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Real and Present Danger

Sinners often speak the truth. And saints have led people astray. Examine what is said, not the one who says it. —Anthony de Mello, Awakening: Conversations with the Masters

They could put up a warning sign or something. Hello. Welcome to Hinderstap. We will murder you in the night… if you stay past sunset. Try the pies. Martna Baily makes them fresh daily. —Mat Cauthon in The Gathering Storm by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson

It’s nice to be warned ahead of time that a bridge is out up ahead. Warnings allow us to evaluate the risk. Our text in Hebrews provides a warning—a powerful warning—telling the Church of a real and present danger.

It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened… and who have fallen away, to be brought back to repentance. (Hebrews 6:4, 6)

These words are an alarm sounding: Danger! No U-turn! But who was being warned is a hotly debated question. I believe the author’s warning is for nonbelievers—and not just any group of nonbelievers, but those who attend church. Why do I believe this?

  • Context in Hebrews: Earlier in the letter, the author spoke of the Israelites who traveled with God, witnessed His miracles, heard His Word, yet didn’t believe (Hebrews 3). It’s clear the author is concerned for his readers, For we also have had the good news proclaimed to us … but the message they heard was of no value to them, because they did not share the faith … (Hebrews 4:2).

In other words, hear Christ and receive Him. This is a message for the nonbelievers in the audience.

  • Context in New Testament: The Good News announces that it’s the work of Christ that saves and sustains us. If the warning is for believers who’ve fallen from Christ—which I don’t believe it is—then our warning would indicate that it’s possible to experience Christ, be reborn, and then return to spiritual death.
  • But, if this warning is written to non-believing churchgoers, the alarm sounds because it’s possible to experience Christianity but remain spiritually dead. These people are Edge Standers—standing at the edge of faith.

When we understand the audience, something remarkable happens—the warning becomes an encouragement to choose Christ.

Father, what a sad possibility—that some continue to experience Christianity without experiencing Christ. Let the urgency of this warning reside in me so I might be moved to warn others gently, lovingly, when I see they’re in danger. Amen.

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