A WARNING TO THE BACKSLIDER
Copyright 2006 Trumpet Ministries, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION. Copyright 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.


There are verses in the Bible that bring comfort to the person who wants to believe and serve God—assurances that what Christ has begun in our life Christ will finish. There are other verses in the Bible that should terrify the individual who is neglecting his or her salvation, who is yielding to the pressure of the world spirit, the seductions of the flesh, or the imaginations and drives of personal ambition.

In our day in America the numerous assurances are presented again and again but one does not often hear the terrifying warnings. All of the tribes are on Mount Gerizim proclaiming the blessings. Mount Ebal is silent.


A WARNING TO THE BACKSLIDER

If they have escaped the corruption of the world by knowing our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and are again entangled in it and overcome, they are worse off at the end than they were at the beginning. It would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than to have known it and then to turn their backs on the sacred command that was passed on to them. (II Peter 2:20,21—NIV)

That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep. But if we judged ourselves, we would not come under judgment. When we are judged by the Lord, we are being disciplined so we will not be condemned with the world. (I Corinthians 11:30-32—NIV)

There are verses in the Bible that bring comfort to the person who wants to believe and serve God—assurances that what Christ has begun in our life Christ will finish. There are other verses in the Bible that should terrify the individual who is neglecting his or her salvation, who is yielding to the pressure of the world spirit, the seductions of the flesh, or the imaginations and drives of personal ambition.

In our day in America the numerous assurances are presented again and again but one does not often hear the terrifying warnings. All of the tribes are on Mount Gerizim proclaiming the blessings. Mount Ebal is silent.

The purpose of the present essay is to attempt to bring back a wholesome balance to the Gospel of the Kingdom by emphasizing the terrifying warnings found in the Scriptures that are addressed to the backslider.

The above two passages represent one of the numerous seeming contradictions found in the Scriptures. The first passage is saying if we go back into the world it would better had we never been saved in the first place. The second passage is saying when we are judged for having transgressed against the Lord in some manner He disciplines us so we will not be condemned with the world.

How we treat seeming contradictions in the Scriptures is critical to our ability to rightly divide the Word of truth. One incorrect way in which to approach a seeming contradiction is to fasten on the side we prefer and ignore the other. This approach seems to be the way in which Christian deductive theology has been constructed.

Another incorrect way is to seek a "balance" such that neither verse is taken in the fullness of its apparent meaning. To do this is to end up with a soup that is neither hot nor cold.

The only correct manner in which to approach two seemingly contradictory statements in the inspired text is to regard each as the unchanging Word of God and to accept it fully, even though we cannot for the moment understand how the two statements can possibly be reconciled.

There is no way we can waltz around the first passage (above), claiming it does not apply to Christians, or it is spoken only to Jews (a favorite technique for evading the inconsistencies of current Christian teaching.).

Notice whom Peter addresses:

Simon Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ, to those who through the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ have received a faith as precious as ours: (II Peter 1:1—NIV)

Obviously Peter is addressing all true Christians.

Now, what does the Apostle say?

If they have escaped the corruption of the world by knowing our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and are again entangled in it and overcome, they are worse off at the end than they were at the beginning. It would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than to have known it and then to turn their backs on the sacred command that was passed on to them. (II Peter 2:20,21—NIV)

Peter states: "If an individual escapes the corruption of the world by knowing Jesus, and then goes back into the world and is overcome, it would be better not to have known the way of righteousness to begin with."

The full force of this declaration is not to be diluted in any manner. The Word of God has spoken. A person who has begun on the way of righteousness (not who merely has taken the "four steps of salvation," he or she has actually started walking in righteousness), if this individual then returns to the world he is worse off than if he had never started to follow the Lord.

If the reader cannot accept the passage as it stands it would be a waste of time to continue with our essay. Our position is that the Word of God is to be taken as it stands and not cut and trimmed to fit the popular American Hollywood gospel.

In the second passage the Apostle Paul is discussing taking the Communion with an unacceptable attitude. Paul says we ought to judge ourselves, implying that we should look to see if our heart is right before we receive the body and blood of the Lord Jesus.

If we go ahead and receive the Communion elements with a wrong attitude, then God judges us and chastens us so we are not condemned with the world. At least, this is how I read it.

That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep. But if we judged ourselves, we would not come under judgment. When we are judged by the Lord, we are being disciplined so we will not be condemned with the world. (I Corinthians 11:30-32—NIV)

This passage also is to be taken full bore. Its implications are not to be minimized in any manner. If we participate in the Communion with things in our heart that ought not to be there, God sees this. God then disciplines us to the point of sickness and death that we not come under the judgment of the sinful world.

