I know a certain young man who lives in constant dread and fear. These awful feelings began for him the day he walked away from the Lord.
The young man had been gloriously saved and filled with God's Spirit. He had testified of the power of God's grace in his life. And he'd been an effective witness for the gospel. He'd counseled many people in his church, ministering Christ's love to them. Then one day, out of the blue, he said, "I've had it. I don't want this life anymore."
He told everybody he was fed up with Christians. And he was angry at God for not answering his prayers. He told his pastor, "All your preaching puts a guilt trip on me. I want to enjoy life. You know, have a few drinks, enjoy some good times, party every once in a while. I won't take it too far. I just want a little fun." So he forsook his faith.
Please note, this young man was no spiritually blinded heathen. He had a strong biblical background. He'd been equipped with the gospel truth. He'd allowed the Holy Spirit to move and convict him. And he had experienced joy in serving the Lord.
But today, this same young man is the exact opposite of a Christian. He has fallen deeply and utterly into sin. He carries an aching sadness in his heart that he tries to drown away by drinking. He parties to find joy, but it only leaves him empty. He has sex with different women, but afterward he's more lonely and despairing than ever.
This once-vibrant believer is on a deep downward spiral, and he knows it. He's slowly becoming an alcoholic. He weeps as he thinks of what his life has become. And he has a terrible fear that God has given up on him. He's convinced he has crossed a line now and can never go back. The last time I spoke with him, he said, "I've sinned away so much blessing. Now I can't help thinking I've sinned away all hope." He sees himself as too far gone, too hooked by sin, ever to get back to God.
At one point, he wrote me a letter saying he was haunted by all the sermons he'd heard. He saw himself in Paul's warning, "Lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway" (1 Corinthians 9:27).
Finally, in utter despair, he decided to go back to church one last time, in search of hope. Yet the sermon he heard that day shook him to the core. It was taken from Hebrews 6:4-6: "It is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost, and have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come, if they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance; seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame."
In this young man's mind, that description fit him perfectly. He had been enlightened by God's Word. He had tasted the heavenly gift of forgiveness. He had experienced the touch of the Holy Ghost. But now, he reasoned, "I've put Jesus to an open shame. My sinful life crucifies him daily." These words kept ringing in his ears: "It is impossible for such fallen people to be renewed."
That sermon had shut out his last ray of hope. Now, as he walked through the church doors, he felt doomed to eternal damnation. He couldn't argue with the Scriptures. He believed he was destined to live out his days in misery and hopelessness.
Today, thousands of once-faithful believers have fallen into the same condition as this young man. At one point, they walked out on God, sinned grossly and fell from grace. Now they're living in direct opposition to the incredible light they once received. And they're convinced they're beyond any hope of ever being saved.
Does this describe you, or someone you know? If so, I want to give you the same message I wrote back to this young man:
As the founder of the Teen Challenge ministry, I've witnessed thousands upon thousands of people come to salvation in Jesus. Many of these souls had been deemed utterly hopeless. They included drug addicts and alcoholics, drug pushers and thieves, homosexuals and prostitutes, atheists and devil worshippers, hardened criminals and gang members. I watched in awe as these people were marvelously transformed by Christ's power. They received healing, renewal, absolute freedom from their bondage. And they grew powerfully in God's Word and grace.
Yet, at times, Satan seduced some of these converts back into their old lifestyle. Once they'd fallen, he screamed into their ears, "You're too bound ever to be delivered. You're cursed, helpless, unable to be freed. You can never go back to Jesus now."
I think of a young couple who came to our ministry from the streets years ago, James and Mary Thomas. This pair had been homeless wanderers who stole to support their heroin habits. When they walked through our doors, they were like dead people, stoned out of their minds. James was in a mental haze, so stupefied by drugs he could barely speak his own name. Mary was an alcoholic, a pitiful sight of skin and bones.
Yet God performed a miraculous work in this couple. Both were wonderfully saved. The Lord then restored them physically, bringing color to their faces and weight back to their bodies. He also restored their mental faculties. James, in particular, had a brilliant mind. In a short time, he was self-taught in Greek and Hebrew. We sent both of the Thomases to a Bible school, where James astonished his teachers. His Hebrew instructor told him, "I can't teach you any more. You already know more than I do."
After they graduated, James and Mary left for California, where they started a prison ministry. They labored together for about twelve years, ministering to hundreds of prisoners. James preached and taught the Bible, while Mary counseled and reached out to troubled women. In our eyes, this beautiful couple were trophies of God's grace. They stood as shining examples of Jesus' power to transform the most hopeless of lives.
