Don’t Turn Back!
© C. O. Bishop 9/21/17 THCF 9/24/17
In the last passage we studied, Hebrews 10:25, the believers were warned to not forsake the assembling of themselves together. We are told, instead, to seek to stir up one another to love and to good works. We are to encourage one another to walk with God and to live in such a way as to honor God and bless the brethren.
As born-again people, we have been given free access to the throne of Grace. We have been urged to take advantage of that privilege, and to draw others along with us. We have that access specifically through the blood of Jesus at the Cross. We do not have access through religion, nor through rituals, creeds, or regulations. We have access because we have become the children of the living God through the new birth. So the danger to us, now, is to forget how we got there, and to subside into just “going through the motions” of faith, looking like believers, on the outside, but not attending to the inner reality.
This is a danger to us as believers because it makes us ineffective in our relations with other believers and spiritually separated from God himself. But to those who are only beginning to understand the truth about Jesus, and who have never actually “crossed over” into faith, so they have not been born again, there is a deadly danger, because if they settle for formalism, they are not only losing the opportunity for fellowship and service, as a believer is: they are falling away from the opportunity to be born again, and to be eternally saved from destruction. So that warning to both groups is:
Don’t Turn Back to Formalism!
The next passage, then, is a stern warning to those who may still think they can retreat into formalism, and, specifically, Judaism, with its sacrificial system. If one sees (understands) that Jesus’s blood is the sacrifice given for the sins of the world, but chooses to reject His sacrifice and His lordship in their life, they cannot expect to go back to the temple service, and use the blood of an animal to purge their guilt. This is a warning very similar to the one we have read about in chapter six: if “we” (currently alive humans, as opposed to “they”, the people at the time of Moses) knowingly reject the Lord, then judgment is the only future one can expect.
26 For if we sin wilfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins,
27 But a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversaries.
In Hebrews 6, the writer makes a clear distinction between the “We” and “You” (who were, collectively, the believers,) and the “They and Them” (who were professing believers who subsequently may have fallen away.) Here the distinction is not spelled out so clearly, but the principle remains. A person once truly born again, can never be “un-born again”. The “we” in the following passage is at least the living humans, as a general term, being compared to those who lived at the time of Moses; but probably it is most specifically the Jews who were professing believers, but who may have thought they could always retreat into Judaism “if things don’t work out.” The writer gives a stern warning against that assumption:
28 He that despised Moses’ law died without mercy under two or three witnesses:
29 Of how much sorer punishment, suppose ye, shall he be thought worthy, who hath trodden under foot the Son of God, and hath counted the blood of the covenant, wherewith he was sanctified, an unholy thing, and hath done despite unto the Spirit of grace?
30 For we know him that hath said, Vengeance belongeth unto me, I will recompense, saith the Lord. And again, The Lord shall judge his people.
31 It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.
Judgment Is Coming
It is clear that the Judge is the Lord (verse 30), and that He is God (verse 31). We know from John 5:22 that the Judge is specifically God the Son…none other. The Lord Jesus is the “Judge of all the Earth” with whom Abraham pleaded for the life of Lot, in Genesis chapter 18. (Compare John 1:18) The coming Judgment is severe, complete, and final. The question we should ask, here, then, is: to whom is the warning given? Should we be worried that God might change his mind about the promise he made in John 10:27, 28 (“I give them eternal life and they shall never perish”…)?
No, the warning can only apply to those who have heard and understood the Gospel but who have not committed themselves to that hope. Despite the fact that their sins were paid for at the Cross, they still think either that they do no need a savior, or that they can go back to legalism or formalism. Notice verse 29, “…who hath trodden under foot the Son of God, and hath done despite unto the Spirit of Grace”…Those are the ones to whom the Lord issues this warning. Not to believers who falter and fail, but to unbelievers who have come close enough to hear His voice, and to share in the blessings of the believers, and who continue to hold back, pretending to believe, but finally rejecting Him outright.
