Star Falling From Heaven, Part 5: Judas and the Doctrine of Apostasy

Part 4 was about Satan and Judas

VII. Doctrine of Apostasy

One of the best places to start when discussing the Doctrine of Apostasy is to examine the words of our Lord, Jesus Christ, regarding apostates, individuals who have some sort of temporary salvation (even long-term salvation can be “temporary” if the individual does not persevere until the end), if he or she is not “faithful until death,” as the Lord told one church in Revelation (Revelation 2:10).

Apostasy in The Gospels

Jesus told parables, earthly stories with heavenly meanings, stories designed to use the natural to teach us something about the spiritual. One such parable to start teaching on the doctrine of apostasy is known as the Parable of the Sower, and is found in Matthew 13:3-9, 18-23, Mark 4:3-9, 13-20, and Luke 8:4-8, 11-15. For the purposes of covering the Parable, I will refer to the passage of Luke 8. I am using Luke’s passage here because of Luke’s attention to detail. After all, a good Doctrine of Apostasy that is faithful to Scripture should provide as much detail as possible.

Luke 8 details the Sower who sows the seed, and it falls on different types of soil: 1) alongside the road, where it is eaten by birds and never gets the chance to grow in the soil (Luke 8:5), 2) on rocky soil, where it sprouted but then withered away due to lack of moisture (Lk. 8:6), 3) among thorns and thistles that grow with the plant and eventually choke and kill it (v. 7), and 4) on good soil, where the plant grows and bears lots of fruit (v.8).

In verses 11-15, Jesus explains to His disciples what the Parable of the Sower means, what the various soils are in the Christian life. The seed that falls alongside the road is the person that hears the Word of God (the seed represents the Word of God, Luke 8:11) but doesn’t receive the Word.

Interestingly enough, Jesus references Satan as the cause behind why the roadside seed (or roadside person) doesn’t receive the Word of God: “Those beside the road are those who have heard; then the devil comes and takes away the word from their heart, so that they will not believe and be saved” (Luke 8:12). Even when unbelievers hear the Word of God, Satan is present, trying to snatch the Word from their hearts so that they won’t believe it, receive it, and be saved. In other words, Satan works to prevent hearers of the Word from being saved. His job is to keep as many people from being saved (and to have Hell filled with as many miserable people as possible). What is Satan doing in the present? Preventing unbelievers from being saved, and snatching away the Word of God from them whenever it is preached to prevent them from surrendering to the Lordship of Jesus.

Luke 8:13 discusses a particular individual with which many Christians take offence. First, let’s quote what Jesus says about the individual:

Those on the rocky soil are those who, when they hear, receive the word with joy; and these have no firm root; they believe for a while, and in time of temptation fall away. (Lk 8:13)

The rocky soil believer of Luke 8:13 is the one that poses problems for many Christians in the church. There are those in the church who’ve said that Christians cannot apostatize and fall away from the faith, from salvation, but Luke 8:13 contradicts these claims. After all, the rocky soil believer hears the Word, receives the Word with joy, and “believe for a while.” In other words, contrary to the roadside believer who never believes because he or she is prevented by Satan, the rocky soil believer actually hears and accepts the Word and is saved. Except, the rocky soil believer believes for a while and has no root to his or her faith. That foundation would’ve prevented him or her from fleeing the faith because all who are in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution (2 Timothy 3:12). The rocky soil believer wants to follow Jesus but doesn’t have strong enough faith to withstand temptation — so he or she decides to fall away.

“Fall away” is another word for “apostatize,” and the Doctrine of Apostasy is also called in Christian circles the Doctrine of Falling Away (this is another label for the Doctrine of Apostasy; you’ll find this concept referred to in both terms).

There are those who also believe that the rocky soil believer “was never saved to begin with,” but this claim doesn’t match what we read in the text. We find that the rocky soil believer “receives the Word with joy.” True, genuine believers receive the Word with joy. Next, how can these individuals “fall away” due to temptation if they were never saved? First, what are these believers falling away from if not the Christian faith? Jesus says that these individuals “believe for a time.” Faith is what it takes to please God, so these individuals please God – temporarily.

It is temptation that drives away the rocky soil believer. Temptation proves too strong for his or her faith. In every temptation, the Lord gives believers a way of escape (1 Corinthians 10:13), but the rocky soil believer doesn’t want to resist sin and thus, throws off his or her faith. The “thorns and thistles” individual is the person who hears the Word alongside of thorns and thistles that choke the gospel message in the life of the hearer. Pleasures of the world, worries and cares, and other desires destroy what faith the hearer could have. The thorns and thistles person never has the seed, the Word of God, planted in his or her heart. They hear the message, but they allow other things in life to take priority. The thorns and thistles hearer is distracted by the cares of this life and never really gives serious thought to accepting and believing the gospel message, the good news of salvation.