Somehow, though, after years of being so blessed by God, Mary became discouraged. Satan succeeded in seducing her back to alcohol. The days that followed were a living hell for the Thomases. While James ministered in prisons, Mary slipped away to bars. Sometimes she stayed out all night. James had to go out looking for her, and he often found her lying in a ditch, passed out. When she sobered up, she told him, "I don't know what's happened. I'm back in it again. I just can't break this habit."
Then one night Mary disappeared, and James couldn't find her. Several weeks passed. James was so distraught by then, we invited him to come to our ministry headquarters in Texas. I'd never seen a man so wounded. But, he told me, "I won't quit on her. I know what God has done for us."
Three days later, Mary called from a hospital. The police had found her half-dead in the middle of a street. She'd been prostituting and was beaten up badly. James flew out to get her, and he brought her back to our ranch to recover. When they walked in, no one recognized Mary. Her face was misshapen, her lips swollen, her skin black and blue.
After Mary rested and had started to heal, we all began to minister God's love to her. But she couldn't accept it. She knew Hebrews 6:4-6 by heart, and she quoted it to us: "It's impossible for them to be renewed, if they shall fall away." She knew she'd tasted of the heavenly gift and had partaken of God's Word. Now she was shaken by the fact she was crucifying her savior afresh. All she could say was, "It's over for me. I was once a preacher to others. But look at what I've become. I rejected Jesus' love. I sinned against the light. He can't take me back now." She thought she was destined to fall back into her habit again, and end her days on the streets. Now all she wanted was to die.
I'll return to Mary's story. But for now, I want to examine the meaning of the phrase, "it is impossible...to renew them." For whom, exactly, is this impossible?
Mary Thomas knew I loved her. She also respected me as a minister of God's Word. Yet, still, Mary wouldn't be reached. No promise from God's Word could touch her. Not even her godly husband's compassionate love could move her. Her ears seemed shut, her heart hardened, her soul beyond conviction.
It's frightening to try to minister to a believer who has fallen so deeply into sin. It seems the more spiritual a person once was, the harder it is to reach him when he falls. You could speak to him as an oracle of God, live out the pathos of the cross before him, speak to him the very heart of Jesus - yet still his heart would remain as stone. He says, "I feel like I'm on the edge of a black hole. Once I fall in, I'll never get out. Yet I just don't have any power to turn away. I'm afraid I'm going to lose it, and end up in hell."
Jeremiah prophesied of this condition: "Therefore thou shalt speak all these words unto them; but they will not hearken to thee: thou shalt also call unto them; but they will not answer thee" (Jeremiah 7:27). Likewise, Jesus said of those who'd hardened their hearts to his Word: "This people's heart is waxed gross...their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes they have closed" (Matthew 13:15).
I have seen multitudes of wicked people respond to my preaching. These have included the vilest sinners: vicious gang leaders, leaders of witches' covens, serial rapists, even murderers. Before these people came to Jesus, they were hardened to sin. Yet they weren't hardened to the gospel, like the believers described in Hebrews 6:4-6. I tell you, it's impossible for any minister to reach and renew such fallen believers. Why? They've allowed the devil to convince them, "You've sinned against the light too often. And now it's too late for you. You simply can't be reached."
No husband ever loved his wife more than James Thomas loved his. This man never stopped loving Mary, even though she'd played the harlot. I was amazed as I watched him care for her in those painful, difficult days. This woman had been handled and beaten by other men. But now her husband sat patiently caressing her wounds, washing her face and weeping over her.
Yet, even more astonishing was that James' great love and compassion couldn't melt Mary's heart. She simply wouldn't be moved, either by tears or tenderness. She seemed completely beyond the reach of any human gesture or power.
I've seen the same kind of distance in wayward, cheating husbands who abandon their families. Their wives plead with them, "Honey, I forgive you. I don't care what you've done. We've been married for twenty-five years, and I want our marriage to work. I love you and need you." The children grab their fathers' legs and wail, "Daddy, why are you leaving us? Don't go away. Don't leave Mommy and me." But nothing can move these men. They're already hooked on another woman, and they're ready to throw their life and family away. No amount of human love can reach them.
I once knew a young pastor, a fine man who was married to a beautiful young lady. This minister was an effective witness here on the streets of New York. His preaching won many drug addicts to Jesus. And he was a dedicated teacher, instructing recovering addicts and alcoholics in the ways of the Lord.
Then, at one point, the pastor started toying with pornography. Eventually, he got hooked, and it literally took over his life. When his wife found out about it, he railed at her, "I'm not going to quit this." Instead, he said, he wanted her to get involved, too. She was horrified. When she refused, he got angry and started seeing another woman.
