Those who are truly Christ’s sheep (and turn away) will come back
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. (Hebrews 6:4-6)
We are in a series called Faith That Lasts ,and we are dealing with the reality that some people, who at one time professed faith in Jesus Christ, abandon the faith that they once professed.
There are many mothers and fathers whose greatest single wish today is that a son or daughter would come back to faith in Jesus Christ. Along with Christmas, Mothers’ Day is the day, more than any other in the year, when sons and daughters come to church. So, if you were brought up in a Christian home, but have turned away from faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, I am glad you are here; and this message is especially for you.
If you are a mother or a grandmother who once professed faith in Jesus Christ, but for whatever reason you have turned away from faith, I am glad you are here; and this message is also for you.
We saw last week that the Old Testament was given to show us why we need Jesus. It boils down to three things:
- Our best efforts are dead works, and we rely entirely on the provision of God.
- Our sins defile us and we need to be washed, and unless or until that happens our sins separate us from the blessing of God.
- Our lives are eternal, and we all face the judgment of God.
These are basic principles of the Word of God and they should be clear, settled, and established in the mind and heart of every Christian believer (Hebrews 5:12). If these things are clear and settled for you, you will come to faith in Jesus Christ, and your faith will be a faith that lasts.
We need the foundation of knowing why we need Jesus, and we must build on it by believing in Jesus. Or to change the analogy, every Christian needs the milk of “why we need Jesus.” But the whole point of the milk is to lead you to the solid food of embracing by faith all that Jesus is, and all that is ours in him (Hebrews 5:12-13). This is what it means to go on to maturity.
Today, we are looking at Hebrews 6:4-6, where we read about a faith that does notlast. Here is the person who professes faith and then falls away. He or she renounces, in word and in deed, the faith they once professed.
Last week, we looked at the promise of Jesus: “My sheep… will never perish” (John 10:27-28). That’s what Jesus said, “My sheep will never perish. They will have a faith that lasts.” Here’s what that means:
Those who are truly Christ’s sheep (and turn away) will come back.
They may be gone for a long time. They may be gone a long way, but if they are Christ’s sheep, they will come back. They must! Nothing is surer. True faith lasts, and Jesus will never lose one of his own.
The great example of this is Peter, who denied Jesus with cursing. If you had heard him on that night, you would have said, “He’s gone. He can’t ever come back from this! There’s no hope for him — speaking like that about Jesus!” But Peter repented and he was wonderfully restored, showing that he truly was one of Christ’s sheep.
Those who turn away (and do not come back) were never truly Christ’s sheep.
The profile and the position of these people is set out for us in Hebrews 6.
I know that some Christians believe that a person who truly belongs to Jesus Christ can lose their salvation, and they will point to this passage in support of that belief.
But here is the problem: All Scripture is given by the inspiration of God, and it is all the word of that one God, so we must always interpret Scripture in the light of Scripture. And we must never understand what God says in one place in a way that would contradict what he says in another place.
- Our Lord Jesus said, “My sheep …will never perish” (John 10:27-28), so Hebrews 6 cannot mean that some of his sheep will.
- The Scripture tells us plainly that nothing can separate God’s people from his love (Romans 8:35-39), so Hebrews 6 cannot mean that some things will separate his people from his love.
- The Scripture says that God who began a good work in his people will bring it to completion at the day of Christ Jesus (Philippians 1:6), so Hebrews 6 cannot mean that in some cases, God will abandon a saving work that he has begun.
I want to suggest to you that these verses in Hebrews 6 teach a very important principle that runs right across the New Testament: It is possible to have spiritual experience that is not saving experience, and to be in this position is to be in the greatest spiritual danger.
A Profile of Privileged People
1. “…[Those] who have tasted the heavenly gift…” (Hebrews 6:4).
The heavenly gift is a wonderful reference to Jesus himself. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son…” (John 3:16).
Jesus is the heavenly gift. These people have ‘tasted’ the heavenly gift. To taste is not the same as to eat. Scripture tells us that just before Jesus was nailed to the cross: “They offered him wine to drink, mixed with gall, but when he tasted it, he would not drink it” (Matthew 27:34).
The wine mixed with gall had a mild anesthetic property. Christ refused it because he had to be fully conscious throughout his sufferings. When he tasted it, he realized what it was, and then he refused it. “I don’t want that.” Here are people who have some knowledge of Jesus, but they don’t want what they have tasted.
2. “…and have shared in the Holy Spirit…” (Hebrews 6:4).
These people have seen and experienced the Spirit of God at work. I sometimes ask a person who has been brought up in a Christian home but has turned away from faith in Christ, “What was the nearest you came to becoming a Christian?” I usually get a clear answer: “I remember being moved one night at a camp, and I felt that God was speaking to me…but I didn’t do anything about it.” You might be surprised, if you think about it, how active God has been in reaching out to you.
