Determined to Believe: Chapter 19 - Warning in Hebrews

This is a book study on John Lennox’s book ‘Determined to Believe: The Sovereignty of God, Freedom, Faith, and Human Responsibility’. Lennox openly acknowledges that he has not provided definite solutions to these deep questions of the faith and that there is mystery involved. He clearly acknowledges that God is sovereign, but that we need to think carefully about what the word ‘sovereign’ means Biblically. This book, per my understanding, is an invitation for Christians to spend time thinking deeply about what the Bible means when it describes God as sovereign.

Greetings fellow bookies (@Interested_in_book_studies) - we are now on Chapter 19! I look forward to hearing your favorite quotes and your reflections on this subject matter.

My main takeaways were:

  • Lennox believes that these passages in Hebrews cannot be describing Christians because all Christians mess up and God does not kick us out every time we mess up - we have a high priest interceding for us
  • God does not threaten us with loss of salvation

Questions for Discussion

  1. Do these passages in Hebrews discuss true believers falling away or unbelievers with high exposure to truth rejecting Christ? How come?
  2. If believers can fall away, what do you think that looks like? Is it just one sin or is it a turning of the back on God?

Critique - Straw Man + False Dilemma

In this chapter I believe Lennox has misrepresented the position that Christians can lose their salvation. I hold this position and know others who do and I would never say that God threatens us with loss of salvation or that a believer loses their salvation every time they sin. I would agree those are both not Biblical. His stories about preachers who used this position to threaten others are - to me - an emotional argument from experience that does not take into account the breadth of views that exist.

Lennox also presents a false dilemma, a choice between this straw man view of the position or the position that believers cannot lose their salvation. However, there are more nuanced positions.

For example, I believe that while a believer is not kicked out of God’s family every time they mess up, that it is possible for a believer to choose to turn their back on God. I think it is rare and sad and terrible and tragic, but I think it can happen.

I think the reason it is impossible to renew them to repentance is because they have rejected the witness of the Holy Spirit, so there is no longer any means by which they can come to the truth. Like those who blaspheme the Holy Spirit, they have chosen to reject God Himself. Hebrews says they were sanctified by the blood of the covenant - to me that is quite a clear indicator of salvation. I understand Lennox’s basic line of argument and respect his position, but I think there is plenty of textual space for the alternative position.

Hebrews 10:29 - How much more severely do you think someone deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified them, and who has insulted the Spirit of grace?

Some Additional Thoughts

Quotes

On this basis the passage has been used by some pastors and ministers to keep Christians in order, by warning and sometimes even threatening them with loss of eternal life.

Their argument is that, if you teach believers that they can be sure of salvation, this will lead to carelessness of lifestyle.

This cannot be the correct interpretation, for the simple reason that all believers experience rough patches, spiritual low points, worldliness, giving in to temptation,

They cannot be the people described in Hebrews 6 since, I repeat, whoever these people are, it is impossible to renew them to repentance.

We conclude that enlightenment, though a necessary pre-requisite for salvation, is not sufficient for salvation.

The sad reality is that seeing evidence for the deity of Christ, being enlightened, and even experiencing the power of God’s Holy Spirit in one’s own body, is still not the same as salvation. The letter to the Hebrews has yet more to

very specific sin that concerns a person of Jewish background who has received the knowledge of the truth, perhaps made a profession of Christianity, but has then repudiated the deity of Christ with the implication that his blood is common, and his sacrifice and covenant therefore meaningless.

Sadly I have personally heard austere preachers tell a congregation that, even if believers serve the Lord faithfully for a lifetime, and then at the end trip up and fall even once, they might well forfeit their salvation.

These preachers told me that this was the only way to keep people on their toes – threaten them with loss of salvation.

But God is not like that. Hebrews warns of the danger of not being genuine, but it does not threaten genuine believers with loss of salvation.

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Hi @SeanO, did we miss a chapter, and this chapter is the ‘Warning in Hebrews’, not the ‘Assurance in Hebrews’ chapter 20? :slight_smile:
The previous chapter (18; will faith in God endure?) talks about the difference between Peter - who denied the Lord three times, and Judas who wasn’t a genuine believer. Lennox suggests in chapter 18, there is no third group (those that lose salvation), and that the P in Tulip is a biblical doctrine; but there is a warning there as well about those who place their assurance of salvation in the wrong places.

I hope the reader will by now appreciate that Judas was fully responsible for his behaviour and simultaneously fulfilled a role as a “vessel of wrath” within the overall purpose of God.

