BACKSLIDER, CARNAL OR APOSTATE?
Q: “I have been studying Hebrews 6:4-6 where it talks about falling away after experiencing the glory of the next world. This concerns me because I once walked away from my Christian life 18 years ago. I feel in my heart that I’m forgiven, but I have to admit I don’t feel His presence and hand upon my life as I did years ago. I was wondering if you could help me with this dilemma.”
A: People have different takes on this verse. Some render it to a mere theological debate about such matters as “once saved, always saved.” However, I don’t look at it in the same way. In my life I have encountered three types of people who might find themselves at odds with their beliefs and the Lord.
The first one is the backslider. I realize there are those who believe that believers cannot slide back into the pigpen of the world and resort to former practices, but the truth is I have met what I call “backsliders.” They have had some religious experience or encounter with Christ, but in their present state they live in guilt and shame and they struggle with depressing realities. They are encased by the lie that they have gone too far away from God to ever find their way back. These people have not only slid backwards into their ways because of Satan’s lies, but they are falling through cracks of despair while being swallowed by hopelessness.
There are various reasons why some people backslide: sins they can’t seem to overcome, immaturity in their Christian life, unanswered questions, or overwhelming circumstances, but the lies of Satan is what keeps pushing them further and further into their hopelessness; however, there is hope for them but they have to quit looking at where they are and turn around and look up. Jeremiah 3:14 states, “Turn, O backsliding children, saith the LORD; for I am married unto you and I will take you one of a city, and two of a family and I will bring you to Zion.”
The next Christian who will occasionally find self at odds with the Lord is the carnal Christian. The carnal Christian understands the milk of the Word (doctrine) but is incapable of eating the meat of the Word (1 Corinthians 3:1:-3; Hebrews 6:12-14). They may have right doctrine, but have not become a true disciple of Jesus and can still be prone to submitting to worldly ways and attitudes because they have a tendency to rely on their worldly knowledge to come to terms with spiritual matters. Such carnality shows that the person is not yet mature enough to discern between good motives and wrong attitudes and intentions.
When tested, carnal Christians can end up making wrong choices out of misdirected zeal, disillusionment because things are not going their way, unresolved issues that appear God has turned a deaf ear to, and anger because rebellion raises its head in the form of pride and rights since it appears that Christianity is not really working out for them.
Carnal Christians end up taking detours that will thrust them into a spiritual wilderness, where in due time much of the old is discarded as they find themselves going around the same “old mountain,” while visiting the same old terrain until they get it right. Most Christians take detours because we all start out in our Christian life with selfish agendas and worldly ideas intact. When we give way to the foolishness of such things we become a prodigal child going our own way, ultimately ending up tasting the bitterness of both worlds: a lean spirit and an empty soul (Luke 15:11-24).
For the prodigal, he or she has to remember that the Father is waiting to restore him and her, to once again sit at His table; but, to be restored requires repentance (turn around), humility (come back home), and confession (of sin). It is important to note the prodigal was willing to be a servant in His father’s house. When we take a spiritual detour in our life, we must not expect everything to be restored to us right away. We must be patient in proving our faithfulness with small things until we can be entrusted with greater things. God does not take away our gifts, but He will bring a type of discipline to us during our wilderness experience that will ensure we never take them for granted, squander them again, and assume they will be awaiting us when we come back home.
The final group is the apostate. Apostasy is a “falling away” from the truth. If you notice this is what Hebrews 6 is making reference to—those who fall away. These individuals who fall away from the truth do so because they are rejecting who God is in their heart, denying His truths as being so, and leveling false judgment and accusations against God in their mind. Such judgments and accusations are a form of blasphemy and will cause a person to become reprobate in their mind (Romans 1:28-32). Such people may have an intellectual understanding of salvation, and may even have said the sinner’s prayer and attended church, but are void of a heart revelation of salvation (Romans 10:9-10).
In a sense, the writer of Hebrews is posing the thought that how can one who has truly tasted the glory of the next world fall away from what he or she knows in the heart is truth. I believe if one is truly saved, there might be times of human failures and times of rebellion, but their convicted heart will always pull them back toward the Lord with cords of love.