Don’t Turn Away

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Back in May there was a small stir in the Christian mediasphere surrounding the rejection of Christianity by a former Christian (?) musician named Jon Steingard, who apparently led a band called Hawk Nelson. While this was overshadowed by much more culture-shaking events, I do wish to come back to it, because Steingard’s departure from the faith and the responses to it raise a number of interesting issues. It would be quite a long essay to go through all of the issues, so I’m going to start with a couple, and hope to pursue it further in future posts.

To begin, it is always a tragedy when someone turns from the faith, and we should pity him. Apostasy does merit stern words, but such should come from a place of love towards the erring and desire to protect the flock–not from bitterness or anger. God’s compassion reaches out even to those who turn from Him; so should we. Faith is a gift from God, and we have no excuse for looking self-righteously upon others.

Nonetheless, the most significant thing that needs to be said in such situations is that turning away from God is a very grave matter, it is hazardous to a man’s soul and harmful to Christ’s church. It is not something we should gloss over. Some of the responses to Steingard seem, to me, to have failed him and the church in their unwillingness to treat his apostasy as the terrible thing that it is.

We see this in the book of Hebrews, which has some of the most terrifying passages in all of Scripture:

“We must pay the most careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away.  For since the message spoken through angels was binding, and every violation and disobedience received its just punishment,  how shall we escape if we ignore so great a salvation?” (Heb. 2:1-3, NIV)

“See to it, brothers and sisters, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God.” (Heb. 3:12)

“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.” (Heb. 6:4-8)

Turning away from God is dangerous. We should pray that God will continually strengthen our faith, and will give faith to those who doubt, so that they will not be hardened beyond repentance. These words are severe, but like all warnings in the Bible, they are there so that people will run to the cross and find God’s mercy. No one should ever think they are beyond the reach of God’s grace; but no one should ever play around with unbelief.

In all our unbelief, as in every other sin, we have that same hope, the offer of the gospel of love in Jesus Christ our Savior:

“Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess.  For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin.  Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” (Heb. 4:14-16)

Don’t turn away. Turn to the cross.

With Drawn Sword

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When Israel had crossed the Jordan River into the promised land, God directed them to revisit some of the central characteristics of their special relationship with Him. They renewed the circumcision symbolic of their identity as God’s covenant people (Joshua 5:1-9) and observed their first Passover in the land, receiving the produce of their inheritance (vv.10-12). Then Joshua had an encounter with God resonant of Moses’ experience with the burning bush, for, like Moses, Joshua is told “Take off your sandals from your feet, for the place where you are standing is holy” (v.15, ESV).

In this encounter, God’s manifestation to Joshua is described: “a man was standing before him with his drawn sword in his hand” (v.13). Joshua greets this martial figure with the question of whose side he’s on: “Are you for us, or for our adversaries?” He receives the wonderful response, “No; but I am the commander of the army of the LORD. Now I have come” (v.14).

God is no one’s instrument. God is Master. He is not a tool for man’s machinations; His Name is not a password for our own ends; His Word is not a prop. He is accomplishing His purpose, and we should ask not so much if He is on our side as if we are on His side.

Because He will come with drawn sword to destroy His enemies (Rev. 19:1-16). God’s victory is certain. For all the discouragement of things going on in this world, Christians should have a total confidence in the triumph of their cause–because it is God’s cause, to which they have given themselves. The cross advances. If we have faith, we have nothing to fear. Our God is near.