Therefore, leaving the discussion of the elementary principles of Christ, let us go on to perfection, not laying the foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, of the doctrine of baptisms, of laying on of hands, of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment. And this we will do, if God permits.
For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of 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. (NKJV)
Chapter 6 builds upon 5:12-14. It doesn’t occur in a vacuum, irrespective of what has gone before, or what will come after. As we’ve seen, the writer has turned aside for a moment to remind his readers, including us, that “the faith” isn’t merely an exercise in certain historic facts and doctrinal truths, but rather that these facts and truths are intended to have a radical and permanent effect in the hearts and lives of sinful men and women. They’re intended to bring such folks from cursing to blessing – from slavery to sonship – from being foreigners to being “family”.
The writer has contrasted where they are with where they ought to be; that when they should be “teachers,” that is, reaching out and helping others to understand spiritual truth, they themselves are in need of “teaching.” They are still “on the bottle,” as it were, still in spiritual infancy.
6:1, “therefore” continues his exhortation and admonition.
An Exhortation, 6:1-3.
These believers were to “go on,” to advance, to progress, not “start over.” True, they weren’t where they were supposed to be, but the answer was not to go back to the beginning, not to “get saved” all over again, not to “rededicate” themselves, but to “go on” from where they were.
In vs. 1a-2, it’s necessary to remember the context of the book – a contrast between the Old and the New: to show the inability of the Old compared with the efficacy of the New. Cf. 8:7, 8.
1. “dead works” – not “sins” – the OT sacrificial and ceremonial system, 4:10.
2. “faith toward God,” that the Mosaic system is no longer operative, but that God has “provided for Himself a lamb,” (Genesis 22:8).
3. “baptisms” – washings, Leviticus 15:13 with other OT references either to bathing or washing and being clean.
4. “laying on of hands” – Leviticus 1:4: identification with OT sacrifices. The OT Jew, in bringing a sacrifice to the altar, would lay his hand on the head of the animal. This signified that he himself deserved to die because of his sin, but was able to live because of the death of an innocent substitute. Thus was pictured salvation by substitution and sacrifice, which was ultimately, finally and completely fulfilled in the substitutionary death of the Lord Jesus. In this Christmas season, we might remember that the cradle wasn’t the reason the Lord Jesus came into this world. He came to die, in order that we through Him might live.
An Explanation, 6:4-6.
Much discussion of these verses centers on whether or not the writer is thinking of “true” Christians. Without getting into all the various arguments pro and con, it seems to me that verse 6 establishes beyond doubt that the writer is thinking of “true” Christians. He describes them as having been “renewed unto repentance.” This is not a description of one who is still “dead in trespasses and sins.” He also describes them as having been “partakers of the Holy Spirit.”
But what is the writer teaching in these verse? This is a question of paramount importance. Some folks never get beyond the first five words of v. 6, “…if they shall fall away,…” and conclude, sometimes quite vehemently, that Christians can indeed lose their salvation, and that “eternal security” is a doctrine from the pit. I had a Boston Church of Christ elder once tell me that he believed that one could be child of God and still end up in hell.
“If they shall fall away.” This isn’t to be taken as “when” or “since.” There is no “if” in the original language. We might translate the verse like this:
“For [it is] impossible, those once enlightened, who tasted of the heavenly gift and became partakers of the Holy Spirit, and tasted the good word of God and [the] works of power of [the] age to come and [who] fell away, again to renew [them] to repentance, crucifying for themselves [as they do] the Son of God, and exposing [Him] publicly.”
For these people, the “falling away” is as real as any of the other things said about them. Is the writer thus teaching that it is possible to fall away and lose your salvation?? We don’t think so, primarily of what else is said of these people. Those groups who believe that you can lose your salvation also believe that you can be “born again” or “saved” again. I have heard of some who claim to have been saved several times.
If verses 4-6 actually teach that you can lose your salvation, it also teaches something else:
IF YOU CAN LOSE YOUR SALVATION……
YOU CAN NEVER EVER GET IT BACK!!
I can’t put it any more plainly than the writer did; if those truly saved can lose their salvation, then, in the words of vs. 4, 6, it is impossible…to renew them again to repentance (emphasis added).
There are at least two results to the teaching that Hebrews 6:4-6 teaches the loss of salvation.
1. a superficial view of sin and the innate sinfulness of human nature. The logical result of this view is “sinless perfection,” for anything less than that opens us up to the danger of losing our salvation. How much “sin” is “too much”? After all, it was a minor sin, as we look at such things – the eating of a fruit – that caused Adam and Eve to lose their place in the Garden of Eden and brought into the world all the terrible things that have happened since then.
Even those who believe that they have been “entirely sanctified” recognize that they aren’t perfect, but this is just looked upon as “making mistakes,” hence, sin is minimized and so also in “holiness.”
2. a superficial view of salvation. There is no understanding of what salvation is, this being “saved,” then “lost,” then being “saved” again, only to repeat the cycle who knows how many times.
Salvation is a life-changing, nay, it is a life-giving work of the Holy Spirit. “Being saved” isn’t just the result of some little ritual or ceremony in or of the church, with God passively standing around until we “do our part.” It is ultimately the work of the Triune God, initiating and completing that work. True, we must and do believe in order to be saved, but without the working of the Holy Spirit, we have neither the desire nor capability to do so.
One question remains: why would it be impossible to be “saved” more than once?
It’s impossible to be saved more than once because such a thing would mean that we say, in effect, that the death of Christ was a failure, and that we turn our back on it. It’s impossible to be saved more than once because God will not permit such an insult to His Son, as the following verses teach.
We have such a superficial view of God in our time. We pretty much seem to have an idea to the effect that God has to wait on the sidelines of His own creation until we decide to send Him into the game.
There’s a meme I see on facebook every so often that boldly proclaims, “If it’s not in the word of God, it’s not the will of God.” It gets a lot of “likes”. Leaving aside the fact that almost nothing in our modern society is mentioned in the Bible: computers, the internet, cars, fancy church buildings with padded pews and air conditioning, etc, this is not how Scripture views things. It says that God works all things after the counsel of His will, Ephesians 1:11.
Scripture teaches that He superintends and oversees every part of our existence. That’s hard for some people to accept, but Daniel told a wicked, idolatrous king that even his very breath was in the hand of God, Daniel 5:23, and that God “owned” all his ways. Then there’s what Joseph told his brothers when the evil of what they had done to him had become known and their father was dead, and the brothers had come to Joseph to beg him not to “get” them: “But as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant if for good…,” Genesis 50:20. These verses don’t mean that God approved or accepted what they did, but simply that they didn’t catch Him off-guard or cause Him to have to go to some imagined “Plan B.”
If I can use a hackneyed phrase: God “sees the big picture” – which He Himself is painting. We see only an occasional brush-stroke. Even our growth in the faith is subject to the will of God, v. 3: this we will do, if God permit. But this does not release us from the obligation to be diligent, v. 11, in the things of God. The writer has much more to say about all this as he goes along.
An Example, vs. 7, 8.
Even in farming, fertile and productive land receives blessing from God, but if it bears thorns, it is rejected…, v. 7. To “bear” the thorns of unbelief and rejection of Christ means that we, in turn, would be rejected.
There is so much to the Christian life. This is what the writer to the Hebrews wanted his readers to realize. I think he would want that for us, too.