All Christians have their favorite Bible verses. We have these memorized and hold them dear to our hearts. Perhaps it is because the scripture gives us assurance, confidence, and hope. Perhaps it is because that scripture challenges us to change or inspires us to greatness. It could be a verse that helped us through a difficult time or was a family favorite growing up. Now, what is your most troublesome verse? A verse that contains a message that causes fear in your heart for some reason. Perhaps it is a promise of judgment, an expectation from God, or a command you have trouble obeying.
Hebrews 6:4-6 is one of those scriptures for me. The writer says, “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.” These verses are sobering because they are a reminder to me, someone who has tasted of salvation and shared in its blessings. They are troubling because I have seen it played out too many times in the lives of Christians I have loved dearly. They are scary because they use words of hopelessness and despair. The Hebrew writer actually uses the word impossible, something that is not done often in the scriptures.
Hosea faced a similar problem with the nation of Israel. He wrote in a time where God’s people were spiritually unfaithful to Lord and God used the pictures of harlotry and adultery to describe their state. Hosea said, “I know Ephraim, and Israel is not hidden from me; for now, O Ephraim, you have played the whore; Israel is defiled. Their deeds do not permit them to return to their God. For the spirit of whoredom is within them, and they know not the Lord” (Hosea 5:3-4). These people had wandered so far they were unable to repent. But why? Hosea said their deeds were keeping them from repentance. They filled their lives with ungodly ways and ideals which stood between them and a return to God. Their worldly ways built a wall that eventually became insurmountable. Sin, and the mindset that goes with sinful living, does not just separate us from God, but it keeps us from returning to Him. We deceive ourselves when we think we can always go back later, after we’ve enjoyed wallowing in the world. It does not always work that way.
No one enjoys thinking about failure. We certainly don’t plan on failing, especially when it comes to our walk with God. However, these scriptures remind us that when we find ourselves wandering from God the decisions we make in that moment is crucial. They can take us so far from God we will not come back or they will pave a way for return. Rarely, if ever, does a Christian depart from God without feeling themselves drifting first. It is not an overnight process. Along the way there are feelings of guilt, desires to be different, and decisions that hurt the conscience. There are also signs of movement such as a diminished frequency in praying, a lack of interest in worship, the absence of joy, distancing ourselves from our brethren, and an avoidance of Bible study. All of these are warning signs, waking us up to pay attention to our dangerous situation.
So what do we do in these moments to help pave a path for return? Instead of having deeds that prevent us from returning to God, there are deeds that permit us to return to God.
We can maintain our relationships with faithful and spiritual brethren. When we start to wander we tend to distances ourselves from godly people because their acts of service, righteousness, and zeal fill us with guilt. There is something powerful about being surrounded by faithful people. That’s why we are told not to forsake the assembling of ourselves together. As Joel called God’s people to repentance he said, “Consecrate a fast; call a solemn assembly. Gather the elders and all the inhabitants of the land” (Joel 1:14)
We can continue to do what is right even if our heart is not completely in it. This is not “fake it until you make it” because you do have the desire for things to be different. Your heart is not totally out of it. If we stop doing right just because our heart is distant, when our heart would return, it would not find a place to return to. Galatians 6:7-9 reminds us to not grow weary in doing good because we will reap if we do not lose heart.
We can refuse to simply give in and give up to sin in our life. As we grow discouraged and disappointed we may quit fighting. The problem is that every sin makes the wall thicker and higher. Instead, Hebrews challenges us to remember the former days in which we were enlightened (Hebrews 10:32). Remember the struggle against sin? When we stop the fight, the possibility of return to God grows bleak
We can limit the influence that worldly influences have in our life. Paul said, “Do not be deceived, bad company ruins good morals” (I Cor. 15:33). We lie to ourselves when we say worldly relationships will not affect us. If we have to guard when we are strong spiritually, how much more so in times of weakness? We cannot expect voices of those who are wandering from God themselves to do anything but pull us further away from Him.
We can focus on what we know instead of what we feel. We have to make sure our faith controls our emotions instead of our emotions controlling our faith. When we get emotional we jump to conclusions, improperly assign blame, and make rash and irrational decisions. It may be that we think God will not forgive us or others will not forgive us. In moments like these God reminds us to act by what we know instead of what we feel (James 1:3, 19).
We can recognize God throughout the day every day. In Romans 1 Paul talked about how the Gentiles did not like to retain God in their knowledge. Why? Because such knowledge condemned the way they lived. Instead we are admonished to live “looking unto Jesus” (Hebrews 12:2). We are told to be grateful for what we are receiving (Hebrews 12:28). Whether by speaking of His name, thinking about His nature, or speaking words of thankfulness and praise, we must keep God before us each day.
Let us not be caught off guard. The graveyard of this world is littered with the souls of men and women who never thought they would wander from God. May we live with the daily alertness and purposeful decision making that leads us to greater spirituality and faithfulness.