A Gradual Descent Before the Fall
When one ceases to faithfully serve the Lord, normally it is not an over-night departure. It is a gradual process that involves a few steps before it finally takes place. This is why it is very difficult to reason with those who have fallen. By the time it happens they are generally unwilling to be touched by those truths that once motivated them to faith and service. Yet, the effort must be made because they may still be moved to return to the Lord.
The apostle Paul, in Romans 1:20-21 (although at this place he addresses the Gentile nation who at one time existed without a written revelation from God) seems to address the events that are at work in a person's life before his fall.
For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are with-out excuse, because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but be-came futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened.
Within these two verses (actually within verse 21) we find what may be referred to as steps that are at work in the life of one who had at one time been enlightened. Some have suggested that there are four steps that are involved. Concerning this person the apostle Paul would say, "So that they are without excuse."
They Are Without Excuse Because They Once Knew God
This statement simply implies that at one time they knew some things about God. They knew that he is alive, they knew of his great power and they knew of his divinity. When applying this to a Christian we could say that they knew of the love that he has for his creation in the sending of his Son to suffer and die upon the cross. Also, they once knew the precious promises that God has given to the faithful. The hope of heaven was once a hope that they held onto. The Hebrew writer speaks of this hope as anchoring the soul, making us both steadfast and sure (cf. Heb. 6:19).
In my estimation it is precisely this that the writer of Hebrews writes of in that same sixth chapter. "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" (Heb. 6:4-6).
Imagine, if you can, one reaching the point of totally rejecting those good things of God that you now enjoy. Imagine allowing the precious faith that you now enjoy and treasure to suffer shipwreck. They are without excuse!
They Are Without Excuse Because They Did Not Glorify Him as God
There is a lot involved in glorifying him as God. The word glorify is translated from the Greek word doxazo. According to Strongs this word means "to render (or esteem) glorious (in a wide application): (made) glorify (-ious), full of (have) glory, honor, magnify." Simply put, they failed to treat him as God. They failed to reverence him, worship him, obey him and to live their lives according to his inspired will. The Lord sums up this point in John 15:8 where he says, "By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit; so you will be My disciple."
A good example of this very thing can be found in the life of Moses. In Numbers 20:1ff the children of Israel are without water again. They will receive their water for a second time from a rock. The first time that this took place is in Exodus 17:1-7. On this occasion God told Moses to "strike the rock" with his rod and it would bring forth water for them to drink. On the second occasion God told Moses to "speak to the rock" in order to get water. Moses chose to strike the rock with his rod once again.
Obviously God was upset with Moses. But look how God expresses his displeasure with Moses, "Then the Lord spoke to Moses and Aaron, 'Be-cause you did not believe Me, to hallow Me in the eyes of the children of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this congregation into the land which I have given you' (Num. 20:12). The word "hallow" (sanctify KJV) is qadash in the Hebrew and it means "to proclaim holy, sanctify (-ied one)." That's what Moses failed to do by his disobedience.
Wearing the name "Christian" is a serious thing. It is a name that ex-presses who we are and what we are. It is an identification of ownership, we belong to the Lord. The wearing of this name gives one the opportunity to either bring "glory" or to bring "dishonor." Obedience brings honor, disobedience brings dishonor. They are without excuse!
They Are Without Excuse Because They Were Not Thankful
Seemingly they failed to see God as the source of their good gifts. They were like nine of the ten lepers that Jesus had healed. All ten came to the Lord desiring to be healed, but only one came back and glorified God for their cleansing, (cf. Luke 17:11-19). In verse 17 Jesus asked these two questions, "Were there not ten cleansed? But where are the nine?"
Being thankful is simply expressing our gratitude to the One that made so may wonderful gifts possible. The apostle Paul tells us that we are to give thanks in everything simply because it is the will of the Father (cf. 1 Thess. 5:18).
In Ephesians 1:3-13 the apostle Paul mentions the blessings that we have through Jesus Christ, and in v. 3 he calls them "spiritual blessings." Then beginning in v. 4 Paul begins to name some of those spiritual blessings: we are "chosen" v. 4, we are "adopted" v. 5, we are "accepted" v. 6, we have "redemption in His blood" v. 7, we have been "gathered together in one" v. 10, we have an "inheritance" v. 11, and finally in v. 13 we have been "sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise." No wonder James tells us, "Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning" (Jas. 1:17). When one is in the process of falling, he has cast aside his thankfulness for the many blessings that God has blessed him with. They are with-out excuse!
They Are Without Excuse Because They Became Futile in Their Thoughts and Their Foolish Hearts Were Darkened
The word "futile" (vain, KJV) means something is empty or worth-less. Jesus said in Matthew 15:9, "Andin vain they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the comm. ndments of men." Solomon in the book of Ecclesiastes refers to basically everything as vain when a person is living his life with-out God, that is without God being the focus of his life.
This is how those to whom Paul spoke became futile in their thoughts. Instead of having God as their Master, they became their own master. They thought that their own ways were superior to God's ways. The inspired wisdom of the prophets inform us that God's ways and thoughts are much higher than ours, (cf. Isa. 55:8-9), and that God never intended for man to direct his own steps (cf. Jer. 10:23).
With the Gentile nation whom Paul addressed, this resulted in idol worship. The true glory of God was exchanged by them for the images of man and the images of animals. When one falls from his faithful walk as a Christian, he goes back to the ways of the old man of sin and sorrow. When he does, his life is likened to a dog who returns to his own vomit or to the washed pig who returns to wallowing in the filthy mire, (cf. 2 Pet. 2:22). They are without excuse!
I know of no greater tragedy than this for one who once "knew" the Lord! Sadly enough, not every one comes to his senses. Not every one realizes that life with the Father is much greater than life with harlots, riotous living and mealtime with the pigs (cf. Luke 15:11-32).
Guardian of Truth XL: No. 20, p. 6-7