Luke 8:15 shows us the one that endures to the end, Jesus says:

But the seed in the good soil, these are the ones who have heard the word in an honest and good heart, and hold it fast, and bear fruit with perseverance. (Luke 8:15)

The individuals who bear fruit do so “with perseverance,” Jesus says. In other words, those who endure to the end are the believers who bear fruit. They not only hear the Word and receive the Word, but they reap a harvest because they let the Word have its perfect work in their lives and endure until death. As James says in his letter to Jewish believers scattered in the Diaspora:

2 Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, 3 knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. 4 And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. (James 1:2-3)

When our faith is tested and tried, it produces endurance. Endurance, or perseverance, comes through tests and trials. This makes sense when we think back to the good soil believer of Luke 8. The good soil believer “bears fruit through perseverance,” Jesus says. The rocky soil believer does not endure because he or she does not bear their temptation and allow their faith to be tested and tried. Persevering believers resist temptation, which further strengthens their faith because, as they learn to resist temptation, they come to see just how strong they are to continue resisting temptation. Rocky soil believers don’t allow themselves the opportunity to resist temptation and grow strong in the Christian faith and in their newfound salvation – so it’s just a matter of time before they return to the world.

Luke 8 is one major passage on the Doctrine of Apostasy that comes from the words of Jesus Christ Himself. Those who say they don’t believe someone can be saved and then fall away due to temptation haven’t read Jesus’ own words on the subject. And how can believers follow Jesus if they don’t know what He has said?

1 Timothy 4

1 Timothy 4 provides further insight into the Doctrine of Apostasy, considering that it tells us words that the Spirit Himself has said:

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, 2 by means of the hypocrisy of liars seared in their own conscience as with a branding iron, (1 Timothy 4:1-2)

Notice that Paul says “the Spirit explicitly says,” referring to the Holy Spirit. In other words, Paul is affirming what the Holy Spirit, the third person of the Triune Godhead, has said regarding apostasy in the end times. Those who fall away have done so due to demon doctrine, or doctrine that is opposed to the truth.

“Seducing spirits and doctrines of demons” refers to people who bring false teaching and lead believers astray, and the “doctrines of demons” refers to evil teaching that is against what the Lord says in His Word. The nature of the doctrines of demons, as Paul calls this false teaching, can be found in 1 Timothy 4:3:

3 men who forbid marriage and advocate abstaining from foods which God has created to be gratefully shared in by those who believe and know the truth. 4 For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with gratitude; 5 for it is sanctified by means of the word of God and prayer. (1 Timothy 4:3-5)

False teachers have crept in the church and taught that 1) marriage is forbidden and 2) one should abstain from eating certain foods. Anyone who has read Scripture knows that marriage is not forbidden in the Word of God. After all, God officiated over the first marriage, bringing Adam and Eve together as one flesh:

20 The man gave names to all the cattle, and to the birds of the sky, and to every beast of the field, but for Adam there was not found a helper suitable for him. 21 So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and he slept; then He took one of his ribs and closed up the flesh at that place. 22 The Lord God fashioned into a woman the rib which He had taken from the man, and brought her to the man. 23 The man said,

“This is now bone of my bones,

And flesh of my flesh;

She shall be called Woman,

Because she was taken out of Man.”

24 For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh. 25 And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed. (Genesis 2:20-25)

Does this sound as though God forbade marriage, since He was the one who created and officiated the first marriage in Scripture? Of course not! Those that were in the church advocating that people abstain from marriage were not reading their Scriptures, nor were they asking those studying them for guidance. Paul was afraid that believers who were weak in faith would be led astray by these false doctrines (what he calls “doctrines of demons” because the effort was spearheaded by demons and thus, Satan), and he wanted to warn Timothy to admonish them in the Word so that they wouldn’t fall prey to Satan’s devices.

Jesus Himself also spoke highly of marriage in the New Testament:

When Jesus had finished these words, He departed from Galilee and came into the region of Judea beyond the Jordan; 2 and large crowds followed Him, and He healed them there.