It reminds one of Cain. He presented his offering to God. But envy and strife were in his heart, and God was not pleased with Cain’s act of worship for this reason.

If we take the first passage and ignore the second, then we have a rigid formula of salvation. If the believer should be seduced back into the world he or she never should have been saved in the first place. The oversight of God and the working of the Spirit of grace are not taken into consideration. The way of Christ is not this harsh or unsympathetic.

If we take the second passage and ignore the first, which is the trend today, we have eternal security. Although eternal security is not a cardinal doctrine of many Christian groups, most Christian teaching stresses that once a person makes a clear commitment to the Lord Jesus Christ he then can never be lost. And so the unscriptural doctrine of eternal security actually carries the day.

But aren’t these two concepts mutually exclusive? I don’t believe so.

Yet one passage states that if we begin in Christ and then turn back into the world we are worse off than if we had not started. The other portrays God as intervening so the Christian with the wrong attitude is not finally condemned.

It may be true that we are speaking of two different conditions. In the first passage the believer has turned away from the path of righteousness and gone back into the world. The Divine Seed has been choked out by the cares of the world. He has put his hand to the plow and then turned back. He has run out of oil. He has left his talent buried in the ground. His end will be the outer darkness, according to the Gospel accounts.

None of this is true of the second passage. The heart of the worshiper is with the Lord. He is there with the brothers and sisters taking the Communion. But for one reason or another he is not relating properly to his fellow Christians. Also he is treating the sacrament as an unholy thing. God looks down and is not pleased.

However this individual has not turned away from the path of righteousness, has not gone back into the world, the Divine Seed has not been choked out by the cares of the world, he has not left his talent buried in the ground, he has not run out of the oil of the Spirit, he has not turned back from the field he is plowing. God judges him worthy of the Kingdom and sends sickness or death upon him that he might be saved, just as Paul delivered the incestuous Corinthian to Satan for the destruction of his flesh that his spirit might be saved in the Day of Christ.

By the way, the result of taking the Communion with a wrong attitude, and the assigning of the incestuous believer to Satan, reveal the utter falsity of the popular teaching that the blood of Christ covers us so God cannot see our behavior.

Before we get into the terrifying warnings to the backslider, let me remind the reader of the many marvelous promises of God found in the Scriptures, declarations of the watchful care and awesome power of the One who has called us to Himself.

For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38,39—NIV)

And again:

That is why I am suffering as I am. Yet I am not ashamed, because I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him for that day. (II Timothy 1:12—NIV)

Having brought to mind the saving power of God, a power that is ready to work on behalf of anyone who keeps plowing ahead with the Lord even though there are significant flaws in the personality, let us consider some of the statements found in the Book of Hebrews. The Book of Hebrews is a warning to the backslider.

First of all, what group was being addressed in the Book of Hebrews? Those being addressed were Jewish Christians. They were experienced believers who now were beginning to grow cold. The long periods of boredom that often occur in the Christian life were having their effect. The excitement was over, and now came the years of patient endurance when nothing exciting was taking place. But it is in such times that the saints are made.

The internal evidence of the epistle suggests they were "saved," as we use the term, and knew the Holy Spirit and also the miracle power that prefigures the coming Kingdom Age.

In addition they had responded joyously and victoriously to severe persecution.

Remember those earlier days after you had received the light, when you stood your ground in a great contest in the face of suffering. Sometimes you were publicly exposed to insult and persecution; at other times you stood side by side with those who were so treated. You sympathized with those in prison and joyfully accepted the confiscation of your property, because you knew you yourselves had better and lasting possessions. (Hebrews 10:32-34—NIV)

These were not exactly new converts!

The Book of Hebrews is a book of warning to experienced Christians who, after having received Christ as Savior and been filled with the Holy Spirit, were neglecting to press forward vigorously and diligently into the rest of God, that is, into the place where they were dwelling in untroubled rest in the center of God’s will.

Evidences of this primary theme appear throughout the epistle. The departure into the discussion concerning the Old Testament sacrifices was for the purpose of showing that the new covenant is superior to the old. It is superior because it includes the power to remove sin rather than just forgive sin, as was true of the blood of bulls and goats. The idea is that there is much more than only forgiveness for us under the new covenant and we are obligated to press into it.