For weeks, this man's wife pleaded with him, "You know you're opening your soul to the devil. If you don't stop, Satan is going to possess you." But he wouldn't listen. Finally, his wife begged me to talk with him. I did, reminding the young minister of the Lord's work in his life, of the Bible's clear warnings, and of our love for him.
"It's too late," he told me. "I'm addicted. I've left the ministry, and I don't love my wife anymore. I can't go back now." He then pointed out to me that by sinning, he was putting Jesus to an open shame. Therefore, it was impossible for him to be renewed.
I countered, "It doesn't matter what you've done. Jesus has all the power needed to set you free. We can take authority over this bondage in his name, and God will deliver you right now." But he shook his head and refused. He couldn't be persuaded. Today, he's married to a witch and is deeply involved in the occult. He's totally lost.
Human love and reasoning simply can't break the hold of this kind of sin.
Mary Thomas understood well that the wages of sin is death. She also knew that every sin she committed was being recorded, adding to her burden of guilt. Just a few months before, this same woman had been warning others to flee from sin and avoid God's wrath. But those things didn't mean anything to her now.
I witnessed the same kind of hardness in an AIDS ward recently. A young man from our church asked me to pray with his dying brother, who had only a few hours to live. When we entered his hospital room, the dying patient was watching a movie on TV. As I stood near him, I asked, "Son, in just a little while you're going to stand in eternity. Do you understand that?" He didn't bat an eye. He just kept watching the movie. Then I asked, "Can I pray with you?" He answered, "I don't care." I ended up praying a simple prayer for him. When I looked up, his eyes were still glued to the TV. What blindness Satan brings, even in the face of eternity.
Many fallen Christians have told me, "Why would the thought of hell bother me? I'm already in hell." In one sense, they're right: it's hell to wake up every day with a cloud of gloom hanging over your head. It's hell to be driven by a habit you can't control, living like an animal, seeking only pleasure. After a while, even your sensual indulgences feel empty. Drugs, sex, parties mean nothing. They no longer bring joy or happiness. Instead, they leave you sick and lonely, crying, "I'm living in hell."
It's hell to lose your faith, to lose all hope, to lose your family and loved ones. Finally, you're all alone with only your sinful self. You've been shut off from God, fully aware that you've spat in his face. So you go through every day longing for night, and every night longing for day.
Yes, you've sinned against incredible light. You've tasted of God's wonderful Word. And yes, you're crucifying Jesus daily, putting him to an open shame. You're moving further away from the cross, going ever deeper into sin. Yes, it is impossible for any preacher, or loved one, or warning about God's judgment to move you to repentance.
Yet, nowhere in Scripture does it say it's impossible for God to do this work in you. Jesus tells us that with God, nothing is impossible: "The things which are impossible with men are possible with God" (Luke 18:27).
Indeed, no person is too far gone for the Lord to save, with one exception: the person who commits the unpardonable sin. This sin occurs when a former believer mocks the work of the Holy Spirit as being the work of the devil. Such a person has ripped Christ out of his heart completely. In effect, he has staged his own crucifixion scene, purposely killing all love and desire for Jesus. This person can never be restored.
Of course, those who fear they've sinned unpardonably actually haven't. How do I know this? The proof is in the fact they're concerned about it. You see, to commit the unpardonable sin requires a conscience that's totally seared. In that case, a person's love for Jesus is replaced with an utter hatred of God. This person shakes his fist at God, saying, "I never want to hear from you again." He even dares God to send him to hell. Such a person hates everything that's holy and pure. And he seeks opportunities to crucify Jesus afresh. He mocks everything having to do with God, such as claiming, "Jesus is gay."
If you think you've committed the unpardonable sin, consider Jeremiah 30. The entire chapter consists of God's indictment against Israel. The Lord tells his people, "You've been given so much light. I have blessed you and offered you incredible covenant promises. But you've responded by turning your back on me."
Jeremiah prophesied to them, "For thus saith the Lord, Thy bruise is incurable, and thy wound is grievous. There is none to plead thy cause, that thou mayest be bound up: thou hast no healing medicines. All thy lovers have forgotten thee; they seek thee not; for I have wounded thee with the wound of an enemy, with the chastisement of a cruel one, for the multitude of thine iniquity; because thy sins were increased...Thy sorrow is incurable for the multitude of thine iniquity: because thy sins were increased, I have done these things unto thee" (Jeremiah 30:12-15).
The Lord was saying, in essence, "Your awful sins have made you sick and diseased. You've become utterly depraved. And now your wound is so deep, it can't be cured. No medicine can heal you."