3 Some Pharisees came to Jesus, testing Him and asking, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any reason at all?” 4 And He answered and said, “Have you not read that He who created them from the beginning made them male and female, 5 and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? 6 So they are no longer two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate.” 7 They *said to Him, “Why then did Moses command to give her a certificate of divorce and send her away?” 8 He *said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart Moses permitted you to divorce your wives; but from the beginning it has not been this way. 9 And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.” (Matthew 19:1-9)

First, notice that the Lord says that it is not lawful to divorce from the beginning because God joined two together and they shouldn’t separate. Then, when asked about why Moses gave a certificate of divorce, Jesus said that it was due to the hardness of hearts and sin, “but from the beginning it has not been this way.” In other words, God’s original intention for marriage was not to allow couples to end them through divorce.

Even when the disciples reason that it may not be good to marry, Jesus still doesn’t forbid marriage:

10 The disciples *said to Him, “If the relationship of the man with his wife is like this, it is better not to marry.” 11 But He said to them, “Not all men can accept this statement, but only those to whom it has been given. 12 For there are eunuchs who were born that way from their mother’s womb; and there are eunuchs who were made eunuchs by men; and there are also eunuchs who made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. He who is able to accept this, let him accept it.” (Matthew 19:10-12)

Jesus says here that “not all men can accept this statement.” What statement is it? “If the relationship of the man with his wife is like this, it is better not to marry,” the statement of those asking Jesus about the lawfulness of divorce earlier in the passage. In other words, not all men can abstain from marriage, but those who can accept it and live it out. So, Jesus is telling us that there will be many who marry and that it isn’t a bad thing to do so. After all, God declared marriage good and holy, and those who partake of it in a right manner for the right reasons can celebrate its goodness as a good gift from a good God. As Paul says,

4 For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with gratitude; 5 for it is sanctified by means of the word of God and prayer.” (1 Timothy 4:4-5)

Marriage is to be held in honor among all, and the marriage bed is to be undefiled; for fornicators and adulterers God will judge. (Hebrews 13:4)

As Paul says, marriage is created by God, and therefore, it is good and “to be held in honor among all,” to be held in high regard and high esteem. Food is created by God, and therefore, it too, is good. The Lord God showed Peter a vision in Acts to change his view of both eating what was formerly “unclean” as well as preaching the gospel message to one who was considered to be “unclean” and outside of the people of God as well:

9 On the next day, as they were on their way and approaching the city, Peter went up on the housetop about the sixth hour to pray. 10 But he became hungry and was desiring to eat; but while they were making preparations, he fell into a trance; 11 and he *saw the sky opened up, and an object like a great sheet coming down, lowered by four corners to the ground, 12 and there were in it all kinds of four-footed animals and crawling creatures of the earth and birds of the air. 13 A voice came to him, “Get up, Peter, kill and eat!” 14 But Peter said, “By no means, Lord, for I have never eaten anything unholy and unclean.” 15 Again a voice came to him a second time, “What God has cleansed, no longer consider unholy.” 16 This happened three times, and immediately the object was taken up into the sky. (Acts 10:9-16)

So, the false teachers and their doctrines of forbidden marriage and food abstinence were false, simply false, and don’t hold up against the wealth of Scripture regarding marriage and the eating of food.

Finally, we see words from Paul to his mentee, Timothy, regarding sound doctrine. Paul tells Timothy to remain in sound doctrine and continue to teach it to “ensure salvation” for himself and his congregation:

16 Pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching; persevere in these things, for as you do this you will ensure salvation both for yourself and for those who hear you. (1 Timothy 4:16)

Here’s a question for those who believe the Doctrine of Apostasy is a joke: if it isn’t true, then why is it that Timothy should persevere in sound doctrine “to ensure salvation” for himself and his church? If confessing the Lord Jesus and praying The Sinner’s Prayer is all it takes to guarantee salvation, why does Timothy need to do anything to ensure salvation for himself or anyone else? Might it be the case that perseverance in godliness is mandatory for final salvation? I think so.

The word for “ensure salvation” comes from the Greek word for salvation, sozo. The word has been translated “you will save,” but it’s interesting that the NASB translators decided to render the verb as “ensure salvation.”

Doctrine of Apostasy in Hebrews 6

One of the most important passages on the doctrine of apostasy is found in Hebrews, where Paul (the presumed writer) is writing to Jewish Christians. In Hebrews 1-5, Paul provides whispers of the apostasy discussion we find in Hebrews 6. First, Paul tells the Jewish Christians to which he writes to “pay closer attention to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away from it” (Heb. 2:1). The word for “drift away” is “pararruomen,” meaning “to drift away,” or “pass by,” “to let slip,” and so on. Paying closer attention to the things they’ve heard involves being careful to remember the doctrine they’ve received audibly. Paul seems concerned with these Jewish Christians forgetting the doctrine they’ve received, so he wants them to focus more on retaining what they’ve been taught.

