Kayla writes in to ask, “Pastor John, my soul is in great distress. After living in disobedience and under conviction for a few months, my deep desire I once had for fellowship with God is now gone. I used to be so in love with Christ. Hebrews 4 makes clear that sin hardens the heart, and I found it to be true. My question is, Does this mean I have fallen away from the faith? My biggest fear is being “prepared for destruction” (Romans 9:22) as Scripture says of Judas and others. Please help.” Pastor John, what would you say to Kayla?
I am really thankful that Kayla is in distress. I am thankful that she is fearful, because how much worse would it be if Kayla were careless right now? If she were cavalier. If she were just blowing off this coldness and saying, “Devil may care. I don’t give a rip how I feel. It doesn’t matter anymore. I tried that Christianity stuff. I am done with it.” That would be infinitely worse than fear and distress.
Can You Still Repent?
The text that gives her fear — but also gives hope — is Hebrews 12: “See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God . . . that no one is sexually immoral or unholy like Esau” (Hebrews 12:15). And maybe that is what she has done — fallen into a season of sexual sin. I mean, those are the kinds of things that make us feel hopeless about our possible salvation. The author continues, “who sold his birthright for a single meal” (Hebrews 12:16). He just threw away his spiritual privileges for an immediate gratification. “For you know that afterward, when he desired to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no chance to repent” — no place to repent, that is the literal translation, no occasion to repent, no repentance — “though he sought it with tears” (Hebrews 12:17).
“Esau was rejected not because he repented and wouldn’t be accepted, but because he couldn’t repent.”
So, it is possible to backslide so long and so deeply that there is no return. Now is that what has happened with you? It doesn’t sound like it because Esau was rejected, not because he repented and wouldn’t be accepted, but because he couldn’t repent. That is what it says: He found no repentance. He found no place to repent “though he sought it with tears” (Hebrews 12:17). He had become so callous, so hard, so distant that there was no ability for him to see how horrible his sin was, to see how great the mercy is, to feel horrible and broken about his sin and turn away from it to the living God. He couldn’t do it. It was all a sham as far as he was concerned. And the question, Kayla, is do you see the horror of sin? That is a gift of God. That is an element of repentance. Do you use the gospel held out freely?
Unforgiveable or Not?
Here is what Jesus said about the unforgivable sin, because my guess is that is lurking right there in the background of what your concern is: Have I committed the unforgivable sin? Now here is what Jesus says in Matthew 12:31. And listen to these initial words, because they are meant to give you hope: “Therefore, I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven people” — that is amazing: every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven — “but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven.”
Now what is that? The Pharisees were calling Jesus the devil. They were saying that he cast out demons by the power of Beelzebub and, therefore, they had turned the world on its head. They were seeing Jesus as demonic, and they were no longer able to see Jesus as who he really was. Have you gotten to the demonic point that Jesus is the devil, and you now can pronounce judgment on him? Or can you repent? And if you can repent, there is hope.
From the Chief Sinner Himself
And here is one of the most beautiful statements of hope that I know of. This is from 1 Timothy 1:15–16 where Paul is talking to you, Kayla:
The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life. (1 Timothy 1:15–16)
“Paul had walked to the edge of blaspheming the Holy Spirit. And God chose him, saved him.”
So here is what he is saying: I was a blasphemer, a murderer. He says this in Acts 9: a murderer, a persecutor, a hater. Now let this sink in. Paul was a Pharisee. He believed in demons. There is no reason to believe that Paul disagreed with the Pharisees, who in the gospels said Jesus was casting out demons by the power of demons (see Matthew 12:24; Mark 3:22). Paul was a blasphemer. He had walked right up to the edge, evidently, of blaspheming the Holy Spirit. And God chose him, saved him. Why?
Paul says it is so that in the twenty-first century, John Piper on a podcast could say to Kayla, Christ is that patient with you. That is why he saved Paul. He saved Paul for Kayla. I really believe Kayla should read 1 Timothy 1:15–16 that way. He, Paul, wants to be read as giving encouragement to those who feel like the patience of God has run out. So in the name of Jesus and with the authority of Paul, Kayla, I think I can say to you, I do say to you: Turn and come to Jesus, and you will find his arms outstretched to a prodigal daughter.