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Atlanta, 17 February 2016

Hello from the capital of Georgia and metropolitan home to 5 or 6 million. We've lived in the Atlanta area for 12 years, and things are always exciting. I'm back in local teacher mode, speaking to the North River staff, the North River campus ministry, and preaching the word. Before we jump into this week's study, I wanted to share a few items from the new material.

You'll find four new Q&As at the website. I also recorded another N.T. Character Podcast, The Servant Girl (Who Challenged Peter). If you like this, there are at least 80 more! Finally, if you'd like to watch Sunday's sermon (from Nehemiah 8), just click on How's Your Biblical Stamina?

Falling Away: What Does it Mean?

A few years ago I received this email: "I talked to a brother today who fell away some time ago but came back several years later. He is having difficulty with Hebrews 6:4-6, for he thinks it says that once someone has fallen away, they have had their shot. He thinks that even though he is 'back,' he will probably not be forgiven in the end. What do you think about fallaways?"

I studiously avoid the common term “fallaway” for a lapsed disciple, since the term does not appear in the Bible, and Hebrews 6:4-6 plainly teaches that there's no chance the individual will return to the Lord. (There is better way to describe those who stop following Jesus, and we will discuss that next week.) No wonder he was conflicted!

At this point it may be helpful to review the passage in question:

For it is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt. (Heb 6:4-6 ESV)

The Greek word for fall / fall away is piptein. The word for stumble is skandalidzesthai. The KJV translates skandalidzesthai as "be offended." Unfortunately, in the gospels several other versions mistranslate skandalidzesthai as "fall away," in direct contradiction with Hebrews 6.

The point is that we must distinguish between stumbling and falling. No one who falls away can ever come back! If I am understanding the N.T. correctly, falling away means having crossed that line after which there is no repentance -- and thus no forgiveness. Proverbs 29:1 contains a similar thought: He who is often reproved, yet stiffens his neck, will suddenly be broken -- beyond healing.

A point of no return?
There is a point of no return. I'm not saying that you can stop living a committed Christian life and everything is fine. Not at all:
  • The straying disciple is not in a good place. He or she is going to get hurt, and likely hurt others as well. There will be scars.
  • As we approach "the line," we  rapidly lose conviction and increasingly rationalize worldly behavior -- in ourselves as well as in others.
  • The more we're pulled in to the gravity of Satan's trap, the more difficult it is to escape -- like changing course when you've swum all the way to the brink of the waterfall, or resisting the gravitational field of a black hole.
  • Eventually we can't repent, not because God isn't merciful, but because we have lost the desire and will to repent. Something is broken in us -- beyond repair.
  • We fall. This is not a mere stumble; it's more like falling off a cliff. It's the sin of apostasy (Heb 10:26-31).
Where's the line?
Even if we're still in the grace of God for some period after we throw in the towel (as I believe), we shouldn't test God. The one who plays with fire gets burned. It would be immature and potentially lethal to see how far away from God we can stray and still come back.

An obvious question: Exactly when does one cross the line? We could discuss this all day and never reach complete agreement on the answer. The good news: that's God's call, not ours. He knows.

Next week

Next Wednesday, in the middle installment of the Falling Away & Restoration mini-series, we will consider a more biblical way to describe those who quit the faith.

Thanks for reading the weekly bulletin, and please spread the word to anyone you think might benefit. Signing up at the website is easy.
A fellow traveler,
Douglas Jacoby
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