In Hebrews 2:3, Paul asks, “how shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation?”, referring to the abandonment of the salvation in Christ. Paul offers evidences of the truth of the Lord’s salvation: it was “spoken through the Lord” in the New Testament (John 3:16; Luke 19:9), those who heard the message confirm it (the Gospel writers, among them), and God testified to this salvation with miracles and spiritual gifts. We can see that God testified to His salvation by way of miracles (John 9, for example, giving sight to the man born blind from birth) and spiritual gifts (1 Corinthians 12:1-31).

Hebrews chapter 3 is where we see how Paul refers to these Jewish Christians and how he encourages them to endure. In Hebrews 3:1, Paul refers to them as “holy brethren, partakers of a heavenly calling,” but then says in reference to Christ, “whose house we are, if we hold fast our confidence and the boast of our hope firm until the end” (Heb. 3:6), a conditional statement that encourages perseverance until death. These Jewish Christians are truly saved, called “holy brethren” (Christ is Himself called “holy,” see ), and the label Paul gives them, “partakers of a heavenly calling,” says that they are an active participants in the calling of discipleship and Christian living. And yet, Paul still encourages them to endure until the end.

In other words, regardless of who they are now, failure to persevere until death will lead to a loss of the inheritance and blessings that God has promised those who love Him. We can think back here to Luke 8, where the rocky soil believer has the Word of God implanted and receives it but does not endure long enough to bring a large harvest of fruit in abundance. In Hebrews 2:3, Paul says that Christians will not escape the wrath of God if they “neglect so great a salvation.” No one can neglect a salvation they never had to begin with. There are many who believe such individuals were never saved in the first place, but, as I just said, how can someone abandon salvation if they never had salvation?

In Hebrews 4, Paul encourages the “partakers of a heavenly calling” to endure until the end of life so as to not fall short of inheriting the promise of God:

Therefore, let us fear if, while a promise remains of entering His rest, any one of you may seem to have come short of it. 2 For indeed we have had good news preached to us, just as they also; but the word they heard did not profit them, because it was not united by faith in those who heard. (Hebrews 4:1-2)

How can we reconcile that Paul calls these Jewish Christians “partakers of a heavenly calling” but then says “let us fear…while a promise remains of entering His rest, any one of you may seem to have come short of it”? How do holy brethren and partakers of the heavenly calling “fall short” of entering the rest of God? If we listen to some views on eternal life, entering God’s eternal rest is guaranteed – but, as we see here, perseverance is conditional and based upon not only the grace of God (without which we could not endure) but also upon the responsibility of believers to hold onto Christ until the end. The fact that Paul can say “let us fear” shows that he’s not writing mere hypothetical statements about the end of these believers – even if he and others are confident that they’ll inherit eternal life in Hebrews 6:9-10.

Hebrews 4:11 is as direct as it gets on the doctrine of apostasy:

11 Therefore let us be diligent to enter that rest, so that no one will fall, through following the same example of disobedience. (Heb. 4:11)

Why would Paul write “so that no one will fall” if believers are guaranteed eternal life, as certain believers think, and cannot fall short of inheriting it? I reiterate once more that Paul calls these Jewish Christians “holy brethren” and “partakers of a heavenly calling” but now says that “let us fear” that any one could come short of inheriting eternal life. In the same way that the rocky soil believer starts out well but falls away due to temptation and doesn’t inherit eternal life (Luke 8), Paul is saying here that believers can come this far and still fall short of the inheritance due to unbelief.

The words “let us hold fast our confession” in Hebrews 4:14 is an exhortation to encourage these Jewish Christians to hold onto the confession of Jesus as Lord that they made when they gave their lives to Christ. This phrase, “let us hold fast our confession” says that we must hold onto it, that we can’t just make a one-time confession and assume that it guarantees anything. The Greek word kratomen is a hortatory subjunctive, which means that it is an encouragement that indicates possibility and positivity: “we should hold onto or retain our confession,” which implies duty and obligation while leaving the choice open to the individual. What does this mean for these Jewish Christians? They have a duty to hold onto their initial confession of Jesus as Lord (Romans 10:9), though whether or not they endure until the end and inherit the promise is a matter of personal responsibility. The Lord Himself will not make you persevere; perseverance is a matter of desire from within the believer to wait patiently through righteous living for the promise that the Lord has made to him or her regarding eternal life. What does this mean for Christians today? That confessing Jesus as Lord is not a one-time act that seals eternity; rather, the initial confession should be lived out everyday in the believer’s life. We’ve often read John 3:16 and read the word “believes” as though it is a one-time act, but it isn’t (which matches the declaration of Hebrews 4); instead, it is a verb of continual action, meaning “the one who continually believes” in Jesus will have everlasting life.

