I hate this topic.
It’s the only thing that frightens me.
It’s like walking across a narrow bridge spanning a bottomless pit and being told not to look down. Everything will be OK as long as you don’t look down.
And then your eyes are drawn downward, and you look down.
That’s what I think about when I think about this topic.
I hate the thought of turning against God, but some born-again believers do leave him, do betray him. I can’t imagine it, and yet the very angels in Heaven once turned against God and fell off that bridge.
We know from scripture that the phase of spiritual rebirth is not permanent. It’s conditional and can be forfeited. If we remain in God’s grace to our last breath on Earth, we’ll move on to the next phase, which is going Home. If we turn away from God – if we willfully and persistently and with full intent do what God warns us not to do – we will lose our grace. And if we lose our grace, there is no getting it back.
Without grace, we cannot go Home.
This possibility of losing our grace must always remain at the back of our minds. We cannot dismiss it or sugar-coat it or write it off as non-scriptural, as some who are not born again claim. But they simply do not know. We must be aware that our grace is probationary, not guaranteed. This understanding is a major motivator for us to remain on the strait and narrow.
Those who say they’re Christians but who then turn from God and continue their lives as Buddhists or atheists or Muslims or whatever were never really Christians to begin with, not in the true sense of the word. If you’re genuinely a Christian (that is, born again and with God’s Spirit living in you), leaving God means your certain and swift earthly demise, followed by eternal damnation. Think of Judas Iscariot. Think of how long he remained alive after betraying Jesus. Think of how he died.
Well, you say, Judas Iscariot wasn’t born-again because Jesus hadn’t finished his job yet. True, he wasn’t born-again, but while he was with Jesus, he had the same abilities and privileges born-again believers have. The disciples lived a prototype of spiritual rebirth, with Jesus always with them, and so God was always with them through his Spirit. In John, Jesus told the disciples that they were clean, except for Judas. Obviously he mean spiritually clean. Spiritual rebirth is a form of cleansing.
Ironically, shortly after Jesus’ pronouncement, all the disciples ran away in fear for their lives. Note that in running away they didn’t reject Jesus or God. They were motivated by fear to distance themselves, but they still loved Jesus and God. True, they didn’t at that time love them more than their own lives, but the time would come when they would. So their fear-motivated flight was entirely different from Judas’ betrayal and subsequent damnation. What Judas did was unforgivable.
We make mistakes, as born-again believers. We don’t always treat others as we’d want to be treated. We don’t always (initially) love our enemies. We sometimes delay doing something God has asked us to do. We sometimes even get mad at God, as stupid as that sounds. We make mistakes. The disciples made mistakes, too, but not enough to lose the prototypical grace they were under at the time through the presence of Jesus. They made what we would call “honest mistakes”.
Judas, on the other hand, betrayed Jesus with full intent. It was no mistake, what he did, honest or otherwise. It wasn’t a misstep; it was deliberate. I can imagine that he was warned at some point by God that he was approaching the edge of the narrow bridge and to pull back and look up, but he ignored the warning. I am certain that God warned him. It would not have been fair of God not to do that, and God is as perfect in his fairness as he is in everything else.
We, as born-again believers, are on that narrow bridge. As we walk along it, it disappears behind us, so that the only way is forward. If we try to go backward, we fall.
There is no going back to the lifeless lives we once lived before our rebirth. There is the possibility and potential to go back, but there is no wisdom in going back. The instant we reject God, we sign and seal our own death warrant, and the demons come for us like they came for Judas. The only way out of that predicament is to hastily sign an agreement with Satan as a temporary reprieve. It delays our earthly death, but ensures that we suffer the same end as Satan in the lake of fire. Those are our only options if we turn from God.
As I said at the outset, I hate this topic. I hate it because I, as a human being, still have the capacity – not necessarily the likelihood, but the capacity – to betray God. Free will is part of the human condition that cannot be overwritten. And because it can’t be overwritten, it needs to be overcome. We do that by remaining as close as we can to God and Jesus, through God’s Spirit; we do that by daily renewing our faith, daily reading scripture, daily searching our heart, daily repenting and doing whatever is required to remain “clean” and on the bridge. We dare not go backward. There is nothing behind us but pain.
We need to remain mindful that while going backward is an option for us, we must never, ever do it.