July 9, 2017
So, what is the purpose of a warning sign? No running in the Pool; Trespassers will be prosecuted; Do not feed the Alligators; No base jumping…
Their purpose is to stop you from doing something that will be harmful or at least potentially harmful to your well-being.
But, does the stop sign have any power of its own? It’s not going to jump out and grab you suddenly to stop you from base jumping. It won’t run up and scare you to prevent you from feeding an alligator. It won’t call the police if you step over the boundary into private property. If you are intent on breaking the rule, whatever the rule is, a sign cannot stop you from doing so.
But, if you have a conscience, if you respect the notion of life, law, and property, then a warning sign will deter you from said action.
Now, our passage contains a warning and if you understand the passage as such, then you will not get lost in endless speculation as to whether it is possible to lose your salvation.
Jesus stated very clearly in John 6:37: “All that the Father gives me will come to me and whoever comes to me I will never cast out.”
By the way, that is the doctrines of Election, Effectual Calling, and the Perseverance of the Saints — 3 doctrines in one verse…not bad.
Similarly, Jesus said in John 10:27-28: “My sheep hear my voice and I know them and they follow me and I give them eternal life and they will never perish and no one will snatch them out of my hand.” He goes on further to say, “I and the Father are one.”
But people sometimes come to this passage here in Hebrews and read the words: “It is impossible to restore to repentance…” and then ask, “Can I then lose my salvation?” And that question misses the point of warning.
The believer hears the words of warning and cherishing his Savior and his church, is turned away from such sinful actions; the unbeliever, who doesn’t care anyway, falls away. It is not a matter of losing one’s faith so much as it is a culling out of the wheat from the tares.
But warnings don’t just tell us the consequences of an action; they tell us the action that will be harmful to our well-being. So the question we must next ask about this passage is, what action is the author referring to?
That takes us back to the previous passage which we looked at two weeks ago; the people were sticking with milk and not moving up to meat because they had lazy ears. They refused to grow and mature in their milk-faith because what they had wasn’t really saving faith at all and thus they left the body, seeking a context where they didn’t need to grow or be stretched or learn to choke down solid food — a place where they could remain spiritual babies, coddled in the arms of false teachers who would tickle their ears and tell them all they really want to hear. And things haven’t changed much across the generations.
So, remembering that this is a warning that follows a rebuke, let’s look again to the text:
Verses 1-3 are pretty straight-forward:
“Therefore, putting to the side the first principles of the doctrine of Christ, let us press on toward the end of maturity, not laying down once more a foundation of repentance from dead works, faith toward God, teaching on baptisms, laying on of hands, resurrection of the dead and eternal justice … and we will do this if God permits.”
In other words, the author’s goal is to move forward and present meat to eat, not milk. Of course, that takes work, which means that those who are spiritually lazy won’t keep up — they will weed themselves out.
One of the great excuses of the spiritually lazy is to say, “I am just not being fed.”
You know, at the dinner table, it is only the baby that is fed — the child learns to feed himself. And the mature adult not only feeds others, but helps to prepare and serve the meal.
There is an old saying about church dinners — “If you go away hungry, it’s your own fault.”
So, if you come to church and God’s word is read and preached faithfully, yet you go away hungry, don’t blame the preacher or the elders; blame yourself for coming unprepared to eat meat.
What does the author refer to as the “basics” of faith?
— repentance from dead works and faith in God (salvation by grace alone through faith)
— teaching on baptisms (notice the plural here)
— laying on of hands (likely ordination)
— Resurrection of the dead and eternal justice (eschatology)
Now, notice that he is not dismissing these things as unimportant, but that it is a starting point from which one can build. But he says as our goal is to go on toward maturity, we will discuss mature things if God permits.
“For it is impossible for those who were once given light, having tasted the heavenly gift and having shared in the Holy Spirit, tasting the goodness of God’s word and the powers of the age to be., and acting faithlessly, to again renew their repentance, crucifying to themselves the Son of God and publicly disgracing him.”
What is impossible? To renew the apostates to repentance.
Why is it impossible?
— they were shown light (enlightened is an unfortunate translation here)
— they tasted the heavenly gift
— they shared in the Holy Spirit…and that grammatically points to the “how”… by tasting the goodness of God’s word and the powers of the age to come.
None of the above items demands that we read this text as if they had saving faith in the first place, but rather that they benefitted by being in fellowship with those who did have saving faith.