Now let’s examine the thesis of the Book of Hebrews, the exhortation to press into the rest of God and the penalty for becoming careless in the things of salvation.

For if the message spoken by angels was binding, and every violation and disobedience received its just punishment, How shall we escape if we ignore such a great salvation? This salvation, which was first announced by the Lord, was confirmed to us by those who heard him. (Hebrews 2:2,3—NIV)

The idea here is that if every violation and disobedience under the old covenant was punished, we shall not escape if we ignore the provisions of the new covenant.

This passage, particularly verse three, is often preached to the unsaved. It is not addressed to the unsaved. It is addressed to experienced saints who were not pressing forward to the rest of God. The idea is that of ignoring something we already possess.

But Christ is faithful as a son over God’s house. And we are his house, if we hold on to our courage and the hope of which we boast. (Hebrews 3:6—NIV)

Can you see that we are the house of Christ only as long as we "hold on to our courage and the hope of which we boast"? It is said today that salvation is not conditional. The truth is, our being saved depends on our response. The Hebrews Christians were drifting away from their courage and hope.

That is why I was angry with that generation, and I said, "Their hearts are always going astray, and they have not known my ways." So I declared on oath in my anger, ‘They shall never enter my rest." (Hebrews 3:10,11—NIV)

The writer reminds these seasoned Christians how the Jews started out from Egypt, a type of being saved initially, and then were prevented from entering the land of promise, a type of not finally becoming part of Christ.

See to it, brothers, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. (Hebrews 3:12—NIV)

When previously discussing the passage from Second Peter we spoke of the believer who turns away from God. But what is the penalty for doing this? Peter told us the penalty was to end up in a worse condition than when we started out as a Christian.

We have come to share in Christ if we hold firmly till the end the confidence we had at first. (Hebrews 3:14—NIV)

The penalty is to not share in Christ.

The absolute unwillingness of modern Christian ministers to accept the above as it is written has brought chaos into the churches.

Salvation is a goal we pursue, not a ticket we receive at the time of taking "the four steps of salvation." As we can see, we are not saved in Christ until we persevere to the end of our discipleship. He who endures to the end shall be saved, just as the Lord said.

The branch that does not bear the fruit of the moral image of Christ will be cut out of the Vine, out of Christ. This is the Word of God. It must be preached today for we are losing a whole generation of American believers. They think they are saved and on their way to Heaven but they are not participating in the program of redemption, the process of deliverance from the influence of Satan and entrance into the Person of God through Christ.

Therefore, since the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us be careful that none of you be found to have fallen short of it. (Hebrews 4:1—NIV)

To be in the rest of God is to be doing God’s will sternly and perfectly. Yet we hear Christians saying today that no one can do God’s will perfectly. It is too hard.

The truth is, we either press into God’s rest or we are in danger of not being accepted in Christ in the Day of the Lord. We absolutely must cease from our own works, our own plans and schemes, and find God’s will for our life. Until we do this we are not qualified to be resurrected and caught up when the Lord returns.

But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil. (Hebrews 5:14—NIV)

The writer refers to these experienced believers as babies who cannot be fed the meat of the Word. Why can’t they be fed the meat of the Word? Because they have not trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.

What would the writer of the Book of Hebrews say if he saw the churches of today? We are being told there is no evil, we are saved by an unconditional amnesty and so there is no need to worry about our behavior. We are advised that God sees us only through Christ and so whatever we do is righteous.

It is time now for God to baptize His churches with fire. We must become aware of Divine judgment so we can tell what part of our behavior is sinful and what is righteous. Whatever is sinful must be firmly denounced and renounced so the Holy Spirit can remove all uncleanness from us. Only then can Christ grow in us to the point that we can judge with righteous judgment. When we can judge with righteous judgment we will be able to digest the meat of the Word.

It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, Who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age, If they fall away, to be brought back to repentance, because to their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace. (Hebrews 6:4-6—NIV)

I have never read an editor or commentator who would accept the above passage, so great is the apostasy of our time. This passage is the same as all the others in the Book of Hebrews. It is warning us of the danger of turning away from Christ once we have started.

These were not new converts, as we can tell from the text. They had experienced the fullness of the apostolic power available in their day.

But are we saying if someone sins he or she immediately is cut off? We are saying nothing of the kind. We are claiming, rather, that if an individual follows Christ for a period of time, being established in the faith, and then turns and leaves all he has witnessed and goes back into the world, Christ would have to be crucified again for him in order for him to return. He is in serious trouble to say the least.

