06 – This fire consumes
I can think of many reasons why a person would fall short as a follower of Jesus. I can offer firsthand testimonies of several myself.
You can categorize us in any number of ways: Nominals, Strugglers, Drop-outs, Runaways, Backsliders. None of us are exempt – not even the Enduring Faithful. The Bible says, “We all stumble in many ways.” (James 3:2 NAS)
Some church people, to be sure, never really started following Jesus in the first place. Others began well, then backslid, and it remains to be seen how they will finish.
But there are some believers whose lives aren’t adequately explained by these categories. There are some passages of Scripture that seem to warn us of a danger far more serious than backsliding.
I believe we need to add another category to the ones I suggested earlier:
Apostates. These are genuine believers who at some point not only stop living like a follower of Jesus, but whose lives are then marked by continuing, intentional disobedience to the Master, to the degree that at some point they choose to divorce themselves from Christ.
I’m thinking in particular of a deacon chairman who had made a profession of faith as a young person. He was for many years a faithful, active Christian involved in community outreach. He fasted and prayed for missions teams. Then something happened. One day, he walked into his pastor’s office and announced: “God told me he wants me to be the administrator of this church. I’m going to hold you accountable.” He then proceeded, week by week, to accost the pastor and harshly criticize his sermon. He began to resist involvement in ministry and personal evangelism and opposed changes in the church that come with bringing in people newly won to Christ. He became obstinately disobedient, continually unfaithful, and habitually unlike Christ.
Was this fellow an apostate or just a backslider? None of us can say with certainty, of course. As I said earlier, no one can see into the heart or future of another, and no one can see what happens to a wayward Christian beyond the grave. But I will not dismiss him as “never really saved.” The witness of his life as a believer was too strong.
Hebrews 10:26-31 comes to mind:
“For if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a terrifying expectation of judgment and ‘the fury of a fire which will consume the adversaries.’ Anyone who has set aside the Law of Moses dies without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. How much severer punishment do you think he will deserve who has trampled under foot the Son of God, and has regarded as unclean the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has insulted the Spirit of grace? For we know him who said, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay.’ And again, ‘The Lord will judge his people.’ It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” (NAS)
This is one of the passages commentators say refer to “almost saved” or “never saved” people. They argue that the passage says the sinner only received “the knowledge of the truth.” They say that stops short of being saved.
But notice the author says “if we go on sinning willfully.” He is speaking to the entire congregation. And notice he says the person in danger “was sanctified.” How can that be said of someone who was only “almost saved” or “never saved”?
One commentator’s reply: “He means that this person’s life was cleaned up by his association with Christian people. He does not mean this person himself actually was sanctified in salvation.”
Now, that’s hard to reconcile with a plain reading of the verse. If that’s what the author means, why not simply say that, like Paul did in 1 Corinthians 7:14? Why say he was sanctified by “the blood of the covenant,” if the sanctifying was done by association with church members?
The truth is, a believer places himself in grave danger when he begins to insist on living his way instead of God’s. Verse 28 says he treats Jesus like a doormat and insults the Spirit that showed him grace. Verse 29 says the punishment he deserves is more severe than “death without mercy”!
This is not a Christian who “will be saved, but like someone escaping through a wall of flames.” (1 Corinthians 3:15 NLT) This is a believer who has made himself, once again, an adversary of God.
This fire doesn’t save. It consumes.
Danger, Will Robinson!
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