Would it ever be too late for a Christian to repent?
“Yes.” “For ye know,” said the Hebrews writer (12:17). You know about Esau and what happened with respect to the birthright and blessing. Esau’s example teaches us something about the nature of irreversible consequences, and we must apply the lesson to spiritual things — the eternal inheritance.
The inspired writer appealed to the case of Esau to warn Christians about a kind of spiritual apathy he calls “profane” — a disregard for religious and holy things by someone who is familiar with them. The admonition goes out to all who are well-acquainted with the plan of God, just as Esau was acquainted with the divine promise to Abraham.
At first glance, this passage is troubling to some. It appears as if Esau repented in sincerity and could not find forgiveness. Some have speculated whether or not this passage teaches that there are some sins for which there is no forgiveness.
The passage does not address the impossibility of Esau’s salvation as though he sought to repent of personal sins to God. First of all, such an idea would contradict the clear teaching of numerous passages that reveal the possibility of salvation to anyone who sincerely seeks the Lord according to his Word. Second, the view above does not fairly represent the language of the passage. The text nowhere says that Esau was lost — he may have been, or maybe he was not, but that is not the point of the passage. Neither does the passage state that God would not forgive him. The idea of his personal salvation is not the subject in the passage. Rather, the writer speaks of the irreversible nature of the blessing, once it had been bestowed on Jacob.
Consider the writer’s argument. Esau made a choice. His choice set in motion a series of consequences. Although afterward he desired to inherit the blessing, he could not. The situation was irrevocable.
Having observed that this passage speaks to the patriarchal blessing spoken by Isaac, and not Esau’s salvation, we ask the following study question. How is this passage intended to warn Christians?
First of all, we must remember that the inheritance was not a light thing in the household of Isaac. Even Esau himself “sought it diligently with tears” — afterwards. He had developed, however, a profane state-of-mind. He did not consider it as valuable as he should have.
Esau was, in this first respect, like many people today. They don’t have a burning desire to be in fellowship with Jesus Christ, nor do they have a passion about living with the Father throughout eternity, singing his praises. But one thing is sure: they don’t want to go to hell. Such is the extent of their shallow spirituality. Esau had a minimal level of interest in the patriarchal promises, but it was certainly not enough.
Second, although Esau knew the seriousness of the inheritance, he traded instant gratification for the patriarchal birthright, and he subsequently lost the blessing. It was not a split-second, off-the-cuff, weak-moment mistake. He was a profane man, the Hebrews writer says, and lived with a low-view of the sacred promises of God. Thus, he was ripe for the temptation to “sell his birthright.”
Third, when the blessing was bestowed on his brother, in patriarchal fashion, it was unalterable. Here is the point for the Christian. Esau lived on the fringe of spiritual concern. He lost out on the blessing, and it was unchangeable. If we live for the moment, with a light appreciation for the Christian inheritance and the blood that bought it, we can loose our opportunity, and there is no second chance. There is no other way, no use for tears, no chance for repentance, after death or the Judgment (Hebrews 9:27).
Like the foolish virgins who were unprepared at the bridegroom’s arrival, sometimes it is too late to cry, “Open to us” (Matthew 25:1-13). Like the rich man who was sorry once he was in torment, it was too late for him to repent and warn his brethren (Luke 16:19-31). This kind of regret comes too late.
The message is as relevant today as it was in the first century and as it was in the days of the patriarchs. If you live with little regard for spiritual things, you will regret it — eventually. But that regret will come too late, unless you heed the lesson about Esau. Now is the time to be concerned. Therefore, keep a close eye out, says the inspired writer, lest you be like Esau.
If after reflecting on your spiritual life, you regard your sins as few and your opportunities to repent as many — watch out. You soon may be lifting up your eyes where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth, shedding tears too late.