This brings us to Hebrews chapter 6, one of the keystone passages on apostasy in all of Scripture. Paul tells these Christians to go on to maturity and not lay foundational doctrine again (they’d already learned about the basic doctrines of the faith). Verses 4-8 are the heart of the passage:

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 on 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. (Hebrews 6:4-8)

The question this passage always brings up is the following: can a believer fall away from the faith, from the gospel, from the Lord? 1 Timothy 4:1 says that the Spirit declares some will “depart from the faith,” which, in context, relates to falling away from Christian doctrine and giving one’s attention to false teaching (what Paul calls “doctrines of demons” in 1 Timothy 4). The right doctrine, though, is the heart of the Christian faith, since right doctrine instructs us how to live before the Lord. Scripture is orthodox teaching for the believer, and, should a person decide to stop reading his or her Bible and pick up cult reading, for example, he or she has begun the process of apostatizing from the Christian faith. False teaching can influence someone to abandon the Christian faith and Christian teaching altogether. This is why Paul attacked false teaching and false teachers in the churches to which he wrote (hence, the Pastoral Epistles).

Now, back to Hebrews 6. “Have once been enlightened” in Hebrews 6:4 refers to those who have been given the knowledge of God in salvation. Paul prayed for this enlightenment for the Ephesians (Ephesians 1:18), and Paul went on later in his epistle to the Hebrews to talk about the suffering of the Hebrews “after being enlightened” (Hebrews 10:32). So, when Paul talks about those who are enlightened but then fall away, he’s talking about someone who is a believer. In the context of Hebrews 10, Paul is saying that these Jewish Christians have been enlightened in Christian doctrine: 1) repentance of dead works and faith toward God, 2) instructions about washings and laying on of hands, and 3) resurrection of the dead and eternal judgment. These are all basic, foundational doctrines, and they show that these Jewish Christians have been enlightened. According to Thayer’s Dictionary, the Greek word for “enlightened,” photisthentas, can mean “imbue with saving knowledge.” Saving knowledge of these Christian doctrines is only given to Christian converts.

“The heavenly gift,” may have some confused. After all, this is a phrase used only once in the Scriptures, but we can assume through Paul’s writing that this phrase refers to the gift of salvation. Eternal life is what the Lord promises those who believe in Him (John 3:16), and Paul later calls eternal life “the gift of God” (Ephesians 2:8; Romans 6:23). “Tasted of the heavenly gift” refers to one partaking of eternal life. In other words, the person in question here is someone who has experienced some of the blessings of the promise, though not all of them (it has yet to be fully realized in the believer’s life while on earth).

The phrase “have been made partakers of the Holy Spirit” is a clear, unequivocal phrase that shows us Christians are the target of Hebrews 6. One cannot fall away from salvation if one has never been saved, and one cannot be a partaker of the Holy Spirit if the he or she doesn’t have the Holy Spirit. This passage has been used to suggest that these individuals are “fake Christians” or folks who’ve never been saved, but an unsaved person does not have the Holy Spirit; only saved people have the Holy Spirit:

Peter said to them, “Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. (Acts 2:38)

And we are witnesses of these things; and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey Him.” (Acts 5:32)

And God, who knows the heart, testified to them giving them the Holy Spirit, just as He also did to us; (Acts 15:38)

I am telling the truth in Christ, I am not lying, my conscience testifies with me in the Holy Spirit, (Romans 9:1)

Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? (1 Corinthians 6:14)

Therefore I make known to you that no one speaking by the Spirit of God says, “Jesus is accursed”; and no one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit. (1 Corinthians 12:3)

In Him, you also, after listening to the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation—having also believed, you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise, (Ephesians 1:13)

You also became imitators of us and of the Lord, having received the word in much tribulation with the joy of the Holy Spirit, (1 Thessalonians 1:6)

He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit, (Titus 3:5)

Out of the above verses, there are a few that are worth noting, specifically Ephesians 1:13, 1 Thessalonians 1:6, and Titus 3:5. In Ephesians 1:13, Paul tells the Ephesians that, having heard the Word and believed, they were given the Holy Spirit. This says that only those who hear the Word and believe the Word can receive the Holy Spirit or partake of the Holy Spirit. In 1 Thessalonians 1:6, the Thessalonians “received the Word” with the joy of the Holy Spirit. In other words, the Holy Spirit comes in when the Word of God is received after having been heard. Titus 3:5 says that the Lord saved us by the washing of regeneration and “renewing of the Holy Spirit,” referring to being washed clean of our sins and being made anew by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.

