Hebrews 6, Part 12.
The first readers of this letter had lost their homes, their household goods, their money, and their status in society, all because they had become believers, followers of Christ. The situation never improved, and now death threats increase the pressure. They wonder if the cost was worth it. Years have gone by, decades, yet the situation hasn’t changed. They’re still in reduced circumstances with the threat of death hanging over their heads.
Will they stay true to Christ?
Struggles with faith are often the result of unrelenting hardship and despair over the unanswered whys. This is what brought doubt into my own life. In the middle of the pain, it’s difficult to remember and to meditate on the reality that God has promised to work all trials together for our good, even the self-induced type of harm.
Our doubt might come from observing partying friends who seem to have all the fun. Trying out their lifestyle is tempting. It’s troubling that they seem to get away with this behavior. Even David wondered why about this, but then he perceived their end. It will not go well with them.
Doubt also comes because of the bad behavior of people who claim to be Christians, yet who don’t treat others with love, as believers should. Rather, they look down their nose in judgment and condemnation. Church people have driven many away from God.
People they harm have often received more love, compassion, and care from their friends who have no connection with Christianity at all. This causes these to doubt the gospel. Is it real? Are the promises true? If so, it didn’t seem to impact the lives of these who have harmed them.
Just one example: We’ve recently heard about sexual abuse committed by church leaders, and then, these churches have covered it up, quietly removing the offender, setting him up in a new church far away, excusing the bad behavior of leaders, and all the while destroying those impacted by their harmful actions. This would definitely cause the one harmed to doubt what they were taught in that church, thus doubly victimizing the victims.
Hearing this causes the icy terror as I imagine the possible outcomes.
4 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, 5 and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, 6 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” (Hebrews 6:4-6 ESV).
This is the icy shard that pierces our hearts when doubt comes. Impossible means it cannot be undone. It is final. If one turns from their faith and renounces Christ, if they never return, the outcome is tragic. A few chapters later, even more information is given to flesh out this reality:
26 For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, 27 but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries. 28 Anyone who has set aside the law of Moses dies without mercy on the evidence of two or three witnesses. 29 How much worse punishment, do you think, will be deserved by the one who has trampled underfoot the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has outraged the Spirit of grace? 30 For we know him who said, “Vengeance is mine; I will repay.” And again, “The Lord will judge his people.” 31 It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Hebrews 10:26-31 ESV).
He is not a tame Lion. As one who fell away and then turned back to the Lord, these passages used to strike terror in my heart. I didn’t publicly denounce Christ, but still, I wondered if perhaps I couldn’t come back.
But, I did return to Christ. So, who is this passage talking about?
First, we must consider these parables: The lost sheep, the lost coin, the lost sons (usually labeled the tale of “the prodigal son,” yet both sons were lost, and the older son never repented, whereas the younger one did). Like the father in the parable of the lost sons, with open arms our God pursues those who run. He wants us to turn to him. We can indeed come back.Like the father in the parable of the lost sons, with open arms our God pursues those who run. He wants us to turn to him. We can indeed come back to him. Click To Tweet
So, clearly these passages aren’t about a “prodigal,” nursing a personal wound, but who does return and is welcomed back with joy. More likely, we’re dealing with an older brother type from that parable. Judgmental and cold, he rejects both his brother and his father, publicly humiliating both.
A hardening that results in a public denouncement or forsaking of Christ is what this passage addresses. When their self-driven, legalistic religion runs out of steam, one with a platform often goes public in their denial. These bear a heavy weight of guilt—their own hypocrisy, their actions, their rejection of Christ, and the responsibility for hardening or harming others.
They impose unbiblical rules and rigid structures. These false leaders show little care or concern when younger ones slowly but surely fall away due to the leader’s judgment, rigidity, carelessness, and lack of concern.
However, God is on the side of the ones who run, the ones harmed. Indeed, he relentlessly pursues them, seeking to win them back. Whereas, for the one who renounces Christ, it’s a different story.
6 “If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea. 7 Woe to the world because of the things that cause people to stumble! Such things must come, but woe to the person through whom they come!” (Matthew 18:6-7 NIV).
Jesus says we’ll know real and true believers by their actions. Outward evidence of belief in Christ must be present. The proof is in the fruit.Jesus says we'll know real and true believers by their actions. Outward evidence of belief in Christ must be present. The proof is in the fruit. Click To Tweet
“7For 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. 8 But if it bears thorns and thistles, it is worthless and near to being cursed, and its end is to be burned” (Hebrews 6:7-8 ESV).
If I sow green beans in my carefully tended garden, then thorns and thistles do not erupt from the rich soil where I planted those seeds. If thorns and thistles do sprout, then that is what was actually sown, not green beans. The good sowing of the right seed was not received by that soil.
True believers will act like followers of Christ and repent — turn back toward God, go the other way — when they don’t.True believers will act like followers of Christ and repent — turn back toward God, go the other way — when they don't. Click To Tweet
If you’ve been wounded, I’m talking to you: Evaluate every leader’s words. Reject the words that are false. Move away from leaders who are harmful. Find a wiser, more mature body of believers to shape your Christian life.
If a church leader harms you and you recognize that something is wrong, and so, you pull away from that situation and that church, this is a good thing. It is evidence of conscience and discernment in you.
Believers who witness this: Step in. Come alongside those who have been harmed. Speak truth to them about their worth and, indeed, their wisdom in realizing that they were being led astray by words and actions.
Praise the questioning believer for now attempting to deal with this constructively, no matter how they may have stumbled in the process. Gently guide them toward the right path.
Remind them that our God is the One who pursues those who run. He also acted upon the request of a doubting father who said, “Lord, I believe, help me in my unbelief” (Mark 9:24). When in doubt, this is our prayer: “Lord, help me to overcome my doubts. Give me faith.” Tell them this.
The problem isn’t with Jesus. It’s with some who call themselves his followers. Let’s not protect the ones who harm others. Let’s protect the wounded ones.The problem isn't with Jesus. It's with some who call themselves his followers. Let's not protect the ones who harm others. Let's protect the wounded ones. Click To Tweet
To the ones who have been harmed, as the recipients of this letter were, by persecution as well as by false leaders among them, the letter says this:
9 Though we speak in this way, yet in your case, beloved, we feel sure of better things—things that belong to salvation. 10 For God is not unjust so as to overlook your work and the love that you have shown for his name in serving the saints, as you still do. 11 And we desire each one of you to show the same earnestness to have the full assurance of hope until the end, 12 so that you may not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises. (Hebrews 6:9-12 ESV).
For those who truly believe, no matter our periods of doubt or our times of questioning or of running, and for those who are thinking of committing themselves to Christ, know this:
Jesus wants you. He never loses his own.
He loves you enough to give his life for you. He wants you to be cared for within a safe and welcoming church that is committed to the truth of his Word and to loving one another. If you feel the Lord tugging at your heart, turn to him. He is near. Be his. You will remain his forever, no matter the bumps or doubts along the way.
Doubt is an invitation to step toward God, to ask the Lord for faith.
Lord, I believe. Help me in my unbelief. This is our prayer.Doubt is an invitation to step toward God, to ask the Lord for faith. "Lord, I believe. Help me in my unbelief." This is our prayer. Click To Tweet