The opportunities are limitless. On any given day of the week there are opportunities for people of all ages to attend a Bible study, sing songs of praise unto the Lord of glory, and spend time drinking deeply of God’s good Word. You want to study Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John…go to it. You want to learn Greek or Hebrew so that you can gain a deeper understanding of God’s Word…have at it. You want to lift your voice in song and praise God for His goodness and mercy…let’s do it. The opportunities to grow in our faith are before us in churches all across this city, and yet the evidence of our seizing those life-changing opportunities are just not present.
Just last week I was at the Governor’s Conference on “FaithLinks,” an effort by our Governor to get the faith community and government to work in cooperation with one another. Governor Keating said that he has been puzzled by the perception many people across the country have that Oklahoma is a poor state. He couldn’t figure out why this has been, so he got some economists from the University of Oklahoma and Oklahoma State University to do a study. When they came back to him their report showed him that there were several reasons why Oklahoma remains low in the rankings on economic growth. Some of the reasons they stated were that Oklahoma did not have “right to work,” we need more college graduates, and more high tech jobs. Governor Keating then told us that he was shocked when these economists said there are some other factors that were contributing to our economic ills. These other factors were a high divorce rate, high substance abuse rate, too much violence and abuse, and a high rate of children who die at the hands of one of their own parents. Governor Keating said that he knew that these issues were out of his league and that the faith community would be needed to address these issues and help turn our state around.
As I listened to Governor Keating speak I thought to myself, “How can a state which is the buckle of the Bible belt be so out of step with the teachings of the Bible?” God’s Word addresses all of the social issues that the economists brought back to the Governor. There is certainly no shortage of churches in Oklahoma: there are over 1200 churches in Oklahoma City and more than 6600 churches in the state of Oklahoma. How can a state that has a church on every corner be so untouched, so unchanged by the teachings of Jesus? This really is not too hard to understand when you take the time to study our culture.
Today, there are many “hearers” of the Word, but few “doers” of the Word. Jesus is an icon to most people in our society today. An “icon” is an image, a symbol, an emblem, or logo. The loving, caring, gracious Jesus is the icon or image for those who want to see themselves as basically good people. This phenomenon is really much like the young kids who want more than anything to play ball in the NBA and use Allen Iverson, Shaq, or Kevin Garnett as a projection of what they would like to be on the basketball court. Jesus is the logo for the religious crowd who would like to see themselves as noble, honest, kind, and compassionate and yet they have not bowed their knees nor crucified their will so that His will might reign supreme over all of their life. Let me give you concrete, tangible evidence of what I see happening.
Most people know Jesus’ stance on forgiveness. Jesus said things like, “Seventy times seven. Forgive your enemies. Pray for those who persecute you” – all of these phrases are recognized as coming from the lips of Jesus. These are characteristics of Jesus’ life that most of us would like to see as part of the fabric of our own character. These phrases are painted on t-shirts, made into bumper stickers, refrigerator magnets, screen savers, and pieces of art to hang on the wall, but when I am the one who is being treated unfairly then Jesus’ teaching goes out the window. After all, we can’t let them get away with “that!” Who do they think they are? We can’t let people run over us, take advantage of us, or discredit our name. We must get what is rightfully ours. We must defend our honor. We must stand up for ourselves and seek vengeance when we are justified. Jesus’ teachings are more than cute clich?s; they are the lifeblood of every true follower.
This type of cultural Christianity, using Jesus as an icon, a projection of what we would like to see within ourselves, rather than as the Lord and Master of our heart, is what is plaguing us today. This is why our state has more churches than a greasy spoon restaurant has roaches and yet Jesus’ message doesn’t faze us. We continue to cling to what we desire when it conflicts with what Christ demands of us. We are led by our emotions and reason rather than by the Word of God and His Spirit.
