There are plenty of stories in the Bible about people who started out well enough in the walk of faith only to lose their way before their journey was over. We think of Judas, Demas, Hymenaeus and Alexander. These people made shipwreck of their faith – but did they lose their salvation?
At first glance a passage like Hebrews 6:4-8 seems to suggest that such a thing is possible.
“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, 5 and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, 6 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. 7 For land that has drunk the rain that often falls on it, and produces a crop useful to those for whose sake it is cultivated, receives a blessing from God. 8 But if it bears thorns and thistles, it is worthless and near to being cursed, and its end is to be burned.” (Hebrews 6:4–8 ESV)
At first glance it does seem that the Apostle is talking about Christians who have finally and fatally walked away from their faith in Jesus Christ but a closer examination calls that conclusion into question.
The Apostle appears to have chosen his words very carefully.
He talks first of all about “those who have once been enlightened”. Who are these people? The Greek word beneath that English translation is the word photizo from which we get our English words ‘photo’ and ‘photosynthesis’. The Apostle is saying that these people have seen the light. He is not saying that they have been saved or born again; he is saying that they have seen the things of salvation. They have been exposed and therefore they are doubly without excuse.
Secondly, he talks about people “who have tasted the heavenly gift”. Once again, that word appears to have been carefully chosen. Many scholars suggest that this refers to those who have taken communion. They have “tasted” the tangible sign of the Gospel. Thus the Apostle is saying that these people have heard, seen and tasted of the salvation of God in Christ.
The Apostle also says that in some sense, these people have been “sharers in the Holy Spirit”. The Greek word used here means to associate, to participate or to partake. The Apostle does not say that they have received the Holy Spirit or that they have been baptized into the Holy Spirit but he does say that in some sense they have been associated with the Holy Spirit and have participated in Spiritual things. They have sung the songs, felt the presence, seen the miracles, perhaps even received a supernatural healing; but they have not been born again.
The Apostle goes on to say that these people have “tasted the goodness of the Word of God”. The word used here means to taste or experience something. These people have felt the goodness and the soundness of the Word! They have enjoyed the teaching; they have highlighted verses; they have said loud and hearty ‘amens’! But the text does not say that the seed of the Word found purchase in the soil of their heart.
The same text goes on to say that these people have “tasted of the powers of the age to come”. These folks have sensed the turning of the ages; they have known that Powers are on the move. They may have personally experienced the other-worldly authority of the Kingdom. They may have personally exercised a demon or spoken a word of prophecy but while such powers have flowed through them they never came to rest finally within them.
And in the end, according to the Apostle, such people – even having seen so much and felt so much and done so much – can fall eternally and irrevocably away.
Jesus said this would happen. He said:
“On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ 23 And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’” (Matthew 7:22–23 ESV)
I never knew you.
Not “I once knew you, but then you fell away”; no Jesus says, “I never knew you.”
You were sincere in your belief that you were saved. But you were sincerely mistaken.
You had spiritual experiences and power encounters but those things are not determinative.
What is determinative is the fact that you proved ultimately to be a lawless person. You never came under my yoke and Lordship. You remained the Lord of your life and therefore I never knew you.
Saved people endure to the end.
Jesus was very clear about that. He said:
“If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples” (John 8:31 ESV)
The word “abide” means to “remain”. The kingdom of God belongs not to the tasters or samplers but to the swallowers. Salvation belongs to those who feast upon the whole Word of God. Woe unto those who put their hands to the plow and then turn back! For such a person there is no prospect of salvation:
“but the one who endures to the end will be saved.” (Matthew 24:13 ESV)
The analogy of Scripture would lead us to the conclusion that one of the ways we can tell true believers from false believers is that true believers persevere under pressure and over time. Salvation is not a reward for endurance; rather saved people are helped by God both to believe and to endure. As it is written:
“he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” (Philippians 1:6 ESV)
The Lord finishes what he starts; each and every time.
Thanks be to God!
Pastor Paul Carter
To listen to Pastor Paul’s Into The Word devotional podcast visit the TGC Canada website; you can also find it on iTunes.