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There are several passages in the Bible that warn of the consequences if we depart from God. Some of these warnings come in the form of conditional assurances. They say that Christians will ultimately be partakers in our inheritance "IF" we continue or persevere in faith until the end.
That little word "if" shows that the "goodness" that God extends toward believers is conditional upon their "continuing" in His goodness. If not, they will be cut off in the same manner as the natural seed of Abraham. Notice in verse 20 that our perseverance is tied to "faith." What was it that caused God to cut off the Jews who rejected Christ? Verse 20 says that it was because of unbelief. And, Paul makes the point that we stand by faith. So, in verse 22, "continuing in His goodness" is synonymous with persevering in faith, and not succumbing to unbelief.
1 Cor 15:1-2
Here Paul says that the Corinthians "received" the gospel, and were "standing" by the gospel. Yet, their salvation is clearly linked to perseverance. There is that pesky little "if" again. What does it mean to "keep in memory" the gospel? The Gospel is all about coming to God by faith. It is clear that the ones Paul refers to were saved. Notice that he is not warning them of their need to be saved, but of their need to persevere. It is not that they need something more than they have. It is that they need to remain and continue in what they already have. Otherwise, their "believing" [faith] will have been in vain. The only way their believing can be in vain, after once having been saved, is if they are lost.
We are reconciled to God through Christ's death so that we will be presented sinless. But, again, that little word "if" messes up the verse! There is a condition attached. In order for the above to be true, we must "continue in the faith," and not be "moved away from the hope of the gospel." Can you see a pattern developing here? The Gospel, and faith, are linked to much more than just an initial salvation experience, where we received the gift of the Holy Spirit. Faith in the sacrificial atonement is our means of "standing" or "continuing." And, this is a requirement if we ultimately expect to be presented before the Father with our sins forgiven, and covered by the blood of the Lamb.
Notice that these verses are addressed to the "brethren." And, notice that he is warning about "departing from God." One must be with God in order to depart from God. This is exactly what apostasy is. Yet, notice that there is one way Christians can depart from God. UNBELIEF! This is the opposite of "faith." But, this passage reveals much more. It clearly tells us HOW this can happen to a believer. Verse 13 warns of a "hardening" that can occur through the deceitfulness of sin. Hardening is a process, it does not occur overnight. Unchecked sin causes hardening of the heart. A hard heart leads to UNBELIEF. And, unbelief leads to departing from God. Then comes the final conditional assurance. We will be made partakers with Christ IF we hold our initial confidence [or faith] until the end.
Sin can be very attractive. Satan dresses up sin and uses it as bait to seduce those who had once escaped its power. That's why Paul told us to put on the whole armor of God so we will not be caught in the "wiles of the Devil," [Eph. 6:11]. The word "wiles" means trickery. Satan entices Christians to fall into sin. If they become entangled in that sin and allow it to go on, over time they will build up a resistance to the convicting voice of the Spirit. This is the hardening of the heart that leads to unbelief, and departing from God. It is not the sin itself that causes someone to fall away, but the unbelief that results from the hardening process. That's why we find repeated warnings in Hebrews to maintain the faith we had at first. And, that requires treating sin as a possibly fatal disease.
"Neglect" is treating something that is precious, casually. It is carelessness. Unfortunately, this is the state of many Christians today. Yet, they think they are in no danger.
Some might ask, Is it really important that we believe Christians can forsake God and be eternally lost? Isn't it enough to realize that if we sin we are displeasing God? Apparently it is not enough for some. Or else God would not have wasted His breath on all these warnings. The Bible teaches that in the last days apostasy will be rampant. Church- going Christians today are far too confident and oblivious to the danger lurking just over the horizon. Many have fallen into Satan's traps and vices and cannot get free. They don't realize where this path leads, because they have been taught "once saved always saved." Things are going to get really bad. Persecution is coming. Soon we will have to choose between buying and selling to feed our children, or taking the mark of the Beast. Some of us will face a choice between denying Christ or martyrdom. Do you think the average Christian will stand like the martyrs of old? Many Christians will depart from the faith in the last days. Satan is busy on several fronts setting Christians up for the kill. He is seducing many into sinful habits, while lulling them into a false sense of security. Finally, he will complete his attack on the Church of God through severe persecution and deception, soon to be unleashed.
1 Pet 5:8-9
This warning is not to the unsaved. It was written by Peter to the elders of the churches. It is the job of the leaders of the Church to be watchmen for Christ's flock. But, alas, many are more interested in building their own kingdoms.
Pastors, elders, it is your responsibility to guard the sheep from the roaring lion. How? Warn them. Preach against sin. And, tell them the truth about where continued rebellion leads. For those entangled in sin already, follow James' advice.