I know of one case where a brother who had been rejoicing in the Lord and working in the Kingdom fell into sin. Instead of confessing his sin, repenting, and going on with the Lord, he continued in his fallen state.

Finally his health was so bad he thought back to what he had left. I did what I could to comfort him and advised him to go to church at every opportunity in the hope he would regain the joy of salvation. But I will tell you he was a sorry sight, wearing an old coat, unshaven, trembling with fear. He was in serious spiritual trouble and he knew it.

On another occasion a Pentecostal woman married a man who did not believe in tongues, although he was a Christian. He liked to say "tongues are of the devil."

After several years of marriage, and he had had a chance to see that his wife was a solid Christian, he still was saying "tongues are of the devil."

Then the Lord spoke to him. The Lord said, "Never say that again."

The point is, the Lord does not jump on us when we go against some Bible truth. Jesus did say that anyone who spoke disparagingly of the Holy Spirit cannot be forgiven in this world or the world to come. The husband was clearly guilty. But the Lord did not spring the trap. He waited until the husband knew his repeated statement was not appropriate. Then the Lord spoke to him. As I heard the account he obeyed the Lord. I am certain if he had defied God he would never have been forgiven, just as the Lord said.

So the fact that God’s Word says the Christian who turns away cannot be restored, the reference is to a seasoned Christian who willfully and knowingly leaves Christ and goes back into the world. He may cross the line into the place of no return. This is serious business!

The same thought is repeated immediately.

Land that drinks in the rain often falling on it and that produces a crop useful to those for whom it is farmed receives the blessing of God. But land that produces thorns and thistles is worthless and is in danger of being cursed. In the end it will be burned. (Hebrews 6:7,8—NIV)

Again let me remind us of the saying of Jesus that the branch that does not bear fruit will be cut out of the Vine, out of Christ. If this is not a terrifying thought I do not know what is!

God is not unjust; he will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people and continue to help them. We want each of you to show this same diligence to the very end, in order to make your hope sure. (Hebrews 6:10,11—NIV)

Is the above verse saying we make our hope in Christ certain by helping God’s people? Are we saved by works? Indeed we are, in this sense!

But notice: we do not work for our salvation but we must work out our salvation. Salvation is something that must be worked out. If we do not work it out then we do not arrive at the destination. We work out our salvation by doing all that Christ and His Apostles commanded. If we do not continue in these good works, which are the proof of our continuing faith and hope, then we are going to bear thorns and briars. The end of this is to be burned.

But will we be "saved"? I guess it depends on what one means by saved. If by saved we include being burned in the fire and not made a part of Christ, I suppose so. On the other hand, we may find ourselves in the outer darkness where people are weeping, and gnashing their teeth in terror and in anger against God.

If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, But only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God. (Hebrews 10:26,27—NIV)

The writer has not changed readers. He still is speaking to the holy brothers. A reading of the context will confirm this fact.

If the Christian disciple chooses to keep on sinning after having receive Christ no sacrifice for sins is left. He would have to crucify Christ again to be saved. The sinning Christian can expect judgment and a raging fire. He has become the enemy of God.

This is what the Bible says.

Notice also the next verse.

Anyone who rejected the law of Moses died without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. How much more severely do you think a man deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of God under foot, who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified him, and who has insulted the Spirit of grace? For we know him who said, "It is mine to avenge; I will repay," and again, "The Lord will judge his people." It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. (Hebrews 10:28-31—NIV)

It is still the same writer, still the same people being addressed, still the same thesis. These Christians are reminded that whoever rejected the Law of Moses died without mercy. But the believer who continues to sin after having known the way of righteousness shall be punished with much greater severity than was true of the days of Moses.

Whom does the Lord judge? His people! Not the unsaved world, "His people"!

For whom is it a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God?

His people!

I do not know how many American Christians will receive the above passage, but it is just as much Bible as John 3:16. If I am not mistaken we are in for a rough time in America as God invites His people to return to Himself.

You need to persevere so when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised. (Hebrews 10:36—NIV)

Can you see how the same theme keeps being repeated? The Jewish Christians were not persevering. They had been saved and filled with the Holy Spirit, as we use these terms, but then they stopped pressing forward. Maybe they were told they would be "raptured immediately," but I doubt it.

In any case, it is clear if we are to receive what Christ has promised we must faithfully keep on doing the will of God day after day until the time of our death. We must fight the good fight. We must run the race as someone who is determined to win. Salvation is a goal in Christ for which we must fight; toward which we must run with every ounce of strength in our personality.

