Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Though with tears he sought it

For we have become partakers of the Christ, if indeed the beginning of the support we should hold firm until the end.

Hebrews 3:14 (AB)

There is a smug mantra within Evangelical Christianity that states, “Once saved, always saved.” The inference is that once a person becomes a “Christian” by some ritual action, an eternal reward is secured regardless. Many Evangelicals believe that once a person prays a little “sinner’s prayer” their eternal destiny is sealed. Faith, they believe, is an instantaneous epiphany, which obligates God to grant eternal life regardless of the convert’s faithfulness. Evangelicals often scoff at those who think that salvation might not be so easily secured. They brand those who differ from their viewpoint as legalists who must believe salvation comes by works.

While there are legalists who think that salvation comes by works, the once-saved-always-saved Evangelicals are the worst of the lot because they teach a works-based salvation of the lowest possible standard, “Repeat after me, ‘Dear Jesus, blah, blah, blah . . .’ Congratulations, you’re now a child of God.” These so-called believers reject the truth that faith and faithfulness are the same word in Scripture! They teach salvation without repentance, and they manufacture word meanings that deceive people into false assurances of salvation.

The writer of Hebrews makes it clear that the end must validate the beginning. A plausible beginning does not guarantee the expected end. How have we “become partakers of the Christ?” Only if “we should hold firm until the end!” Hebrews does not tell us we might become partakers of the Christ, if we hold firm to the end. Rather, it says we have already become partakers of the Christ. Nevertheless, the proof requires that we hold firm until the end.

Not only so, those not holding firm to the end are in peril!

For where voluntarily we sin after receiving the full knowledge of the truth, no longer is left a sacrifice for sins; but a certain fearful expectation of judgment, and a zealous fire being about to devour the adversaries.
Hebrews 10:26 (AB)

The writer of Hebrews uses Esau as a negative example. He commands believers to be involved in each other’s lives lest any should lack God’s grace. We are supposed to watch out for those in peril such as Esau,

. . . who for one portion of food delivered over his rights of the first born. For you understand that also afterwards wanting to inherit the blessing, he was rejected; for no place for repentance was found though with tears he sought it.

Hebrews 12:14-17 (AB)

Some so-called Christians mistakenly believe that in the Old Testament, salvation came by obedience to the Law. Hebrews rebuts this theory in chapter 11 revealing that salvation has always come by faith. Even scoundrels like Jepthah, who sacrificed his daughter, were enshrined in the “Hall of Faith” not because of their deeds but because of their faith in God.

Paul encouraged the Philippians to work out their salvation with “fear and trembling.” Paul exhorted the Corinthians to examine themselves to see whether they were in the faith. What was the standard of the test he proposed? “Do you not recognize yourselves that Jesus Christ is in you – except you be rejected.” 2 Corinthians 13:5 If Christ is in us, then it will become evident.

For many, salvation is more a gradual process than a instantaneous enlightenment. Saving faith is not merely intellectual assent. However, such knowledge of the truth, puts one in jeopardy should they subsequently reject the truth and fall away.

The writer of Hebrews seems almost obsessed with those within the assembly who were not fully committed to Jesus Christ. He warned against the hardening of hearts which also prevented Israel from obtaining God’s favor.

Take heed, brethren, lest at any time there should be in some of you a wicked unbelief in heart in the separating from the living God. But encourage yourselves according to each day,  as long as of which it is called today, that you should not be hardened, any of you, any by the deception of sin.

Hebrews 3:12 (AB)

The tone in Hebrews is urgent. We must continue on in our sanctification because the consequences of falling short of God’s grace are so severe.

It is impossible for the ones once enlightened, having tasted also of the heavenly gift, and becoming partakers of holy spirit, and having tasted the good word of God, and of powers of the eon about to be, and having fallen, again to renew to repentance; crucifying again to themselves the son of God, and making an example of him.

Hebrews 6:4-6 (AB)

The word translated, “having fallen”, or parapesontas, only appears once in the New Testament. Usually word meanings are best inferred by comparing many contexts. The scarcity of parapesontas actually helps us understand that to which the writer of Hebrews was alluding. The New Testament, of course was written in Greek, and the Old Testament source available to the New Testament writers had been translated into Greek. In the Greek Old Testament, parapesontas occurs in only two books. In Esther 6:10, the evil Haman is told that he must not fall short of his duty to honor Mordecai, whom he hates. Elsewhere, in Ezekiel, parapesontas is used five times to refer to Israel’s rebellion against God.

In Ezekiel 18, Israel accuses God of injustice. God reminds Israel that they are the ones who are unjust. God promises to punish the lawless and reward the righteous. In the middle of this discourse, God says,

And the lawless one, if he should turn from all his lawless deeds which he did, and should keep all my commandments, and should do equity and righteousness and mercy; to life he shall live, and he shall not die. All his transgressions, as many as he did, they shall not be remembered to him; in his righteousness which he did he shall live.

