If I Fell Away from the Lord but Came Back, Does Hebrews Teach that I Am Still Damned?

, posted by SEA

On his website, Arminian Perspectives, Ben Henshaw has a questions page at which he answers questions about Arminianism and Calvinism that visitors to his site pose in the comment section of the page. The following is a question and answer interaction between Ben and a commenter named Samuel/William (he uses both names).

Question Part 1: I am really shaken right now. I was raised in a Christian household, but never really fully trusted and surrendered everything to God even though I had asked Him into my life. I worshiped and believed in Him. But then in my early 20s something really heart wrenching happened that caused me to in essence turn my back on Him and I fell into sin(sexually) for a couple years. I never denied Him but largely ignored Him. I returned to the faith but still struggled with sexual sin and was always losing the battle. Finally, dr’s found a tumor in my neck. It turned out to be a benign one that could eventually come back and be malignant. During the six weeks of wondering what it was, God fully broke me. I was on my knees every day crying and repenting. Early in my Christian life I wanted Him to do things for me, but now I only want Him. Since that scare everything has changed in my life. I no longer has a desire for sin. I am reading the scriptures non stop and finally finding out what they all say. I can across the troubling verses in Hebrews and was shocked and am terrified that they are talking about me when I turned my back on Christ and sinned. How do I know that it is not too late for me? I was brought up with a once saved always saved mentality that led to complacency and now I am terrified because I didn’t know those verses in Hebrews.

Thanks

Answer Part 1:

I recommend that you read my post on the nature of apostasy in Hebrews:

From what I have read of your experience you have not committed apostasy as described in Hebrews 6 and 10. That apostasy is the result of a heart so hardened by sin that repentance is impossible. Those who commit such apostasy will never again desire a relationship with the Lord. This is not the case with you. Your writing this post to me and the concern you have over your spiritual state is clear evidence that you have not commited apostasy as described in Hebrews 6 and 10. If you had, you would not want anythng to do with God and you would not be concerned about your spiritual condition. Here is a quote from that post,

Sin can lead to apostasy by hardening the heart to the point of unbelief. That is why sin is such a dangerous thing and should never be trivialized in the life of the believer. If believers persist in sinful living and refuse to repent, irrevocable apostasy may be just around the corner. This “sinning” could be the unrepentant indulgence of the flesh, or the gradual tolerance of false teaching. There is still hope of restoration and repentance prior to the decisive act of willful unbelief. We can therefore be sure that if one desires to repent and be restored to right relationship with the Lord that irrevocable apostasy has not yet occurred.

Here is another quote that I took from F. Leroy Forlines,

I believe that we can rest assured that the person who comes to talk to us about his or her fears of having committed the unpardonable sin does not fit the description of the people described in 2 Peter 2:20, 21; Hebrews 6:4-6; and 10:26-29. If there is concern to be restored to a right relationship with God, such a person has not committed apostasy. (The Quest For Truth, pg. 284)

If you are truly desiring a relationship with God as you indicate then my advice to you would be to rest assured in the promise that those who come to Christ will not be cast out or turned away (John 6:37), and continue to draw closer to God in faith and love (again, if you are desiring a relationship with the Lord then that is clear evidence that you have not committed irrevocable apostasy). I would pray that God replaces your fear with assurance and comfort in His love and acceptance, that you might experience the peace of God which transcends understanding (Phil. 4:7). I will be praying for you as well.

God Bless

[Editor’s note: The reader might also be interested in this article, which takes a different approach than Ben, arguing that Hebrews 6 does not mean that those who fall away in the sense it means cannot return to the Lord and be forgiven: http://evangelicalarminians.org/brian-abasciano-my-argument-for-apostasy-not-being-irremediable-in-hebrews-6/]

Question Part 2: Thanks for the reply. I have read just about every commentary I could get my hands on on this subject matter. I sincerely appreciate you taking the time to respond to my concerns.

I’ve read your post on the matter several times through and it seems very reasonable. The areas which you have just quoted for me have been my greatest comfort because they essentially say that if you want to repent, if you want Christ to be your Lord, if you want to love Him then that is proof that you have not committed irrevocable apostasy. I just wish there was something biblical that says this instead of a commentators opinion.

What still concerns me is the issue off not being able to be renewed to repentance. Now I am not a greek scholar so I go by what commentaries might say. In one, the author stated that the impossibility is not in the apostate’s ability to repent, but that it will avail nothing to God. He further went on to give the example of Esau who weeped and still found no place for repentance.

How does one draw the line between being the irrevocable apostate and the wanderer of James 5:19? Biblically speaking. Do I have a misunderstanding about Esaus wanting to repent?

Thanks for your time

Answer Part 2: Considering the context of the passage, and the overall view of apostasy throughout the epistle, I think the example of Esau poses no real problem to the view of apostasy I have described as consistent with the inspired writer’s view. It seems to me that Esau is used as an example, in that passage, for three reasons. First, he is used to show that the inheritance of salvation is precious and should not be treated lightly (as Esau despised his birth right). Second, to show the great disparity in value between salvation in Christ and the emptiness of Judaism without Christ (contrasting the value of Esau’s birthright with a bowl of soup- also the need to endure suffering for the sake of something greater, just as Esau should have endured his hunger a little longer for the sake of preserving his birth right, cf. 12:1-4). Third, to show that once salvation has been despised, it cannot be recovered. Esau’s tears were not tears of repentance, but tears of regret for forfeiting his inheritance once that became a reality to him. In that sense, we might see it in an eschatological sense for the apostate. His tears will come when he stands before the Lord and fully realizes what he has lost. I think the eschatological emphasis really fits the context, as the writer emphasizes final salvation throughout the epistle. Also, the “repentance” could refer to Isaac, and not Esau. In that sense, it would mean that Isaac would not change his mind (repent) and give Esau the inheritance he lost.

