Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Esau, who despised the birthright and could not find repentance

The next clear example of a Biblical character who displayed a defective form of repentance is Esau. Esau, like Cain, sought to repent of only a consequence of his sin. therefore, though he sought relief feom that consequence earnestly, he is said to have found no opportunity to repent. The writer to the Hebrews says:

14 Follow after peace with all men, and the sanctification without which no man will see the Lord, 15 looking carefully lest there be any man who falls short of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you, and many be defiled by it; 16 lest there be any sexually immoral person, or profane person, like Esau, who sold his birthright for one meal. 17 For you know that even when he afterward desired to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no place for a change of mind (metanoias) though he sought it diligently with tears.
Hebrews 12:14-17 (WEB)

This passage affirms six things about Esau, which will each be discussed in turn: 1) he fell short of the grace of God; 2) he exhibited a "root of bitterness" that caused trouble and defiled; 3) he was sexually immoral; 4) he was profane; 5) he sold his birthright for one meal; 5) he later desired his father's blessing, but was rejected; and 6) he found no place for repentance concerning the blessing, though he sought it with tears. First, Esau fell short of the grace of God. Esau, as firstborn, had the right to the birthright of his father Isaac. This birthright included not only leadership of the family after his father's death and a preferred share of the inheritance, but also, on the spiritual plane, the right to the promises God had made to Abraham and Isaac. God's promises to Abram, before He even renamed him Abraham, started with this promise, made when he told Abram to leave his own land for a land God would show him:

Leave your country, and your relatives, and your father’s house, and go to the land that I will show you. 2 I will make of you a great nation. I will bless you and make your name great. You will be a blessing. 3 I will bless those who bless you, and I will curse him who treats you with contempt. All the families of the earth will be blessed through you.
Genesis 12:1-3

Some time later,God promises to make Abram's offspring as numerous as the dust and to give them all the land he can see and walk through. (Gen. 13:14-16). God later promised to be Abram's shield and very great reward. (Genesis 15:2.) God also repeated his promise of offspring grater then the stars and the sand (Genesis 15:4-5), and that they would be placed in possession of the land in which Abram lived as a wanderer (Genesis 15:6), as soon as the sin of the Amorites who then lived there was full. (Genesis 15:16). Note God's word to Abram about the sin of the Amorites--it is important to the story of Esau, as will be explained later.

Although Abram tried to fulfill God's promise in his own wisdom and strength--agreeing with his wife Sarai that he should have the son God promised through Sarai's servant Hagar--Hagar's son Ishmael was not to be the inheritor of the promises. Instead, thirteen years later, after first repeating to Abram (now renamed Abraham) the promise that he would be a father of nations and that his offspring would inherit the land, God promises to give Sarai--who he renames Sarah--a son. (Genesis 17:3-6, 15-16). He peomises that sarah will be a mother of nations, and that kings will come out of her, just as he had previously promised Abraham. (Genesis 17:16). God established His covenant with Abraham through the as-yet-unborn son of his wife Sarah, to give the children of this son of the promise everlasting possession of the land and to be their God. (Gen. 17:3-8) He told him to name his son Isaac, and promised "I will establish my covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his descendants after him." (Genesis 17:19).

Much later, God commanded Abraham to offer Isaac as a sacrifice to Him. After Abraham demonstrated his faith in God and in the resurrection by showing himself willing to obey God, even in this, God repeated his previous promises:

15 Yahweh’s angel called to Abraham a second time out of the sky, 16 and said, "I have sworn by myself, says Yahweh, because you have done this thing, and have not withheld your son, your only son, 17 that I will bless you greatly, and I will multiply your offspring greatly like the stars of the heavens, and like the sand which is on the seashore. Your offspring will possess the gate of his enemies. 18 All the nations of the earth will be blessed by your offspring, because you have obeyed my voice."
Genesis 22:15-18 (WEB).