“By volition do I want the death of the lawless one?” says Adonai the LORD? “No, but as to turn him from his way and enliven him.”

But in the turning the just from his righteousness, and he should commit iniquity according to all the iniquities which the lawless one did, if he should do thus, he shall not live. In all the righteousness of his, which he did, in no way shall they be remembered; in his transgression in which he fell, and in his sins in which he sinned, in them he shall die.

Ezekiel 18:21-24 (AB)

The writer of Hebrews 6:6, echoes what Ezekiel had prophesied long before. God earnestly desires for sinners to repent. But the righteous, having fallen, it is impossible to renew him to repentance. Jesus said, “I have not come to call righteous ones but sinners unto repentance.” Luke 5:32 (AB) Yet, in Matthew 12, Jesus condemned the Pharisees for their blasphemy of the Holy Spirit. The Pharisees saw the power of God demonstrated, yet they refused to believe. Their willful rebellion sealed their destiny.

Judas Iscariot, who betrayed Christ for thirty pieces of silver and was later overwhelmed by regret. Regardless of Judas’ remorse, Jesus referred to Judas as the “son of destruction” and “a devil.” Though he had walked three years with Jesus – possibly performing miracles on missionary journeys (Matthew 10:5-15) – Judas had no avenue for repentance after his betrayal of Christ.

A good beginning is not a measure of faithfulness. Those with an intellectual acknowledgment of the truth, without having received God’s favor, face incredible risk. Should they fall away into deliberate rebellion, there is nothing that can restore them to repentance even if they become rapt with regret.

Esau wept with remorse. Yet he could not find repentance.

While some may ignore Scripture regarding those who fall away after knowing the truth, Scripture is clear that their condition is hopeless. The examples given in Scripture are extreme: Esau, the Pharisees, and Judas. However the danger is real enough that the writer of Hebrews emphasizes the risk. Paul wrote to Timothy saying,

Because of this I endure all things on account of the chosen, that also they should attain deliverance of the one in Christ Jesus with eternal glory.

Trustworthy is the word,
For if we died together, also we shall live together;
if we endure, also we shall reign together,
if we deny, that one also will will deny us;
if we disbelieve, that one is sure to abide;
to deny himself he is not able.
2 Timothy 2:10-14 (AB)

Paul states clearly that denying Christ will result in His denying us. Nevertheless, God’s grace allows us room for imperfection because if we disbelieve, Christ remains faithful. Clearly, God forgives our hamartia (1 John 1:9), but His purpose is also to cleanse us from hamartia and not to have us wallow in it. Should we reject God’s favor after knowing the truth, then is God’s judgment unjust?

Both Paul and the writer of Hebrews emphasize finishing what we started. How we finish validates how we began. Faith results in faithfulness because faith and faithfulness are the same. God knows the hearts of men better than we know our own. While we might set our hopes of salvation on doggerel recitatives, God looks passed our actions and into our hearts. He knows those who belong to him.

Paul closes his last letter to Timothy, saying,

For I am already am offered as a libation, and the time of my separation stands by. The good struggle, I have struggled; the race, I have finished; the belief I have kept. Remaining reserved for me is the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will recompense to me in that day; and not only to me, but also to all the ones loving his grandeur.

2 Timothy 4:6-8 (AB)

As we learn more about Him, are we also drawn closer to Him? Are we still clinging to the hope by which we began our lives in Jesus Christ?

1 comment:

  1. Tonight I received a SMS from a reader from Rhode Island asking, "What does it mean some can not find repentance?"

    The specific quote from Hebrews, speaking of Esau the brother of Israel, says, "no place for repentance was found though with tears he sought it." The point is, I believe, that remorse does not equate to repentance.

    It is easier to regret than to repent. Some people have extreme regret without turning away from the source of their regret.

    In Hebrews 6:4-6 the writer uses the Greek word *parapesontas* which is translated "having fallen" to describe those incapable or repentance.

    In Ezekiel (LXX), parapesontas, refers to the righteous choosing rebellion against God i.e. a deliberate falling away. In Esther, Haman is told that he cannot "fall short" of his duty to honor Mordecai. In other words, Haman is told he cannot rebel against his obligations. Of course, Haman had already planned the murder of Mordecai and was hanged for his rebellion. Haman may have regretted his fate, but he did not repent of his hatred of the Jews.

    Parapesontas is not merely falling into sin (Paul struggled with sin in Romans 7), but rather parapesontas is rejecting God after being drawn close to God. Those not knowing God cannot fall away.

    The writer of Hebrews, as well as Paul in Philippians 2:12, seek to warn us to take our salvation seriously. For those rebelling against God after having known God, what remains? Certainly remorse, but according to Hebrews, certainly not repentance.