As a pastor, I often get questions of a more theological nature. Thursdays are the day I like to post some on the blog. Enjoy!
The other day a friend of mine sent me a serious text message:
"I've been struggling with some verses. It's Hebrews 6:4-8... I know I've sinned many times since conversion, and sometimes I've even wondered about my own salvation."
Have you ever received (or asked) a question like that? What do you do with those thoughts, anyway? After all, these verses and the questions they bring up have been wrestled with for generations by people far wiser than most of us.
For me, I wanted to make sure and give this passage/question full attention and not just “gloss over it” with a quick answer, so I let my friend know I’d pray and research and respond soon.
Here’s where my journey took me. I’ve arranged them in a numbered list for ease of both writing and reading. I hope it’s helpful and a blessing to you!
Let’s start with the passage itself:
For it is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding Him up to contempt.
For land that has drunk the rain that often falls on it, and produces a crop useful to those for whose sake it is cultivated, receives a blessing from God. But if it bears thorns and thistles, it is worthless and near to being cursed, and its end is to be burned.
1) Look again at Hebrews 6:7, “land that has drunk the rain”. This is used as a metaphor to illustrate the previous passage. In Matthew 5:45, Jesus says “He makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and the unjust.”
- FIRST THOUGHT: Everyone gets a little rain, the question is, what does the ground produce?
2) In Luke 8:15, Jesus uses another agricultural metaphor in the parable of the seeds and soils: “As for that [seed which fell on] good soil, they are those who, hearing the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patience.”
Again, in Luke 6:43-45, Jesus uses an agricultural metaphor and says this.
For no good tree bears bad fruit, nor again does a bad tree bear good fruit, for each tree is known by its own fruit. For figs are not gathered from thornbushes, nor are grapes picked from a bramble bush. The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.
- SECOND THOUGHT: What does the ground produce? It depends on what the soil is, and the “soil” is the human heart.
3) The Old Testament Prophets spoke often about God’s coming redemtion of His people. They spoke of Messiah, and the day when God would reconcile His people to Himself again. These are prophecies that point to the coming of Jesus, and speaking of the coming redemption, look at what the prophet Ezekiel says:
And I will give them one heart, and a new spirit I will put within them. I will remove the heart of stone from their flesh and give them a heart of flesh, that they may walk in my statutes and keep my rules and obey them. And they shall be my people, and I will be their God.
And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.
A new heart? A new Spirit? Well that sounds a lot like…
If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.
For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” 16 The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God.
- THIRD THOUGHT: The ground produces whatever the heart contains, and that’s not something that comes from us. GOD gives the new heart, that produces the new fruit, that is the evidence of salvation.
4) When I first met my friend Richardson, he had no place to live. So, I invited him to live with me for a while, and so he did. During those few weeks, he would come along with me to family outings, to dinners at Dad and Mom’s house, to events where we all were spending time together as a family. He had never been around a family like ours before, where we loved each other, where the Dad was not harsh and abusive, where the children were respectful.
In fact, you could say that he was “enlightened”, that he “tasted the gift” of love from our family, that he “shared in the gracious spirit” that we show to one another, that he “tasted the goodness” of what life as a part of our family is like.
However, eventually that season came to an end. Eventually, he was no longer with us. Over time, he found his own place to live, his own group of friends (of which we’re still a part, by the way :-), and he wasn’t spending time “in our family” any more.
In fact, you could say it this way… “He went out from us, because he was not of us; for if he had been of us, he would have continued with us. But he went out, that it might become plain that he is not of us.” (1 John 2:19, paraphrased).
He acted like part of our family for a while, but time showed that he really wasn’t.
- THOUGHT FOUR: What we do on the outside simply reveals who we are on the inside.
5) Scroll back up a bit and read Romans 8:14-16 again.
See that bold part? “You have received the Spirit of adoption as sons…” Think about the Richardson story again. He left because he wasn’t really a part of our family.
People who “fall away from Christ” do so because they are not really a part of His family. But true believers in Christ? We have been ADOPTED and now we ARE a part of the family of God!
We didn’t earn it, Jesus did!
We didn’t initiate it, Jesus did!
There will be people who “pretend” for a while but they don’t truly have the Spirit and won’t truly last because they’re not of the same family. But YOU? If you’re a follower of Christ, then be encouraged that you HAVE the Spirit of God and you can KNOW that you do because you’re asking the questions in the first place.
The whole point of having a “new heart and new Spirit” is that with those new things come new desires: desires to love God, to know Him, to serve Him, to have a relationship with Him, and even though there will be times when we don’t act like children of God, that no more disqualifies us from being a Christian than my acting like a jerk sometimes disqualifies me from being a Gonzales.
- THOUGHT FIVE: Many may “taste” and say “that’s nice”, but the ones whom God has redeemed continue to desire more, and if you’re truly concerned about this question, then that’s you, my friend. That’s you!
I hope these five thoughts have been encouraging to you in your walk with Christ, and I’d love to hear YOUR thoughts, too! Take a moment to post a comment below (or for e-mail readers, click here), and let’s discuss these things together. After all, that’s a big part of what it means to be “the church” 🙂
– Pastor Phillip