God confirmed these same promises to Isaac (Genesis 26:2-5, 24). These promises, were, in a greater and more real sense than the property of Abraham and Isaac, the birthright of Esau. Yet Esau "despised" his birthright. He sold it to his younger brother, Jacob, for a bowl of soup when he was hungry. (Genesis 25:34). He was one of those of whom Paul warns, who are "enemies of the cross of Christ, whose end is destruction, whose god is the belly, and whose glory is in their shame, who think about earthly things." (Philippians 3:18-19). In this way, Esau was "profane," i.e., common, in his thinking, placing grater value on his own appetite than on the blessing of God. Therefore, just as Hebrews says he "fell short of the grace of God."

In falling short of the grace of God, Esau displayed a root of bitterness which caused trouble for centuries. Esau never really forgave Jacob the loss of his birthright. This was compounded when Isaac, their almost-blind father, believed himself near death, and Rebekah, their mother, counseled her favorite son, Jacob, how to steal his brother's blessing (Genesis 27:1-27), knowing that God had told her that the older son would serve the younger (Genesis 25:23). The ruse worked, and Isaac passed on to Jacob the blessing of Abraham:

“Behold, the smell of my son
is as the smell of a field which Yahweh has blessed.
28 God give you of the dew of the sky,
of the fatness of the earth,
and plenty of grain and new wine.
29 Let peoples serve you,
and nations bow down to you.
Be lord over your brothers.
Let your mother’s sons bow down to you.
Cursed be everyone who curses you.
Blessed be everyone who blesses you.”
Genesis 27:27b-29

When Esau returned with the game he had killed, expecting the blessing of his ancestors, Isaac told him that Jacob had stolen his birthright. Esau then noted, correctly, that Jacob, whose name meant "supplanter," had "supplanted" him two times, first by taking his birthright, then by taking his blessing. Genesis 27:37. Esau then asked his father if he has only one belessing, and he wept. Esau, as Hebrews says, sought the blessing earnestly with tears. But he did not repent of the flippant attitude he had taken toward his birthright. He merely repented, and mourned, the consequences of that attitude--the loss of both the birthright and the blessing. After Esau wept for a blessing, the best prophetic blessing Isaac could give him was:

“Behold, of the fatness of the earth will be your dwelling,
and of the dew of the sky from above.
40 By your sword will you live, and you will serve your brother.
It will happen, when you will break loose,
that you shall shake his yoke from off your neck.”
Genesis 27:39b-40.

It is here in the story that the root of bitterness clearly starts to defile many--the whole family of Esau (the later Edomites). Esau consoled himself the loss of his birthright and blessing by telling himself that his father would soon be dead, and he would then be free to kill his thieving little brother! As will be seen in a few paragraphs, this root of bitterness carried over into the whole relationship between the Children of Israel (Jacob) and the Edomites.

But at this point Jacob is saved by another of Esau's vices--his immorality. Esau had married two Hittite wives his parents couldn't tolerate. Remember what was said earlier about the immorality of the people of the land--which included the Hittites--not being "full" yet? It was, at least, not full enough yet for God to be ready to drive them out of the land in judgment. But it was full enough that they "grieved" Isaac and Rebekah's "spirits. (Genesis 26:34). To add further injury, when Esau saw that his parents did not like his Hittite wives, he added to them one of the daughters of his uncle Ishmael. (Genesis 28:9). The problem was not the number of Esau's wives--his blessed brother Jacob ultimately had four wives. Rather, it was the immorality of the communities from which Esau drew his wives. Esau's immoral taste in wives gave his mother and excuse to ask his father to send Jacob away--back to Haran where her family was. (Genesis 28:1-5). Thus, when Isaac died, Jacob was miles away with uncle Laban, where Esau couldn't kill him.

It is interesting to note that, although Esau personally years later displayed a degree of forgiveness and even love for his brother(Genesis 33:4-16), the same was not true of his descendants, the Edomites. Though Esau himself at least partially overcame his root of bitterness later in life, it defiled his entire family for the rest of their history. When Israel, the descendants of Jacob, left Egypt and wandered through the wilderness for 40 years, when God was ready to bring them to their own homeland, He brought them first to the border of Edom. They requested only safe passage through the land of their "brothers" the Edomites--as God had commanded them not to take anything that belonged to Edom--but Edom denied them passage. (Numbers 20:14-21). So Israel went the long way, around Edom, in the desert.

