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.