First Mennonite Church
February 22, 2015
“Apostasy: Is It Possible?”
Text: Hebrews 6:1-12
Before I go into the passage for today, let me acknowledge that many consider that this passage as not being addressed to us believers. Many believe that this passage, as well as all those which include stern warnings about the danger of abandoning the faith, or not persevering until the end, or of “losing one’s salvation” is addressed to unbelievers. According to those who believe so, these unbelievers can be people who have had the opportunity of hearing the Gospel message, have been church goers, or even have been a members of a church, but who simply had never had a personal encounter with the Lord.
The writer of the letter is set to move forward with his teaching. Although he admitted to the recipients of this letter that they were not mature, but were “infants” and “unskilled in the word of righteousness” and who needed “someone to teach [them] the basic elements of God’s word;” (Hebrews 5:12, 13) he wanted to move ahead to the heavier stuff. He wanted them to move toward perfection. He did mention six basic topics he was skipping from teaching. These namely are: repentance from dead works, faith toward God, cleansing rituals (ablutions/baptisms), laying of hands, and the resurrection of the dead and eternal judgment. We need to be reminded that the letter to the Hebrews was addressed to a mostly or an entirely Jewish Christian group; thus, each of these basic teaching elements was familiar to them not only since they came to Christ, but as essential doctrines within their Jewish faith. Perhaps that was one of the reason why the writer did not want to spend much time teaching them the basic elements of Christian faith; but instead he wanted to build on them. He wanted to move forward to perfection—(teleioteta, Greek), which also mean fullness. We can therefore understand a second reason why the writer chose to skip the basic teachings of the faith. He wanted to explore with them the full implications of the basic teaching, which as the writer is about to show is a very serious matter. The writer probably felt that showing his readers the seriousness of even the basic elements of the Christians teachings will in the end lead them to grow and mature, thus leaving behind their being infants and feeding on spiritual milk. And in verse three the writer expressed great hope of achieving it: And we will do this, if God permits.
Verses 4-6: The Danger of Apostasy
So let me first define what apostasy means. Apostasy means to fall away from the biblical truth. This basically means that the unbeliever can become an apostate—that is someone who have fallen into apostasy. In order to fall into apostasy, the person must first be a Christian believer. Only believers risk the danger of apostasy. And so, what are some of the signs of apostasy? Rebellion towards God is a sign of apostasy. One passage that gives a whole list of signs of rebellion against God is found in 2Timothy 3, verse one to five. There we read: You must understand this, that in the last days distressing times will come. For people will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, inhuman, implacable, slanderers, profligates, brutes, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, holding to the outward form of godliness but denying its power. Avoid them!
Because apostasy is a major danger to all believers, the writer of Hebrews found it an urgent need to skip the basics and deal with this danger. And so he bluntly defines those who cannot be “restored again to repentance.”
- Those who have once been enlightened
The expression “once” in the context of Hebrews indicates an event which occurs only once and for all. It is also the expression used to indicate the sacrifice of Jesus (7:27; 19:12, 26; 10:12, 14).
Jesus only died “once and for all” unlike the continuing sacrifices needed according to the first covenant. In this regard, the enlightenment of and into the saving act of Jesus that can happen only “once” has been experienced by those included in this list. It is an experience believers should guard from sliding away and into the power of darkness. Because of the singular nature of this experience, the writer reminded his readers that they should not shrink back, but must stand firm on their faith. They should guard against taking God enlightenment for granted.
Next the writer says:
- Those who have tasted the heavenly gift
The vivid language the writer uses here to describe the experience of those at risk of apostasy tells us that these are people who have known the Lord. Those who have tasted the heavenly gift describes the profound experience of the joy, grace, and cleansing power of God’s precious gift in Christ Jesus. Again it describes people who have had firsthand experience of communion with Christ and the fellowship, within which Christ dwells.
The third in the list are…
- Those who have shared in the Holy Spirit
Some have argued that because in the Greek, the definite article is absent before “Holy Spirit”, thus what is said here refers to those who have somehow participated in the gifts of the Holy Spirit, and not necessarily those in whom the Holy Spirit has dwelt. But the absence of the definite article before pneumatos agious—Holy Spirit is not sufficient to decide whether it is referring to the Giver or to the gift. Nonetheless, the writer of Hebrew has no doubt that the believer if not attentive can even fall into the danger of outraging the Spirit of grace (Hebrew 10:29). The apostle Paul says that those who have the Spirit in them, God dwells in them. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him.
