It’s a sad reality that we even have to ask about this question.
The teenager who submitted this question isn’t wondering about someone who has never heard about God. The question is about turning BACK to God once someone has turned AWAY from God. The not-so-hypothetical person was once a believer, was once a follower of Christ, may have been baptized and called himself a Christian. Now he has turned his back on all of this as if God is some ex-girlfriend he’s trying to “get over.”
I don’t know if this teenager had someone specific in mind, but I know I’ve seen the story unfold time and time again. And I wonder if these people will ever find their way back into the fold. Some will; many, sadly, will not.
But is it ever too late for them? Can someone wander TOO far away to ever return to salvation?
WHO’S YOUR MASTER?
If we start in the beginning, we see the first humans being cut off from the intimate relationship they once shared with their Creator. They turned their backs on God so they had to face the consequence of separation. The ancient idea of death is separation. Sin causes separation from God and, therefore, death.
In Genesis 4 we see an interesting view from God himself about the way sin works in our lives. Cain and Able offered sacrifices to God. Able’s was accepted, Cain’s was not. This infuriated Cain. God, sensing Cain’s disturbance, comes down to have a one-on-one with Cain. This is what God has to tell Cain in the midst of his inner turmoil:
“Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.” (Genesis 4:6-7)
Sin desires to enslave us. Sin’s desire is to have power over us, to become our master. But we must rule over it. If we allow sin to become our master, as did Cain, we will quickly find our lives in a downward spiral toward chaos and heartache until it feels as if we are being devoured by it.
Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith… (1 Peter 5:8-9)
The first step in the journey away from God nearly always begins with dethroning God and crowning sin/Satan as our new Lord and Master. Humanity as a whole has been doing this from the beginning, and individuals are constantly attempting to overthrow God’s supposed “tyranny” in favor of a more lenient master. Little do we know that we have the whole system backwards!
In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. Do not offer any part of yourself to sin as an instrument of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer every part of yourself to him as an instrument of righteousness. For sin shall no longer be your master, because you are not under the law, but under grace. (Romans 6:11-14)
POINT OF NO RETURN
If people do allow sin to become their master, can they ever reach the point of no return?
Scripture has some scary things to say about this very issue. Some branches of Christianity preach what is typically referred to as a “once saved, always saved” message. They believe that once you come to belief in Christ then there is nothing you can do to lose your salvation. The unfortunate thing is that Scripture does not seem to support that idea.
“Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters. And so I tell you, every kind of sin and slander can be forgiven, but blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come.” (Matthew 12:30-32)
So we already see, from the mouth of Jesus, that there are some people who reach the point of no return. I’ve known some people who began their journey of faith as Christians but now they openly speak evil of Jesus, God, the Spirit, and his church. There’s really no coming back from that.
The book of Hebrews speaks very candidly about the possibility (and reality) of turning away from the gospel, and it’s not a pretty picture.
See to it, brothers and sisters, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called “Today,” so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness. (Hebrews 3:12-13)
It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age and who have fallen away, to be brought back to repentance. To their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace. Land that drinks in the rain often falling on it and that produces a crop useful to those for whom it is farmed receives the blessing of God. But land that produces thorns and thistles is worthless and is in danger of being cursed. In the end it will be burned. (Hebrews 6:4-8)
If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God. Anyone who rejected the law of Moses died without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. 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? For we know him who said, “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” and again, “The Lord will judge his people.” It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. (Hebrews 10:26-31)
The speaker in Hebrews is trying to warn his audience of the seriousness with which God views rebellion. It’s one thing to have never known God. It’s a whole different matter to have known God, to be a part of his family, to share in the gospel, and then turn and spit in the face of the crucified Savior.
God does not take that lightly.
IS THERE HOPE?
While these warnings may be stern and the judgments harsh, one thing we learn from Scripture is that God is nothing if not merciful. In the story of “The Prodigal Son” (Luke 15) the younger brother essentially tells his father, “I wish you were dead.” He packs up his belongings and turns his back on his family. After blowing everything he had, the son came crawling back to his father. The father does the unexpected and receives him back into full sonship and throws a party for him.
Solomon puts it this way: “Anyone who is among the living has hope—even a live dog is better off than a dead lion!” (Ecclesiastes 9:4)
And check out Paul’s reminder to the Christians in Corinth:
Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. (1 Corinthians 6:9-11)
If you are still sucking oxygen, there is still hope. As the song “To God Be the Glory” says, “The vilest offender who truly believes / will surely from Jesus a pardon receive.”
WE’RE IN IT TOGETHER
I think most Christians, however, (myself included) see someone walk away from the faith and just stand at the window waving good-bye. We hope to see them again. We even pray that they will come back to faith. But we don’t make an effort to do anything about it.
Remember, Hebrews 3 tells us to encourage each other so that we don’t drift away. And James gives us this instruction:
My brothers and sisters, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring that person back, remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of their way will save them from death and cover over a multitude of sins. (James 5:19-20)
It takes a group effort to keep the group together. We can’t sit idly by and watch the body of Christ disintegrate into chaos. We’re in this together!