The Point of No Return
During World War Two, allied planes left the security of home bases in England and they went on bombing missions into German territory. Now the trip crossed the English Channel and much of enemy held ground before targets could be reached. One of the features of these raids was the idea of the point of no return. The point of no return was that place on their trip where they could go no further because their fuel gauges registered half empty. Sometimes the planes had to evade enemy fire. Sometimes the bad weather caused them to use more fuel before they reached their target area. But when they were at half empty they were at the point of no return. If they didn't turn back then they only had two options:
- They crashed on their way back.
- They had to land in enemy territory and hope for the best.
I tell you this story because I believe that the Christian life is a long trip through enemy territory. And sometimes we also reach a spiritual point of no return. This is what the Hebrew writer is explaining in Hebrews 6:4-6. In this passage, the writer describes how a Christian can begin with a full tank, if you wish, but if not careful can pass the point of no return and end up crashing and burning in a spiritual sense.
Beginning the trip
Christians begin with a full tank. And that's what the Hebrew writer is talking about in chapter 6. Let's go back to verse 4 and 5. Note the gifts and the joys. That's the full tank that a person enjoys when they become Christians, when they just take off.
Enlightenment is a knowledge of the truth. As Paul writes in II Timothy 1:8-10 he says,
Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord or of me His prisoner, but join with me in suffering for the gospel according to the power of God, who has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works but according to His own purpose and grace which was granted us in Christ Jesus for all eternity, but now has been revealed by the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel,
There is the enlightenment part. We have a knowledge of the truth. Paul says that the gospel makes known the truth about life and resurrection through the Gospel that's the truth. What's it all about? Well that's what it's all about. That there is life after death through Jesus Christ. A Christian not only knows that there is eternal life, he knows how to obtain eternal life. There is the enlightenment, there is the opening of the eyes and so when we begin as Christians we start with this knowledge.
Then he talks about the heavenly gift that we receive. The experience of forgiveness from sin and the joy that comes from this knowledge. There is the heavenly gift. In Romans 6:23 again Paul says that we begin to experience eternal life not when we go to heaven, we start experiencing it now. I mean what else do you call freedom from guilt?
The knowledge that we're right before God, the hope that we have of eternal life. That's the beginning of the experience of eternal life. I don't belong to this world. I don't have to worry about this world. I am guaranteed to live in the next world. There is the heavenly gift.
Partakers of the Holy Spirit
The indwelling of the Holy Spirit in Acts 2:38, Luke writes that the Holy Spirit dwells within the Christian and throughout the New Testament God describes the blessings that possessing the Holy Spirit brings to us. For example,
- He helps us overcome sin and He helps us in our prayer life (Romans 8).
- He produces in us love and joy and peace and patience (Galatians 5).
- He resurrects us from the dead (Romans 8).
We partake in the Holy Spirit, He lives within us. We partake of a dynamic spiritual life because there is a dynamic godly spirit living with our spirit in our life, something that doesn't happen in the life of other people. And then he says and have tasted the good word of God. Christians have experienced the power of God's Word to build them up to encourage us. Isn't that what Paul says in II Timothy 3:16? The inspired word of God does what? It teaches us. It corrects us. It reproves us. It trains us in righteousness. We've tasted that. We can see what our life is like now after having been influenced forth by the word for a month for a year for a decade. We've tasted that.
He also said, "and have experienced the powers of the age to come." Here the Greek word for power is 'dunamis' which means both physical and moral power. Apostles and some disciples in those days had experienced physical powers to heal, to prophesied, to speak in different languages miraculously but all Christians have experienced the heightened moral power to overcome sin and to serve in faith.
We serve a God we cannot see. We give up our lives for a kingdom that we cannot touch. And how does that happen? Because God powers us to do these things through faith. Through the Apostles and the Word all Christians have witnessed the power of Christ here on Earth. The author says that these things are only a preview of the powers that will be experienced in the next world. We don't see those powers yet but we get an idea of them through the Christian experience.
