Tuesday, June 29, 2010

I Am Bound for the Promised Land

Does the letter to the Hebrews teach we can lose our salvation?

"For this reason we much pay much closer attention to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away from it. For if the word spoken through angels [the Law, see the post on this subject] proved unalterable, and every transgression and disobedience received a just penalty, how will be escape if we neglect so great a salvation?" (Hebrews 2:1-3).

"...Christ was faithful as a Son over His house - Whose house we are, if we hold fast our confidence and the boast of our hope until the end" (3:6).

"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).

"For we have become partakers of Christ, if we hold fast the beginning of our assurance firm until the end" (3:14).

"Therefore, let us fear if, while a promise remains of entering His rest, any one of you may seem to have come short of it" (4:1).

"Therefore let us be diligent to enter that rest, so that no one will fall, through following the same example of disobedience" (4:11).

"For in the case of those who have once been enlightened and have tasted of the heavenly ift and have been made partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, it is impossible to renew them again to repentance, since they again crucify to themselves the Son of God and put Him to open shame" (6:4-6).

"For if we go on sinning willfully [notice: the only sin mentioned was the "forsaking our own assembly together"] 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 a fire which will consume the adversaries. 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?" (10:26-29).

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So, is the letter to the Hebrews saying we can lose our salvation?

I want you to remember the story of the Exodus, because that's what the letter to the Hebrews asks of us from 3:1-4:11. The children of Israel were delivered from slavery in Egypt through the mighty works of God (the plagues and parting of the Red Sea). Were they "saved" at this point? No. They still had to cross the desert (being supplied with food and water along the way). After making it to the foot of Mt. Sinai and hearing the Word of God, were they "saved"? No. They still had to cross the Jordan into the Promised Land, clearing the land in obedience to God's directions, and settle there according to God's Law. They didn't do this, did they? They balked at God's ability to deliver on His promises to give them the Land. So, because of their disbelief, God marched them back into the desert so that the Exodus generation could die there. A whole generation was raised in the desert: "Your sons shall be shepherds for forty years in the wilderness, and they will suffer for your unfaithfulness, until your corpses lie in the wilderness" (Numbers 14:33). They were delivered from slavery, witnessed God's miraculous power, were sustained by God, received God's Word, and laid their eyes on the Promised Land, BUT THEY WERE NOT SAVED BECAUSE OF THEIR UNBELIEF! It was only the generation that believed God and crossed the Jordan that were able to tell future generations of the salvation wrought in the Exodus. The others fell in the desert.

Now return to the letter to the Hebrews. Does it say we can lose our salvation, or - keep in mind the recipients of the letter - is the letter comparing that first Jewish generation of the Church to the generation that came out of Egypt by the delivering hand of God?

"Take care, brethren, that there not be in any one of you an evil, unbelieving heart that falls away from the living God" (Hebrews 3:12). Can a person with "an evil, unbelieving heart" be a Christian, or "saved"? No, of course not! He is asking them to examine themselves and encourage each other to not lapse into a sinful lifestyle, for that falling "away from the living God" would be a sign that inside you was "an evil, unbelieving heart." In other words, your lifestyle is a witness to the reality in your heart. We often comfort ourselves for loved ones who are living in open rebellion to the Lord by remembering or recounting some time when they made a public profession of faith. The thing is that it is possible to make a public profession of faith and not be truly born again. A person caught up in an emotionally compelling moment may make a public profession but still have "an evil, unbelieving heart." It is the continuance in the Spirit-filled Christian life as part of a Word-saturated Body that is the witness to a true profession, not a filled-out decision card!

Why did the Exodus generation fall in the desert? Was it because they "lost their salvation," or was it because they were never truly filled with saving faith in the first place (despite their witnessing all the amazing works of God)? "So we see that they were not able to enter because of unbelief" (3:19). They were never saved to begin with, and neither will any person who does not have true belief to go along with their outward behavior.

"For indeed we have had good news preached to us, just as they also; but the word they heard did not profit them, because it was not united by faith in those who heard" (4:2). Hearing the good news preached is the means by which God saves people (Romans 10:8-15), but hearing without faith does not result in salvation. Isaiah is told to go preach to a people that will not receive his message unto salvation (Isaiah 6:9,10). All four Gospels and the book of Acts quote that verse (Matthew 13:14,15; Mark 4:12; Luke 8:10; John 12:40; Acts 28:26,27). But when faith is united with the message heard, true salvation is the result, not some false imitation that inevitably withers away.

Jesus speaks of this truth in His parable of the sower (Matthew 13:3-9,18-23). What is the seed? The Word of the Kingdom. Some, upon hearing it, show immediately signs they do not understand it. Nothing at all happens when it is sown (preached). Some hear the Word, receive it with joy, but when that same Word begins to cause trouble in their lives, they stumble into oblivion. For some the "worry of the world" and the "deceitfulness of wealth" cause them to abandon that Word which they originally heard. Some, however, hear the Word and it bears incredible fruit in their lives. Let me ask you: who was truly saved?

Jesus (and the rest of the New Testament) doesn't teach "once saved" (like it's some isolated event in the past) "always saved." A singular, isolated event of a "prayer prayed" (show me the "sinner's prayer" or "asking Jesus into your heart" in the Bible) or public decision being made is not the thing that seals you to heaven forever. No, Jesus says things like, "the one who endures to the end, he will be saved" (Matthew 24:13). Sounds a lot like the stuff in the letter to the Hebrews. A person who truly receives the message of the Good News preached and has that message united with true, lasting, growing faith in his/her heart, will endure to the end and will be saved. The one who falls away never had faith to begin with, regardless of a "prayer prayed," or one-time confession. True rebirth, true renewal of life, true salvation causes a change in a person's life. It isn't that they are perfect and never sin again, but sin becomes a battlefield and not a place of luxurious vacation. A person who is saved is changed. A person who is lost is capable of spurts of play-acting, but make their true nature known through their lives.

Sometimes they fall away from being part of the Church. Sadly, sometimes they become the wolves in sheep's clothing or the tares among the wheat within the Church. No matter what they are, the faith/belief is lacking from their heart and therefore they are not saved and were never saved to begin with.

Does the letter to the Hebrews teach that we can lose our salvation? No, but drawing upon the Jewish salvation-history of the Exodus, the letter to the Hebrews says that there are some who make a decent showing of being people of faith, but are not really people of the faith, and when difficulty comes in the life of a disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ, they will fall away. Be disciplined in your life to be an accountable part of the Body of Christ, bearing fruit to His glory...do this to assure yourself that your faith is genuine.

"All true believers endure to the end. Those whom God has accepted in Christ, and sanctified by His Spirit, will never fall away from the state of grace, but shall persevere to the end" (Baptist Faith & Message [2000], article V).

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