Mystery of the Kingdom
Jesus specifically said that in the case of this second category of hearers: “…when affliction and persecution arises because of the word, immediately they fall away” (Mk. 4:17). According to Jesus, the result when they met with adversity after having believed is that ─ “immediately they fall away.” According to the doctrine of a number of Christian denominations today, this just cannot be so. Nevertheless, according to Jesus and God’s Word, it is immutably so.
Before going any further, some readers may note that the King James Version says they were “offended,” rather than that they fell away. However, this Elizabethan English usage does not accurately convey the intention of the original language. In the Greek, that word actually means to cause someone to stumble with the end result of falling. It is always used metaphorically to connote a falling away. Most translations other than the King James Version do indicate a falling away in this passage and others where the same Greek word is used.
There are a number of Christian denominations today who espouse what is commonly known as “the doctrine of eternal security.” Simply stated, this belief purports that once a person has made a verbal confession of Jesus Christ as his Savior, there is virtually no way he can ever lose his salvation or fall away, but that somehow, someway, God guarantees his eventual salvation; hence, that person’s salvation is “eternally secure.”
While I must say such an ideology would be extremely convenient, it is nonetheless quite unscriptural. Many people have used the auspices of this doctrine for license to continue in their sin and licentiousness under this false sense of “eternal security,” by which they are duped into believing they shall escape divine judgment for their deeds.
Now this is not at all to say that salvation for true, obedient believers is not eternally secure. On the contrary, the salvation and redemption that Jesus purchased with His own blood is most sure and forever secure. The obedient believer can be utterly assured of his salvation, and know with total certainty that he has Eternal Life: “These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, in order that you may know that you have eternal life” (1 Jn. 5:13).
God certainly does not want any believer to be in a quandary concerning his salvation and eternal destiny. Yet, at the same time, He has published innumerable warnings and exhortations in His Word concerning the fact that it is quite possible for someone who confesses Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior to fall away from following Him and consequently lose his salvation.
Scriptures regarding believers falling away of which I have personal knowledge number at nearly one hundred. Space simply will not permit an exhaustive study of them all, but the inevitable, unbiased conclusion is that a believer can indeed fall away from the faith, and that the wrath and eternal judgment of God awaits all those who refuse to repent of their sin and rebellious deeds. All the weight of Divine Writ bears forth the Truth that no one, believer or unbeliever, can elude accountability for his deeds:
Or do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance? But because of your stubbornness and unrepentant heart you are storing up wrath for yourself in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God, who will render to every man according to his deeds: to those who by perseverance in doing good seek for glory and honor and immortality, eternal life: but to those who are selfishly ambitious and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, wrath and indignation. There will be tribulation and distress for every soul of man who does evil…but glory and honor and peace to every man who does good…For there is no partiality with God. (Rom. 2:4-11)
“But, God Is Love!”
Inevitably, when you start talking about matters of judgment and believers falling away, proponents of eternal security will begin to cite scriptures concerning God’s love, kindness, mercy, and patience. Of course, all these qualities are an inherent part of God’s nature in boundless measure. Yet, scriptures proclaiming those Divine Attributes can never be used as a counterclaim against the validity of other scriptures concerning Divine Judgment. Scripture never contradicts itself. No passage of Scripture refutes or nullifies another.
What is difficult for the finite, humanistic mind to comprehend is that God’s wrath and eternal judgment are not contradictory to His Divine Nature of Love, but an inherent part of it. Righteous indignation and wrath are an inherent part of the Righteousness of God. They are a part of Divine Love. As the last scripture quoted, Romans 2:4-11, indicates, the rich kindness and forbearance and patience of God is intended to lead people to repentance, not to give license to their continuance in sin. But, those who refuse to repent from their sin because of their “stubbornness and unrepentant heart” are only “storing up wrath” for themselves for “the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God.” And, on that Day of Wrath and Judgment, God will “render to every man according to his deeds.” Those who have done good will inherit Eternal Life. Those whose deeds were evil will inherit wrath and righteous indignation.
“But, We’re Saved by Grace!”
