“They could put up a warning sign or something. Hello. Welcome to Hinderstap. We will murder you in the night… if you stay past sunset. Try the pies. Martna Baily makes them fresh daily.” – Mat Cauthon, The Gathering Storm by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson
It’s nice to be warned ahead of time that a bridge is out up ahead, that cigarettes cause cancer, or that babies in their moms’ bellies should not ride roller coasters. Warnings allow us to evaluate the risk.
Our text in Hebrews this week is a warning – a powerful warning – telling the Church of a real and present danger.
It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened… and who have fallen away, to be brought back to repentance. (Hebrews 6:4,6)
These words are an alarm sounding through the text: Danger! No U-turn! But who was being warned? Were the “enlightened… who have fallen away” believers or nonbelievers?
This is a hotly debated question. I believe the author’s warning is for nonbelievers – and not just any group of nonbelievers, but those who attend church. Why do I believe this?
- Context in Hebrews: Earlier in the letter, the author spoke of the Israelites who traveled with God, witnessed His miracles, heard His Word, yet didn’t believe. (Hebrews 3) It’s clear the author is concerned for his readers, “For we also have had the good news proclaimed to us… but the message they heard was of no value to them, because they did not share the faith…” (Hebrews 4:2).
- In other words, hear Christ and receive Him. This is a message for the nonbelievers in the audience.
- Context in the New Testament: The Good News announces that it’s the work of Christ that saves and sustains us. If the warning is for believers who’ve fallen away from Christ – which I don’t believe it is – then our warning would indicate that it’s possible to experience Christ, be reborn, and then return to spiritual death. But, if this warning is written to nonbelieving churchgoers, the alarm sounds because it’s possible to experience Christianity but remain spiritually dead. These people are Edge Standers – standing at the edge of faith.
When we understand the audience, something remarkable happens – the warning becomes an encouragement to choose Christ.
Father, what a sad possibility – that some continue to experience Christianity without experiencing Christ. Let the urgency of this warning reside in me so I might be moved to warn others gently – lovingly – when I see they’re in danger. Amen.
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