Monday, October 27, 2014

Don't Walk Away

Our Life Group's lesson for Sunday, Oct. 19 ...

Sunday morning we talked about spiritual maturity and the deep topic of "once saved, always saved." Our memory verse for the week is Hebrews 6:10 - God is not unjust; he will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people and continue to help them.

There's a difference between being grown up and being mature. I have no doubt that you can think of many adults who don't act their age.

Think back to when you were younger. You couldn't wait to be old enough to hang out late with friends, to get a driver's license, to graduate high school, etc. Scientists have said that young adult brains don't fully mature until age 25.

As parents, we now have to think about when we let our girls wear make-up, when they are old enough to date, or like "Finding Nemo," when they're old enough to go to the drop-off at the edge of the coral reef.

How does this relate to our spiritual life? The author of Hebrews is trying to reach believers who were being tempted to walk away and compared it to being a spiritual baby:

11 We have a great deal to say about this, and it’s difficult to explain, since you have become too lazy to understand. 12 Although by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the basic principles of God’s revelation again. You need milk, not solid food. 13 Now everyone who lives on milk is inexperienced with the message about righteousness, because he is an infant. 14 But solid food is for the mature—for those whose senses have been trained to distinguish between good and evil. (Hebrews 5:11-14)

No matter what your physical age is, or how developed your brain is, growing in Christ and maturing in your spiritual walk with the Lord should be a priority in your life. Spiritual maturity is not an endpoint, however; it’s an ongoing journey.

Is spiritual maturity one of your goals as a believer? If so, are you still on spiritual milk, or are you ready for spiritual steak?

Grow in Faith (Heb. 6:1-3)

1 Therefore leaving the elementary message about the Messiah, let us go on to maturity, not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works, faith in God, 2 teaching about ritual washings, laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. 3 And we will do this if God permits.

*** Spiritual maturity.

--- The author has some words for his readers. Their attention span was short. He was talking to them and they were staring at their shoes with their hands in their pockets, rocking back and forth, hoping not to get called on.

--- These Christians were still acting like spiritual kids when they should’ve been mature enough by this time to teach others about the gospel and faithful Christian living.

--- Have you ever felt spiritually dull and prone to drift from your devotion to Christ? What brought you back? Are you drifting now?

*** In verses 1b-2, the writer listed six truths that encompass the Christian’s life:

--- Repentance and faith. - These two terms refer to the first steps in the Christian life—turning from sin (repentance) and turning to God in faith.

--- Ritual washings and laying on of hands. - The first term could but probably doesn’t refer to Christian baptism. Notice that the term is plural. Thus it likely refers to the various cleansing rituals in Judaism that only foreshadowed the true cleansing accomplished by the Holy Spirit (see Ezekiel 36:25-27). The second term of this pair refers to the confirmation of the gift of the Spirit to believers and the Spirit’s anointing for ministry (see Acts 6:6; 8:17; 13:3; 28:8; 2 Timothy 1:6).

--- Resurrection of the dead and eternal judgment. - These truths ultimately point to the end time. We will all stand before our Righteous Maker in judgment at the end of time. Those who are in Christ will be raised to be with Him (and with one another!) for eternity. Since God is holy and just, unbelievers will stand condemned to everlasting punishment in hell. On the one hand God delights in His justice, but on the other He takes no delight in the death of the wicked (see Ezekiel 33:11).

*** God is in control.

--- Hebrews 6:3 affirms that believers can have great confidence in pressing on, because God is faithful.

--- Philippians 1:6 - being 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 2:12-13 - Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.

Lest You Walk Away (Heb. 6:4-8)

4 For it is impossible to renew to repentance those who were once enlightened, who tasted the heavenly gift, became companions with the Holy Spirit, 5 tasted God’s good word and the powers of the coming age, 6 and who have fallen away, because, to their own harm, they are recrucifying the Son of God and holding Him up to contempt. 7 For ground that has drunk the rain that has often fallen on it and that produces vegetation useful to those it is cultivated for receives a blessing from God. 8 But if it produces thorns and thistles, it is worthless and about to be cursed, and will be burned at the end.

***Once saved, always saved?

--- Verses 4-6 are among the most challenging to interpret in the Book of Hebrews, if not the entire Bible.

Bible scholars differ in their views about whether these verses describe persons who profess to be believers but prove not to be, or who are genuine believers but in a dangerously backslidden (disobedient) condition, or whether the passage is a hypothetical example of apostasy (falling away from the faith) and what the consequences of such would be if it were possible.