To sum up so far: Jesus prayed for and kept the apostles, including Peter, twenty centuries ago. He also explicitly prayed for us: My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message… (John 17:20). Millions of people through the ages have come to faith in Christ through the apostles’ message. We can be as sure of Christ’s keeping prayer and intercession as they were. Assurance lies in trusting what Jesus promises – relying on his word.

There are, however, people who rely on false sources of assurance – as Jesus himself warned:

Not everyone who says to me, “Lord, Lord,” will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?” Then I will tell them plainly, “I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!” (Matthew 7:21–23.)

Human beings will trust anything except God and his word. They will even trust their God-given abilities and gifts rather than trusting in God. There are some people who place their assurance of salvation in their possession of what they call “supernatural gifts” like speaking in tongues, or prophesying, or driving out demons. Here our Lord speaks of such people that claim to have done mighty things in the name of Christ and yet are unbelievers. We note that Christ will reject them, not as people he once knew and now knows no longer, but as people he never knew. They also had no root.
They never were genuine believers.

This all provides us with further evidence for what we noted earlier, that there are only two groups of people:
1.​genuine believers who prove their genuineness;
2.​people who never were believers.

And as we said before, there is no third group consisting of people who once were genuine believers but have lost their salvation.

Jesus similarly warned his own disciples about the danger of misplaced confidence. On one occasion, described by Luke, our Lord sent seventy-two of his disciples out to teach and preach in the villages:

The seventy-two returned with joy and said, “Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name"
He replied, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you. However, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” (Luke 10:17–20.)

Their mission had met with apparent success and was accompanied by demonstrations of supernatural power – deliverance from demon possession in Jesus’ name. They were delighted with what had happened. Yet Jesus saw that there was an underlying danger of them placing their confidence in the success of their mission. “Don’t rejoice in that,” he said. That is, don’t put your confidence in it. The source of your confidence is knowledge of the fact that your names are written in heaven. And how were they to know that? Simply on the authority of Jesus’ word.

Paul had occasion to write the same thing to encourage his fellow workers at Philippi by reminding them that their names were in the book of life (Philippians 4:3). Eternal life involves a relationship. Our Lord himself defined it: Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent. (John 17:3.) And all relationships involve trust. Faith in Christ is the key, and that is why God has made such wonderful provision for its maintenance.

Lennox, John C. Determined to Believe: The Sovereignty of God, Freedom, Faith and Human (p. 338). Lion Hudson. Kindle Edition.

In my view, Salvation (and eternal life / eternal security), Justification (the legal requirements of the law of sin being fulfilled and our unrighteousness is replaced with Christ’s righteousness), Atonement (Christ taking our place on the cross), and Adoption into God’s family, all happen at that moment in time where we bow the knee to Christ and humbly ask Him to come into our lives (by Faith). All four are God’s work, the only part that is us is the Faith part of it. At the point in time of this completed transaction (Ephesians 2:8-9), the Holy Spirit comes to live within us, and the process of Sanctification starts as we become more like Jesus; and the promise is there in Philippians 1:6, that what God has started He will complete…

To me, to suggest that salvation can be lost somehow implies I have any power over the steps that God does (atonement,salvation,justification,adoption)…?. It depends on the quality of my faith continuing to believe - and perhaps introduces doubt if I have to rely on a certain level of faith to be saved? I don’t think I really understand the position of loss of salvation either. To me, eternal life by definition is eternal.

Maybe it’s a matter of when people believe the ‘salvation’ takes place at a period of time - after death?

In the Hebrews passage, I think the word ‘enlightenment’ refers to the witness of the Holy Spirit, showing who Jesus is. These people haven’t been saved yet, but now are at that decision point to accept or reject.

As Lennox points out,;

Let us take the first term: enlightened. Does it amount to salvation? John speaks of the Word as the true light which enlightens everyone (see John 1:9). Nowhere does Scripture teach that everyone will be saved – indeed, the contrary is the case. Hence it turns out that to be enlightened is not the same as to be saved. Enlightenment is certainly necessary for salvation, but it is not sufficient. Some people when they are enlightened go on to repent and trust Christ, whereas others sadly are enlightened but then, perfectly aware of what they are doing, decide to close their eyes against the light and reject salvation.

If believers who sinned in various ways, let the Lord down, compromised their faith, could not be renewed to repentance, the work of Christ as high priest would cease to have any real meaning or effect. We know that this is simply not true.

