And you yourselves, who were strangers to God, and, in fact, through the evil things you had done, his spiritual enemies, he has now reconciled through the death of his body on the cross, so that he might welcome you to his presence clean and pure, without blame or reproach. This reconciliation assumes, of course, that you maintain a firm position in the faith, and do not allow yourselves to be shifted away from the hope of the Gospel, which you have heard, and which, indeed, the whole world is now having an opportunity of hearing. Colossians 1:21-23 (PHILLIPS)
In two lengthy sentences Paul navigates the breadth and width of man’s eternal possibilities. On the one hand he presents the joy of a repentant believer being reconciled to God by the grace of the cross, standing before God, welcomed as a clean and blameless child. In the next breath he shows a conditional alternative – faith being discarded, apostasy, a former-believer denied any hope the Gospel holds.
Wow; talk about going from “hero” to “zero” in a heartbeat!
There are two simple camps of thought on how it can be that a person places trust in Christ and is saved at some point in life, only to lose that position later.
Camp #1 – It cannot happen! God will keep you (even against your will). He will take you to the woodshed and straighten you out, but you’re His no matter what.
Camp #2 – It DOES happen! You intentionally walk away, and God lets you do that.
There is a third camp…and it really isn’t a camp, it’s the road between the two camps. A lot of people are on that road, somewhere between believing apostasy can eventually lead you to an eternity in Hell, and hoping it just ain’t so.
I know this road well; I spent most of my life on it. And I don’t recommend sitting on that theological fence. Frankly it is a road I’d rather avoid, even more than Wendover Avenue and I-40 in Greensboro during rush hour.
Camp #1 (it can’t happen) is kind of comfortable – you simply wall yourself in, like a brick fortress, refusing to entertain the notion that God would ever cancel your ticket to heaven. Any evidence to the contrary (like Paul’s letter to the Colossian church) is warded off with phrases we have learned, eternal security of the believer….once saved always saved….no one can pluck them out of my hand.
But the problem with the comfort of an “impenetrable” fortress of the mind is it can lead to lazy discipleship. Once something is so settled it never requires attention, there is a danger to never giving it attention. In short, in your certainty that you’ve got it “right” you can become ungrateful, and that works against a worshipful heart.
Camp #2 (it can…and DOES happen) is less comfortable; it’s something of a rocky road that won’t put up with a petulant child – the parent being God who warns, and then follows through with cancelling the birthday party.
It’s hard to believe God would actually do that. However, there are far too many examples of God’s disciplinary justice to ignore – particularly with His children. As just one example among many in Scripture, In Numbers 16 we read about when a group of the children of Israel (led by Korah and family) rebelled against Moses in the wilderness, nearly 15,000 people died at God’s judgment. These were people who were God’s chosen; yet they were swallowed alive by the ground for their disobedience.
Apostasy is more than a possibility; it is at the apex of dangers for Christians who begin to decelerate in their discipleship and wane in their walk with Jesus.
What are the signs of coming apostasy in the life of a believer? Worship and Bible Study begin to become humdrum, then becomes irregular, and then non-existent. Reluctance to serve becomes the norm. Giving may drop from tithing to tipping, and finally spent on “necessities” like a new car or boat. These are outward signs.
Inwardly what accompanies these signs are rationalizations which are the result of shutting out the truth that as loving as God may be, and as free as the grace is that saved you, God is still a God of justice and won’t tolerate sin in the people He loves most…followers of Jesus Christ.
There is a long list of people that will not be in heaven (see Revelation 21:8 & 22:15).
Be careful then, dear brothers and sisters. Make sure that your own hearts are not evil and unbelieving, turning you away from the living God. Hebrews 3:12 (NLT)