Passing the Point of No Return


How many here have experienced a devastating betrayal from a friend, a spouse, or a family member?

I suspect if you have spent more than a couple decades on this earth it has happened to you…and that by me causing you to think about it you immediately recalled a taste of the same pain you felt when it originally happened.

Betrayal from someone close is traumatizing. Not only can it permanently destroy your relationship with that person; it can impact your relationships with everyone else. To quote the title of a song by Ian Hunter (that I probably most know due to a version by Great White)…

Once bitten twice shy…

[ These are quick sermon notes…not cleaned-up…and missing the "extras" that come out in the audio (which is available here). All quotes are from the English Standard Version unless otherwise noted. ]

If you have been betrayed by one individual you allowed into your heart, why would you allow another individual to enter that fragile location?

Why is it so devastating?

Have you ever wondered why betrayal by a friend, a spouse, or a family member is so devastating?

I do not have a degree in psychology…I didn’t even have to take a course in it in college…luckily :-)…but I will posit that the reason it can be so overwhelming is because it’s such indisputable proof that the relationship you thought you had with the person is not the relationship you actually have with the person.

You thought you had a bond of trust…of love…of caring.

And sure, they may still love and care for you…but not as wholeheartedly as you believed they did…and “betrayal” and “trust” can never work together.

What it proves about them…

But, you may be the forgiving type…and may be able to work past the treachery. However, if someone has spent that many years with you…acting as your confidant…sharing your joys…sharing your tears…

What does it say about them when it comes to your relationship?

If they have all that experience…that foundation for the way should be between you and them…and then they are disloyal to you…

Then even you forgive them…couldn’t it be that they can never “return”? A friend that can never truly be your close friend…a spouse that cannot be “one flesh” in the marriage anymore…a family member that cannot be more than just someone connected by blood?

No longer a real friend…no longer a spouse…no longer true family?

Could it be that they have so damaged themselves…that they have so completely decided against your relationship…

That they, not you, cannot return?

That they have gone past the point of no return?

Unforgivable Sin

Now, with that in mind, let’s turn to a Scripture that…although a bit of a tangent given what were studying…caused quite a bit of discussion this past Wednesday during Bible study. Let’s take a look at Hebrews 6:1-6:

Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, 2 and of instruction about washings, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. 3 And this we will do if God permits. 4 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, 5 and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, 6 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.

I’ve preached on those words before…and they are no less disconcerting this time than they are ever time I see them. On the surface they seem to say that I…and you…can think we are going to make it to heaven, but might fall away. And…worse…if we do…then there are no second chances for us…

We cannot be restored!

We have committed the “unforgivable sin” as discussed in Matthew 12:31-32:

1 Therefore I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven people, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. 32 And whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come.

Now, Christians have long debated whether the passage is Hebrews is talking about believers who were once saved then falling away…and I’ll admit, the natural reading does seem to say that.

These are people who:

  • Have been enlightened
  • Have tasted the heavenly gift
  • Have shared in the Holy Spirit
  • Have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come

Sounds like a fellow Christian doesn’t it?

And perhaps the hardest one of those to discount is sharing in the Holy Spirit. As a whole we see that as a gift after true conversion, repentance, and baptism…so if someone has shared in the Holy Spirit…they must be saved, correct?

A little story about Peter…

Let’s deal with that question specifically with a little story about Peter.

Everyone knows he Peter was, correct?

He was one of the first Apostles Jesus chose…one of Christ’s inner circle…Catholics would even argue He was the first Pope.

Of course, they would be wrong. 🙂

But, he definitely was close to Jesus…a committed follower…someone who would die for our Lord.

Or so he claimed.

However, Jesus knew Peter’s heart, and said something very telling to him:

31 “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, 32 but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers” (Luke 22:31-32).

Elsewhere Jesus tells Peter that he will deny him…betray him…

A prediction all four Gospel writers capture (Matthew 26:34; Mark 14:30; Luke 22:34; John 13:38).

And…as we know Peter does…

74 Then he began to invoke a curse on himself and to swear, “I do not know the man.” And immediately the rooster crowed. 75 And Peter remembered the saying of Jesus, “Before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times.” And he went out and wept bitterly (Matthew 26:74-75).

Or as Mark captures:

72 And immediately the rooster crowed a second time. And Peter remembered how Jesus had said to him, “Before the rooster crows twice, you will deny me three times.” And he broke down and wept (Mark 14:72).

Now, I’m pretty sure at the point of betraying Jesus, Peter had…

  • Been enlightened
  • Tasted the heavenly gift
  • Tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come

But he even “[invoked] a curse on himself” and swore he didn’t know Jesus.

Way to go Peter. Mr. Dependable.

But what about sharing in the Holy Spirit? This would be before Pentecost, so maybe that is why what we read in Hebrews doesn’t apply to this disloyal Apostle.

Let’s turn back to before what we read about blaspheming the Holy Spirit. In the section that came from, we also find these words:

25 Knowing their thoughts, he said to them, “Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and no city or house divided against itself will stand. 26 And if Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then will his kingdom stand? 27 And if I cast out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore they will be your judges. 28 But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you (Matthew 12:25-28).

Now…did Jesus cast out demons by Beelzebul?

Of course not…which means that Jesus instead cast them out by “the Spirit of God.”

But…of course Jesus had the Holy Spirit with Him! He was the Son of God…part of the Trinity!

Let’s turn to Mark 3:14-16 to see something very interesting…something else that was before Pentecost.