Fourth in the list are:
- Those who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come,
Again these are people who have not only received the word of God, but who have also experienced how trustworthy the promises of God are. They have savored the goodness of God and seen the transforming power of God’s word.
These four characteristics about those who have come to a point of no return are people upon whom God has poured the super abundance of his grace. God has invested in them everything there is within the treasures of his glory as given to everyone who believes in the name of His Son. These are people who have been given grace more than they have ever asked or imagined. These are people who have enjoyed and experienced the fullness of God’s grace and then have fallen away (v. 6). And not only that: they on their own they are crucifying again the Son of God and are holding him up to contempt.
More than once I have attempted to establish contact with people who once have been actively involved in the church and who have given strong evidence of their love for the Lord. In some occasions these people have rejected my attempts at visiting with them. They have claimed to be too busy or would be away from home at the times I have suggested to visit with them. At other occasions, those who I have gotten to talk to seem not moved at all by the Word of God. They seem more concerned about the things they do not like about church or the people they used to relate to in the past when they attended church.
It is important for us to take notice of this: those who have fallen to a point of no return are not people who only have sinned or rejected church doctrines. The apostle John tells us that God restores anyone who confesses his sin because he is faithful to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1John 1:9). Those for whom it is impossible to restore again to repentance are people who have rejected the love God as manifested in his Son Jesus Christ. The writer describes this shameful rejection equal to the one Jesus endured on the day he was crucified. There, the crowds heaped upon Jesus all kinds of verbal abuse and ridiculed him as they led him to Golgotha. In that regard everyone who falls into apostasy, says the writer, crucifies again on their own the Son of God.
My dear friends, faith is a gift of God and without it, it is impossible to please God (Hebrews 11:6) But Paul also reminds us that it is possible to suffer shipwreck in the faith. Listen to what Paul says about this.
By rejecting conscience, certain persons have suffered shipwreck in the faith; among them are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have turned over to Satan, so that they may learn not to blaspheme (1Timothy 1:19-20). Please note that Paul could not have handed them to Satan if these two men had belonged to Satan all along. No, they were Christ’s but because they did not heed to the voice of their conscience they suffered shipwreck in the faith.
Again, the Bible tells us that we are saved by grace (Ephesians 2:8). But Galatians 5:4 says that it is possible to “fall away from grace.” Hebrews warns against allowing roots of bitterness to grow in our heart and thus fall short of the grace of God (Hebrews 12:15)
Sometimes we Christians do not grasp the severity of the warnings found in the book of Hebrews. First, it could be because many in the church do not know or have experienced a genuine repentance of their sins before God. Repentance is the only condition necessary to enter into a relationship with Christ. Second, many Christians have a wrong understanding of what grace means. Many believe grace is without moral or ethical expectations before God and the Christian community. Many believers see grace as broad and limitless grading curve in which everyone passes automatically. Once in, you never can get out; no matter what. And last, for many all there should be in response to God’s call is to “join a church.” Apostasy and heresy are simply to become inactive or irregular in attending church.
We need to know that the ugliness of apostasy can only be understood when compared to the beauty and glory of having seen the face of Christ Jesus through faith and having enjoyed his measureless love and grace. The severity of apostasy can only be fully grasped if and when we have had the experience of God’s Spirit dwelling in our heart.
The book of Hebrews describes the majesty, superiority, and faithfulness of Jesus and all of these to our blessing and redemption. But the book of Hebrews also has the most sever warning to everyone who after hearing the voice of the Lord hardens his heart.
Again this is what Hebrews 10, verse 29 says:
How much more severely do you think someone deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified them, and who has insulted the Spirit of grace?
Let me close with the positive note from the writer of the letter to the Hebrews.
9 Even though we speak in this way, beloved, we are confident of better things in your case, things that belong to salvation. 10 For God is not unjust; he will not overlook your work and the love that you showed for his sake in serving the saints, as you still do. 11 And we want each one of you to show the same diligence so as to realize the full assurance of hope to the very end, 12 so that you may not become sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises.
This is the word of the Lord for us. Amen!