detour because I think these issues are so important. Let’s go back to Hebrews 5 and 6, p1204. Because if there’s one place in the bible people turn to to say you can lose your salvation, it’s here.
In verses 11-14 the writer is addressing some Christians, and they’re a bit slow on the uptake, a bit immature, not really ready for rich and meaty teaching. As I read this – notice how many times it says “you”
We have much to say about this, but it is hard to explain because you are slow to learn. 12 In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God's word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! 13 Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. 14 But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.
So that’s the Hebrew Christians. And the writer keeps saying “I know what YOU are like, YOU are like this, YOU are baby Christians.
You should have grown up a bit by now, but you’re still babies. And it’s frustrating that you’re baby Christians, but at least you are baby Christians. You have the foundations. And from chapter 6, the writer will speak of the foundations of their Christian faith that they’ve already got. Chapter 6, verse 1:
Therefore let us leave the elementary teachings about Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again the foundation of repentance from acts that lead to death, and of faith in God, 2 instruction about baptisms, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. 3 And God permitting, we will do so.
So that was the foundation course that was run for these Christians.
Week 1 – repentance. Week 2 – faith. Week 3 – baptisms (it would have to be, these were new converts). Week 4 – laying on of hands (again this is crucial for establishing a new church, because laying on of hands was commissioning church leaders, ordaining people, handing over responsibility to people as the church gets off the ground. Crucial for a new church that’s started from scratch). Week 5 – the resurrection of the dead, Week 6 – eternal judgement.
Those are the foundations. And they are solid foundations. And the writer is confident that the Christians he’s writing to, have the foundations. He just wishes they’d grow up and mature from these foundations. But as that’s how he considers the people he’s addressing “YOU are baby Christians, you’ve got the foundations, but I wish you’d grow up a bit.”
But then from verse 4 he speaks about another group of people. He doesn’t use the word “YOU” again until v9. Instead, in verses 4-8 he starts talking about “THOSE who have once been enlightened.” Verse 6 “if THEY fall away.” And when gets to verse 9 he makes it clear that verses 4-8 are not about “YOU”, they’re about THEM
9 Even though we speak like this, dear friends, we are confident of better things in YOUR case--things that accompany salvation.
Clearly the things of verses 4-8 do not accompany salvation. And so what we read in verses 4-8 are the non-saving experiences of THOSE who share in church and share in Christian things, but they don’t share in CHRIST.
And in verses 4 and 5 we read about some extraordinary experiences those people have had. They have:
4 … 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,
These are incredible experiences. They are not foundations. You’ll notice how very different this list is to the list of foundations in verses 1 and 2. But they are impressive experiences.
Here is a new church that’s gotten off the ground. There’s been a lot of excitement, a lot of spiritual buzz going around the place. And there are those people who will have gotten caught up in the experiences without ever laying the foundations.
You might wonder, how can that be? Well turn back a page to chapter 2 and verse 3. Because here we get a description of the exciting way this church got off the ground. Halfway through v3 it says:
3 This salvation, which was first announced by the Lord [Jesus], was confirmed to us by those who heard Him. 4 God also testified to it by signs, wonders and various miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will.
So do you see how this church got off the ground? Jesus, when He was around, spoke the word of salvation. There were those who heard Jesus personally – so His disciples and other close followers. And, v3, they confirmed Jesus words to us. So actually the disciples set up this church. Wouldn’t that be awesome? Wouldn’t that be a real buzz? Tonight at Souls at Seven, we have a visiting preacher – the Apostle John. And his sermon text will be – anything he likes, he writes the bible. This church was started by the disciples themselves – if not some of the 12, at least those in the inner circles of Jesus’ followers. And if that wasn’t good enough, their message was accompanied by signs, wonders and various miracles and gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to His will.
Fantastic. And so typical of a frontier mission situation. When the gospel first comes to a place you’ll often find this massive outpouring of the Holy Spirit in miracles and healings. As this church got off the ground, there was a lot of Holy Spirit splashing around – if I can be that irreverent. There were a lot of experiences going. And there were a lot of people caught up in them. True Christians who’d laid the foundations of actual repentance and faith etc. But also others who just had the experiences.