In our Scripture for today we see the writer of Hebrews calling his readers to abandon their cultural lifestyles and turn to Jesus as their Lord and Savior. Let’s read our Scripture for today found in Hebrews 6:1-8.
1Therefore let us leave the elementary teachings about Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again the foundation of repentance from acts that lead to death, and of faith in God, 2instruction about baptisms, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. 3And God permitting, we will do so. 4It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, 5who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age, 6if they fall away, to be brought back to repentance, because to their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace. 7Land that drinks in the rain often falling on it and that produces a crop useful to those for whom it is farmed receives the blessing of God. 8But land that produces thorns and thistles is worthless and is in danger of being cursed. In the end it will be burned. (Hebrews 6:1-8 NIV)
You need to know that this section of Scripture has been debated and critiqued more than any Scripture in God’s Word by those who want to prove that Christians can “fall away” from grace and lose their salvation. I want to assure you that these people are not reading the full counsel of God’s Word. They are reading into the Scripture what they want to find there instead of humbling themselves before the Scripture and allowing the Lord to teach them His truth. You need to know that Scripture teaches that salvation is the work of God and God alone. This is not something that I have made up or something that I gleaned from the halls of theological academia. I didn’t read it from one of Oprah’s “Book of the Month” club hardbacks. I didn’t witness it on Sally Jesse Raphael or Nightline, but God’s Word counsels me about the origination of my salvation. Look at Ephesians 2:4-9 and read along with me.
4But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, 5made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions-it is by grace you have been saved. 6And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, 7in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. 8For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith-and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God-9not by works, so that no one can boast. (Ephesians 2:4-9 NIV)
Many of us would think that if anyone could count on his or her own good works for their salvation it would have to be the Apostle Paul. I mean here is a man who traveled the world to spread the Gospel, he gave up everything for the cause of Christ, and was even willing to die for the One who died for him. Yet Paul says in his letter to Timothy,
14The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. 15Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners-of whom I am the worst. 16But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on him and receive eternal life. 17Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen. (1 Timothy 1:14-17 NIV)
You and I have not done anything to earn our salvation, nor can we do anything to maintain our salvation. God saves, He preserves, and He will deliver into His eternal rest those whom He has called out of the darkness into His glorious light. As I say that I tremble when I think about how some folks have taken that knowledge and run with it into the day giving little thought to God’s will for their lives. These folks walk an aisle, step into the baptistery, and then do their own thing believing in their heart that they are saved. These folks don’t have a clue what it means to follow Jesus, they’ve only bought “fire insurance.” Jesus’ response to them on the Day of Judgment will be,
21″Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ 23Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’ (Matthew 7:21-23 NIV)
If we walk an aisle and say, “I believe,” step into the baptistery and are baptized, and then walk back into our old way of life believing that we will go to heaven, then we need to know that we are not saved, we are just all wet.
On the other hand, those who read this Scripture as a warning that those who are truly saved by the grace of Almighty God could “fall away” and lose their salvation do not understand the power of God to keep those He has rescued from eternal judgment. God’s saving power is sure and complete. He will not lose even one of those that He has saved. When His people stumble and fall, sin and go astray, His Spirit convicts their hearts, and they are grieved by their sin to the point of repentance. God’s power to save will never lose its power. Paul wrote to the Philippians and said,
3I thank my God every time I remember you. 4In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy 5because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, 6being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. (Philippians 1:3-6 NIV)
There are many today who are teaching that our security depends upon how we perform each day. God’s saving power demonstrated in Jesus is not enough to seal our salvation. These folks have convinced themselves that they must somehow keep themselves “saved” by helping little children across the street, having at least a 30 minute quiet time each morning, paying their tithes on time, and attending church on Sundays. Charles Haddon Spurgeon addressed this type of thinking in a great sermon of his by writing,
Here is a man who has been under the hammer of God’s law; but that has not broken his heart; can you find anything stronger? The lamp of God’s spirit has already lit up the caverns of his soul: if that be not sufficient, where will you borrow another? Ask the sun, has he a lamp more bright than the illumination of the Spirit! Ask the stars, have they a light more brilliant than the light of the Holy Ghost? Creation answers no. If that fails, then there is nothing else. These people, moreover, had tasted the heavenly gift; and though they had been pardoned and justified, yet pardon through Christ and justification were not enough (on this supposition) to save them. How else can they be saved? God has cast them away; after he has failed in saving them by these, what else can deliver them? Already they have tasted of the heavenly gift: is there a greater mercy for them? Is there a brighter dress than the robe of Christ’s righteousness? Is there a more efficacious bath than that “fountain filled with blood?” No. All the earth echoes, “No.” If the one has failed, what else does there remain? (Charles Haddon Spurgeon, Final Perseverance, Delivered on March 23, 1856 at New Park Street Chapel.)
