Let’s be honest, who doesn’t love Netflix? It is one of the few (sarcasm) websites that allows us to appease our addiction to the idols of media, pop culture, escapism, and entertainment. Netflix offers tens of thousands of movies and TV episodes to its almost 70 million subscribers who have spent an estimated 100 million hours viewing today alone! That’s a lot of time and a lot of users. But what can Christians learn from Netflix?
Netflix helps us understand a very difficult passage in Hebrews 6 concerning people who have tasted the Gospel and then fallen away.
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. – Hebrews 6:4-6
First it must be noted that the word “impossible” should not be too highly scrutinized, God can and does do anything he wants. The author is merely making the point that it is extremely rare and very unlikely that a person would taste the Gospel, reject it, and then return to accept it again. It happens often that a person will “taste the Gospel” or in other words – taste the heavenly gift, share in the Holy Spirit, taste the goodness of God’s word and power, and still reject it. People can cognitively understand as well as have their eyes opened to the true meaning of the Gospel and then choose to deny, reject, and have nothing to do with it. Like parable of the sower in Mark 4, some seeds grow for a little while, but then are either scorched by harsh conditions or they uproot themselves and are drawn away into death by worldly desires. They believed the gospel for a little while, and then eventually decided they valued something else more than Jesus – either their comfort or the things of this world. And just like any food you try, once you have tasted something and hate it, it is very unlikely that you are going to want to eat it again.
I signed up for a free month subscription with Netflix some time ago. I got to enjoy all the benefits that a paying subscriber would, except for free. In a manner of speaking, I tasted the goodness of Netflix. But then, at the end of my free month I had to make a choice. I had to decide if being a full-time member of the Netflix community was worth the cost. I enjoyed all the benefits for free, with a low level of commitment, and now I had to decide if I liked what I had seen enough to pay for it – enough to commit to it. Netflix was more than willing to let me taste their membership (in fact they had so much faith I would love it, they offered me 3 more free trials). But after a time, they told me, “We are so glad you tried us out, but if you really want to be a part of this, it is going to cost you. We are going to need a commitment.” If I’m willing to pay the price, I can enjoy all the benefits of being a member of the Netflix kingdom. I had to measure it, count the cost, and decide if it was worth it to me. And if I decide that it isn’t worth the cost, it is very unlikely that I will change my mind in the future.
The same is true in the Christian life. God offers the free gift of salvation to anyone who is willing to commit to spending their lives rooted in and following Jesus. While His grace costs us nothing, it cost Him everything – the death of His own Son. To summarize Bonhoeffer, “Grace costs nothing, yet demands everything.” In order to fully be a part of God’s Kingdom, we have to commit our lives to it and we have to be willing to pay the price of obedience and faithfulness to God. Many of us have counted the cost and decided that no matter how great the cost, it is absolutely worth it to follow Jesus. Others will hear the gospel, respond to it positively, and then turn their nose up at it once they realize just how much its going to cost.
It is nearly impossible for someone to truly taste the Gospel, count the cost, decide it isn’t worth it, and then change their mind. Jesus himself tells us to count the cost before following him (Luke 14). It is a price that many people are not willing to pay (Mark 10:17-31). In one of the most profound paradoxes of all time, God offers his love, his goodness, and his Spirit freely to all, but we must be willing to pay the price.