Hebrews 2:1-4 – “Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it. For since the message declared by angels proved to be reliable, and every transgression or disobedience received a just retribution, how shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation? It was declared at first by the Lord, and it was attested to us by those who heard, while God also bore witness by signs and wonders and various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will.”
The book of Hebrews contains five very specific warnings to not fall away from following the Lord. Each of the warnings provides grim details as to what will happen to someone who has been shown the truth of the gospel, at least professed belief in the gospel, and then has fallen away from their profession of faith. Gallons of ink have been spilled debating what these warnings really mean. Does it mean that someone can be truly saved and then fall away from the faith? Or is this simply a warning to both believers and non-believers to do spiritual inventory and take their faith seriously?
While Christians disagree about this, I do believe that the rest of Scripture teaches that those who have been saved have been given a deposit guaranteeing their inheritance, and that the Lord will be faithful to fulfill the work that he began in them. The author of Hebrews was writing to a mixed group of people. There were true believers and there were false believers and there were professing non-believers; and so as a result, these warnings were effective in helping people understand and evaluate who they truly were given such a mixed audience.
Our churches today are no different than the churches the author of Hebrews was writing to. George Barna found that 45 percent of Americans in 2006 claimed to be born again. At the same time only 9 percent of those claiming to be born again take what Jesus says seriously. As Mack Stiles said, “Many claim Jesus as Lord, but if they don’t do what he says, it indicates – according to Jesus – that they aren’t his followers in the first place (Luke 6:46).”
So how many people in our churches have been led away from the true faith because they have been spoon-fed a version of the gospel that is packaged in such a way that is so palatable that it may in fact be (at best) half-truths of the actual gospel message. With this, we need to consider two ideas when we think about our discipleship of non-believers and believers.
First, what is the “gospel” that is being preached? Are we avoiding words like “sin” so as to not offend? Are we teaching the reality of how our natures and actions deserve the full wrath of God? Are we teaching people that Jesus, as God and man, died in our place? Are we teaching people that there is salvation in no one else, but in the name Jesus? Are we clarifying for people that Jesus is not another god to add to their pantheon? Are we leading people toward the truth of the whole gospel as we share the gospel with them?
Second, how honest are we being about the cost of being a disciple of Christ? Jesus was crystal clear with the crowds of people that followed him (Matthew 10, Luke 14:25-35). If they follow Jesus, they will suffer and so therefore they must count the cost.
In the same light, what is our view of conversion? Are we telling people that their profession of faith means they are being converted to a lifetime of being a Christ-follower? Are we honestly explaining that their lifestyle will inevitably need to change as their sinful lifestyle is put in the ground before Jesus makes them a new creation?
The statistics that George Barna shared are alarming. Sealing the deal in evangelism by pressuring someone to pray a prayer is not the way to lead people to Christ. It is a way to get a notch on our belts, but it is not the way to help people submit themselves to the lordship of Christ.