Another counterclaim often levied by proponents of the eternal security doctrine is that we are saved by grace. They misuse such scriptures as, “For by grace you have been saved through faith…not as a result of works, that no one should boast” (Eph. 2:8-9) for support of their ideology, and to counter scriptures concerning the judgment of apostate believers.
Of course everyone is saved by grace through faith, but we must never misconstrue the grace of God for license to sin, something which the Apostle Jude warned that “ungodly persons” do:
For certain persons have crept in unnoticed, those who were long beforehand marked out for this condemnation, ungodly persons who turn the grace of our God into licentiousness and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ. (Jude 4)
God’s grace is that “while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly” (Rom. 5:6). We all were the “ungodly” for whom Christ died, though we in no wise deserved or merited it. That is God’s grace.
God’s grace is not a license to sin. Because God has through Jesus’ shed blood justified us with Himself, does that mean He did it so that we could be permitted to continue in sin? Never! “Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? May it never be!” (Rom. 6:15). Or, “Are we to continue in sin that grace might increase? May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it?” (Rom. 6:1-2).
It is true that we are saved by grace through faith. But, once we are saved we should “bring forth fruit in keeping with repentance” (Mat. 3:8). Our deeds should give proof of our salvation. As James said, “faith without works (deeds) is dead” (Jas. 2:17). The Amplified Bible translates that passage this way: “So also faith if it does not have works (deeds and actions of obedience to back it up), by itself is destitute of power ─ inoperative, dead.” (Italics added by author)
In other words, if we have truly been “saved by grace through faith,” then our lives will be living testimony of that faith. Again, The Amplified Bible says it well:
What is the use (profit), my brethren, for anyone to profess to have faith if he has no (good) works (to show for it)? Can (such) faith save (his soul)? (Jas. 2:14, italics added by author)
Of course, the understood answer to that question is that such a “faith” is not the real faith through which one is saved. Such a “faith” that is void of corresponding good works cannot save anyone.
Second Corinthians 5:17 says, “Therefore if any man is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.” For a person to be “in Christ” means that he has surrendered his life unto the Lord, and has been saved by grace through faith. That person is “a new creature” because “the old things,” the sinful deeds of the carnal nature are passing away through repentance, and are being replaced with the “new things,” the godly deeds and behavior of the Born Again nature.
Are we saved by grace through faith? Of course we are. But, the grace of God is not a license to sin. The substitutionary sacrifice of Jesus Christ does not in any wise extend to justify the sin of those who “go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth” (Heb. 10:26).
No one, professing believer or unbeliever, who continues to practice willful sin will ever enter into Heaven, for:
nothing unclean and no one who practices abomination and lying, shall ever come into it. (Rev. 21:27)
But for the cowardly and unbelieving and abominable and murders and immoral persons and sorcerers and idolaters and all liars, their part will be in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death. (Rev. 21:8)
Last Days Apostasy
There are multitudes of people today who are in this second category of hearers of the Word of God, who because of insufficient repentance are like “rocky ground.” When adversity arises against them, because they are only “temporary” believers, they fall away. And, adversity of many sorts is exactly what many believers are experiencing today.
In its own way, these last days in which we live are very difficult times, even for Christians. As the Living Bible says it, “in the last days it is going to be very difficult to be a Christian” (2 Tim. 3:1). Sin has run its course in perverting the entire Creation of God, from the condition of humanity itself, to the air Man breathes, to the Earth he inhabits. Thus, every element of the world in which we live has been corrupted down to the very foundation. The consequence is the effects of sin ─ adversity and tribulation.
However, the fire of testing is bringing purification to individual true believers and to the collective Body of Christ. The true wheat is being separated from the chaff, the temporary believers are being separated from the eternal believers. Purification is the result when true believers go through adversity, which is the reason God does not eradicate it entirely from their lives. Temporary believers, on the other hand, fall away as a result of afflictions and persecutions. The Lord Himself has testified concerning this, saying, “Behold, I have refined you, but not as silver; I have tested you in the furnace of affliction” (Is. 48:10).
