Saturday, April 3, 2010

Christians and Apostasy: A Fresh Look At Hebrews 6

by Babu G. Ranganathan

This is a very complex topic. However, I hope the Christian reader will find the brief article below helpful and useful.

In 1 Timothy 1:19-20 Paul tells us that certain Christians who committed apostasy will remain saved but not escape judgment here on Earth. Paul says, in the passage, that he delivered Hymenaeus and Alexander, who had shipwrecked their faith (committed apostasy), to Satan so that that THEY WILL LEARN NOT TO BLASPHEME. The Apostle is saying that they would come again to repentance because they would learn not to blaspheme. God will use Satan to discipline them, and God only disciplines His true children. God leaves reprobates alone!

Christians may commit apostasy and still be saved but they will not escape God's fiery judgment here on Earth. After judgment they will come to renewal of repentance but not before!

In Hebrews 6, the Apostle was telling certain Christians that they were in danger of their hearts becoming so hardened that they would not be able to repent before they are judged. The Apostle gives an example towards the end of Hebrews 6 of how land that does not bear fruit will be burned of its weeds, thorns, etc. The land itself will not be destroyed and may afterwards become profitable to produce fruit. The Jews were known, in ancient times, to burn land that only produced weeds, thorns, etc, so that it may be used afresh again. Obviously, the use of the word "land" represents Christians (believers). He wasn't saying it was impossible altogether for apostate Christians to repent. In context, the Apostle was simply saying that it would be impossible for apostate Christians to come to repentance before they experience fiery trial and judgment for their apostasy. (These thoughts were gleaned from reading The Bible Knowledge Commentary, a work of the Dallas Theological Seminary faculty)

In Hebrews 10:39 we read, "But we are not of them who draw back unto perdition; but of them that believe to the saving of the soul." The words "are destroyed" (in the passage) reflect the Greek "apoleis," which can refer either to temporal or eternal ruin which an apostate invites ... Though the author's own normal word for salvation does not occur here, the expression "and are saved" somewhat freely translates "eis peripoiesein psyches." A viable rendering of the last half of verse 39 would be: " but [we are] of faith leading to the preservation of the soul" ... But "soul" here should be understood in the Hebraic sense of the person himself, or his life, and refers in this context to the way in which persistence in the faith preserves an individual from calamities that overtake those who "shrink back."

Most Christians don’t understand the difference between our position in Christ and our condition.  For example, haven’t you ever asked yourself why, as a believer in Christ, you need to ask forgiveness to God for your sins but, yet, the Bible says before God’s eyes you are as righteous and as sinless as Christ because God sees you as you are in Christ. How can both be true?

Our being as righteous as Christ is our position in Christ, not our condition now. Position has to do with our legal status. When the Bible says that by faith in Christ we are justified (declared not guilty), it is referring to our position. The term “justification” has solely a judicial meaning. Judicially we are declared not guilty, but in our condition we still have guilt because we still have sin.

Here’s an example. A murderer is pardoned by the Governor of a state. Does that mean he didn’t commit the murder? Legally he is considered as if he never committed a murder, but in actual history (his condition) he did commit murder. So, too, before God the believer in Christ is legally considered as sinless, but in his condition the believer still has sin.

One day the believer’s condition will be the same as his position (the same as his legal standing before God). That day will be in heaven. Until then, the believer experiences sanctification, which is the gradual experiencing in his life what he has in his legal standing (position) before God.

Our position in Christ is forever secured by the one-time act of faith in Christ, but our sanctification or being saved (condition) requires our continued faith in Christ. Let's look at it another way. We are justified only once by our faith in Christ (when we once received Him as our personal Lord and Savior). We don't keep getting justified. We don't keep receiving Christ as our Savior, but our sanctification (becoming Christ like in our lives) is an on-going process of salvation. The sanctification process of our salvation requires continuing in faith.  The Scriptures teach, in various passages, that the ultimate completion of the believer’s sanctification, even when interrupted by sin, is ultimately guaranteed by God. That is why Scripture says in Hebrews 10:14 “For by one offering he hath perfected (past tense) for ever them that are sanctified.” 

The Apostle Paul said, "For I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that He is able to keep that which I have committed unto Him against that day" (2 Timothy 1:12).
Paul was talking about everything concerning him, not just his ministry, but also his soul, his faith. That is true of every true of every true believer. Notice the word “committed.” It’s in the past tense. So, even if a Christian shipwrecks his faith, the faith that he once committed to God, will be kept by God and keep the Christian from utterly failing, even if it means severe judgment before bringing the Christian back to repentance.

There are passages in Scripture (1 Corinthians 3) that teach some Christians will enter heaven by the skin of their teeth - no rewards or anything! Christians can be in danger of that!

There are various passages in Scripture that teach there are differences between those who are truly Christian and those who just profess to be Christian. This is why the Apostle John says in his epistles "They went out from us because they were not of us" (1 John 2:19). They were never true Christians to begin with. So, that's another possibility to consider. Some who commit apostasy may never have been truly saved at all!

The Bible clearly teaches that true Christians can never lose their salvation (Romans 8: 29-30). There are many Scripture passages that clearly teach this particular truth and theme of God's sovereign grace in salvation.

It is the obedience of Christ that is irrevocably imputed to those whom God the Father by His sovereign grace chose in Christ from before the foundation of the world. It is because of Christ's obedience that the genuine faith of His children, even if that faith be dormant at times, will not ultimately fail and cannot fail. Scripture says the "gifts and calling of God are without repentance" (Romans 11:29). The context in Romans 11 has to do with God's sovereign and unconditional election. For Christ's sake, and for His sake only, none of His can or will ever perish.

God not only ordains the ends but He also ordains the means by which those ends are accomplished. God ordains our salvation and also ordains that our salvation be kept through faith. The initial deposit of faith upon conversion is what God uses to reserve for us a place in glory. Later our faith may become dormant, even possibly shipwrecked, and may be in need of restoration, but it is that initial deposit of faith that is the basis of God "keeping us" unto the day of salvation.

An excellent example from Scripture of how God works through His ordained means to accomplish His ordained ends is provided by the great Reformed theologian Arthur W. Pink in his book "The Sovereignty of God". Below I express, in my own words, Pink's thoughts on the matter.

We know that no one could take the life of Jesus before it was His time. Then why did God tell Mary and Joseph to flee to Egypt so that Jesus would not be killed by Herod? If Jesus could not die before His time then how could Herod kill Him? Why even escape to Egypt if no one could take Jesus' life before His time? Ah, but you see God ordained that means of escape to Egypt to accomplish His ordained ends of keeping Jesus alive until it was His time to go to the Cross. Great mysteries are these!

I highly recommend to all readers Arthur W. Pink's classic Christian work "The Sovereignty of God" published by The Banner of Truth Trust. Next to the Bible this is the best, most God glorifying, and spiritually profitable and useful Christian book to read!

I truly hope all will read my article "Understanding God and Predestination" at:

*The author graciously acknowledges two main sources of bibliography in the writing of this article: "The Tyndale New Testament Commentary" on the Book of Hebrews" and "The Bible Knowledge Commentary" on the Book of Hebrews".