If someone falls away from God, can they come back?

Q. Can you explain Hebrews 6:4-6? A friend has rejected his faith. Does this mean he has no hope? Should we not bother trying to persuade him to return to the fold?

A. It is extremely heartbreaking to see people we care about making decisions to sever themselves from church and abandon the truths of God’s Word. Many of us know people who — having been in the church for years, taking an active part in reaching the lost, and personally experiencing miraculous divine intervention in their lives — inexplicably walk away from God.

Can they be reclaimed in light of Hebrews 6:4-6?

Let’s take a fresh look at the verse in question; “For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted the heavenly gift, and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, if they fall away, to renew them again to repentance, since they crucify again for themselves the Son of God, and put Him to an open shame” (NKJV).

Depending on how you look at it, this could certainly be a very difficult and very scary passage for anyone to read.

But first, I think this verse is reminding us of the sobering truth that it is possible for enlightened believers — those who have received the Holy Spirit — to fall away from their faith. For instance, Balaam was a Spirit-filled prophet of God who eventually sold out for money. “They have forsaken the right way and gone astray, following the way of Balaam … who loved the wages of unrighteousness” (2 Peter 2:15 NKJV).

We also learn in the first book of Samuel that King Saul was filled with the Spirit too, but he grieved it away through stubborn pride and rebellion until “the LORD did not answer him, either by dreams or by Urim or by the prophets” (1 Samuel 28:6 NKJV).

So the next big question is: When a real believer falls away, is it hopeless? Or can they return to the fold? We might simply answer this question by looking at the many case studies found in the Bible — regarding great men of faith like Jacob, Samson, David, Solomon, and Peter. Each of these souls listened to the devil for a time, but then they repented and returned to God to do wonderful things.

We also find a quick answer in Ezekiel 18:21: “If a wicked man turns from all his sins which he has committed, keeps all My statutes, and does what is lawful and right, he shall surely live; he shall not die” (NKJV).

Can a backslider repent and return to God for forgiveness and acceptance? We have just read a resounding yes! There are too many other verses we could cite in support of this, but here are just a few more: Jeremiah 3:22 promises, “Return, you backsliding children, And I will heal your backslidings” (NKJV). Hosea 6:1, 2 adds, “Come, and let us return to the LORD; For He has torn, but He will heal us; He has stricken, but He will bind us up. After two days He will revive us; On the third day He will raise us up, That we may live in His sight” (NKJV).

So what about Hebrews 6:4? We need to remember that this book is written to the Jewish nation, who had just been exposed to the wonderful truth that Jesus was their long-awaited Messiah. If they rejected the clear evidence of the Word and Holy Spirit regarding this precious truth, there was nothing more that God could do to convince them. This is what Jesus referred to when He said, “If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rise from the dead” (Luke 16:31 NKJV). In other words, if we reject Jesus and the Holy Spirit after knowing them, we are turning away from the best that God has to offer us. There is nothing better He can send to convince us to follow His Word.

This truth is borne out more fully a little later in Hebrews: “For if we sin willfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversaries” (Hebrews 10:26, 27). God cannot save us from continuing in willful sin and rejection of the Holy Spirit.

But when a backslider repents of his sins, will God simply reject him? Or can he still be saved? The straight answer is yes, so don’t give up on your friend. Always remember the prideful prodigal son, who went to live with the world for a time. The Lord humbled him, and he returned to his father’s house. Likewise, the Lord is saying that your wondering friends can return to the grace of the Lord.

What can you do? Here are three things:

First, his stubborn will must be softened by prayer if he is going to re-open his heart to God’s truth again. Pray that he will be touched by the Holy Spirit, and that you will be given opportunities to show him how much you still care about him despite any bad decisions he has made.

Second, when and if he is willing, share information. We have many resources you can use to help people realize that they have wandered from the path of salvation.

And finally, be a good example.

Have faith — and trust in the goodness of the Lord. At Amazing Facts, we thrill at all the testimonies of lost sheep returning to the fold and praise our heavenly Father for His mercy and long-suffering toward all of us. It is possible for your friend to find his first love again.

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