As I’ve said above, one cannot partake of the Holy Spirit if the individual isn’t saved. So, the claim that Hebrews 6 refers to fake Christians or unbelievers who pose as believers starts to make little sense when you discuss these individuals being partakers of the Holy Spirit.

“Have tasted the good Word of God” refers to those who feast on the Word of God. Again, an unbeliever isn’t going to read Scripture, so this can’t refer to a fake Christian or an unbeliever. The word “taste” refers to experiencing something, so this phrase refers to those who have been reading and experiencing the effects of the Word of God (see Hebrews 2:9). When it comes to tasting the good Word of God, however, the individual in question here is someone who is reading and studying the Scriptures. A good example of those who tasted the good Word of God would be the Bereans, who studied the Scriptures daily:

10 The brethren immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea, and when they arrived, they went into the synagogue of the Jews. 11 Now these were more noble-minded than those in Thessalonica, for they received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so. 12 Therefore many of them believed, along with a number of prominent Greek women and men.

The Bereans “examined the Scriptures daily,” a practice for those who taste the good Word of God. The context of Hebrews 6 pertains to moving beyond the basic Christian doctrines and moving to maturity in the knowledge of God, so tasting the good Word of God means to study the Word, to read the Word regularly and to learn more about the Lord. The person of Hebrews 6 is someone who has the Holy Spirit and is being driven to read the Word of God and study it. The ungodly often look at believers and deem them crazy because they read the Bible with 66 books and believe what it says – but that’s what believers are to do.

Next, Hebrews 6 speaks of those who have not only tasted of the good Word of God but also of the powers of the coming age. What does it mean to taste of the powers of the coming age? It means that the person in question has been given power by his or her union with the Lord by way of the Holy Spirit. Remember Jesus’ words to the disciples that “you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you” (Acts 1:8)? What about Jesus words about what believers would be able to accomplish in His Name?

15 And He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation. 16 He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved; but he who has disbelieved shall be condemned. 17 These signs will accompany those who have believed: in My name they will cast out demons, they will speak with new tongues; 18 they will pick up serpents, and if they drink any deadly poison, it will not hurt them; they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover.”

19 So then, when the Lord Jesus had spoken to them, He was received up into heaven and sat down at the right hand of God. 20 And they went out and preached everywhere, while the Lord worked with them, and confirmed the word by the signs that followed.] (Mark 16:15-20)

Jesus says that those who have believed on His Name will perform supernatural miracles such as casting out demons, picking up serpents without fear of harm, surviving drinking deadly poison without harm or death, and healing the sick. Of course, Jesus’s Twelve plus the remaining 70 disciples were able to cast out demons and lay hands on the sick when Jesus sent them out to the lost sheep of Israel and told them to avoid going to the Gentiles (Luke 10). Luke 10 also details the same as Mark about the authority of believers.

17 The seventy returned with joy, saying, “Lord, even the demons are subject to us in Your name.” 18 And He said to them, “I was watching Satan fall from heaven like lightning. 19 Behold, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing will injure you. 20 Nevertheless do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are recorded in heaven.” (Luke 10:17-20)

Remember Paul’s words in Romans 16 about “the God of peace will crush Satan under your feet shortly?” This statement alludes to the victory of the seed of the woman over the seed of the serpent (Satan), but humans treading on serpents and scorpions is part of what it means to be and live in the “new creation.” In the old creation, man and beast were at odds with each other due to sin, but in the new creation, man will once again be given dominion over creation because that’s how the Lord intended things to be. “Treading on serpents and scorpions” is all part of what it means to have dominion over creation; not even the most deadly animals will harm humanity in the new creation. Paul had a viper wrap itself around his hand, but he threw him off without being bitten and falling down dead (Acts 28:1-6).

We’re discussing the powers of the coming age. At this point, someone may wonder, “how can you call these miracles ‘powers of the coming age’?” Well, treading on the heads of serpents and scorpions differs remarkably from what we see in this age where man and beast are at odds and warring against one another. We do see the sick being healed through the laying on of hands, but we still live in a world where many die of sickness and disease. Most humans have heard about drinking deadly concoctions and not being hurt, but we also believe that we’re tempting the Lord if we attempt to drink something poisonous at random.