Edom’s hatred of Israel did not end in the desert, as Israel was leaving Egypt, but literally continued “throughout all generations,” as long as Edom continued to exist. Just as Jacob had predicted when he blessed his sons, after Israel entered their possession, Edom came under their control--at least for a time--from the days of King David until the days of King Joram. In Joram’s time, Edom successfully revolted against Judah, and remained enemies of Judah from that time on. (1 Kings 8:20-22). The result was no ordinary political rivalry. It was a pure ethnic hatred, driven by hurt pride and a sense of old injury. It was a cherished anger--a root of bitterness--of which the Edomites refused to let go. Amos, one of the earliest of the writing prophets, explains that the Philistines of Gaza took whole communities of Hebrews captive and sold them as slaves to Edom--and for this Gaza and the Philistines were to be punished. (Amos 1:6-8). God then decrees even greater punishment on Edom:

For three transgressions of Edom, yes, for four,
I will not turn away its punishment;
because he pursued his brother with the sword,
and cast off all pity,
and his anger raged continually,
and he kept his wrath forever;
12 but I will send a fire on Teman,
and it will devour the palaces of Bozrah.
Amos 1:11-12 (WEB).

Enmity with Israel was also a point of national pride in Edom. Edom believed itself safe in its mountain fortresses, safe from anything Israel or Israel’s God could do to them. It will be noted that Edom’s national pride in its own self-sufficiency arose directly from its ancestor Esau’s pride when he believed he could make it on his own, without the godly birthright of Abraham and Isaac that belonged to him. Jeremiah, Obadiah and Malachi use nearly identical words in describing Edom’s pride. Thus, Jeremiah says:

15 For, behold, I have made you small among the nations, and despised among men. 16 As for your terror, the pride of your heart has deceived you, O you who dwell in the clefts of the rock, who hold the height of the hill: though you should make your nest as high as the eagle, I will bring you down from there, says Yahweh.
Jeremiah 49:15-16 (WEB).

Obadiah’s very similar words add only that Edom thought no one could bring them down:

2 Behold,[c] I have made you small among the nations. You are greatly despised. 3 The pride of your heart has deceived you, you who dwell in the clefts of the rock, whose habitation is high, who says in his heart, ‘Who will bring me down to the ground?’ 4 Though you mount on high as the eagle, and though your nest is set among the stars, I will bring you down from there,” says Yahweh.
Obadiah 1:2-4 (WEB).

Esau’s self-confidence in lightly casting away the birthright was the inner attitude in him which God foreknew, and hated. In his posterity, it became a confidence that, even if God Himself cast them down, they would rebuild in his face. This wicked pride earned Edom the judgment of God, and the name “the Wicked Land:”

A revelation, Yahweh’s[a] word to Israel by Malachi.
2 “I have loved you,” says Yahweh.
Yet you say, “How have you loved us?”
“Wasn’t Esau Jacob’s brother?” says Yahweh, “Yet I loved Jacob; 3 but Esau I hated, and made his mountains a desolation, and gave his heritage to the jackals of the wilderness.”
4 Whereas Edom says, “We are beaten down, but we will return and build the waste places”; Yahweh of Armies says, “They shall build, but I will throw down; and men will call them ‘The Wicked Land,’ even the people against whom Yahweh shows wrath forever.”
Malachi 1:1-4 (WEB).

It hardly need be mentioned that self-reliance, the belief in our ability to make our own success in God’s face, while thumbing our noses at Him, is a part of the modern American creed.

But, in Edom’s case, its pride, and its cherished grudge against Israel (going all the way back to Jacob), had an even more severe consequence in God’s eyes. It led Edom to continually take vengeance on it brother, Israel. As Ezekiel said, “Because Edom has dealt against the house of Judah by taking vengeance, and has greatly offended, and revenged himself on them; therefore thus says the Lord Yahweh, I will stretch out my hand on Edom, and will cut off man and animal from it; and I will make it desolate…” Ezekiel 25:12-13. Summarizing the thrust of Obadiah, whenever attackers came against the children of Israel, Edom gave them help and encouragement. They “looked down on” them in the day of their disaster, and rejoiced in their destruction. They helped all attackers plunder their brother Jacob, seizing their wealth, and cutting off the escape of those who were fleeing. They did great violence to Israel. Obadiah 1:10-14. In the end, when the Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem, they gave aid and encouraged compete its destruction:

7 Remember, Yahweh, against the children of Edom,
the day of Jerusalem;
who said, “Raze it!
Raze it even to its foundation!”
8 Daughter of Babylon, doomed to destruction,
he will be happy who rewards you,
as you have served us.
Psalm 137:7-8 (WEB).