It's obvious that the author here is talking about people who are Christians not just people who are interested in Christianity. When someone who experiences the power of the Spirit and the powers of the age to come, someone that has all of those feelings is not just some curiosity about Christianity, he's talking about people who are Christians. Who else could say that they are enlightened? Who else can say they have experienced the word? Who else could say that they have tasted the Holy Spirit and the empowerment of God? Could a non-Christian say such a thing. Of course not. He's talking about Christians Christians with a full tank but then sometimes those Christians with a full tank they take a wrong direction in their flight.
And in chapter 6:6a, he says,
and then have fallen away,
He begins by describing someone who has a full spiritual tank but for some reason has begun to go in the wrong direction. He describes the action as falling away. Another way to say it is to fall to the side. He's not describing a single act or a single sin but a position or a direction that the person has taken a course a new course in flight language they would say he is off course. And that off course has been set somehow.
In a plane, a malfunction or poor maps will send the plane the wrong way. In Christian life, there are a variety of reasons why a person will begin to stray or will begin to change directions. For example, somehow perhaps the joy and peace with God experienced through forgiveness is replaced by the allure and the excitement of sin are things in the world. Once they lived by and shared the gospel now they become embarrassed by it. And they're embarrassed by religious things. They don't want people to know that they're religious. Instead of following the direction of the Holy Spirit the heart begins to harden itself against prayer or study of the Bible in any form. And fellowship with the saints is replaced with fellowship with nonbelievers and sinners. You know when the only time we see Christians is in the church, yeah, we need a course correction.
The shift in direction is confirmed when we don't share our faith anymore and we stop inviting people to church. When we begin to enjoy sin without guilt actually begin to defend it or rationalize it. "Not so bad. Only one." And we no longer pray outside of church or perhaps a big meal. It's like if we're just having a sandwich and chips I'm not going to pray for that, we have to pray for something that's been cooked.
These are some of the reasons why people change directions. There are many who lose their way. If we doubt this, look around and count the number of people that you know who used to be faithful and who are not here today. Now what happens? The writer says verse 6b,
it is impossible to renew them again to repentance.
The author explains that there is a point of no return. That's how he says it. The point of no return. Like the World War II bomber that can keep flying but will not make it back safely if he goes beyond the certain limit, the author here is saying that there is a spiritual point of no return from which it becomes (and he says it, not me) "impossible to renew them again to repentance."
To me that's like the harshest words in the New Testament. I always want to hope. I think I'm a positive kind of person. I always want a good ending. But here he says impossible and you can search the Greek and you can parse it any way you want. It means impossible.
Note a few things about this verse. The people that he's talking about in this verse are still alive. And the word impossible is absolute it's final. And when this point is passed he says the word has no longer any effect on you or me. So why does this happen? He answers it. Let's just stay in the text. He says, "and then have fallen away. It is impossible to renew them again to repentance." Why this happened, why is it impossible? Watch he says, "since they again crucified to themselves the Son of God and put him to open shame." To pass the spiritual point of no return is a frightening concept. And in the next section the author explains why this is so. Why the point of no return is final. He says that the new lifestyle that I described before does a couple of things one the sin of the unfaithfulness repeats itself again and again. And it also repeats the crucifixion of Jesus in a spiritual way. The verb is used here is an ongoing one where the actual crucifixion is an ongoing situation. In other words, a person rejects the resurrection and puts Jesus back on the cross and leaves Him there. You go to the cross to get the forgiveness you say thank you. You walk away and then you take Jesus and put Him back on the cross and then you walk away. And not only does it leave Jesus on the cross but by going back to the world a person rejects the new life that they had and the resurrection that they experienced in the waters of baptism. By doing so they returned to the scene of the cross and this time they joined the unbelievers who insulted and humiliated the Lord who was hung on the cross for their sins.