Back in chapter 6, what were the experiences? Verse 4: Enlightenment. The spiritual lights switch on in a dramatic way. And then I think there are two descriptions of some kind of sharing in the Holy Spirit. It’s described as ‘tasting the heavenly gift’ and ‘sharing in Holy Spirit.’ It doesn’t say THE Holy Spirit in the original. In Hebrews THE Holy Spirit has the Person of the Holy Spirit in view. But when it simply talks about Holy Spirit, it’s got the gifts and miracles of the Spirit in view. So it is possible to have a taste of the Spirit – or at least the Spirits gifts or miracles but in a non-saving way. Perhaps people were healed, perhaps they even preached in church and the Spirit even used their words, but the speaker wasn’t actually converted. That’s very possible. Verse 5, these people, taste the goodness of the word of God. And the powers of the coming age. We’ve seen how the miraculous attended this church in a major way.
But the point is, it’s possible to have all these experiences but not have the foundations. It’s possible to share in church in a profound way, but not to share in Christ.
And if such people invest in the experience but have none of the reality then they will lead utterly fruitless Christian lives.
That’s what verses 7-8 are all about:
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.
These experience-led false-Christians were living under a shower of God’s blessings, day after day, but they didn’t have the reality. And while-ever they lacked the reality they weren’t just staying neutral, they are actually producing thorns and thistles. They’re actually moving further away from God. To live under such blessings but not to actually give your heart to Jesus is very dangerous. It actually hardens you. And if you don’t turn, in the end there will be judgement. And the chilling fact of verse 4 is that some people will reach the point of no-return even BEFORE they die.
Whatever other conclusions we come to about these verses, one thing is clear. There is a category of person about whom it is said “It is impossible for them to be brought back to repentance.” We know that after death there are no second chances. But for some people they will reach the point of no-return even before death.
Now please don’t imagine that I’m describing some poor soul who desperately wants Jesus but Jesus says “Sorry, you’ve passed the point of no return.” Anyone who wants Jesus, gets Jesus. The tragedy is that some people only want Jesus’ stuff, they don’t want Him. And after a while they get to the point where they just will not want Jesus ever.
Jesus never refuses anyone who wants Him. But the tragedy is – there are those who only want His stuff and they don’t want Him. And if they carry on and carry on and carry on rejecting Jesus, there comes a point where there’s no going back.
So what about those who fall away? These very verses are the best argument anyone’s got for saying you can lose your salvation. And these verses ain’t saying it. Those who fall away were not truly converted in the first place. You can’t lose your salvation.
If you could, then you’d spend your time worried about yourself.
I might sin too much in the future, I might make a hash of the Christian life, I might find Christian things really dull and just drift away and I will lose my salvation. You’d think, Jesus has laid hold of me, but I’ve got to make sure I’m a good boy or girl or else I can undo everything Jesus has done. I mean, it’s absurd isn’t it, to think that little old me can undo the mighty salvation of Jesus, but if I entertain that thought I’m going to get very anxious, I’m going to stop looking to Jesus and start looking to my own performance and make sure I’m good enough to finish what Christ began. My concern will be “Will I sin?”
But if we get our thinking straight we will still have to face the warnings of this passage. But these warnings will make us ask a different question: “Am I Christ’s?”
Do I, RIGHT NOW, belong to Jesus? If I do, I’m eternally secure. But do I belong to Jesus. Not just, have I had groovy experiences or Christian affiliations in the past. RIGHT NOW, do I belong to Jesus? Am I Christ’s? It would be dreadful to share in church and not share in Christ, so do I share in Christ? That’s our question.
In John 10, in the passage where Jesus says “No-one can snatch you out of my hand”, He says “I am the Good Shepherd... I know my sheep and my sheep know me.” Do you have a relationship of knowing with Jesus? You know Him, He knows you.
In Matthew 7, Jesus talks about Judgement Day. He says many people will come up to Him on judgement day and say “Lord, Lord, I did incredible things in your name. I did miracles, I preached, I was a part of lots of Christian activity.” Jesus says there are many of those people to whom He will says “Away from me you evildoers. I never knew you.” I NEVER knew you. NOT – “we were close once, what happened?” Not, “we used to be friends, you drifted.” On the last day He will say I NEVER had that relationship of knowing with you. Do you know Jesus? I know my sheep and my sheep know me? Do I know Him?