3. “…and have tasted the goodness of the Word of God…” (Hebrews 6:5)
Notice that word ‘tasted’ again, and remember that tasting is not the same as eating. Here are people who have been taught the Word of God. The good food of God’s Word has been laid before them. They tasted, but they did not eat.
4. “…and the powers of the age to come…” (Hebrews 6:5).
That is, they have seen God at work in a direct and supernatural way.
I’ve called this message False Assumptions because it would be easy for us to simply assume that someone who had “been enlightened,” “tasted the heavenly gift,” “shared in the Holy Spirit,” “tasted the goodness of the word of God, and the powers of the age of come,” must be one of Jesus’ sheep. But that would be a false assumption.
Four Examples of the Hebrews 6 Profile
Now here’s the question: Are there examples of people in the Bible who were notChrist’s sheep, of whom these five things were true? The answer to that is: Yes, there are plenty.
Let me give you four examples of people who fit the Hebrews 6 profile.
1. The people of Bethsaida
Then he began to denounce the cities where most of his mighty works had been done, because they did not repent… “Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I tell you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for Tyre and Sidon than for you.” (Matthew 11:20-22)
We are talking here about one of the cities where “most” of Christ’s mighty works were done. In Bethsaida, Jesus healed a blind man (Mark 8:22ff). This was also near the city where Jesus fed 5,000 people (Luke 9:10ff).
The light of Jesus Christ came to this town. The people of this town tasted the miraculous powers of the age to come. They heard the Word of God from the lips of the Son of God. They saw the Holy Spirit working with power.
Then Jesus went on to speak about Capernaum, another of the cities in which most of his mighty works were done.
2. The people of Capernaum
“And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? You will be brought down to Hades. For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. But I tell you that it will be more tolerable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom than for you.” (Matthew 11:23-24)
This is where Jesus began his ministry. In Capernaum, Jesus cast out evil spirits, and he healed the sick (Mark 1:21ff, 1:33ff). In Capernaum four men dug a hole in the roof of a house where Jesus was teaching the Word of God and lowered their friend in front of Jesus (Mark 2:1ff). Jesus said to him, “Your sins and forgiven,” and then, “Rise, take up your bed and walk” (Mark 2:5, 9). And the man got up and walked!
The people of Capernaum were privileged people. The light shined on them more than many others. They tasted the heavenly gift, the goodness of the Word of God from the very mouth of the Son of God. They saw the Holy Spirit at work and tasted the powers of the age to come.
People in places like Tyre, Sidon, and Sodom never had privileges like these, and Christ says, “If they had the opportunities that were given to you, they would have repented long ago. Your judgment will be greater than the judgment of these cities, because your privileges were greater than theirs, and you squandered what you were given.”
3. The disciples who turned back
After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him. (John 6:66)
If you look back to the beginning of this chapter, you will see that these people were among the 5,000 who were fed by Jesus. Here are people who heard the Word of God from the lips of Jesus. They ate the bread and fish that were multiplied in the hands of Jesus. They literally tasted a miracle!
We are told that on the next day, the day after the feeding of the 5,000, these same people were looking for Jesus (John 6:22). He had gone in the boat to Capernaum on the other side of the lake, so they got into boats and caught up with him (John 6:25).
Jesus began to teach them. “I am the bread of life,” he said. “Whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst” (John 6:35).
But the teaching of Jesus made these people who had followed him uncomfortable, “When many of his disciples heard it, they said, ‘This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?’”(John 6:60). Then, “After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him” (John 6:66).
These people heard the Word of God from the lips of the Son of God. They saw him work with miraculous power. They tasted — literally — the powers of the age to come, and yet they turned away from Jesus Christ and “no longer walked with him.” That is precisely what is being described here in Hebrews 6.
4. Judas Iscariot
Judas fits the profile of Hebrews 6 exactly. The light of truth came to him. For three years he was a follower of Jesus Christ, the heavenly gift.
He was right there when Jesus gave the Sermon on the Mount, so he tasted the goodness of the Word of God. He was sent out with the other apostles to preach the gospel, and to cast out demons, and to heal the sick (Luke 9:1-2, 6). He did not do this in his own power so he certainly shared in the Holy Spirit.
When it came to tasting the powers of the age to come, he was in the boat when Jesus calmed the storm (Luke 8:22ff). He distributed the bread and fish when Jesus fed the 5,000 (Luke 9:10ff). He would have been one of the runners, carrying baskets of food to the people who were eating (Luke 9:16). He was beside the grave when Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead (John 11:38ff).
Put these examples together, and what we are learning is that it is possible to have spiritual experience that is not saving experience, and it is possible to enjoy spiritual privilege without becoming one of Christ’s sheep.