In the same last days in which God is pouring out His Spirit upon all mankind (Joel 2:28), and multitudes are coming into the Kingdom of God, at the same time, many temporary believers are falling away from the faith. Many of them continue to attend church services, however, masquerading behind a facade of piety while their personal lives and behavior is as apostate as can be. As Jude said of such false brethren: “These men are those who are hidden reefs in your love feasts (worship services) when they feast with you without fear” (Jude 12, italics added by author).
Yet, this last day apostasy has not come upon us unawares. Jesus Himself prophesied it would happen, saying, “And at that time many will fall away” (Mat. 24:10, italics added by author). The Apostle Paul also echoed that prophecy through the same Spirit, and even added some insight as to what and who will motivate people to fall away in these last days: “But the Spirit explicitly says that in later times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons” (1 Tim. 4:10).
In the past, some theologians have surmised that this last day’s apostasy would occur in some sort of a prevailing “a-religious” climate. However, the Apostle Paul indicated in the passage just quoted that those who would fall away in the last days would do so not because of being “a-religious” or anti-religious, but because they were indeed “paying attention,” only to the wrong spirit. Instead of paying attention to the Holy Spirit, they would be paying attention to deceiving religious spirits of Satan, and to religious doctrines concocted and propagated by demons.
Thus, while church people look for some great, contemporaneous, concerted mass defection from Christianity, multitudes of ultra-religious and pious-appearing church-goers are being surreptitiously led astray from the Truth as they pay attention to the deceitful religious spirits and erroneous doctrines of demons. And, it’s all happening right under the noses of those church people and clergymen.
As mentioned earlier, there are quite a number of scripture references and examples of people falling away. One prime example is the case of the Israelites. Their supernatural deliverance from the bondage of Egypt and subsequent supernatural sustenance during their forty year trek through the wilderness toward the Promise Land was all supernaturally orchestrated and accomplished by the Lord Himself. Yet, they repeatedly defected from their pledge of faith in the Lord during those forty years. They often wanted to return to the bondage of Egypt instead of espousing the freedom of serving the Lord, and even fashioned and worshiped false gods which they could see.
Finally, their persistent apostasy provoked God to anger. He swore they would never enter into the Promise Land because of their disobedience and disbelief. In His righteous wrath and judgment, God allowed that entire generation to be destroyed in the wilderness without ever entering in to the Promise Land, all except the only two men of an estimated million plus who believed God, Joshua and Caleb.
The Apostle Paul said this whole case of the Israelites was “written for our instruction.” He repeatedly referred to it as his prime example of the falling away of people who had been saved by God. Here are some key passages of some of those references:
Now these things happened to them as an example, and they were written for our instruction, upon whom the ends of the ages have come. Therefore, let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall. (1 Cor. 10:11-12)
Take care, brethren, lest there should be in any one of you an evil, unbelieving heart, in falling away from the living God. (Heb. 3:12)
Therefore, let us fear lest, while a promise remains of entering His rest, any one of you should seem to have come short of it. (11) Let us therefore be diligent to enter that rest, lest anyone FALL through following the same example of disobedience. (Heb. 4:1,11)
The Apostle Jude also alluded to the example of the Israelite apostasy and its consequences in his short but powerful letter. At the outset, Jude says that while it was his intention to write about “our common salvation,” he was rather compelled to write instead “appealing that you contend earnestly for the faith.” His exhortation closely paralleled that of the Apostle Paul in the same regard: “Fight the good fight of faith” (1 Tim. 6:12). Certainly, if Christians could not lose faith, neither of these eminent apostles would have written what would then be irrelevant exhortations, aside from the fact that God would certainly not have included it in His Word, of which nothing is superfluous.