But, even beyond Old Testament times, the Edomites remained enemies and oppressors of Israel. Herod the Great, who took power in Judea, Galillee, Edom and Samaria upon the collapse of the Jewish Hasmonean dynasty, was by birth an Idumean—i.e., an Edomite. It was this Herod who had all of the young boys in the vicinity of Bethlehem killed in an attempt to kill Jesus. Matthew 2:16. It was his son, Herod Antipas, who had John the Baptist executed and played a weak and negative role in the trial of Jesus. Matthew 14:3-12; Luke 23:6-12. Another of Herod’s sons, probably Herod Agrippa I, started the persecution of the Church recorded in Acts 12 and had James, the brother of John, beheaded. The Apostle Paul was later brought for trial before this Herod’s son, Herod Agrippa II. Acts 26. Edom’s hatred of the Jews, who carried with them the promise of blessing to all the nations, asserted itself even against Jesus, the Son of God, when he came.

Such is the destructive power of self-sufficiency--that is, reliance on our own dead works--when joined with a root of bitterness that arises from taking the things of God too lightly and then "repenting" only of the consequences of doing so, all the while blaming others for those consequences. Much of the evil in the world today can be traced to bitterness cherished by self-sufficient individuals (and institutions and nations!) that do not know how to repent!

Monday, August 11, 2014

Cain, who came to God on his own terms and repented only of the personal consequences of his sin

Cain is a near perfect example of a Biblical character who relied on his own "dead works," and, hence, manifested only a defective form of repentance. Cain, it will be recalled, fell down a slippery slope of sin that started with arrogance--approaching God on his own terms. Cain obviously was on speaking terms with God prior to his sin, because, even after his sin, God spoke to him directly seeking repentance. See Genesis 4:9-10. Both Cain and his brother Abel understood they were to bring an offering to God. Abel brought an acceptable offering of fat portions from his flock, Genesis 4:4, an animal sacrifice that correctly acknowledged that Abel was unable to save himself and was awaiting God's perfect sacrifice for his sin. Cain, by contrast, brought some grain he had produced, the fruit of his own labors. Cain brought an offering to God on his own terms, one designed to remind God of his own works, not to remind Cain of his need for a savior. God accepted Abel's sacrifice, but did not accept Cain's sacrifice. Genesis 4:4-5. The writer to the Hebrews explains this difference in God's acceptance of Abel's offering and his rejection of Cain's in terms of the faith, or lack of it, shown by the two offerings:

1 Now faith is assurance of things hoped for, proof of things not seen. 2 For by this, the elders obtained testimony. 3 By faith, we understand that the universe has been framed by the word of God, so that what is seen has not been made out of things which are visible. 4 By faith, Abel offered to God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, through which he had testimony given to him that he was righteous, God testifying with respect to his gifts; and through it he, being dead, still speaks.... 6 Without faith it is impossible to be well pleasing to him, for he who comes to God must believe that he exists, and that he is a rewarder of those who seek him.
Hebrews 11:1-4, 6.

Abel believed God, and brought the sacrifice God had requested because he believed God would reward him for seeking after God. By contrast, Cain brought an offering that showed his faith in himself and his conviction that he did not need to seek God. Cain obviously believed in God, in the sense of believing in His existence. In the passage in Genesis, Cain brings a sacrifice to God, God talks to Cain, and Cain talks to God! But Cain was totally missing the second half the Hebrews 11:6 formula. He believed God, but saw no benefit in seeking God as He had prescribed. He relied upon the "dead works" of which Hebrews 6:1 speaks. His "worship" was designed to show God Cain's own self-sufficiency, and God rejected it.