14 And he appointed twelve (whom he also named apostles) so that they might be with him and he might send them out to preach 15 and have authority to cast out demons. 16 He appointed the twelve: Simon (to whom he gave the name Peter);

  • How are demons cast out? [By the Spirit of God…the Holy Spirit]
  • Was Peter an Apostle…one of the twelve? [Yes]
  • Could the Apostles cast out demons? [Yes]
  • Could they do so without, at some level, sharing in the Holy Spirit. [No.]

Now, I suppose someone might say, “Alan, Jesus was talking about what the Apostles were going to do after He ascended, not before.”

To which Alan would reply :-)…if that is so…then how could the 72 who Jesus sent ahead of Him while he was here on earth have come back with this report:

17 The seventy-two returned with joy, saying, “Lord, even the demons are subject to us in your name!” (Luke 10:17)

Peter does appear to have shared in the Holy Spirit…yet we know for a fact that what we read in Hebrews does not apply to Him…even while predicting Peter’s betrayal Jesus also foretold Peter would return.

Those have been very comforting words to me for a long time…

But that’s not all…

It may seem that I spent a lot of time talking about Peter…but I wanted to make it clear that the natural reading of Hebrews 6:1-6 doesn’t necessarily jive with the very well-documented case of a disloyal Apostle…one who not only did turn back, but…if tradition is correct…and we have every reason to believe it is…

Went on to die for his Lord.

But, I’ve got a few other reasons for you…fellow Christian…to not think those words in Hebrews apply to you. Let’s go through them quickly.

1) He is the God of second chances…

First, if you go through all 66 you’ll see that God is a God of second chances…actually third…fouth…and…well…many more chances than we deserve. Perhaps John’s words in 1 John 1:9 say it best:

9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

Christian…if you blow it…and you confess your sings…

He is faithful and just to forgive you your sins. Our God is a forgiving God of second chances.

2) Once you are God’s hand He will not let you go…

Second, once God’s got a hold on you He will not let you go. John…this time in John 10:27-30…is also responsible for documenting this:

27 My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. 28 I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. 29 My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. 30 I and the Father are one.”

  • You heard Jesus’ voice.
  • You followed Him.
  • He gave you eternal life; you will never perish.
  • No one will snatch you out of Jesus’ hand.
  • No one will snatch you out of the Father’s hand.

Not to mention, you were chosen before the foundation of the world (see Ephesians 1:4) and your name was written in the book of life from the foundation of the world (see Revelation 17:8). God doesn’t make mistakes…and…once He chose you…

35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? 36 As it is written,

“For your sake we are being killed all the day long;

we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”

37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:35-39).

God’s got a hold of you, and He will not let you go.

Those who fall away were never one of us…

My final argument for the “surety of salvation” is…of all things…thanks to the Apostle John again. Let’s turn to 1 John 2:18-20:

18 Children, it is the last hour, and as you have heard that antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come. Therefore we know that it is the last hour. 19 They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us. 20 But you have been anointed by the Holy One, and you all have knowledge.

My final argument…well, in this sermon at least…for why your salvation is sure is because…

Those who fall away were never one of us. If anything, “they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us.”

So, what does that section in Hebrews mean?

If you are a Christian hopefully you are feeling a bit more comfortable because:

  • We have an example with Peter of a believer who really blew it but remained within the fold.
  • Our God is a forgiving God of second chances.
  • God’s got a hold of you, and He will not let you go.
  • Those who fall away were never one of us.

So, how should we read Hebrews 6:1-6?

First, read it recognizing that…especially compared to some of the other scriptures we viewed…it is somewhat unclear. Interestingly enough, even the author of Hebrews a few verses later says:

Though we speak in this way, yet in your case, beloved, we feel sure of better things—things that belong to salvation (Hebrews 6:9).

The writer of Hebrews took the time to say, “Hey, just in case, we don’t think these words apply to you.” Instead…they seem more in sync with John’s words about people who never were truly part of the fold.

So…when you read this difficult part of Hebrews…I would recommend you follow one of my rules of hermeneutics — go with the clear over the unclear. Peter, who clearly blew it, was clearly forgiven. John clearly says if you repent you’ll be forgiven. Jesus clearly says once God has a hold of you He won’t let you go. John also clearly says if someone falls away they weren’t ever one of us.

Returning to where we began…

And when you read Hebrews 6:1-6 I want you to think about how I started this sermon. God is a forgiving God of second chances…but if an unbeliever:

  • Has been enlightened
  • Has tasted the heavenly gift
  • Has shared in the Holy Spirit (and I can show the Holy Spirit works on all hearts)
  • Has tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come

And “they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt”…then all the forgiveness in the world can’t change the fact they have likely made a permanent choice against our Lord. A wronged spouse cannot reconcile with a disloyal spouse if the disloyal one has no interest in reconciliation…cannot reconcile if the disloyal spouse has been damaged beyond repair:

4 Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons, 2 through the insincerity of liars whose consciences are seared (1 Timothy 4:1-2).

Their God given consciences have been seared and cannot be fixed…

You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit. As your fathers did, so do you (Acts 7:51).

As their fathers did before them, they always reject the Holy Spirit…

It seems to me that the unforgivable sin…blaspheming the Holy Spirit…is likely the point at which you have rejected Him so much that there is no hope of bringing you into the body of Christ.

You have gone past the point of no return.

Final words from Jude…

Well, we have heard from John, we have heard from Paul, we have heard from the writer of Hebrews…and we’ve heard from Jesus. Let’s wrap this sermon up with some words from Jude…the very way he wraps up his short book:

24 Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, 25 to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.

Jesus “is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy”…

And that is joyous news!

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Alan is an ordinary guy, living in a small, high plains Colorado town...and humbled to be a minister of God...

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