Don’t worry about whether you’ll sin or not. You’ll sin alright. Ask yourself, Am I Christ’s?
And the way you’ll get an answer will not be by staring at your belly-button waiting for a groovy feeling. You won’t get an answer that way.
Instead one thing you do – and this is by no means the first thing you do, or the only thing you do, but one thing you can do – is, just get on and serve in the Christian life. Verse 10, keep working and loving, helping God’s people. Verse 11 there’s an assurance that comes from persevering in cheerful, loving Christian service. Do you see how different this is to the experiences of tasting the powers of the coming age! No this is down-to-earth service here and now but a wonderful sign that you’re Christ’s. So this perserverence in cheerful, loving service is one way of answering the question Am I Christ’s? But it’s not the major way. From verse 13 is the major way – SIMPLY LOOK to God’s promise:
13 When God made his promise to Abraham, since there was no-one greater for him to swear by, he swore by himself, 14 saying, "I will surely bless you and give you many descendants." 15 And so after waiting patiently, Abraham received what was promised. 16 Men swear by someone greater than themselves, and the oath confirms what is said and puts an end to all argument. 17 Because God wanted to make the unchanging nature of his purpose very clear to the heirs of what was promised, he confirmed it with an oath. 18 God did this so that, by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled to take hold of the hope offered to us may be greatly encouraged.
Just briefly let me explain that. God promises you eternal life. You ask, How do I know He’ll come through? Answer: Because He has sworn by Himself. We do stupid things like “Swear on our grandmother’s grave” because we think of something so holy, we wouldn’t dare lie if we swore on grannies grave. Well there’s nothing more holy than God. So He swears by Himself, because He’s the ultimate. And when you’re dealing with an Ultimate Thing then as you look to it you KNOW it’s the ultimate.
I’ll give you an example: The Sun is bright
Honey is sweet.
God is trustworthy and will do what He’s promised. Look to His promise and and you'll see not only the THING promised but also the TRUSTWORTHINESS of that promise.
How does that work? Well verses 19 and 20 show us how God not only promises eternal life but makes good the promise. You see God the Father sends God the Son to be our Priest and to bring us back to Himself. He not only promises our eternal life - He goes out and achieved it for us.
19 We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain, 20 where Jesus, who went before us, has entered on our behalf. He has become a high priest for ever, in the order of Melchizedek.
Here is how God not only promises eternal life but also achieves it - so that to look at the promise is to see it put into effect. God the Son became God our Brother. And as our Brother He became our Priest.
A Priest brings me to God and God to me. And the quality of my relationship with God is down to the quality of my priest.
If he’s a good priest you have access to God. If he’s rubbish then it doesn’t matter how good you are!
Look at Jesus – is He a good priest?? Fully God, Fully Man. God the Son, God your Brother. Tempted in EVERY way yet without sin. He became the perfect sacrifice. Not just the blood of goats and bulls was offered on your behalf, but the blood of God. Is He a good priest? He rose from death, never to die again. He rose up through the heavens to sit down at God’s right hand. He bears you on His heart. Is He a good priest?
Keep looking to Him – see HOW gracious He is. See HOW loving He is. How He has gone to the very depths of the cross to win you. Are His arms open to you? They were nailed open for you. And as you look to Jesus you start to see Him, not just as THE Priest. But as Your Priest He's gone into the presence of God. He is the Anchor, you are tied to Him. You are His and He is yours. And if you belong to Jesus then NOTHING can go wrong with your salvation!
So simply look to Jesus and you see everything you need to see about your salvation. It's taken care of. If you look to yourself, if you look to other religious practices, if you look to your own abilities to get to God you are cut loose from the Anchor. Look to Jesus - He is not PROMISES your standing before God, He simply IS your standing before God. Look to Him and you'll find assurance. Look to Him and you'll find that fruitfulness in Christian living growing organically.
Before the throne of God above, I have a strong, a perfect plea. A great High Priest whose name is love, Who ever lives and pleads for me. My name is written on His hands, My name is hidden in His heart. I know that while in heaven He stands, no power can force me to depart.