So, at this point, God offers Cain his first opportunity to repent. God saw that Cain was angry that his offering hadn't been accepted (Gen. 1:5), and told him: “Why are you angry? Why has the expression of your face fallen? 7 If you do well, won’t it be lifted up? If you don’t do well, sin crouches at the door. Its desire is for you, but you are to rule over it.” (Ge,. 1:6-7)(WEB). At this point, the acts of repentance that would have accompanied salvation in Cain's life were quite simple. All he needed to do was overcome his murderous anger, take his focus off his brother, place it on God, and bring God a right sacrifice. God wanted Cain to make the same recognition of his own insufficiency and dependence on God that Abel had.

However, Cain's response was to yield to his jealous anger. If God was going to play favorites, and accept Abel but not Cain, Abel had to die! Cain, the first murderer, killed his brother. (Genesis 4:8).

Here, again, God gives Cain not one but two opportunities to repent. God first asks Cain, "Where is Abel, your brother?" Cain gives an evasive answer that manifests his total lack of concern for his brother. "I don't know. Am I my brother's keeper?" (Genesis 4:9). God, who knew exactly what Cain had done, then spoke judgment on Cain--still in an effort to induce repentance:

“What have you done? The voice of your brother’s blood cries to me from the ground. 11 Now you are cursed because of the ground, which has opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand. 12 From now on, when you till the ground, it won’t yield its strength to you. You will be a fugitive and a wanderer in the earth.”
Genesis 4:10-12 (WEB).

Although God's judgment on Cain was severe, it was clearly an attempt to induce repentance in that God let Cain live. The legal precept announced just a few chapters later in Genesis would have called for Cain's immediate execution: "Whoever sheds man’s blood, his blood will be shed by man, for God made man in his own image." (Genesis 9:6). God permitted Cain to live, though as a fugitive and wanderer. In response, Cain himself recognizes that he should die for his sin, and expresses his fear of this consequence to God: "Whoever finds me will kill me." (Genesis 4:14c). God even provides Cain a mark so that those who find him will not kill him, and promises sevenfold vengeance on anyone who kills Cain. (Genesis 4:15).

However, even after all of God's merciful attempts to bring Cain to repentance, Cain is only able to manage an expression of fear for the consequences of his act:

13 Cain said to Yahweh, “My punishment is greater than I can bear. 14 Behold, you have driven me out today from the surface of the ground. I will be hidden from your face, and I will be a fugitive and a wanderer in the earth. Whoever finds me will kill me.”
Genesis 9:13-14 (WEB).

Cain never repents of his self-sufficiency, his "dead works." He also never truly repents of the sin of murdering his brother. He only "repents" of the severe consequences his acts brought on himself.

In addition to the passages discussed above, Cain is cited as an example in two other New Testament passages. In Jude 11, in speaking of false teachers who have infiltrated the Church for their own gain, the writer says: "Woe to them! For they went in the way of Cain, and ran riotously in the error of Balaam for hire, and perished in Korah’s rebellion." From what has already been said, it can be seen that false teachers have gone "in the way of Cain" in that they have preferred their own self-sufficiency, their own "dead works," to the truth of Christ, and are willing to destroy others to maintain it.

Finally, I John 3:10-13 well summarizes the matter of Cain, and its application to our lives:

10 In this the children of God are revealed, and the children of the devil. Whoever doesn’t do righteousness is not of God, neither is he who doesn’t love his brother. 11 For this is the message which you heard from the beginning, that we should love one another; 12 unlike Cain, who was of the evil one, and killed his brother. Why did he kill him? Because his deeds were evil, and his brother’s righteous.
I John 3:10-13 (WEB).

Saturday, August 9, 2014

The repentance from dead works that accompanies salvation in Hebrews 6:1-12

This passage uses the stronger word for repentance, metanoia, twice, once in verse 1 and again in verse 6. Although this passage has a reputation for being difficult, due to its use by some as a "proof text" for the proposition that a Christian may "lose" his or her salvation as a result of sin, it is, in fact, a very simple passage when placed in its proper context. Taken as a whole, it is not a teaching about "loss of salvation," but a simple encouragement to show diligence in the matters that accompany salvation. This is summarized in verses 9 through 12:

9 But, beloved, we are persuaded of better things for you, and things that accompany salvation, even though we speak like this. 10 For God is not unrighteous, so as to forget your work and the labor of love which you showed toward his name, in that you served the saints, and still do serve them. 11 We desire that each one of you may show the same diligence to the fullness of hope even to the end, 12 that you won’t be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and perseverance inherited the promises.
Hebrews 6:9-12 (WEB).