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@matthew.western Fixed the chapter title :slight_smile: You may be right on this one. To me, there is tension in the Biblical text. Being sanctified by the blood of the covenant - I don’t understand how that can be anything other than genuine salvation. But I also understand the strength of the texts that ensure God will finish what He has started. I personally see a tension in the text here and I do not think it is easy to resolve.

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I agree totally; it’s like there is this tension between free-will / sovereignty of God… All of the various translations refer to a ‘who’ (a person) who is sanctified by the blood in Hebrews 10:29. How can one be sanctified by blood if that’s not part of the atonement part of salvation… :thinking:

This page here makes a bit of a controversial suggestion; that it was the blood that sanctified the covenant itself. It has a whole lot of greek discussion so it’s a bit beyond me.

I think it’s good to read the warning that’s clearly there, and at the very least, remember how precious that the blood of Jesus is (also there is the warning in 1 Corinthians 15 about not taking the Lords Table/Communion unthinkingly as well)…

I suppose logically; God honors our choices and never forces Himself upon us, we are responding to Him in faith. It would in theory be possible to accept then reject salvation - I just can’t see why someone would want do this. It would be like a man on death row accepting a presidential pardon and then changing his mind?

it’s good to think about these things as it encourages us to go and read more about it and especially get back into the Bible more; as always thanks for leading the discussions. :slight_smile:

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@matthew.western Always a pleasure to discuss difficult topics with thoughtful people :slight_smile: I agree it would indeed be very sad and tragic for someone to turn away from Christ once having known Him. I think Peter’s warning in 2 Peter highlights the depth of this tragedy, though some have argued that the if at the beginning of the warning indicates even Peter was not sure if they were really saved to begin with…

2 Peter 2:20-22 - If they have escaped the corruption of the world by knowing our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and are again entangled in it and are overcome, they are worse off at the end than they were at the beginning. 21 It would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than to have known it and then to turn their backs on the sacred command that was passed on to them. 22 Of them the proverbs are true: “A dog returns to its vomit,” and, “A sow that is washed returns to her wallowing in the mud.”

It looks like both the NET Bible and the thread you linked confirm that it was the individual who was sanctified by the blood - if you read the comments in response to the original question.

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Another thought that crosses my mind is Adam and Eve were created perfect, with a free will and chose to rebel against God. As a result we all are born with a sin nature.

In heaven - the eternal state - do you think it would be possible to opt out of heaven with our free will ? Or will we have a different kind of free will and existence in the new heaven and new earth? It says that God will wipe away every tear; perhaps Adam and Eve (who would have presumably lived forever if they did not sin) - even though they walked with God in the cool of the day - did not see God in Eden as fully as we will see him in heaven?

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@matthew.western No, I do not think it will be possible for someone in Heaven to choose to reject God even though I do believe their will is free. While I do not follow John Lennox’s argument from the idea that a true believer has a root all the way to the conclusion that a true believer cannot fall away, I do agree that the root analogy is helpful. As a root grows deep and a tree grows strong - it goes from being an easily uprooted sapling to a tree that can withstand storms. As our roots grow deep into Jesus, we ourselves change. We become like Christ. In Heaven, we will be like Christ.

My suspicion is that a person who fell away from Christ would not be a person with deep roots - they would be someone who had come into the Kingdom, but when they recognized the cost to their own being that would result from the change taking place within them, they turned back. They had not grown into the maturity that delights in righteousness.

I also agree with Lennox that sometimes we are weak and we require Christ’s intercession on our behalf - like Peter. But I do not think Christ’s intercession overrules our will. I think that it enables us, though we have but a mustard seed of faith, to be transformed by the power of the Spirit and restored. It strengthens us in our weakness and aids us in our doubt. But it does not force us.

As the believer is transformed, I do think there is a point where it would be nearly impossible for them to turn back. Perhaps at some point even impossible because of what they have become in Christ. But that is beyond my ability to know.

1 John 3:2 - Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.

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Thank you.

We have a man in our church, with three teenagers in our youth group, who believes salvation can be lost. His greatest concern is that his children do not lose their salvation due to turning away from God. I also have a teenager in this youth group.

The youth group leader, a younger man studying at bible college, was astounded that the other guy believed you could lose your salvation. He comes from a Pentecostal background, and at one point believed he did not sin because he was a Christian. The youth group leader had a long conversation with me afterwards and I reassured him that salvation couldn’t be lost - the viewpoint seemed to worry him a great deal (as you mentioned in one of your linked posts above).