Jude explained that the reason he was diverted by the Spirit to address this other topic was that there were “certain persons” who had:
crept in (to the fellowship of the saints) unnoticed, those who were long beforehand marked out for this condemnation, ungodly persons who turn the grace of our God into licentiousness and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ. (Jude 4; italics added by author)
Jude forthrightly declared such ungodly, licentious people “were long beforehand marked out for this condemnation.” He asserts that such people are indeed “condemned,” and then he goes on to describe “this condemnation” as comparable to that of the Israelites:
Now I desire to remind you, though you know all things once for all, that the Lord, after saving a people out of the land of Egypt, subsequently destroyed those who did not believe. (Jude 5)
Notice that Jude was reminding the saints that it was “after” God had “saved” the Israelites out of the land of Egypt that he “subsequently destroyed those who did not believe.” As the Apostle Paul said, “these things happened to them as an example” to US, and the whole thing was recorded for posterity “for OUR instruction” (1 Cor. 10:11). The typological instruction given to us through the Israelite example is that Christians, those who have been saved out of the world (Egypt), subsequently, can be spiritually destroyed, and lose their rightstanding and fellowship with God (The Promise Land), if they fall away from faith in Christ Jesus.
The Angelic Example
But, Jude did not stop with the Israelite example. He strengthened his case even further by alluding to the fact that even a third of the angels fell away into utter apostasy with the high treason of Lucifer:
And angels who did not keep their own domain, but abandoned their proper abode, He has kept in eternal bonds under darkness for the judgment of the great day. (Jude 6)
The Example of Sodom and Gomorrah
Jude even went on to associate the fate of these ungodly, licentious pseudo-Christians with that of the people of Sodom and Gomorrah:
Just as Sodom and Gomorrah and the cities around them, since they in the same way as these indulged in gross immorality and went after strange flesh, are exhibited as an example, in undergoing the punishment of eternal fire. (Jude 7)
Legalism: Galatian Type of Apostasy
In his letter to the Galatian church, the Apostle Paul rebuked and reproved them for reverting back to Judaistic legalism. He asserted that when people fall back under religious legalism after receiving salvation based on grace through faith in Jesus Christ, they actually sever their relationship with Christ and forfeit salvation by grace: “you have been severed from Christ, you who are seeking to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace” (Gal. 5:40).
The Galatian church made the grave mistake of reverting back to trusting in adherence to Jewish Laws in order to gain rightstanding with God, after they had been saved on the basis of undeserved favor which came through faith in Jesus Christ. Judaizers had infiltrated the Galatian church, propagating the false doctrine that once you are saved, you still must obey all the Jewish Laws and customs. (Unfortunately, some so-called “New Testament” Judaism sects are deceiving people today also with such ridiculous claims and bondage.)
The Apostle Paul was incensed and dumbfounded as to how the Galatian church which had understood “the meaning of Jesus Christ’s death as clearly as though I had waved a placard before you with a picture on it of Christ dying on the cross” (Gal. 3:1, LB), could possibly become so deceived. They had actually cut themselves off from God through this legalistic form of apostasy. Paul’s entire motivation in this letter was to rebuke, reprove, and to restore those who would repent back into fellowship with God. The following passages from that letter are key elements of the case he presented. The Living Bible rendition is quite good and understandable:
…some so-called “Christians” there ─ false ones, really ─ who came to spy on us and see what freedom we enjoyed in Christ Jesus, as to whether we obeyed the Jewish laws or not. They tried to get us all tied up in their rules, like slaves in chains. But we did not listen to them for a single moment, for we did not want to confuse you into thinking that salvation can be earned by being circumcised and by obeying Jewish laws. (Gal. 2:4-5)
…we Jewish Christians know very well that we cannot become right with God by obeying our Jewish laws, but only by faith in Jesus Christ to take away our sins. And so we, too, have trusted Jesus Christ, that we might be accepted by God because of faith ─ and not because we have obeyed the Jewish laws. For no one will ever be saved by obeying them. (Gal. 2:16)
Rather, we are sinners if we start rebuilding the old systems I have been destroying, of trying to be saved by keeping Jewish laws, for it was through reading the Scripture that I came to realize that I could never find God’s favor by trying ─ and failing ─ to obey the laws. I came to realize that acceptance with God comes by believing in Christ. (Gal. 2:18-19)