With this goal of the passage in mind, the immediate context of the "repentance" verses actually starts at the end of chapter 5. The writer reproves some of the Hebrew believes to whom he is writing because they have remained immature in their knowledge of Christ. The writer wants to teach them the "meat" of the Word of God, but they are still babies. Hebrews 5:12-13. This has not occurred because they are new converts. Indeed, they have been in Christ long enough that, "by this time" they "ought to be teachers" (5:11), but they have refused to become "experienced" in the Word and to exercise their senses to discern good and evil.(5:11, 13). Instead, they have become dull of hearing (v.11) and need to have someone teach them the basics again--"the rudiments of the first principles of the words of God (archēs tōn logiōn tou theou)."

Therefore, in the the first two verses of the sixth chapter, the writer first urges his readers to move on from the "basics" they should have learned long ago, toward more complete knowledge. He then quite summarily reminds his readers of the doctrines that they should already know, the "beginning"(archē)--actually a singular in the Greek, as these teachings form a single unit--or "first principles" of the word of Christ. Note that the first listed teaching, the foundation of all of the others, is repentance:

1 Therefore leaving the teaching of the first principles of Christ (archēs tou christou logon), let us press on to perfection—not laying again a foundation of repentance (metanoias) from dead works, of faith toward God, 2 of the teaching of baptisms, of laying on of hands, of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment.
Hebrews 1:1-2 (WEB).

The "repentance" here called a foundation of our faith, is not, on the face of it, a mere change of emotions about our sins. It is not merely telling God that we are sorry if we have offended Him, or that we feel badly about doing wrong. It is certainly not feeling bad about the consequences. It is repentance from "dead works," which is a quite literal translation of the Greek (nekrōn ergōn). These are not merely sins--acts which lead to death--as some modern translations say. These "dead works" are relate to the whole human concept that we can earn our own way, that we can "make it" without God. As applied to the writer's audience of Hebrew believers, these "dead works" would have been the "works of the Law," the keeping of all of the Law of Moses, by which no one is ever justified (Romans 3:20). It is the way of life that proclaims that, though there is a God, I can live my own life, independent of Him, and by my own works, make myself good enough to meet His standards. This attitude is also seen in many modern people, some of whom call themselves Christians, who merely modify the standards God prescribes to suit their own (or their religious subculture's) tastes. Thus, many who recognize that there is a God, and have some respect for Jesus, will gladly tell an inquirer that they believe they are "good enough" because they vaguely treat other people well and try to be a "good person." So, for them, being a "good person" substitutes for the laws of the Pentateuch as "enough" to meet God's approval while living their own lives, never seeking Him. And there is an almost infinite variety of religious observances in between keeping the whole Law of Moses and merely trying to be a "good person" in which people in our world put their faith. These are "dead works." The foundation of the first principles of Christ is repentance from these "dead works," from the whole life pattern of trying to earn our own way, in favor of faith in God. Faith in God must be substituted for faith in ourselves.

As this post concerns the concept of "repentance" in this passage, I will not here attempt to interpret the other four teachings that are said to be included in the "first principles of Christ"--that is, teachings about baptisms, laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. Instead, I will merely note in passing that, because historically so much of what passes as Christian teaching (and even as "official" Christian teaching) has denied the first two foundations, the other four often come to us in sadly distorted forms as well. Remember that the first sin--that of Adam and Eve--was precisely "dead works." Ultimately, Eve was successfully tempted with the promise of independence from God. The serpent told her "God knows that in the day you eat it, your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil." (Genesis 3:5). Eve herself then saw that the forbidden fruit was "to be desired to make one wise." (Genesis 3:6). So she ate it, gave it to Adam, and he ate, too. After they ate, and realized they were naked, our first parents' first act was a "dead work," the beginning of human religion: they promptly made coverings to hide their nakedness, then hid themselves from God. (Genesis 3:7). They obviously thought, if God couldn't see their nakedness, he wouldn't see their sin, either. The futility of that way of thinking, at least in the case of Adam and Eve, is well known--God was aware of their sin, as proved by their consciousness of their own nakedness, and He proceeded to tell them the consequences of it--discord, painful labor for both of them, and, ultimately, death. (Genesis 3:16-19). These are always the consequences of abandoning God, the source of life, to go our own way. Nevertheless, large segments of "Christendom" have for centuries received baptisms and laying on of hands as if they were meritorious works that can make us "good enough" for God, even while going our own way (which was never their intended function). The resurrection of the dead and our fate in eternal judgment is then made to depend on these dead works. This is a perversion of the truth.