The point of tasting the powers of the coming age is that someone can witness the miracles from God, miracles performed by the Holy Spirit, and still fall away from Christ. The Israelites were in the wilderness for 40 years, never had their clothes wear out, never hungered for anything because the Lord fed them manna from heaven, and they were still hard-hearted and didn’t believe.

In verse 6, we see that those who are partakers of the Holy Spirit, taste of the good Word of God, the powers of the coming age, and have been enlightened about the knowledge of God and the gospel, and experienced salvation can fall away, that, should they, “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” (v.6). It seems heretical to some believers that genuine Christians can fall away, but Paul seems to assume it’s possible. The word for “fall away” in the Greek is parapesontas, stemming from the parent word parapipto, which means to fall away from the true faith in the context of Scripture.

The end of verse 6 also gives some clues that add to the belief that these individuals were truly saved. First, the text says one cannot “renew them again to repentance,” with the word “again” implying for the second time. In other words, these individuals have had to repent once before; this is the second time, so they’ve gone through the process of salvation (confession and belief) before. The text uses the word “impossible” (Grk. adunatos), meaning that they can’t repent a second time once they throw off Christ. Those who throw off Christ, who apostatize, would crucify Christ a second time in order to repent a second time. In other words, Christ would have to be re-crucified before these individuals could repent again. And, from what Paul has already taught these Jewish Christians, Christ offered Himself “once for all” — meaning that He will not die a second time:

8 Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him, 9 knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, is never to die again; death no longer is master over Him. 10 For the death that He died, He died to sin once for all; but the life that He lives, He lives to God. (Romans 6:8-10)

Paul says in Romans 6 that Jesus will never die again, that “He died to sin once for all.” Therefore, those who throw off Christ and reject His atonement as the propitiation (appeasing sacrifice) for their sins cannot return because there will be no second sacrifice, no second death, and no repeat of the Incarnation by which to bring it about. Once is all: once for His sacrifice, once to receive and accept it.

26 For it was fitting for us to have such a high priest, holy, innocent, undefiled, separated from sinners and exalted above the heavens;27 who does not need daily, like those high priests, to offer up sacrifices, first for His own sins and then for the sins of the people, because this He did once for all when He offered up Himself. (Hebrews 7:26-27)

Jesus only needed to offer up Himself once for all sin; unlike the high priests, he did not need to make daily sacrifices of animals on the altar. His sacrifice, the giving of Himself for sin, was far more effective than the old animal sacrifices.

11 But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things to come, He entered through the greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this creation; 12 and not through the blood of goats and calves, but through His own blood, He entered the holy place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption. 13 For if the blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkling those who have been defiled sanctify for the cleansing of the flesh, 14 how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God? (Hebrews 9:11-14)

The phrase “once for all” is used here once more to refer to the fact that He died for all men once, offered Himself for all humanity once, to take away all sin once. His death and shed blood are so effectual that He needed to die only once.

8 After saying above, “Sacrifices and offerings and whole burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin You have not desired, nor have You taken pleasure in them” (which are offered according to the Law), 9 then He said, “Behold, I have come to do Your will.” He takes away the first in order to establish the second. 10 By this will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.

11 Every priest stands daily ministering and offering time after time the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins; 12 but He, having offered one sacrifice for sins for all time, sat down at the right hand of God, 13 waiting from that time onward until His enemies be made a footstool for His feet. 14 For by one offering He has perfected for all time those who are sanctified. (Hebrews 10:8-14)

Hebrews 10 continues to drill the phrase “once for all,” with other phrases reinforcing the same concept: “one sacrifice for sins for all time” (v.11), “by one offering…for all time” (v.14).

18 For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God, having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit; (1 Peter 3:18)

Even Peter repeats this for those to whom he writes in 1 Peter 3:18, telling them that Jesus “died for sins once for all,” referring to the Lord’s death, one death, being effective enough to take care of all sin for all time.

Apostates, those who fall away from Christ, salvation, and the gospel would have to crucify Christ again in order to be able to “be renewed to repentance,” as the text says. And the simple truth is that Christ’s atonement was done once and only once; it need not be repeated.