I am not one of those who treats Christ’s death as meaningless. For if we could be saved by keeping Jewish laws, then there was no need for Christ to die. (Gal. 2:21; LB)
Did you receive the Holy Spirit by trying to keep the Jewish Laws? Of course not….if trying to obey the Jewish laws never gave you spiritual life in the first place, why do you think that trying to obey them now will make you stronger Christians? (Gal. 3:2-3)
…those who depend on the Jewish laws to save them are under God’s curse…. Consequently, it is clear that no one can ever win God’s favor by trying to keep the Jewish laws, because God has said that the only way we can be right in his sight is by faith….How different from this way of faith is the way of law which says that a man is saved by obeying every law of God, without one slip. But Christ has brought us out from under the doom of that impossible system by taking the curse for our wrongdoing upon Himself. (Gal. 3:10-13)
So Christ has made us free. Now make sure that you stay free and don’t get all tied up again in the chains of slavery to Jewish laws and ceremonies. Listen to me, for this is serious: if you are counting on circumcision and keeping the Jewish laws to make you right with God, then Christ cannot save you….Christ is useless to you if you are counting on clearing your debt to God by keeping those laws; you are lost from God’s grace. (Gal. 5:1-4)
In the same letter, the Apostle Paul also destroys the counterclaim to the possibility of a Christian falling away based on Jesus’ promise to never leave or desert us. Without at all being contradictory, Paul asserted that it is quite possible for believers to desert Jesus with his assessment that the Galatians had done precisely that: “I am amazed you are so quickly deserting Him who called you by the grace of Christ” (Gal. 1:6).
The subsequent verses also admonished against deserting Christ by following after a varied and distorted Gospel, like the one of legalism which deceived the Galatians, or like the one of ”eternal security” by which so many are duped today:
I am amazed that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you by the grace of Christ, for a different gospel; which is really not another; only there are some who are disturbing you, and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even though we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to that which we have preached to you, let him be accursed. (Gal. 1:6-9)
Bona Fide Believers?
Some of those who espouse the eternal security doctrine, in view of such scriptures as the ones cited in this chapter, retort that these are references to people who so-called “fall away” because they really are not true believers in the first place. They contend that these people only feigned their initial commitment. Thus, they had not actually fallen away.
However, that theory simply does not hold water. It is most definite that someone is falling away, because the Word of God says so. Besides, it is quite elementary that one must actually be “in” something to even be able to “fall away” from it.
Yet, even beyond all that, there is at least one particular scripture that completely explodes this theory. The following passage proves beyond the slightest doubt that a person can be truly saved and a partaker of all the fruits of redemption, and yet then fall away. This one is a real clincher. Eternal security proponents are never able to conjure up even a slightly reasonable counterclaim against this scripture.
4 For in the case of those who have once been enlightened and have tasted of the heavenly gift and have been made partakers of the Holy Spirit,
5 and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come,
6 and then have fallen away, it is impossible to renew them again to repentance, since they again crucify to themselves the Son of God, and put Him to open shame.
7 For ground that drinks the rain which often falls upon it and brings forth vegetation useful to those for whose sake it is also tilled, receives a blessing from God;
8 but if it yields thorns and thistles, it is worthless and close to being cursed, and it ends up being burned.
It is astounding to see in this passage just how extensive a person’s Christian experience can be, how many wonderful blessings and benefits they can receive, and then still fall away from their relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ. In versus four and five, Paul lists all the fruits of redemption of which these people had partaken. In a nutshell, they “got all there was to get.”
In verse four, Paul says they were first of all, “enlightened,” which meant they had consciously perceived the revelation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, something which can only be effected through the illumination of the Holy Spirit. That in itself testifies of the validity of these peoples’ experience, because the Holy Spirit does not enlighten false believers, and He cannot be fooled as to who is true and who is false.