I share this because I think sometimes it really freaks people out when they learn of a new area of doctrinal possibility. Sometimes it’s hard to know how much to discuss differences with Christians and how much to affirm beliefs and reassure them from scripture. I find this for myself also that I need to consider alternative positions in small amounts ; and I’m naturally a very skeptical person… perhaps this is just part of the growth process of life.

None of these discussions are purely theoretical, and we all have people in mind we care about when we talk about them…

Anyway - Thanks again… I appreciate your balance of challenging and affirming as needed. :smile:

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@matthew.western You know, that is very insightful :slight_smile: The journey to a more nuanced view of a particular doctrine can actually be painful because doctrines do impact our lives. I think the hardest part of this journey for me occurred in college when I had to admit my view of how God guides us, which was very emotionally oriented, was simply wrong. It felt kind of like losing a friend. It was a very hard few years. But when I surrendered my incorrect view, I was able to grow closer to the real God. If someone had approached me and just flat out told me I was wrong, I might not have listened at the time - I was so attached to my view (quite literally - I had an emotional connection). I still experience God emotionally, but my view is now more nuanced.

I think this problem can be made even worse when a Pastor or other influential person, with the best of intentions, makes it sound like you must belief doctrine X or else - of course referring to doctrines that are not at the core of our faith in this instance. Letting go of that doctrine or adding nuance then feels even harder than it already is…

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Hi, I probably should keep my ignorance to myself - I am new to RZIM Connect and, prior to this, I hadn’t got round to reading Lennox’ book apart from the introductory chapters. However, this topic has interested me for some time and accordingly, I just read chapter 19. The position I have reached is this: our conversion is a matter of our free choice and God’s drawing us. I don’t think we see the truth about God unless God reveals it to us, and yet we are conscious of making a choice. In the same way, it seems that our perseverance involves both God’s protection (Jn 10) and our desire to continue. Why else do we encourage people to spend time with God each day? I don’t see how those two aspects of our salvation and perseverance fit together logically but both seem true of experience. It reminds me of CS Lewis’ “The Great Divorce” where people in hell have the option of going to Heaven, but most reject the offer.

In summary, it seems to me that whatever the theoretical position, the practical response is to urge people (including ourselves) to “keep on keeping on” in their Christian walk.

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@chuckle Thanks so much for sharing :slight_smile: I think it is helpful to remember that even if we do not understand the how, the Biblical what is often very clear.

@chuckle

Thanks for those thoughts. I was in the middle of a post yesterday and got mobbed by workload so I didn’t have time to finish. But the gist of what I was going to say had the same conclusion… The theoretical position at one level should have no bearing on what we practically do. The biblical command is to “work out our salvation” and “make every effort to confirm your calling and election” and “press on to the goal”… none of these in context is taken as earning our salvation, but merely what we are to do in view of God’s mercy and grace.

So whether we can or cannot lose our salvation, the command is the same… live in the light and turn away from the darkness.

Personally I hold to the view that we cannot lose our salvation, but don’t at all think that this should be used as an excuse to rest on our laurels. Quite the opposite… because of the wonderful and incredible mercy of God we should ‘make every effort’ to cling to that mercy, while at the same time knowing that it is by the work of God’s Spirit that we are there in the first place.

Alternately, if you hold to the position that there is a possibility that salvation could be lost, you still hold to the position to ‘make every effort’.

Anyway… another busy day… just my two cents.

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Am I missing something here? Unless I am in the wrong chapter I don’t see Lennox advocating for the possibility of the lost of salvation. It’s my understanding that his position is predicated on the parable of the soils. This from chapter 18 but he carries this forward into 19.

  1. genuine believers who prove their genuineness;
  2. people who never were believers.

Add to this his view of “irreversible” regeneration and it sounds a lot like CalArmanism to me.

On the subject of using fear as a motivator to keep the flock in line is a bit of a stretch. What I mean by that is I don’t believe that any Pastor worth his salt would assume the role of under shepherd with an eye toward terrorizing the flock. I can see where fear can be used to give one pause to consider “life” versus “death” but not as a motivator to remain faithful to a faithful God.
Hope this doesn’t sound off topic.

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@Jimmy_Sellers I think you misread my statement brother - or perhaps I did not communicate clearly enough :slight_smile: What I am saying is that Lennox misrepresented a position that he does not hold. In my reading of this chapter, Lennox seems to suggest a one dimensional view of those who believe salvation can be lost rather than offering the full nuance of that position. I recognize Lennox does not hold that position - I simply think he misrepresents those who do.

I certainly agree manipulation should not be used by those in leadership - that is an abuse of power.

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