Falling Away

I confess to being inordinately entertained by discussions about eternal security and loss of salvation. The spectrum spans the ridiculous extremes of “even God can’t reject you” to “you forgot where you left it”. To be fair, those extremes won’t make sense to most people, and even those I consider to hold one of them would disagree with my assessment of their position.

I fall into the odd “middle ground” of believing we can reject our Savior after having experienced Him, but that it’s not simple or easy. On the other hand, my position on salvation is that it’s not quick or even linear. I find that I’m alone in these positions, I can articulate them, but I can rarely inspire acceptance in others.

Hebrews seems to wrestle with the view of apostasy in several places, and this passage below is one of them:

Now Moses was faithful in all His house as a servant, for a testimony of those things which were to be spoken later; but Christ was faithful as a Son over His house—whose house we are, if we hold fast our confidence and the boast of our hope firm until the end.

Hebrews 3:5,6 NASB

Verse 6 has a condition, “…if we hold fast…” that leaves open the possibility that we won’t hold fast. In other words, we might not hold fast, we might…whatever the alternative might be, instead. The example the writer of Hebrews uses is the people of Israel as they wandered in the desert. He quotes Psalm 95 (in the Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures, it’s Psalm 94), where the psalmist calls on the people to avoid the rebellion of their fathers. This psalm, and its use here, introduces a very interesting, and an intriguing element to the discussion of loss of salvation, or what it means to be “saved” in the first place.

For instance, were the rebellious people in the wilderness, those who had seen the work of Yahweh to deliver them from Egypt, those who had heard and ratified the covenant of Yahweh before His mountain, were these, at any time, no longer the people of Yahweh? They were denied entrance into the land of Canaan, and they died in the wilderness along the way. By not entering, were they rejected by God as His people? I don’t think so. You will need to process that for yourself, but my belief is that they remained His people, even in the midst of their rebellion.

So, is the writer of Hebrews referring to the loss of salvation? Actually he seems to be, even though he uses these people to make his point. The way he uses them to make his point is to refer to “entering My rest”, a reference from Psalm 95:11 (or Psalm 94:11 in the LXX). This reference is unpacked further in chapter 4, but the writer here points to the sin of unbelief as what kept them from entering the rest of Yahweh, their Redeemer. The quote he uses is, once again, from the Greek version of the Hebrew Scriptures:

“Today if you hear His voice,
DO not harden your hearts as when they provoked ME,
AS in the day of trial in the wilderness,
Where your fathers tried Me by testing Me,
And saw MY works for forty years.
“Therefore I was angry with this generation,
And said, ‘They always go astray in their heart,
And they did not know MY ways’;
AS I swore in MY wrath,
‘They shall not enter MY rest.’”

Hebrews 3:7b-11 (NASB) – See also Psalm 95:7b-11

Keep in mind that the psalmist could be pointing out that his audience has entered this rest, but that it’s not likely. The context of the psalm makes more sense as a warning to his audience implying that they have yet to enter this rest, and that rebellious disobedience will keep them from it (see the entirety of Psalm 95). Psalm 95 is a call to worship Yahweh, but ends with this warning not to repeat the mistakes in the wilderness, and one element cannot be truly separated from the other in understanding it.

So, for us, there remains a rest as well. The writer of Hebrews will unpack this more in chapter 4, but he leaves the warning hanging as a possibility as he calls his audience not to repeat the rebellious sin of their fathers in the wilderness. So, does this mean that we, once having started on the path of our Savior and Master, Jesus, can wander off the path, and fail to reach the promise in which we hope?

The writer points out that those who fell were those who followed Moses out of Egypt. The implication is that leaving Egypt didn’t guarantee reaching the rest. The psalmist could be implying that just being in the temple, singing this psalm, didn’t guarantee reaching the rest as well. The implication for us could then be understood to mean that just being a disciple of Jesus doesn’t guarantee that we will enter the rest. The sin of rebellion could keep us from it.

Hopefully, as it was supposed to do for the initial audience of Hebrews, it will “sober us up” so that we take this life with our Master very seriously. We are disciples of Jesus, not just “Christians” in an association of those who go to a worship service regularly. We are to pattern our lives after His pattern. We are, as Paul puts it in several letters, to die that He might live in us. Jesus claims that those who wish to save their lives will lose them, and those who lose their lives will gain them (Matthew 10:39, 16:25, Mark 8:35, Luke 9:34, 17:33). Jesus wants our lives, not our attention. He doesn’t want us to do enough to warrant His favor, He grants us the favor of losing all of ourselves to Him.

Let us all heed the warning of the psalmist and the writer of Hebrews, and not succumb to danger of the sin of rebellion.

Confusing Clarification

I am well aware that many of my attempts at clarity tend toward obfuscation. Sometimes, it’s even intentional. Therefore, I suppose this blog really isn’t designed for a massive readership, and I’m fortunate and blessed when anyone reads this stuff.

In my defense, such as it is, or is required (which I don’t think it is), I deal with Scriptures that often are confusing without being obviously confusing. So, my obfuscation actually clarifies the problem before I lamely attempt to clarify. It’s like so many that believe they must, and actually attempt to, “get people lost before they can be saved.” I always thought that was an insane approach to sharing the good news of Jesus, but I’m learning to appreciate it.