That was true of the people in Bethsaida and Capernaum. It was true of the thousands who ate the loaves and fish. It was true of the crowds who cheered for Jesus on Palm Sunday and later called for him to be crucified. It was supremely true of Judas Iscariot who followed Jesus but then abandoned him.
Examples of this sad reality abound in the New Testament; and this is what, I believe, is described in Hebrews 6.
I want to speak directly to you if you were brought up in a Christian home: It is possible to receive great privileges and yet to turn away, as these people did from faith in Jesus Christ. I want you to see that this puts you in the most dangerous spiritual position of all.
Privileged People In a Dangerous Position
They are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm… (Hebrews 6:6)
The Bible makes it very clear that God will hold us accountable for the privileges we enjoy and for the light we have received. From the one to whom much is given, much will be expected.
I feel the weight of this in my own life. “Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness” (James 3:1).
The same principle is applied to the people of Capernaum: “I tell you that it will be more tolerable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom than for you” (Matthew 11:24).
Greater privileges have been given to you than were given to others, and God will hold you responsible for what you have done with the privileges you have been given. The light of truth has shined on you. The sin of turning away from light that has been given to you is especially offensive to God. It is “crucifying once again the Son of God” to your own harm.
Here we come to the most difficult part of these verses. “It is impossible” (Hebrews 6:4) in the case of people who have received these great privileges and then have “fallen away” (Hebrews 6:6) [i.e. they have renounced faith in Jesus] “to restore them again to repentance…” (Hebrews 6:6).
Two things to say here — one is to warn, the other is to encourage.
1. To Warn
The people who are most resistant to God, the hardest people in the world to reach are not those who have never heard the gospel. They are not those who live in open and flagrant rebellion against the Lord. The hardest people in the world are those to whom the light has come, who have tasted the things of Christ, but then have turned away from him.
Some of you know how much my heart is burdened for sons and daughters who grew up in Christian homes but have turned away from faith in Jesus Christ.
Some months ago, I wrote a personal letter to about a dozen of these people. The letter said, “I am writing to you because you grew up in this church and now you have children of your own. I’d love to have the opportunity to visit you in your home and to pray for you and for your children. And if you have any questions about faith or difficulties that have stood in your way, I would be glad for the opportunity to talk with you. I’m here. I’m available.”
I ended the letter with this invitation: “Here are some dates I could come, please let me know if any of these will work for you.” How many of these homes do you think I was welcome to visit? Not a single one.
I received some very courteous and polite replies: “Dear pastor, thank you for your kind letter, but we are not interested at this time. Thank you for your interest in our family, but we would like to take a pass on this opportunity.”
Now, nobody is under any obligation to receive a visit from me. I am sure there are many reasons why a person might not want me in their house! I am not offended by the response, and it is not for me to make judgments about what may be going on in the hearts of any of these people.
But the experience was a reminder to me that the hardest people in the world to reach are not those who have never heard; they are the ones who have tasted the truth and have turned away. That is the most dangerous position of all.
If that is your position today, or if that is the direction you are heading, my prayer for you on this Mothers’ Day is that God will waken you up to the spiritual danger you are in!
2. To Encourage
But I want to end with this encouragement. Notice why it is impossible to restore certain people: It is impossible to restore them “since they are [present tense] crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm…” (Hebrews 6:6).
That is, they are doing again, what the crowd did on Good Friday when they called for Jesus to be crucified: “Away with him! There is no place for him in our homes or in our lives.”
Here is the truth of Hebrews 6 applied to your life: So long as you continue rejecting Jesus, you will never be able to change the hardness of your own heart, and no one else will be able to change it either.
But there is one hope for you today, and that is to stop rejecting Jesus. Stop repeating what the crowd did on Good Friday to your own harm. Stop crucifying again the Son of God, and cast yourself on the mercy of Jesus Christ.
Come to Jesus and ask him, “Lord, change this hard heart of mine, because there is no way in the world I can do it now. Deliver me from the power of my own rebellion. Make me your own.”
I want to appeal today to all who have heard the truth but have turned away from Jesus Christ. Great privileges have been given to you. You have been brought into the sphere of God’s blessing. You have tasted something of the gift of Jesus Christ.
Some of you have a mother, a father, a grandmother, a grandfather, a friend, a colleague, a sibling, a spouse, or a pastor who has been praying for you, in some cases for many years. There’s an urgency in the hearts of those who love you, because there is no place of greater spiritual danger than the place you are in right now.
Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your heart, humble yourself before the Lord Jesus Christ. Tell him that you know you are lost and helpless without him. Tell him that you can resist him no longer. Ask him to save you, because he can and he will.
© Colin S. Smith
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