Now that we have determined what is not being taught here in Hebrews 6, that is that those who have been saved by God’s gracious hand can’t wander in and out of salvation, I want to assure you that what is being taught has far reaching implications for all of us who are present this morning. The writer of Hebrews sends a strong word of caution for those of us who sit in a pew each Sunday and listen to the Word of God being taught, and yet Sunday after Sunday we get up from our pew and leave unchanged.
This Scripture is given to those of us who feel the Spirit of God prick our hearts in the midst of a lesson or sermon and yet when the invitation is offered we refuse to budge. We say to ourselves, “Now is not a convenient time for me to give my life to Christ…I will take care of it when I get my life in order. I know I need to get right with God, but I’ve got some things I want to do first. I know that I need Jesus to forgive me of my sins, but I’m enjoying my life right now even though I know it is not pleasing to God. I will do it later.” The people who toy with Jesus like He is some discount Deity who can be picked up at a cut rate when the need arises run the risk of having the Lord close the door of opportunity for salvation. When does that door close? I do not know, but I do know that when we are convicted by the Spirit of our desperate sinfulness and the Savior’s delightful salvation, we must act immediately. Earlier in Hebrews we read,
12See to it, brothers, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. 13But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness. 14We have come to share in Christ if we hold firmly till the end the confidence we had at first. 15As has just been said: “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as you did in the rebellion.” 16Who were they who heard and rebelled? Were they not all those Moses led out of Egypt? 17And with whom was he angry for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the desert? 18And to whom did God swear that they would never enter his rest if not to those who disobeyed? 19So we see that they were not able to enter, because of their unbelief. (Hebrews 3:12-19 NIV)
One chapter later, we read, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.” (Hebrews 4:7 NIV) When the Spirit of God convicts our hearts of our need for Jesus, our Savior, then we must act before the door of opportunity closes and our hearts become hardened.
The sacrifice that was offered by Jesus for our sins as payment for our sinfulness is sufficient not only to save us, but also to keep us throughout our days. This same sacrifice will lead us to turning our backs on all that we held dear and precious before coming to know Jesus and it will empower us to cling to His will for our lives. The problem that was being addressed by the writer of Hebrews is that the Jews who were reading his letter were trying to cling to their cultural customs and traditions instead of forsaking all for the cause of Christ. This same situation is present with us today. We cling to the past, to what is familiar to us, even when we see the truth before our eyes, and even when our hearts are convicted by the Spirit Himself.
In Hebrews 6:1-2 we read,
1Therefore let us leave the elementary teachings about Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again the foundation of repentance from acts that lead to death, and of faith in God, 2instruction about baptisms, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment.
The Jews who were present during the days of Jesus’ earthly ministry were aware of His claims, they had seen His miracles of healing and heard His words of truth, and yet they chose to cling to what was familiar to them. Their “old time” religion was good enough for them. They held to six key tenants of their faith that were in actuality given to them by God to point them to Jesus when He arrived on the scene. They were signs so that they would know Him when they saw Him. Take a look at verses 1-2 and let’s list these items.