I realized that I’ve been confusing to clarify just this morning, although I wouldn’t have disagreed had someone brought it to my attention. I was working on a Greek passage in Hebrews that was difficult for me, but it wasn’t the vocabulary that was difficult. The different grammatical parts were unexpected, and difficult for me to conceptualize in English. So, there weren’t any difficult words to explain, only difficult grammatical constructions.

When we read a translation of Scripture, we’re getting the grammatical sort of confusion clarified for us. It’s only when we read a passage in multiple translations that we get some sense of the difficulty, and then, only when the translators disagree on how to translate the grammatical elements. So, it’s not always easy for us to spot confusing passages when the vocabulary used is familiar.

So, enough with my self-defense of obfuscating Scripture (or making clear the obfuscation already there). Here’s an example:

and might free those who through fear of death were subject to slavery all their lives.

Hebrews 2:15 NASB

That seems simple enough, and most translations sound very similar. But here’s how I translated it:

and liberate these, as many as were caught by fear of death through slavery of every living thing.

my own translation

That’s a big difference, especially “every living thing” instead of “all their lives”. And, to be clear, I’m wrong. The problem I faced was that the grammatical construction in Greek was unfamiliar to me. The construction is composed of a preposition (through), a pronoun (all), the definite article (the), and an infinitive (to live), all in that order. For translators for hundreds of years, that means “all their life”. For me, I’m missing stuff like “them” or “their” in the construction. In fact, I think I completely missed the noun this phrase modifies. All the life of whom? Well, all translations seem to agree that the phrase modifies “those…subject to slavery” (see any other translation, even King James). I opted to modify “slavery”. Yeah, no.

So, I suppose my point is not simply that I’m wrong a lot, or that Greek isn’t easy (It’s Greek to me! You were thinking it). My point is that sometimes what seems merely odd is actually more peculiar than you imagine. And then, sometimes what seems clear actually isn’t. I consider part of my calling and gifting to perceive the ironies of our life with our Creator. I’m still working out how to communicate what I discover to others. Whether others care or not depends partly on my ability to communicate, and partly on who’s reading.

So, I’ll spend some time improving my understanding of Greek grammar. And I hope to be back with another entry, clarifying the obscure. Please forgive me if I obscure the clear on the path to clarifying. Irony is like that, sometimes, ironically.

Into The Trinity

It is with some sense of fear and hesitancy that this entry is written. The nature of our Creator is revealed through the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures as “Trinitarian”. How can we speak of One so complex and powerful, Creator of the vast unseen universe of matter, from super-galactic to sub-atomic? In order to accommodate our limited ability to reason and sense, He reveals Himself as Trinitarian in nature. It’s probably woefully incomplete and simplistic, but it suits His purpose.

God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world. And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power. When He had made purification of sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high,

Hebrews 1:1-3 NASB

The writer of the letter to the Hebrews has the daunting task of describing our relationship with a single Divine Substance revealed in three Persons. And so we are left with dizzying references to an “exact representation of His nature” (Hebrews 1:3), and then the “Author of Salvation” being subjected to suffering (Hebrews 2:10) by Someone. How is it possible for the Divine Substance to suffer punishment without some outside entity subjecting Him to such suffering? It’s an impossible task the writer has undertaken.

But we do see Him who was made for a little while lower than the angels, namely, Jesus, because of the suffering of death crowned with glory and honor, so that by the grace of God He might taste death for everyone. For it was fitting for Him, for whom are all things, and through whom are all things, in bringing many sons to glory, to perfect the author of their salvation through sufferings. For both He who sanctifies and those who are sanctified are all from one Father; for which reason He is not ashamed to call them brethren,

Hebrews 2:9-11 NASB

In Hebrews, chapter 1, Jesus is the exact representation of the substance of the Creator. He is superior to any created thing, including angels. And He is, Himself, Creator. Then, in chapter 2, the writer turns to the topic of how this exact representation of God’s substance is also Savior. As He is described as the Agent of Creation, He now becomes the Agent of Salvation. The precisely indistinguishable Persons of Father and Son are described as the One subjecting, and the One suffering.

Paul had the same struggle. How do you describe the Divine Substance as becoming something else without “emptying” (Philippians 2:7)? The struggle for the writer of Hebrews is to answer the questions: 1) How can this Divine Substance then be both Father and Son unless He is multiple Persons? And, 2) How are these multiple Persons One? And yet, Jesus is an exact duplicate of God (Hebrews 1:3). So, Jesus is both a Brother to His human creatures (2:11), and their Creator (1:2), being both simultaneously.

If you are honest, you may find yourself in the same place Nicodemus found himself while speaking with Jesus, asking “How can these things be?” How can they be? Simply put, they simply are; how is irrelevant, immaterial, and a futile search. The Creator of the universe is necessarily complex and powerful. Why would we expect Him to somehow fit neatly into our limited view? A Divine Substance with three Persons is a fair representation of One of whom we have no hope of understanding fully.

And so, like the writer of Hebrews, we too struggle on to grapple with explaining how we can have a relationship with such a One. Perhaps, like Andrew, our response should be to the questioning Nathaniel’s of the world, “Come and see.” We can’t explain it, we live it. And invite others to experience the reality of Him for themselves.

Scripture quotations taken from the NASB. Copyright by The Lockman Foundation