In 2nd Peter 2, the false teachers and their followers were warned of coming judgment, and were finally compared to a pig going back to its wallow…so the warning in 2nd Peter 2:20-22 is not of sheep (believers) turning into pigs or dogs (unbelievers), but of pigs and dogs going back to what they do naturally. These were not “sheep who flunked sheep-school” and went back to being pigs and dogs, but rather a pig and a dog who went back to their old, normal ways. They behaved like a pig or a dog, ultimately, because that is who they were all along. They were never changed to begin with; never born again, just as Judas was never cleansed. (John 13:11)
This warning would be most appropriate to Hebrew believers, because they thought they “had something to go back to”, whereas the Gentile believers really had nothing, as Paul pointed out in Ephesians 2:11, 12. However, the danger of collapsing into formalism exists, even for true believers, whether Jew or Gentile: Rituals and robes, bells and smells, liturgy and pageantry all appeal to the flesh. We like that sort of stuff. Just as uniforms make us feel “important and official”, identifying us as members of an organization…thus, belonging to it; and marching bands make us feel patriotic, and victorious and powerful…(even if we are not), the “trappings of religion” make us “feel religious.” We love the feeling of piety…it definitely appeals to the old nature.
Form is attractive to us: it says “I can do things to make God like me! I can do something to deserve God’s favor!” But I can’t. If Jesus’ blood at the Cross does not give me good standing with the Judge of all the Earth, then there is absolutely nothing I can do to improve my state.
The disciples were deeply impressed by the stonework of Herod’s Temple. Jesus told them that the whole thing would be coming down, to the last stone (and it actually happened exactly as He predicted, during their lifetimes.) The Hebrew believers, here, were warned against trying to “go back to Judaism.” Those who were genuine in their faith were eternally secure, as is any true believer in Christ, but those who were vacillating, and uncommitted, were in deadly danger, because if they went back, they were rejecting the Lord.
A true believer can be seduced by false teaching, and thus be rendered ineffective. But a false brother, who has only been “going along for the ride,” and has never been born again, can be turned aside completely, and may never repent and receive the Lord as his Savior.
Remember where you have been with God
32 But call to remembrance the former days, in which, after ye were illuminated, ye endured a great fight of afflictions;
33 Partly, whilst ye were made a gazingstock both by reproaches and afflictions; and partly, whilst ye became companions of them that were so used.
34 For ye had compassion of me in my bonds, and took joyfully the spoiling of your goods, knowing in yourselves that ye have in heaven a better and an enduring substance.
This particular passage (“…ye had compassion of me in my bonds…”) is one of the reasons I believe the writer is the apostle Paul: we know for certain that he was imprisoned on multiple occasions for preaching the Gospel. Evidently the folk to whom the writer is primarily addressing the letter were the genuine believers who had already suffered for their faith, and joined with other believers in doing so. They had been treated as criminals; their belongings had been stripped from them, and they had suffered multiple public indignities, and had not stumbled. He encourages them to hold fast to their faith.
Think of Daniel, who was captured from Israel as a teenager, evidently castrated, and forced to serve an evil empire. What hope could he have had? He would never have offspring, nor a wife, a life-companion. He would never again see Jerusalem, during his lifetime. We don’t even know for sure what happened to his friends, as they are never mentioned again after Daniel chapter 3.
His relationship with the God of Israel was such, however, that even his worst enemies, who wanted him dead, could find no fault in him…no way to accuse him, unless they could make his faith, itself, illegal. So that is what they did…and that is where we get the story of Daniel in the lion’s den. But what had Daniel to look forward to?
“Only” an eternity with the God he served. Daniel was addressed as a man “greatly beloved” of God. (Daniel 9:23) Do you think he has found it worthwhile? My bet would be that his relationship with God was precious enough to him that he felt the sufferings to be “worthwhile” even at the time. And now? His eternal reward makes them seem as nothing. I really wish that I had that kind of walk with god, so that my enemies could find no fault with me, and so that all tribulation and persecution seems light, compared to the coming reward.