Around these parts we hold that it is not possible for genuine believers to lose their salvation. This is based on Scripture passages that teach salvation is the work of our sovereign, gracious Redeemer from start to finish:

--- John 10:27-29 - My sheep hear My voice, I know them, and they follow Me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish—ever! No one will snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all. No one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand.

--- Romans 8:1,38-39 - Therefore, no condemnation now exists for those in Christ Jesus, .... For I am persuaded that not even death or life, angels or rulers, things present or things to come, hostile powers, height or depth, or any other created thing will have the power to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord!

--- Ephesians 1:13-14 - And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory.

--- Philippians 1:6 - being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.

--- 1 Peter 1:5 - who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time.

--- Hebrews 7:25 - Therefore, He is always able to save those who come to God through Him, since He always lives to intercede for them.

*** Adrian Rogers wrote about the question if someone could lose their salvation:

“Imagine a child whose family standing depends on his behavior. If he is good today, he stays; but if he misbehaves tomorrow, he has to leave. The love of his father is conditional. This child would be a neurotic mess. Unfortunately, there are some Christians walking around in near despair because they fear losing their salvation, being kicked out of the family.

“If you have been born again, you are part of God's family regardless of your behavior. But if you are born again, it will show in your behavior. If you belong to Christ, you are part of the family and can enjoy the emotional security our Heavenly Father wants us to experience. ...

“Believing that one can lose one's salvation is saying that Christ's sacrifice on the cross was inadequate. On the cross, Christ said, "It is finished" (John 19:30). These words also mean "paid in full." He paid the full price. If you truly have accepted the gift of salvation, you are fully forgiven - for sins past, present and future. There is a difference in relationship and fellowship. Relationship is established by birth, and fellowship is established by life. A Christian out of fellowship may be chastened, but he cannot lose his relationship established by the new birth. ...

“If you have salvation, you know it. And if you have it and know it, you can never lose it.”

*** We are called to bear useful fruit.

--- In verses 7 and 8 the writer of Hebrews described a plot of land that on the one hand produces useful vegetation and is blessed. Then the writer described land that brought forth only weeds and briers and was about to be cursed and burned off. The fruit of the land revealed it as either useful or worthless. Thus we are warned not to be like those who profess Christ for a season and later walk away from Him. We are urged to cling to Christ and to persevere in faith.

--- It is possible for congregations to consist of not only genuine believers but also of some who give lip service to Christ yet do not have genuine faith.

--- Matthew 7:21-23 - “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’

*** Only God truly knows the heart of an individual.

--- It is tempting to assume that, when someone professes to know Christ, yet walks away from their faith, they must not have been saved in the first place.

--- 1 Samuel 16:7 - But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”

--- This doesn’t give anyone a free pass to rebel. The writer of Hebrews still reminds us that maturing believers will produce fruit. Those who aren’t maturing and who respond to Christ in a disobedient manner will devalue the cost of salvation and the work of Christ to the world.

--- In John chapter 15 Jesus talks a lot about bearing fruit.

Verse 5 - “I am the vine; you are the branches. The one who remains in Me and I in him produces much fruit, because you can do nothing without Me."

Verse 8 - "My Father is glorified by this: that you produce much fruit and prove to be My disciples."

Verse 16 - "You did not choose Me, but I chose you. I appointed you that you should go out and produce fruit and that your fruit should remain, so that whatever you ask the Father in My name, He will give you."

--- Those who fall away from devotion to Christ because of life’s difficulties or because of opposition to the faith prove one of two realities. One: they show that they are spiritually immature and thus are easily drawn into disobedience; they need to grow in their faith. Or two: they show by walking away from Christ that they never have truly received salvation in Him; they need to be saved.

TAKE AWAY POINTS

*** LifeWay researchers asked more than 4,000 people about their spiritual lives and level of maturity. Those "attributes of discipleship" that consistently show up in the lives of maturing believers are:

Bible engagement
Obeying God and denying self
Serving God and others
Sharing Christ
Exercising faith
Seeking God
Building relationships
Unashamed transparency

--- Think about how you have matured physically over the years. Then, think about how you have matured spiritually.

*** Are you spiritually mature? A work in progress? Or an infant?

*** What does this reveal to you? What actions can you take to improve?

*** The challenge the writer of Hebrews gave to his readers is still true today: “Don’t walk away from your faith but, through obedience, build upon the foundation, a faith that will endure.” He then turns his attention to the fact that, if you don’t build on the foundation, you will most likely drift away.

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