Next, Paul reveals these people “have tasted of the heavenly gift and have been made partakers of the Holy Spirit.” This is incontrovertible proof-positive that these people were indeed saved. “The heavenly gift,” of which they had tasted is true salvation, for the Word of God says, “the gift of God is eternal life” (Rom. 6:23). Plus, the fact that they were “partakers of the Holy Spirit” really seals it, because the Holy Spirit only avails Himself to true, repentant believers. Unbelievers simply cannot be partakers of the Holy Spirit:
“that is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it does not behold Him or know Him, but you know Him because He abides with you, and will be in you.” (Jn. 14:17)
Not only were these people “partakers of the Holy Spirit” in regards to the regenerative work and indwelling of the Holy Spirit, but they had also received the “baptism in the Holy Spirit,” through which they experienced “the powers of the age to come” mentioned in the next verse. That experience, separate from the regenerative work of the Holy Spirit, is also available exclusively to bona fide believers. Bogus believers simply cannot receive the baptism in the Holy Spirit. Only true, Born Again believers can receive it.
In verse five, Paul says these people also had “tasted the good word of God.” Like those in all four categories of hearers in Jesus’ Parable of the Sower, these people had definitely heard the Word of God, and were by no means ignorant concerning it. Indeed, Paul says they were indeed “enlightened” to the Word. Moreover, they had to have heard and understood it in order to have been saved.
Then, the Apostle Paul says in the same verse that these people had also tasted even of “the powers of the age to come.” This is a reference to the power which Jesus said Born Again believers would receive when the Holy Spirit came upon (not “in,” but “upon”) them when they received the Baptism in the Holy Spirit: “but you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come UPON you” (Acts 1:8). Through this experience adjunctive to salvation, believers are empowered to operate the nine supernatural gifts of supernatural power of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 12:8-10) via the unction of the Spirit. This power which is available to all believers is indeed “the powers of the age to come” which can be “tasted” of now in this age.
Still, incredibly, after partaking of all those magnificent benefits of redemption, these people subsequently fell away, according to verse six. They had been saved, were given Eternal Life, received the Indwelling and Baptism of the Holy Spirit, heard the Word of God, and had received an activation of the supernatural power of God. Yet, they still fell away.
The primary reason they fell away is precisely the point of this part of Jesus’ parable as well as this book, which is that such people fall away because they are like “rocky ground” ─ still full of the rocks of sin. They have not fully repented. Thus, they are still carrying out the deeds of the old nature. In this passage, God says by their sinful and apostate lives “they again crucify to themselves the Son of God, and put Him to open shame.” This is God’s view of what a person does when he has been saved by God and subsequently returns to a life of sin.
Another clue to these individuals’ downfall is found in the word used twice in this passage ─ “tasted.” Perhaps that was their shortcoming ─ they should have “feasted” on instead of having merely “tasted” of all these spiritual provisions from God.
In verse six of the same text, God explicitly says that in the case of these people who have fallen away “it is impossible to renew them again to repentance.” It is not a matter of God not wanting to receive them back into fellowship with Himself, but that they can never again come to the point of true repentance in deed, which is a mandatory requirement for obtaining fellowship with God. On his own part, God is not desirous that anyone be banned from fellowship with Him and perish. However, all must come to repentance in order to obtain fellowship with Him. It is impossible for Him to have fellowship with those who unabatedly continue to participate in the unrighteous deeds of darkness, for “what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship has light with darkness?” (2 Cor. 6:14). The incontrovertible and immutable fact is that genuine fellowship and communion with God is contingent upon genuine repentance.
It is so very sad as well as hard sounding to say, but the people described in these passages have passed the point of no return and entered a kind of spiritual “twilight zone” in that they can never again get themselves to repent, and thereby loose themselves from the throes of sin, and return to God. God would certainly receive them if they could, but they simply can’t, though, like Esau, they seek for repentance in deed with tears of remorse (see Heb. 12:17).
Now let it be clear: we are not talking about backsliding here ─ there is a difference between backsliding and falling away. Though it need not be that way, many sincere believers have come to the harsh realization some time in their lives that instead of growing and maturing, they had actually backslidden. In varying degrees, they had somewhat “left their first love” and had allowed their love for the Lord to “wax cold.” Some are neither hot nor cold, but just “lukewarm,” the kind of person Jesus said He will vomit out of His mouth (Rev. 3:16). If a backslidden person will but repent, and “remember therefore from where (he has) fallen” (Rev. 2:5) and confess his sin, God will forgive him or her.
