Now here’s the most critical part of the discussion: When Christians walk away, they are walking away from Jesus Christ, not just from Christianity or a local church. After all, when they became a Christian, they had entered a relationship with a Person, not with a religion or a church.
I’m talking about becoming a Christian in the biblical sense. There is such a thing as cultural Christianity, where one may celebrate Christmas and Easter, perhaps even attend church regularly and partake of the Lord’s Supper. I’m not talking about that — and neither were Joshua Harris and Marty Sampson, back when they called themselves Christians and wrote books and songs expressing their love for Jesus.
In the aftermath of these men’s very public walking away from Christ, here’s another question the rest of us must ask: Can a Christian who walks away from Christ walk back to Him?
The short answer is yes, potentially. But the odds aren’t in their favor. In fact, the odds are completely against them, as we learn from one of the Bible’s most explicit passages on the topic.
“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 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” (Hebrews 6:4-6).
This is the passage that convinced me that Paul is the author of Hebrews, because no one else in the early church could have written with such severity. Peter, perhaps, but he was not schooled enough to have written the rest of Hebrews.
The heavenly gift referred to in Hebrews 6:4 is the gift of salvation. Paul describes salvation as a gift elsewhere too, as in these verses:
“The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23).
“It is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God” (Ephesians 2:8).
And in one of my favorite scenes in the Gospels, Jesus Himself tells the woman at the well, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who says to you, ‘Give Me a drink,’ you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water” (John 4:10).
Salvation, as Webster so succinctly defines it, is deliverance from the power and effects of sin. And the good news, the gospel, is that it is free.
Like any gift, God’s free gift of salvation can be received, rejected, or received and then returned. Joshua Harris and Marty Sampson did not spurn God’s gift when it was offered to them at some point in their history. They received it, enjoyed its benefits for a season, and then returned it. Tragically, there are many thousands who treat the heavenly gift in this manner.
According to Hebrews 6:4, those who walk away from Christ do so knowingly, because they had “once been enlightened.” Whatever their reasons for walking away, ignorance is not one of them.
Christians who walk away know what it is to have the darkness in their souls illumined by the light of Christ. They know what it is to fellowship with the Holy Spirit and to feed on the Word of God. They have experienced the Father’s love and at least some degree of a transformed life. This is a foretaste of the age to come, when we will see God face to face (1 Corinthians 13:12) and never again battle the sinful desires that wage war against our souls (1 Peter 2:11).
Jesus died a bloody, brutal, shameful, innocent death so we could enjoy these benefits. To walk away from Him is to deem His sacrifice worthless, which is to crucify Him all over again and drag His name through the mud. This is why Paul says it is impossible for those who walk away to be brought back to repentance.
The phrase it is impossible in Hebrews 6:4 is one word in the Greek: adunatos. Apart from “that which is impossible,” adunatos also means to lack the ability or power (dunamis). From this we can infer that those who walk away are unable to repent and return.
By the same token, those who stay are able to do so because God gives them the power. In other words, it is possible for a Christian not to walk away!
It is possible, but it is not easy. The Christian life has rightly been described as a war, and war is never easy. Ask any vet.
We are in an all-out war with “the spiritual forces of evil” (Ephesians 6:12), but Jesus has won a comprehensive victory on our behalf. He “disarmed the [demonic] powers and … made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross” (Colossians 2:15). And His resurrection sealed the deal.
If we are in Christ we are already on the winning side. But if we are to avoid becoming a casualty, we must do our part. That’s why the Bible urges every believer: “Continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12).
May each of us receive Christ’s enabling grace to never walk away from His saving grace.
FLANDERS, AUGUST 1917. AP
(c) 2019 Sharon Arpana Edwards. All Rights Reserved.