To allow apostates to be renewed again to repentance would mean that the first atonement is null and void and ineffective. And if the first atonement is ineffective, then all those who have had faith in God to fulfill His promises throughout history are still in their sins. Paul says the gospel was preached in the beginning to Abraham, before Christ was even thought about (Galatians 3:8), but, if Christ’s atonement need be repeated, then Abraham is still not justified by faith, undoing Paul’s statement in Romans 4:9-12:

9 Is this blessing then on the circumcised, or on the uncircumcised also? For we say, “Faith was credited to Abraham as righteousness.” 10 How then was it credited? While he was circumcised, or uncircumcised? Not while circumcised, but while uncircumcised; 11 and he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had while uncircumcised, so that he might be the father of all who believe without being circumcised, that righteousness might be credited to them, 12 and the father of circumcision to those who not only are of the circumcision, but who also follow in the steps of the faith of our father Abraham which he had while uncircumcised. (Romans 4:9-12)

In other words, allowing apostates to return to Christ after they have spurned the only source of remission of sins leads to the undoing and ineffectual nature of salvation for all. Believers often sing songs such as “The Blood Will Never Lose Its Power,” but if apostates can come back to Christ and Jesus must die again, then Christ’s shed blood isn’t enough for remission of sins and everyone believing in the first atonement is still not saved. The Blood has not only lost its power, to change the famous gospel song, but the blood has no power! If the first atonement is ineffectual, then Christ’s blood becomes the equivalent of the blood of bulls, lambs, and goats — which, as Paul says in Hebrews, is unable to take away sin (Hebrews 10:4, 11).

Apostates subject Christ to open shame, as though they were standing around at the Crucifixion when Jesus was disrobed, beaten, mocked, and disrespected by soldiers who cast lots for His clothes while He was hanging on the Cross (see Matthew 27:35; Mark 15:24; Luke 23:34; John 19:24).

Hebrews 6:7-8 describes two types of land that receive lots of rain but produce different results. One land gets rain and produces vegetation, while the other land drinks the same rain but produces only thorns and thistles.

Some believers have overlooked the importance of these verses as well. Some say that the land that produces thorns and thistles was “never saved,” but how can this be – when the land producing thorns and thistles gets the same rain as the land that produces vegetation? The lands discussed here “drink the rain that often falls,” so the rain isn’t discriminatory. The rain here is part of Paul’s metaphor regarding those who “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,” which is what he’s written in Hebrews 6:4-5. The land that drinks the rain is the person that has received the blessings of God, in the same way that the land receives the rain that falls. The rain, of course, is symbolic for the blessing of God.

The fact that both “lands” receive the rain from heaven explains why the one that bears only thorns and thistles is deemed worthless and is cursed and burned. Jesus has a discussion along these same lines in John 15:

“I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. 2 Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit, He prunes it so that it may bear more fruit. 3 You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you. 4 Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me. 5 I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing. 6 If anyone does not abide in Me, he is thrown away as a branch and dries up; and they gather them, and cast them into the fire and they are burned. 7 If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8 My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be My disciples. (John 15:1-8)

Notice that Jesus refers to “Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit” (John 15:2), which means that there are people in Christ who bear no fruit of their salvation. If you listen to some Christian beliefs out in the world today, it’s impossible for someone to be in Christ and not bear any fruit — but Jesus speaks of this group here in John 15:2. Why would He speak of an imaginary group if they don’t exist, if this state (being in Christ but bearing no fruit) is impossible?

Jesus speaks of the same group of individuals in John 15:6:

“If anyone does not abide in Me, he is thrown away as a branch and dries up; and they gather them, and cast them into the fire and they are burned.”

In other words, the branch, the person abiding in The Vine (Jesus), can only bear fruit if he or she maintains union with Jesus. If the person decides to walk away from Christ, to depart from the faith, to apostatize, or, as Jesus says, “Does not abide in Me,” then the individual is “thrown away” and “dries up.” When a branch that once bore fruit is severed from the vine, it dries up and can no longer bear fruit. The “drying up” here is proof that the branch, once able to bear fruit, is no longer able. In other words, apostates who walk away from the Lord will no longer bear fruit in the Christian life because, severed from Jesus, The Vine, they are unable to bear fruit. Why can’t they bear any additional fruit? Because apart from Christ, they can do nothing (John 15:5). Additionally, they lack the Holy Spirit, who helps the believer bear fruit in sanctification. Apostates are now devoid of the Holy Spirit and, lacking the Holy Spirit, cannot understand or accept the things of God. Among these things they are unable to do is repent of their sins and have a holy conviction about their sin. This explains, in some sense, why Judas didn’t repent after betraying Jesus and having remorse over what he’d done. Someone devoid of the Spirit of God, lacking the conviction of the Holy Spirit, isn’t going to repent over their sin.

We’ll use this information to return to Judas in the next part of our History of Satan series.

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