‘Seek the Lord and his strength; seek his presence continually’ (Psalm 105:4, ESV).
4 It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, 5 who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age 6 and who have fallen away, to be brought back to repentance. To their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace. 7 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. 8 But land that produces thorns and thistles is worthless and is in danger of being cursed. In the end it will be burned.
9 Even though we speak like this, dear friends, we are convinced of better things in your case – the things that have to do with salvation. 10 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. 11 We want each of you to show this same diligence to the very end, so that what you hope for may be fully realized. 12 We do not want you to become lazy, but to imitate those who through faith and patience inherit what has been promised.
Which family members or friends come to mind as you read this? Who once seemed to be walking with God but no longer does so?
There are different understandings of this passage. One suggests that verses 4 and 5 describe a genuine Christian who then falls away. The other, that the ‘enlightening’, the ‘tasting’, even the ‘sharing’ in the Holy Spirit, are enjoyed by a dabbler rather than a believer. It’s as if they’d gone on some dates but never got married. Placed against what Jesus said about never losing any that are his (eg John 6:39; 10:28–30), this second understanding seems to me to fit better with New Testament teaching. Their temporary response is like the seed sown on rocky ground (Mark 4:16,17). Either way it is a sober warning (v 6).
These are difficult verses – there are those whom we love deeply who we long to return to God. And yet, this brings a warning to lukewarm Christians (like those in 5:11,12). Fortunately, it’s not up to us to decide whether the ‘no way back’ applies to those who were once around church but are so no longer. But our response must surely be to pray for each of them with our whole heart, trusting that Jesus knows all who are his – and that all who are will follow him (John 10:27,28).
Take time now to plead before God for those you love who are not following Jesus.
Deeper Bible study
‘My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one.’1 Jesus is still praying for us.2
Few sections of the Bible have occasioned more controversy than this. The early church debated the possibility of restoration for apostates; in more recent centuries discussion has been around the possibility of losing salvation. We shall not be able to review, let alone resolve, all the issues, but we must take the writer seriously. Even allowing for his pastoral heart and his use of persuasive rhetoric to encourage his readers to remain true, he seems to envisage a real danger rather than a hypothetical one. We cannot avoid reading the text in the light of our theological convictions, but we can be open to alternative readings. Those described here seem to have shown every sign of being true Christians. Both divine sovereignty and human responsibility are emphasised in the Bible. We find it hard to hold the two in tension as Scripture seems to, so we tend to veer in the direction of one or the other.
Individual salvation is ultimately the result of God’s gracious initiative in Christ, but it is appropriated by faith. Together, they bring about a right relationship with God. Faith, in the New Testament, is not a one-off response in the past, but an ongoing trust in Christ. The New Testament is as much concerned with the end of our Christian journey as its start.3 So while we continue to have different understandings of the theology, we cannot ignore the practical need for an ongoing relationship maintained, at least from our perspective, by a continuing faith. Without that we are in peril. Thankfully the writer, having issued the warning, expresses his confidence in his audience. Pastorally he is concerned and so challenges and encourages. As a body of Christians we have the same responsibility to one another.
Thank God for your life: for all the signs of growth, for the changes you have seen and for his commitment to go on working in your life.
Bible in a year
Read the Bible in a year: Numbers 2,3; Matthew 14
Pray for Scripture Union
Pray that as development worker Sarah Davison explores opportunities to share the good news of Jesus with children and young people in some of the most deprived areas in the north, and looks for the right connections, God will open doors.