“Trying this again” or “Why backsliding isn’t OK”

I just overheard a frustrating conversation come from our conference room. The phrase “eternal security” echoed off the hardwood floor and drywall and into my office. I immediately tuned in, like a government phone tap set to record upon hearing “communist” or “Castro.”

Two statements stuck out; they went something like these:

  • “I’m grateful for eternal security, because if there wasn’t, I’d be in trouble,” and
  • “ Backsliding is OK because we have an Advocate.”

But what about Hebrews 6 and the “peril of not progressing” as the NKJV puts it?

Therefore, leaving the discussion of the elementary principles of Christ, let us go on to perfection, not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, of the doctrine of baptisms, of laying on of hands, of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment. And this we will do if God permits.

For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted the heavenly gift, and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, if they fall away, to renew them again to repentance, since they crucify again for themselves the Son of God, and put Him to an open shame.

For the earth which drinks in the rain that often comes upon it, and bears herbs useful for those by whom it is cultivated, receives blessing from God; but if it bears thorns and briers, it is rejected and near to being cursed, whose end is to be burned.

I’m not going to attempt to exegete the passage and proclaim its inspired meaning, especially the middle section which seems to refute eternal security. But one thing the Spirit makes clear to me through this passage is that backsliding is in no way, shape or form OK. I know it happens; it’s happened in my own life. Happened just last summer, actually. And I know that His forgiveness is more than adequate and His grace is more than sufficient. I’ve repented and my salvation is secure. I’m aware of the story of the prodigal son.

It isn’t OK, though, because it isn’t God’s will. God is progressive. He’s always at work in the world and He’s always at work within us. His will is that we “go on to perfection” as the verse above states, to “go and sin no more” as Jesus told the prostitute in John 8:11 and to “be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect” (Matt. 5:48).

I’m not promoting a works theology; I’m promoting a fruit theology. We’ll be known by our fruit (Matt. 7:20, Matt. 12:33, Luke 6:43-44). And fruit can’t help but come forth from a branch properly connected to the Vine (John 15:5). If spiritual fruit isn’t coming from the branch, one must ask if it is abiding in the Vine. (Obviously, pruning stages are part of the process).

Something I’ve taken note of, and will be teaching on at my church in about three weeks, is that church-going people often live in the power of Christ’s death, but not in the power of his resurrection and ascension. We’re all about claiming the power of forgiveness of sins through the cross, but we don’t claim the power to overcome the curse and the sting of death through the resurrection or the power to rule and reign with authority through the ascension.

My heart still sinks thinking about this. Is this really all the gospel (read: “good news”) people–church going people–are aware of? Is this all the victory we’re convinced we can live in–that we’re wretched sinners that get to go to heaven because some distant God saved us by killing his son?

One of my professors at the Focus on the Family Institute was talking about “Bumper Sticker Theology” in class one day. You know what I’m talking about–those trite phrases that often grace our vehicles and church marquees. One Dr. Burtoft brought up was: “I’m not perfect. Just forgiven.”

“That’s not necessarily something to brag about,” he went on. “Is that all that distinguishes us from the rest of society–that we’re forgiven?” Then came the kicker: “We are to be Christ-like,” he said. “To be like Christ is not to be forgiven, it is to be perfect.”

Being perfect isn’t something that happens upon conversion. It’s something that happens through discipleship and sanctification. It’s not something that we accomplish through grit, determination and simply making right choices. Right-living is birthed from right-relationship with the Father. It comes from drawing-near, seeking-first and casting-burdens. It comes from humbling ourselves and being lifted up, loving the Lord our God with all our heart, and throwing off everything that hinders.

We have a far-greater and more kingdom-benefiting call than to repentance. We have a call to life–“zoe”–the God kind of life.

Joel Maust

Joel Maust is a blogger, marketer and photographer living in the beautiful Flathead Valley of northwest Montana.

6 Comments

Joel and Eric's Mom

about 12 years ago

Joel, I have to wonder if we don't want to live in the power of Christ's resurrection and ascension because we are too comfortable with our Christian life the way it is. We don't want the discomfort- the stretching- of what God may expect of us if we give our all and live in that power of His resurrection and acsension. We may be asked to challenge our culture, to be perculiar, and to stand apart from others. We may be asked to give up our affluent lifestyle to follow HIm. We like what we have and have become too friendly with the world. We want what the world has to offer while at the same time are thankful for salvation- that fire insurence we have- and the escape from Hell. I shudder to think what the Judge will say to us when we stand before His throne to be judged for our works and whatwe did for Him while we had our time on earth. Are we too much like Samson, who as a Nazirite, was asked to challenge the Philistine culture, yet fell under its lure and failed to do God's purpose for his life. He was not affective as God's chosen one for his time. Israel suffered because of it. We as the church is ineffective because it too is attracted by the lure of the world.

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april

about 12 years ago

Amen brother! I must admit, the concept of election and assurance of salvation are very new to me. Now that I reside in Baptist country, I am flooded with that theology - and all too often it comes across exactly as you have described. I taught this past Sunday on Romans 5:1-11...and through the various commentaries I have looked at, I am beginning to understand the concept of assurance...but I also see the hope we are to have in the glory of God and in the grace in which we now stand. The wording of the passage implies that we must strive, just as you have said - not because we can achieve or earn our status as children of God, but out of love and gratitude towards Christ. We truly do become changed people (Eph 4). But I am curious about this passage in Hebrews...Im gonna have to take a deeper look.

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Puffy

about 12 years ago

"what shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? God Forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein?" (Puffys thought on the verse) Do we sin because we have this grace, do we just shruge our shoulders and say, well it happened. ARE WE CRAZY, How can we even think that thought. Verse 4 goes on to say "even so we also should walk in the newness of life." NEWNESS OF LIFE, thats what we as christians are to be in.

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Joel

about 12 years ago

Good thoughts across the board, Mom, April and Puff. I think many church going people absolutely don't want to give up the comforts of the world, as Mom indicated. We kinda touched on that last night at church. We are to abide in the Vine that is Christ, but we often abide in the world. Therefore, we bear the fruit of this world. Abiding in the world is especially easy in America, where culture can essentially be our God since it can provide for our needs across the board. April: I'm glad you have the opportunity to teach on scripture because we often learn so much and are built up by the Lord when we offer our time and thoughts to others. Puff: Bring it, baby! Newness of life. Awesome scripture. We are new creations. The Greek of that means we are literally new species. We don't just believe differently than the world. We ARE different than the world. We are aliens.

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Mandi

about 12 years ago

I've been reading a lot of Jeremiah lately...check out 8:4-11 in The Message. It made me wince over a lot of the choices I've been settling with lately.

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