You wonder, "why is it final?" Because that's what's happening. Never mind you swear, never mind you commit adultery, never mind your stealing money, you cheat, you dishonor, never mind that. To put Christ back up there and then to switch sides and join the unbelievers who mock. How hard does your heart have to be to do that? Outsiders and disbelievers they often speak against Jesus and make jokes, they curse, they use His name in every which way possible but so what, they're ignorant. Jesus even prayed for their forgiveness. But when former disciples who ate at His table used their previous intimacy with Him to bring shame on Him, how much worse is that? And then he talks about the final results.
7 For ground the drinks the rain which often falls on it and brings forth vegetation useful to those for whose sake it is also tilled, receives a blessing from God; 8 but if it yields thorns and thistles, it is worthless and close to being cursed, and ends up being burned.
Hard hard words. The writer gives an example from agriculture to explain what happens to a person such as this. The ground that produces useful vegetables for its owner is blessed, it's cared for, it's nourished, it's protected. Ground, however, that is planted and watered but produces useless weeds is destroyed. Today we use chemicals. The point he makes is of course directed towards Christians who stay on course and those who stray beyond the point of no return. The ones who make it, who are faithful, are blessed. They're given more of the blessings originally mentioned. In other words, they come home safely. And those who get beyond the point of no return they crash and burn and are destroyed.
The idea of a point of no return is a very real one in each person's life. If you don't think so, just read the papers and see how people can kill and cheat without remorse or shame. How can people have hearts that are so hard? We think of the wars going on in the Middle East, we think of the leader of Syria who who drops barrel bombs with nails and ball bearings on to hospitals onto schools. These are his own people. They're his own blood his own tribe. And then he stands before the reporters with a smile. That's how hard people can get. That's how wicked people can become.
If you don't think it's real in the church, think of those you knew who once were faithful. Who once stood here. Perhaps among the men serving the communion or who once led prayers. Women that were in your circle for activities. Ladies that went with you to retreats whose hands you held and prayed for one another. Who are now gone, disappeared. Rejected completely their faith their religious practice. And if you don't think it's real for you. Just think of the battle going on in your own heart every single day. How many times has your conscience or the word or the Holy Spirit told you that you need to change this thing whatever that is or confess this thing whatever it is or become more faithful. And how many times have you said, "yes some day, not yet, not today, I'm busy." When we do that, we are just one step closer to the point of no return because you get there a step at a time. You don't wake up you're totally faithful one day and the next day you're gone, you're over there. It's one little step at a time. I think satan destroys us a millimeter at a time.
How many times have you said to yourself that you ought to become a Christian or you ought to just go ahead be baptized but decided "well I've got time." But also, "it's embarrassing" or "the water's cold," "I don't have my hair dryer." The most banal excuses to deny yourself eternal life. Can you imagine? Someone calls you from the quick stop and says, "Hey you bought a ticket." You shouldn't have bought a ticket but you bought a ticket and you just won a hundred million dollars. But you've got to come pick it up today. And you say, "Oh, but today? Today I have to have my oil changed." That's how ridiculous it is. We think God will give us all the time we need but we don't realize how close to the end we really are. The sickest of people with stage 4 cancer who are at the edge of death always think that they've got one more breath left. One more and then it's over.
My question is, if you reach that critical point today what would your relationship with God be like? Full? Strong in battle? Heading for home with plenty of fuel to spare? Or flying in the wrong direction dangerously close to the point of no return?
Before you reach that point and while there is still time, I encourage you to turn around and not crash in enemy territory. If you see that change is necessary, if you know that you are flying in the wrong direction but don't want to change or if you want to put it off for a little while, this is a sign that you are dangerously close to the point of no return because you found a way to deny yourself a way to get back on track. You have perfected the way to stay away from God and when you have perfected that in yourself, you are pretty close to the point of no return. Won't you come home today. Won't you avoid disaster by coming to Jesus or coming back to Jesus this day.