1) The foundation of repentance from acts that lead to death.
2) Faith toward God.
3) Instruction about baptisms.
4) Laying on of hands.
5) Resurrection of the dead.
6) Eternal Judgment.
These six items that are pointed out are not, as some have mistakenly suggested, basic Christian teachings. They are the “elementary teachings about Christ,” the foundation upon which the Old Testament covenant was given by God to His people the Jews. Each of these six items which were given as signs under the old covenant are fulfilled and embodied in Jesus. I will go through each of these foundational truths of the Old Covenant next week, but for the sake of time I want us simply to know that the Jews were being called to move beyond the signs to the Savior.
In verses 4-6 we can see the advantages that the readers had in having God pour out His grace upon them and yet they refused to let go and grow into the fullness of Christ, our Savior. Let’s read together.
4It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, 5who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age, 6if they fall away, to be brought back to repentance, because to their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace.
Take a look at each of the five advantages listed in these three verses given to us by the writer of Hebrews.
1) Have once been enlightened.
2) Tasted of the heavenly gift.
3) Shared in the Holy Spirit.
4) Having tasted of the goodness of the Word of God.
5) Witnessed the powers of the coming age.
Every advantage had been offered to those who were reading the letter. They had sat in church every Sunday and listened to a good Bible teacher share God’s Word. They had witnessed with their own eyes the power of God’s Spirit. They had intellectually tasted of the truth of God’s Word, and they had even seen powerful manifestations of God’s power right before their eyes…yet they would not budge. The invitation was offered time and time, Sunday after Sunday, yet they would not budge. They felt the Spirit nudging them, prodding them, pricking their hearts, yet they would not budge. They would not budge.
This should get our attention. If we know that we are risking losing the most precious gift ever offered if we don’t receive it immediately then we must act. John MacArthur says, “Summarized, the warning is: ‘You had better come to Christ now, for if you fall away it will be impossible for you to come again to the point of repentance.’ They were at the best point of repentance – full knowledge. To fall back from that would be fatal.” (MacArthur, Hebrews. pg. 146.)
I want to go back for just a minute and talk about those who believe this Scripture is aimed at Christians who fall away and then some how fall back into salvation. They urge you to be saved again and again whenever you fall away, but the Scripture does not give us that liberty. Once again John MacArthur writes in his commentary on Hebrews,
Because they believe the warning is addressed to Christians, many interpreters hold that the passage teaches that salvation can be lost. If this interpretation were true, however, the passage would also teach that, once lost, salvation could never be regained. If, after being saved, a person lost his salvation, he would be damned forever. There would be no going back and forth, in and out of grace. But Christians are not being addressed, and it is the opportunity for receiving salvation, not salvation itself, that can be lost. (MacArthur, Hebrews. pg. 146.)
This Scripture is not aimed at those who have trusted in Jesus as Lord and Savior of their life. It is not directed at those who daily crucify their flesh, renounce their dreams and aspirations, and cling to the cross of Christ. The writer of Hebrews is addressing those of us who are cultural Christians or those of us who have never bowed our knee to the King of glory. You can’t play church, praise the Lord on Sunday, and yet continue to cling to what comes natural to you. You can’t hold onto anything that stands in the way of allowing Jesus to take up His rightful place as King and Master upon the throne of your heart.
I want to ask you this morning – “Is the writer of Hebrews hitting too close to home when he writes these words to you and me this morning?’ Is Jesus only a Sunday Savior or is He Lord of every moment of your life? Is Jesus the icon of your image or is He is the King of your heart? If the Lord has spoken to your heart this morning and revealed to you that you need to renounce it all for the cause of Christ then I want to invite you to come forward and receive Jesus as Lord and Master of your heart. Don’t wait until tomorrow for tomorrow may never come. Step through the door of opportunity that the Lord has opened for you this morning and step out of the darkness into His glorious light.