For in just a very little while, "He who is coming will come and will not delay. But my righteous one will live by faith. And if he shrinks back, I will not be pleased with him." But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who believe and are saved. (Hebrews 10:37-39—NIV)

The just shall live by faith. Living by faith means we do not shrink back but keep pressing forward in Christ.

If we shrink back we will be destroyed, as far as having any part in Christ is concerned.

If we keep pressing forward in faith we shall be saved in Christ. Therefore salvation is a goal toward which we must keep fighting, running, and pressing. There is to be no looking back once we put our hand to the plow.

The entire eleventh chapter of the Book of Hebrews is a definition of "the just shall live by faith." We discover in this chapter that true faith is hope in the invisible God that He will reward those who seek Him diligently. We find also that faith is the obedient response to that which has been revealed by the Lord.

Faith is not so much a doctrinal stance as it is a life of seeking God and of obedience to what He shows us. There are other kinds of faith, such as miracle-working faith. But the faith by which the righteous live is that of a steady seeking of God and delighting in God.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. (Hebrews 12:1—NIV)

Here the theme is repeated. We are exhorted to run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Paul employs the figure of running a race as does the writer of Hebrews. The Christian life is not one of adopting a set of theological positions and then waiting to go to Heaven. Rather it is a race. Paul tells us that we must run with the idea of winning, not jogging along aimlessly. Toward the end of his life Paul still was endeavoring to win, to gain Christ.

How many believers in America are striving with all their might to gain Christ? These are the true disciples of the Lord. These and these alone will be raised from the dead and caught up to meet the Lord when He appears.

The remainder are just churchgoers. Probably the churchgoers who are not fervent disciples are in the majority. What their end will be I have no idea. I do know the Bible means exactly what it says, and it is the overcomers who will inherit the Kingdom of God.

In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. (Hebrews 12:4—NIV)

Are we to be struggling against sin or did Jesus do it all for us? What do you think, from the above verse?

See that no one is sexually immoral, or is godless like Esau, who for a single meal sold his inheritance rights as the oldest son. Afterward, as you know, when he wanted to inherit this blessing, he was rejected. He could bring about no change of mind, though he sought the blessing with tears. (Hebrews 12:16,17—NIV)

Why are we reminded of Esau? Because of the thesis found in Hebrews that if we turn away from Christ we lose our birthright as a son of God. When this happens there is no gaining it back. A terrifying warning indeed?

Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, For our "God is a consuming fire." (Hebrews 12:28,29—NIV)

The thought of our God being a "consuming fire," and that we are to worship Him with a corresponding awe, needs to be emphasized in the Christian churches of America. As I see it there is altogether too much silliness and foolishness; too much of the attitude that we have God in our pocket, so to speak, and He is standing around waiting to see how He can be of service to us, how He can help us have more fun.

I do not believe the Christians in Sudan, China, Pakistan, and Egypt are having much fun these days; and I do not think they are too worried about who wins the Super Bowl. Do you?

Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, "Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you." So we say with confidence, "The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?" (Hebrews 13:5,6—NIV)

God is with us and will help us. He never will leave us. If we keep serving Him with a glad heart, bearing patiently with the numerous and severe trials that all of us experience, He will bring us safely to our destination.

But we Americans must remember that much of the world is suffering hardship. People in some of the other countries do not enjoy the comforts we do, nor do many of them have the knowledge of the Scriptures or access to Bibles that is true of us. The scriptural principle is: "To whom much is given, of him shall much be required."

We have been given much. We cannot feed all the hungry of the world or clothe all the naked, although we wish we could. But one thing we can do: we can live each day unto the Lord with all the diligence we can apply and not be drawn off into the fascinations of the American culture. We can redeem the time by using to the best advantage all we have been given. In one manner or another, by giving or serving or praying, we must do our part to build up the Body of Christ.

We owe this to the suffering members of the Body of Christ worldwide.

The day may soon come when it will be we Americans who are suffering many hardships. Then we will expect the Christians in other countries to do all in their power to serve Christ so God will hear them when they pray for us and help us through the night we may be called upon to endure.

Brothers, I urge you to bear with my word of exhortation, for I have written you only a short letter. (Hebrews 13:22—NIV)

The Book of Hebrews is an exhortation to careless Christians, warning them of the consequences of not serving Christ with their whole heart.

In the light of the severity of the warnings, we have concluded that it is time for a reformation of Christian thinking in America. How do you feel about this?