These hearers mentioned in the Parable of the Sower are not mere backsliders, however. No, these people have completely and totally fallen away, and therewith have “again crucif(ied) to themselves the Son of God, and put Him to open shame.” They have denied, rejected, and spiritually “crucified” Jesus by reneging on their previous acceptance of Him as their Lord and Savior and their commitment to serve and obey Him.
As in the case of the first three categories of hearers in the Parable of the Sower, though these apostate believers “have tasted the good word of God,” they nonetheless do not bring forth any godly fruit from the Word in their own lives. The consequences of that are tragic and terrifying. Using again the simile of “ground” for believers, God says, ground that drinks the rain of spiritual blessings which God showers upon it “and brings forth vegetation useful to those for whose sake it is also tilled,” will receive a blessing from God (Heb. 6:7). However, if it only yields spiritual “thorns and thistles, it is worthless and close to being cursed, and it ends up being burned” (Heb. 6:8), which means their final judgment will be to be cast into the everlasting fires of Hell.
The most unfortunate part of cases such as those described in this passage in Hebrews is that there really are people like that. It has been my unfortunate experience to personally know, know of, and to have ministered to many people who have gone precisely this way. They have passed the point of no return. Like Esau, they have sold their birthright, who “afterwards, when he desired to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no place for repentance, though he sought for it with tears” (Heb. 12:17).
I have personally witnessed the cases of people who knew they would be “rejected” from Eternal Life and Heaven if they did not turn away from their sin, but who could not come to the place of actual repentance in deed, though they sought for it with tears of remorse. They rejected Jesus’ offerings after once having had fellowship with Him, and publicly shamed Him by their lives of apostasy and sin. By and by, the bonds of sin tightened its grip on them, and their minds eventually became depraved, preventing them from being able to come to the place of actual repentance though they sought for it with rivers of tears of remorse.
The Apostle Peter knew well of these gone-astray former believers. He said they had become “accursed children; forsaking the right way they have gone astray, having followed the way of Balaam, the son of Beor, who loved the wages of unrighteousness” (2 Pet. 2:14-15).
In saying they had become “accursed children, forsaking the right way,” he was indicating they were formerly children of God who had become accursed, “anathema,” because they subsequently forsook the “right way.” It is self-evident that in order to forsake it, they must have formerly been following the right way. He also said “they have gone astray,” which intrinsically means they must have once been true sheep in the Flock of God in order to go astray from it.
Then, Peter goes on in his dissertation to make some comments concerning these fallen away believers that very aptly describes their plight:
For if after they have escaped the defilements of the world by the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and are overcome, the last state has become worse for them than the first. For it would be better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than having known it, to turn away from the holy commandment delivered to them. It has happened to them according to the true proverb, “a dog returns to its own vomit,” and, “A sow, after washing, returns to wallowing in the mire.” (2 Pet. 2:20-22)
A Final Example From Jesus
Jesus Himself gave us some enlightenment into this matter of the possibility of Christians falling away. One primary example is contained in a section of Scripture from which we have already quoted often. It begins with Jesus exhorting everyone to “Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide, and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and many are those who find it” (Mat. 7:13). In the next verse, He gives us an indication of the exactitude of the true Christian walk in terms quite dissimilar to the “easy-gospel” preached by many today: “For the gate is small, and the way is narrow that leads to (Eternal) life, and few are those who find it.”
In the subsequent six verses, Jesus talks about false believers, and how to recognize them by their fruit. And then, He gets to the real bottom line of this section:
21 Not everyone who says to Me, “Lord, Lord” will enter the kingdom of heaven; but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven.
22 Many will say to Me on that day, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in your name perform many miracles?”
