Summary: The issue of Christians who fall away from the faith was present in the New Testament, even as it is today. How can we prevent this from happening, and be vigilant against growing weary of following Christ ourselves?
Today we begin a new message series from the Book of Hebrews which I’ve entitled “The Faith that Endures.”
It’s a sobering book because it addresses a sobering topic—an issue that I know that I would prefer not to admit that it exists. It addresses the issue of Christians who are tempted to fall away from the faith.
Now I think for many years in my Christian life I preferred to believe that this simply didn’t happen. Somehow, the notion of “once saved, always saved” or eternal security seemed to rule out the possibility that true, born again Christians, or even those who appear to be true, born again Christians could possibly, or even actually, fall away from the faith.
But now more than 50 years of experience and ministry as a born-again Christian has convinced me otherwise. Very significant people whom I have known and ministered with, who have had a very significant impact on my own spiritual life and ministry have actually fallen away from the faith—and I don’t mean just in practice but also in profession. I have known people who now expressly and openly deny Jesus Christ is their Savior and Lord, who even would deny His resurrection, who once followed Christ as sincerely and unreservedly, or at least so I thought, as I do. Among them are the person who initially led me to Christ, and who actually functioned for years professionally as both a youth pastor and a senior pastor, a friend who functioned as a co-pastor in this church, and his wife, and others who served as spiritual leaders in this congregation, some reaching offices as high as elder.
The fact that apparent believers actually do fall away from Christ, and that the possibility of falling away from Christ is a very real and present danger for any of us, is confirmed by the New Testament itself. Not only does the letter to the Hebrews admit this possibility, but the writings of the Apostle Paul confirm it. Paul speaks of at least four different one-time believers who in one respect or another fell away from Christ to one substantial degree or another. The four are Hymenaeus, Alexander, Demas and Philetus. The Apostle John speaks of a plurality of believers who had abandoned fellowship with believers and says of them in I John 2:9: “They went out from us because they were never us.’ And more than that, and perhaps most tragic of all, is that our children, some of whom professed faith in Christ and were baptized, often do not continue to follow Christ. In fact, recent studies by the Barna Group and others suggest that as many as 75% of children brought up in evangelical churches fall way from Christ after high school.
So this is no small problem that this book addresses, and a very real danger, especially for our children, and now for our grandchildren. The Book of Hebrews addresses how we can prevent ourselves from falling away, and no doubt provides wisdom for how we can encourage others who are contemplating falling away, and especially in this time of the Covid-19 Pandemic are perhaps drifting away from Christ by their excused absences from fellowship.
So before we get into chapter one, let me share a little bit about the Book of Hebrews. As its title suggests it was written to Jews, or Hebrews, most likely Jews who lived in Judea, and in Jerusalem who had experienced decades of severe persecution on account of their faith in Jesus as Messiah. The persecution against believers there had broken out with the martyrdom of Stephen in about 37 A.D. and had probably continued nearly 30 years thereafter, until this book was written in about 65 A.D. or so. By this time, believers in Judea and Jerusalem had been disowned by their own Jewish families on many occasions, for decades, had often been unemployed perhaps because they were counted as unclean, and were treated as though they were pagans or Gentiles. And the persecution had not let up. If it had been temporary, perhaps they would not now be contemplating a return to Judaism. The thinking among them had now become maybe it wouldn’t be so bad to just go back and worship God as Jews always have by offering sacrifices in the temple, rather than following Christ. Because it appeared that in this life their suffering for Christ was never going to let up. They were growing exceedingly weary of it, and you can understand.
The book was written most likely outside of Judea, in the dispersion of the Jews, by a Jew himself who was intimately familiar with the Old Testament, and the Old Testament sacrificial system. We don’t know for sure who wrote Hebrews—it’s one of the great mysteries of the Bible. The best possibilities are the Apostle Paul, Barnabas, on account of the fact that Barnabas himself was a Levite and would know the sacrificial system and the spiritual heritage of the Jews very well, and in my mind, Apollos, who was known for his eloquence and education. This week I’ve come to the conclusion Paul is the best bet, but the point is, this book was written by God with the authority of God.