There will always be weeds that grow up in the garden around those plants that we plant. And those weeds will benefit from the manure and fertilizer applied to the garden as well as from the tilling up of the soil. The devil plants them and they grow, but just as a good gardener weeds his garden to help the pants that are belonging there to bear fruit, so too does church leadership weed the church as it practices church discipline to guide the church into Christian maturity.
And how do these benefits come? From the Word (the Scriptures) and from the powers of the age to come. What is this “power of the age to come?”
To answer that question, we must first ask, “What is the age to come?” If you recall back to chapter 1, the author spoke of the time after the resurrection of Christ as the eschaton or the end times. So, what follows the end times? It is the second coming of Christ, the consummation of all history and the fullness of Christ’s kingdom.
It is a kingdom marked by freedom from the effects of sin and entrance into eternal life. It is a kingdom also that the church should strive to exemplify here on earth in these last days. And that is the power, indeed, living in fellowship with those who seek to live lives that do not pursue sin, but who love one another as Christ has loved them. That is a powerful thing indeed.
So, what of those who are impossible to restore who are acting “faithlessly”? The Greek word used here literally means, “to fail to follow through on a commitment or vow.” In the LXX of Ezekiel it is used 5 times of those who have fallen into faithlessness and idolatry. But what is the vow that is in view here?
Verses 7 and 8 illustrate the answer to this question, but more simply, your conversion is divided into two parts: Faith and Repentance. These go hand in hand and one cannot have one without the other. You can’t repent without true saving faith but those who have true saving faith cannot fail to repent. So, your faith in Christ is joined with a turning away from the things of this world and while we will not be totally free from the effect of sins in this life, but we are to strive to be holy as God is holy. That is what we call sanctification.
And when we do not strive in a way that pursues righteousness as the author speaks, we act in such a way that publicly shames Christ, suggesting that his one sacrifice was not enough to transform us into a new creation and thus crucifying him over and over in the eyes of a watching world.
Now, let me apply this in a few areas because many people get caught up in the verbiage used here and miss the thrust of what is being taught. Paul will write in 2 Corinthians 5:17 that “If anyone is in Christ he is a new creation — the old has passed away and the new has come.” And again in Galatians 6:15, “neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only a new creation.”
In other words, it doesn’t matter if you know all of the facts and figures of the Bible or theology, you may be able to recite your catechism with no errors, you may perform good works and attend to the sacraments at church, and you may give all of your wealth to the church and then go and serve as a missionary in some far-away place, even giving your body over to a martyr’s death, but if you are not a new creation, putting your old sins to death, especially those comfortable sins onto which we fall back. If your practice is not to live for Christ but instead is to live for the world—and your desire is not for the things of God but rather for worldly things, then you are likely an apostate — committed to self-idolatry and not to Christ. And all you have done will gain you nothing.
When I spoke with the pastors in Florida last week, I preached on Psalm 119:9-16, one of the verses spoke of the word of God being more valuable than gold and riches. And so, I ask you the same question that I posed to them: which is more valuable to you: winning the lottery or pastor starting a new Bible study? Convicting isn’t it?
Somewhere in your sanctification, you need to make the decision that Jesus means more to you than the sins of the world that you tend to cherish. If you don’t — or can’t — make that decision, you likely were never really a Christian in the first place. And if you grew up in the church, surrounded by the good things that come by living under the Word of God and in the midst of believers, and yet you reject the church and drift away into sin, then it will be you of whom the author speaks as being impossible (humanly) to convince to repent.
Why? Because… Verses 7 and 8…
“When the earth, which has drunk from the rain which often comes, and bears vegetation fit for the ones for whom it is cultivated, then it has a share in the blessing of God, but that (ground) which brings out thorns and thistles is worthless and nearly cursed and its end is to be burned.”
We are to judge a tree by its fruit, but in the same way as we judge, so too we will be judged.
So, what is the fruit that you bear? What is the fruit that the church bears? Is it fit for consumption? Or is it poison?
If it is the fruit of the Spirit, exemplified by a desire for the Word and a hunger to grow mature in the faith through the Word, then that is the fruit that God blesses. If it is thorns and thistles — lazy ears and an attitude that promotes laziness in spiritual matters…well, the call is that you repent.
The bottom line, as Peter states in 2 Peter 2:9, is that Jesus knows how to preserve his own while keeping the reprobate under judgment. So, to you the question is, how will you take the warning? Will you repent and turn from your lazy ways? Or will you ignore the warning signs and march to your own destruction?