23 And then I will declare to them, “I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.”
Some misguided people contend that if a person merely professes Jesus as Lord they are saved and are assured of going to Heaven. They go around so-called “witnessing,” buttonholing people based on the idea that if they can badger them into repeating a prayer and merely saying Jesus is their Lord, then those people are “saved,” and no matter what happens, they are going to Heaven, “because they confessed Jesus as Lord.” But, that is NOT the way it is. Indeed, the very point of Jesus’ admonition in this passage is that that most certainly is not the way it is. In verse twenty-one, He specifically warns, not everyone who merely calls Him “Lord, Lord,” will enter into Heaven. Mere verbal profession of Christ is not the criteria upon which fellowship with God and entrance into Heaven is granted. Rather, it is obedient performance of the “will of My Father who is in Heaven” (v. 21). Talk is cheap. It is the “doers of the Word” who are justified before God (Rom. 2:13).
Yet, according to verse twenty-two, these people described in this passage, are not people who just made some by-rote or mindless confession. These people were definitely saved at one point. We can know that with absolute certainty because they had received the “dunamis” power (Acts 1:8) of God to prophesy, cast out demons, and to perform many miracles, which are all manifestations of the supernatural power of God that are operable only by means of the unction of the Holy Spirit. This enablement is only given to Born Again believers through the gift of the Baptism in the Holy Spirit.
Parenthetically, it is important to note here that these people did legitimately perform these supernatural feats. But, it was not through the “power of the devil” as some people ignorantly and blasphemously contend. Evidence of that is found in these people’s words to Jesus in which they rightly say they did these things “In YOUR Name.” It was not done in the name or through the power of the devil, but in the name of Jesus. Moreover, Jesus did not refute either that they performed these deeds or that they were done in His name and behalf.
Permit me, if you will, to make one more point regarding another parenthetic issue here. Some people become quite disturbed and do not understand how people like these can continue to be channels of supernatural power from God if they are indeed fallen away in their personal conduct. In answer to that, let me point out that the Word of God forthrightly declares, “the gifts and callings of God are irrevocable” (Rom. 11:29). Once God gives a person supernatural gifts, and anoints and appoints someone into set-apart ministry, He does not subsequently revoke those gifts when they go astray spiritually. Besides, as evidenced by the case of the prophet Balaam being rebuked by his donkey, God reserves the Sovereign right to use any vessel He chooses.
However, Eternal Life and rightstanding with God is not predicated or dependent on one’s gifts and accomplishments. The manifestation of God’s power through these people was certainly a good thing, especially to its intended recipients. God is most desirous that people be beneficiaries of His supernatural power, and His usual modus operandi is to channel it through available believers. However, operation of these works of power had no bearing whatsoever on these people being qualified or disqualified from Eternal Life and entrance into Heaven.
In verse twenty-three, Jesus revealed the reason these people were rejected was because they practiced “lawlessness.” They disobeyed God’s Laws. They did not fully repent, or we could say they subsequently repented from their repentance after repenting. They did not just “slip up a little” or experience a momentary lapse as all of us have, rather they actually “practiced” lawlessness. They persistently practiced ungodliness. They willfully rejected godliness and holiness. So God rejected them and banned them from Heaven and Eternal Life.
Instead of receiving the approval and commendation Jesus will give every faithful believer on that day, in which He will say, “well done, thou good and faithful servant,” these people will receive Jesus’ terrifying command of eternal judgment: “Depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.”
The message of this portion of Jesus’ parable, which focuses on the second category of hearers, those who are like “rocky ground,” is to exhort believers to make a complete repentance, to renew their mind according to the Word of God, and allow the Lord to restore their soul through the sanctifying power of the Holy Spirit. Otherwise, those who refuse foolishly toy with the possibility of falling away, and ending up in an apostate condition, unfit for and disqualified from the Kingdom of God, having become a “castaway.” As the Word says, “Take care, Brethren, lest there should be in any one of you an evil, unbelieving heart, in falling away from the living God.”
However, at the same time, if a believer will successfully complete this second step to bringing forth the fruit of Eternal Life, surrendering his entire life unto obedience of God and His will, he shall secure for himself Eternal Life by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. The believer who does these things need never concern himself about his salvation, for he is eternally secure, indeed:
…for as long as you practice these things, you will never stumble (lit., fall away); for in this way the entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ will be abundantly supplied to you. (2 Pet. 1:10-11, italics added by author)