This line of thought, then, naturally leads into the next few verses of the Hebrews passage. There are those who have tasted the goodness and power of God, and have even shown a defective form of repentance, but who still cling to the good things of God as "dead works" and ultimately become hardened to the reality of God's grace. Notice first what is said in verse 4 of this passage about these people's experience with God. They were "once enlightened," God showed them Himself and his way, but they didn't follow the light they were given. They "tasted of" the heavenly gift, but did not eat it and make it fully their own. They were "made partakers" of the Holy Spirit, knowing His conviction of sin, righteousness and judgment (John 16:8-11) and "tasted" the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, but did not make these things the central, controlling part of their lives. They dabbled in Christianity, without ever getting the "point" of it, and then fell away--because they pursued Christianity merely as a means of "fixing" their old lives ("dead works") and failed to show diligence in the matters that accompany salvation, if salvation is real.

So, this passage is a warning that the same kind of hardening of the heart that happens in the world, according to Romans 1:18-31, can also happen among people associated with the Church who claim Christianity but refuse the truth at the center of it--i.e., that God doesn't want to "fix" my life, He wants to give me His life. Recall that in Romans 1, the course of decline into depravity starts with God revealing Himself to all people, but people in general reject God because they want to live their own life without Him, to do their own thing. So they invent gods who will, if appeased with offerings and service, generally let them do their own thing. This darkens the perception of their hearts toward the true God, who, in turn, lets go of them and gives them over to all of the depravity their sinful hearts can invent--literally, all of the evils of the modern world--and their hearts become hardened toward the God they have rejected. Hebrews 6:4-7 is a warning that the same kind of process can occur among people who call themselves Christians.

The Bible, both Old Testament and New, is full of examples of people in which this process has occurred. The next nine posts in this series will discuss some of these examples in detail: Cain, Esau, the Pharaoh who opposed Moses, Balaam, King Saul, King Zedekiah, Judas Iscariot, Ananias and Sapphira, and Simon the Sorcerer in Samaria. What all of these had in common, as will be seen in the more detailed posts to follow, is some knowledge of God, a decision to approach God on their own terms which led to an outward sin, and defective "repentance" that left them in their "dead works" rather than in the "better things" that accompany salvation. For these, who have gone their own way into a defective "repentance" that seeks merely to "fix" their life and be relieved of consequences rather than to accept God's life, the warning of Hebrews 6:4-8 is obviously true:

4 For concerning those who were once enlightened and tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Spirit, 5 and tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the age to come, 6 and then fell away, it is impossible to renew them again to repentance (metanoian); seeing they crucify the Son of God for themselves again, and put him to open shame. 7 For the land which has drunk the rain that comes often on it, and produces a crop suitable for them for whose sake it is also tilled, receives blessing from God; 8 but if it bears thorns and thistles, it is rejected and near being cursed, whose end is to be burned.
Hebrews 6:4-8 (WEB)

There comes a point at which God, after repeatedly offering a person a relationship on his terms--i.e., we must accept His life--will cease to accept defective repentance and allow that person to become hardened. There comes a point at which a decision must be made. If, at that point, one decides to "fall away" from the relationship God offers--the Greek word here, parapiptō, has the sense of abandoning, disavowing or disassociating from a former relationship--God will honor that person's choice. At that point, it becomes impossible to "renew" to repentance someone who has repeatedly refused true repentance and relationship with God on His terms. Therefore, it is vitally important to truly repent from "dead works" and show diligence in the things that accompany salvation.

The examples to be discussed in the next nine posts will clarify this.