So it is not a case of wanting to return to the Lord, and not being allowed to (as the one commentator apparently suggested). Rather, it is a reminder of the finality of the apostate’s decision being fully realized at judgment, when nothing more can be done to change the eternal loss of inheritance. The apostate would never seek a lost inheritance with tears in this world, since he is convinced that no such inheritance exists for him.

Repentance has to do with a change of attitude and heart (Heb. 6:1). It is a spiritual re-orientation. That is how the term is used and understood in the epistle with regards to salvation. So just the basic meaning of repentance removes any possibility that one can want salvation and simply be denied by God (unless that person is seeking salvation on his own terms, i.e., not according to faith in Christ). Therefore, when the writer says one cannot be renewed again to repentance, it includes the reality that the person will not ever again desire to be reconciled to God through faith in Christ. Such a desire would constitute the change in spiritual orientation that largely defines “repentance”. So the fact that you desire a relationship with Christ underscores the fact that you have not committed apostasy as defined in Hebrews (though, if you read my post, I wouldn’t necessarily say that you did not commit a lesser form of apostasy, described elsewhere in Scripture, that is remedial). So when you write,

The areas which you have just quoted for me have been my greatest comfort because they essentially say that if you want to repent, if you want Christ to be your Lord, if you want to love Him then that is proof that you have not committed irrevocable apostasy. I just wish there was something biblical that says this instead of a commentators opinion.

…I think the Bible does address it in the very way the writer of Hebrews defines and uses “repentance” in the context of Heb. 6:1-6. Hope that helps.

God Bless

Question Part 3: Thank you very much Ben for clearing this up. I’ve struggled with this for a long time and now I can finally put it to rest. The one thing I can see is that God then never gave up on me and that he chastised me to bring me to repentance which I now genuinely have. I am still sifting through both doctrines of Calvinism and Arminianism. If its not to much to ask could you point me toward some trustworthy resources that address certain aspects of Arminianism.

1. When Christ says that no one can pluck us out of his hand. I’m not worried about anyone taking me out of his hand, but rather the devil through deception. Doesn’t the Arminian view kind of make this statement powerless?

2. Also something on Romans 9 that you trust.

I don’t expect you to answer these, but if could point me in the right direction I’d be much obliged.

Thanks

Answer Part 3: You wrote,

1. When Christ says that no one can pluck us out of his hand. I’m not worried about anyone taking me out of his hand, but rather the devil through deception. Doesn’t the Arminian view kind of make this statement powerless?

I am not sure I know what you are asking here. I guess you are thinking that if the devil could pluck us out through deception, that would render the promise meaningless. If that is the case, then I think the concern is invalid.

Believers are given all that they need to continue in the faith and remain in Christ (2 Pet. 1:3-11). The devil cannot deceive them irresistibly. We do not have to give in to the devil’s deception, so he is powerless to pluck us out of God’s hands. The only way we could view deception as negating this promise is to view deception as impossible to resist or overcome through the grace of God. Arminians do not hold to this, so their view does not negate the promise here.

We need to remember that the promise is given only to Christ’s sheep, who are presently trusting in Christ (“following” and “listening” to Him, verse 27). So long as we are trusting in Christ, nothing can remove us from Him (since we are united to Him through faith). However, the promise does not extend to unbelievers. God does not hold unbelievers and unbelievers can have no union with Christ. If a believer ceases to “listen” and “follow”, and turns to unbelief, then the promise of John 10:27-29 simply does not apply. It is not a matter of a promise failing or becoming powerless. It is a matter of who the promise is directed to. It is directed to believers and believers only. For more on this and similar passages that Calvinist appeal to in order to support inevitable perseverence, see here.

God Bless

Additional answer from a Commenter with the screen name, “Arminian”:
To add to Ben’s reply, saying that Jesus’ promise that no one can snatch us out of his hand would be meaningless if we could follow Satan’s deception away from the Father’s hand of our own free will would be like saying that the promise of 1 Cor 10:13 is meaningless, which promises that we never have to succumb to temptation but always have God’s power to resist it. That is one of the most precious promises in all of Scripture, a real bedrock of practically living the Christian life. I would find it incredible if anyone could consider that promise empty or meaningless. The promise in John is similar. It is comforting and assuring to know that nothing can overpower us to forsake the Lord or to take away our blessing in him. The issue was even more pressing in the first century world in which many feared supernatural powers and magic (you can see this type of concern come out especially in Ephesians and Colossians). While succumbing to Satan’s deception is a possibility by our own free choice–remember Paul’s concern for the Corinthians: “But I am afraid that as the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning, your thoughts will be led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ” (2 Cor 11:3)–by God’s grace and protective hand we never have to fall to Satan’s deception, but rather we are protected by the power of God *through faith* (1 Pet 1:5) (i.e., as we continue to trust in him). Thanks be to God!