Yet, God's Word here is referring to a human cure. No power on earth could heal such a wound. It would be an utter impossibility. But it is never impossible for God. Just two verses later, the Lord tells these same incurable people, "I will restore health unto thee, and I will heal thee of thy wounds...because they called thee an Outcast, saying, This is Zion, whom no man seeketh after? (30:17).
God was telling his people, "Everyone has given up on you, saying you're too far gone. They see you as a lost child, hopeless and abandoned. But, because of this, I'm going to heal you. Everyone says you're an outcast, a drunkard, a has-been, a no-good. But I'm going to restore you. I'll have mercy on you, and heal all your wounds."
This is exactly what the Lord did for Mary Thomas. People had given up on her, including even her loving friends. They simply couldn't handle her hopeless condition. They saw her as an unrepentant, alcoholic harlot, and believed God had turned her over to her sins. They said, "James ought to divorce her and put her in an institution." Even devoted James lost some of his boundless hope. At one point, he confided to me, "I feel so helpless. I don't know if she'll ever pull through."
Beloved, the world may write you off. Even your family and friends may give up on you. But God promises, "I will never let you go. I'm going to rescue you, and heal every wound in your body and soul."
Nothing that anyone said had gotten through to Mary. She couldn't be moved by love, compassion or fear. But a miracle began for this hopeless woman when she uttered a deep, inner cry. Her cry consisted of just two words: "Lord, help." At that point, Mary couldn't even pray. She couldn't bring herself to address God. Yet, over and over, deep in her heart, she cried out, "Jesus, help me." Finally, she began actually voicing the words: "Lord, I'm so far down, so deep in sin. Please, help me."
Mary's cries echoed David's own pleas to the Lord: "Out of the depths have I cried unto thee, O Lord" (Psalm 130:1). "In my distress I cried unto the Lord, and he heard me" (120:1). Like David, Mary voiced her cry. And God heard her.
One day, out of nowhere, tears began to flow from Mary's face. The Holy Spirit had filled the room, and all of Mary's pent-up fears and hopelessness came pouring out. The power of Christ's forgiveness flooded her soul and washed out all the filth, anger and guilt. Soon, joy filled her soul, and she began laughing and rejoicing. We all watched in amazement as this restored, renewed woman raised her hands and began worshipping the Lord. Everyone present that day knew the Lord had begun an incredible new work in Mary, sanctifying her and changing her life.
James and Mary ended up going back to California, where they resumed their ministry to prisoners. Their marriage and family were gloriously restored. And they experienced God's full blessing in their lives.
James Thomas died last year. This man went to his savior a loving, faithful servant. And afterward, Mary faithfully took over the prison ministry. Then, last March, Mary died. By God's grace and power, Mary Thomas went into glory a mighty warrior for Jesus. Her life and testimony proved Luke 18:27: With God, nothing is impossible.
Perhaps, like Mary, you've fallen from grace somehow. You believe others have written you off, and you feel lost and forsaken. David says people wrote him off, too, "Saying, God hath forsaken him...there is none to deliver him" (Psalm 71:11). So, what did David do? He did what Mary Thomas did. He cried out of the depths of his despair: "O God, help me" (see 71:12). The Lord heard David's cry and restored him: "Thou, which hast shewed me great and sore troubles, shalt quicken me again, and shalt bring me up again from the depths of the earth. Thou shalt increase my greatness, and comfort me on every side" (71:20-21).
Maybe Hebrews 6:4-6 has you convinced you can't be renewed to repentance. You simply can't believe God will forgive you for crucifying Jesus daily and putting him to an open shame. You think your sin is too deep, too binding, to be cured.
I tell you, you haven't grieved God any more than Israel did. God called this people stiff-necked and idolatrous, declaring, "My wrath will wax hot against you. I'm going to consume you because of your sin" (see Exodus 32:9-10). Yet, Scripture says, God repented of his wrath against his people. Instead, he said, "Wherefore should the Egyptians speak, and say, For mischief did he bring them out, to slay them...The Lord repented of the evil which he thought to do unto his people" (32:12, 14).
The fact is, whenever God hears our deep, remorseful cry, his heart is moved. And he faithfully responds to our cry, restoring us, healing us, and renewing us to repentance.
You may be tempted to put off crying out to him. You think, "If God can pull me out of this pit, surely I can wait a little while and indulge my sin some more." But the Bible tells us, "Now is the day of salvation" (2 Corinthians 6:2). Don't think you can wait for another time to cry out to the Lord. The time for your renewal is now.
So, cry out to him today. He is faithful to deliver you, and to restore everything the cankerworm has eaten. He longs to give you a new heart and a new beginning. Nothing is impossible with him!