Some truths in the Bible are not obvious. Some truths seem obvious at first, but then when you read more you find what seems to contradict.
The Christian who trusts God and is convinced that His Word is true will feel caught between a rock and a hard place at these times. The rock is their conviction that scripture is without error. The hard place is that such a contradiction seems to be an error. Yet you can ease your mind and trust that your faith is well placed if you have years of interaction with the Bible and know that the contradiction is no contradiction – just that there is some key information lacking.
You can also ease your mind by doing some research, and thinking, and find a solution which deals fairly with the contradiction.
I want to share one example of these sorts of difficulties which branches into two, and I’ll share a solution. I’ll present the dilemma in the form of a question: Can a Christian lose their salvation?
On the one hand we have 1 John 5:13
“I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life.”
This seems to show that we can know, for sure, that we have eternal life. That sounds like assurance to me! But then we have Hebrews 6:4-6
“For it is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, 5 and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, 6 and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt.”
This seems to show that a person can “fall away” after being “enlightened” and having “tasted the heavenly gift” which seems like a person can lose their salvation.
So what is going on, and what does this have to do with the unforgivable sin? We’ll get to that, but first I want to share two ways how some would wrongly deal with this.
The first wrong way to deal with a contradiction is to ignore it. Ignoring a problem may make you feel better but it is for the wrong reasons. The goal is not to just feel better. The goal is to have confidence in the Word, given to us by God. And not only that, we also want to help others to trust the Bible and God and be saved. Ignoring is not the same as setting it aside for later consideration, but make a note and keep coming back to it until you are satisfied.
The second wrong way is to come up with some vaguely correct interpretation which seems plausible. Again, this gives you a good feeling so that you can at least suggest something to show that there might be a solution. But again, this is unsatisfying and ultimately does nothing to help develop a lasting confidence in God and His Word. Think about how a non-believer will deal with the situation: they raise an objection to Christianity saying that the Bible is full of contradictions and provide an example, you suggest a possible solution, they then tear it apart. How would you feel if you have been clinging to that possibility for decades without a deeper consideration of the issue? I think the non-believer will have done more for ruining your faith than you will have done to grow their confidence in God’s Word!
Some have dealt with this specific example by saying something like this: “There is no doubt that we can fall away from Hebrews 6, so 1 John 5 must be talking about something else. Maybe it’s saying that you can have assurance for that moment only? That sounds plausible because I know people who have seemed to be Christians but have then left their faith to do drugs and stuff and have never returned.”
The plausible attempt in this case will favour the Hebrews 6 verses, possibly because they seem clearer and possibly because they come first in the Bible so that’s the bit read first which sticks in our minds. And it might even have a good result for the person who believes that they can lose their salvation because they will be diligent to make sure that they don’t lose it.
The problem with this plausible interpretation is that you don’t really have assurance of being saved if you can lose your salvation. Think about it. And think about this: Where does that assurance come from? From yourself or from God’s Spirit? If it comes from yourself, or from a friend, then what happens if you change your mind or uncover evidence that you might not be saved? People are changeable, God is not. And God knows the beginning from the end so he knows whether you will be saved or not in the end. Not only that, but He actively predestined your salvation before the foundation of the world, if you are born again.
How can you lose your salvation if God has given it to you before you were born? In fact, a gift can be returned, but God has made us to be a vessel of salvation so that we would not want to return the gift ever. That is, if we are born again and truly a Christian.
So what is the solution? How do we convince the Atheist who says that the Bible contradicts here?
Let’s take a look at Matthew 12:22-32
“Then a demon-oppressed man who was blind and mute was brought to him, and he healed him, so that the man spoke and saw. 23 And all the people were amazed, and said, “Can this be the Son of David?” 24 But when the Pharisees heard it, they said, “It is only by Beelzebul, the prince of demons, that this man casts out demons.” 25 Knowing their thoughts, he said to them, “Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and no city or house divided against itself will stand. 26 And if Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then will his kingdom stand? 27 And if I cast out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore they will be your judges. 28 But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. 29 Or how can someone enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man? Then indeed he may plunder his house. 30 Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters. 31 Therefore I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven people, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. 32 And whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come.”
This may seem like a random passage, which has nothing to do with assurance of salvation at first, but please bear with me.
At first, it may seem that this is showing that you can lose your salvation because all you have to do is speak against the Holy Spirit. So anyone who says, for example, that Pentecostal “healings” and “miracles” are not always (or not often, if at all) a work of the Holy Spirit are potentially losing their salvation and can never be saved again.
But lets dig a little deeper.
The first idea to tease out of this passage from Matthew 12 is the concept of “The Kingdom”. Jesus, as Messiah (the Son of David in verse 23) was to demonstrate victory over Satan, and he did this convincingly, plundering Satan’s kingdom (in verse 26 “his” kingdom is Satan’s kingdom). Jesus doesn’t only bind the strong man (Satan) and plunder his goods, causing his kingdom to fall. Jesus also replaces Satan’s kingdom with his own Kingdom of Heaven (the Kingdom of God which has come already, at least in part, in verse 28).
By denying Jesus and his Kingdom, people are clearly not saved, or are not a part of that Kingdom. If they are not a part of the Kingdom of God in “this age” (verse 32) they will also not be a part of the Kingdom of God in the “age to come”.
So what is unforgivable about not being in the Kingdom of God? Everyone starts out that way from birth and must be saved to come into the Kingdom. It can’t be unforgivable then, at least not in the sense that everyone starts outside the Kingdom. Otherwise nobody would ever be saved.
But when Jesus brought the gifts of the Kingdom of God to those around him, which included victory over Satanic powers, healings, food to ease hunger, and the truth to set people free from Satan’s kingdom of worldly lies; those who “tasted” (Hebrews 6) this, experiencing the enlightenment and tasting “the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come,” – those who then fall away from participating in the Kingdom this way will remain in Satan’s kingdom and be unsaved.
If you die, having tasted it but not joining it by being born again into the Kingdom, you will not be forgiven in The Judgement which precedes the eternal age to come, and your eternal state in that eternal age will be to remain in Satan’s kingdom which is to receive punishment in hell that was prepared for Satan and his fallen angels.
That’s why we need Jesus, to share in his Kingdom and to enter in by forsaking ourselves and our lives which are dominated by Satan and Satan’s world. And to trust Jesus that his Holy Spirit will cause us to be born again into the Kingdom of Heaven.
And our contradiction is resolved, because we see that Hebrews chapter 6 is speaking of those who are never saved in the first place. They have experienced the fruit of the Kingdom of Heaven and have even been enlightened by someone sharing the truth of the Kingdom with them – as I have done with you here and now – but they have not taken the step of joining the Kingdom, which by implication is to deny that it is good and that these gifts from the work of the Holy Spirit are worth taking up.
To taste of the Kingdom and then deny it in this life – never committing to Christ as Lord of your Kingdom – is to commit the Unforgivable Sin of denying that the work of the Holy Spirit is holy and good and worthy of your praise.
Those Christians around who who have shared of themselves and have demonstrated the Kingdom to you, providing gifts and benefits which have profited your well-being, they are also showing the work of the Spirit in their lives for you to taste. Their salvation may be certain, but if you turn from their example and pass it off as “just another one of those annoying do-good-ers” then you are denying the Spirit of Truth.
Sure, there are pretenders who give Christianity a bad name, but they are also denying the work of God by serving their own selfish desires and will get a nasty shock at The Judgement when Jesus says to them that he never knew them. Instead of using pretenders as an excuse to deny the goodness which comes through God’s genuine people, why not join them and have confidence in your eternity, and in God’s Word.