Look Forward to the Reward
35 Cast not away therefore your confidence, which hath great recompence of reward.
There is a constant temptation from the world and our flesh, and even from Satan himself, to “give it up!” Job’s wife said “Do you still hold fast your integrity? Curse God and die!” It seems possible that, in the context of his agony, she was only suggesting that he take an easier way out of his sufferings. But it was a temptation from Satan, ultimately. Jesus faced similar temptation: “Come down from the Cross and we will believe in you!” Satan was hoping to short-circuit God’s plan! We may be tempted to throw in the towel, so to speak, too. But God encourages us to endure. Philippians 1:29 says, “…for it is given unto you on the behalf of Christ not only to believe on His name, but also to suffer for His sake.”
Bear in mind that Jesus looked forward to the “joy that was set before Him”, and so He endured the Cross, despising the shame of that form of execution. We need to look past the pain and frustration and grief of this world to catch a glimpse of what is to come.
36 For ye have need of patience, that, after ye have done the will of God, ye might receive the promise.
In general, I would say, the promises of God are mostly long-term. He doesn’t make a lot of short-term promises, although there were some. We simply need to trust his timing.
37 For yet a little while, and he that shall come will come, and will not tarry.
So…how long is a little while? Comparing 2nd Peter 3:9, we see that Peter addressed the same question, and answered “The Lord is not slack concerning his promise…he is longsuffering toward us (the human race), not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.”
If the “catching away” of the church were to occur today, then the millions who have never seriously considered the claims of Jesus on their lives would simply be lost… When I consider that, it makes me hope for more time, not less.
Incidentally, both verse 37 and 38 are a quote from Habakkuk 2:3, 4… and they were in view of coming judgment, not deliverance. So the statement that “The just shall live by faith” was a promise that the righteous few in Israel would survive the judgment because of their faith. He was not just stating that living by faith was the “lifestyle choice” of righteous people.
38 Now the just shall live by faith: but if any man draw back, my soul shall have no pleasure in him.
The warning is still there against drawing back from God, but, as always, it is to those who have claimed faith, but who have no relationship with the God they claim to serve. Drawing back is fatal for them, as it constitutes their final rejection of the Lord.
Can we, as believers, backslide and fail to walk with God? We certainly can! But God continues the work he has begun, even if we have become blinded and are working for the enemy. Remember Samson? He was literally, physically blinded, and was physically working for the enemy! He serves as a good warning for us. But God did not abandon him.
Conclusion: One Final Contrast
39 But we are not of them who draw back unto perdition; but of them that believe to the saving of the soul.
Here again, the contrast is between “drawing back unto perdition” and “believing, to the salvation of the soul.” Believing or not believing. That is the issue, as it always has been. Faith is an obedient response to a revealed truth. And the writer says that he and the people to whom he primarily addresses the epistle (the believers) are not those who fall away, but those who believe, with the result being salvation.
In the context of this treatise on how people are saved or lost, based upon a faith-relationship with the Savior, we have the famous “Faith Chapter” before us…Hebrews chapter eleven. We will talk about that next time, but if you want to read ahead, I would urge you to take note of the point that all the “examples of faith” have in common …they responded to God’s revelation obediently.
If he said “believe” they believed. If he said “build an Ark”, they built an Ark. When the people asked Jesus “…what shall we do that we might work the works of God?”, it is impressive to see that he did not start reiterating the ten commandments, or saying anything that could possibly be construed as works. He said, “This is the work of God; that ye believe on Him whom He hath sent!”
I want to leave that thought with you: It is tempting to rattle on and on, expounding on the concept of faith, but Jesus put it so simply, I hate to “muddy the waters” by my own comments. “This is the Work of God: that you believe on Him whom He hath sent!” It can’t get any clearer than that, folks! You simply have been given a choice to make: Believe in Jesus as your savior, or don’t. If you choose to believe (and it is a choice, to place your trust in His finished work at the Cross), then the result is that you have eternal life, now…you don’t have to wait ‘til you die to find out if you made the team. But you can learn more about that relationship and learn to walk with the Lord, day by day. You can feed on His written Word, and have fellowship with other believers.
If you are hungry, eat!
The Great Shepherd is here to feed His flock!
Lord Jesus draw us along to full faith! Teach us to walk with you and to feed upon your word. Teach us by your Holy Spirit, and help us to grow into your image.