Pastor David B. Curtis


Apostasy - Part 1

Hebrews 6:1-8

Delivered 01/28/2001

I wonder how many of you would have come here this morning if I had announced last week that I had a magic wand that could transform everyone here so that their physical age would correspond to their spiritual maturity. If that happened this morning, how old would you be? Would some of you be babies, wearing diapers and sucking on a bottle? Would some of you be toddlers just learning to ambulate and communicate? Would some of you be children and some teenagers? Hopefully, many of you would be adults. Would you be embarrassed to have people know your true spiritual maturity?

Now, there is nothing wrong with being a baby, we all start out that way. Babies are cute, and they are fun, most people like babies; but if a person is ten, twenty or thirty years old, it's not cute if they're still a baby, it's tragic. When a person does not mature in the Christian life, it is tragic and dangerous.

In chapter 5:11-14, which we looked at last week, we saw that the Hebrew believers had become dull of hearing. The writer calls them "babes", which is the Greek word nepios. Nepios means: "not speaking or one unable to speak" figuratively, it means: "simple minded or stupid." Nepios implies stupidity, a moron in the spiritual realm. The writer is warning his readers about the dangers of infancy. Babies can't make right choices, they don't know the difference between good and evil. He is afraid that in their immature state they may turn from the Christian faith, they may apostatize.

The language of 5:11-14 plainly intimates that they have gone backward. They have "become" dull of hearing and they need to be taught the ABC's of Christianity all over again. The cause of this retrogression is made known in the tenth chapter, part of which takes us back to a point in time prior to what is recorded in chapter 5:

Hebrews 10:32 (NKJV) But recall the former days in which, after you were illuminated, you endured a great struggle with sufferings:

The experiences referred to were probably soon after their conversion. This "great struggle with suffering" they had taken joyfully:

Hebrews 10:34 (NKJV) for you had compassion on me in my chains, and joyfully accepted the plundering of your goods, knowing that you have a better and an enduring possession for yourselves in heaven.

They endured the suffering "knowing" the joys of heaven that awaited them. But this spiritual state which characterized these Hebrew believers in the beginning days had not been maintained. Their faith was wavering, they became impatient of waiting for an unseen and future reward. It was for this reason that the writer says to them:

Hebrews 10:35-36 (NKJV) Therefore do not cast away your confidence, which has great reward. 36 For you have need of endurance, so that after you have done the will of God, you may receive the promise:

They were becoming impatient, the pressures and trials were getting to them, which accounts for the state in which we find them in:

Hebrews 5:11-12 (NKJV) of whom we have much to say, and hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. 12 For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the first principles of the oracles of God; and you have come to need milk and not solid food.

They were going backward spiritually, they had "become dull of hearing." The word "dull" is nothros, which comes from two Greek words; one meaning: "no" and the other meaning: "to push", hence its meaning is: "no push" thus to be slow or sluggish. Here it has the idea of mental laziness.

The words "you have become" are from the Greek ginomai, which is present tense and speaks of a process completed in past time having present results. The implication of "you have become" is that this was not the case with them originally. They "have become" lazy mentally. They were not always so. There was a time when these Hebrews had listened to the word with eagerness and had made diligent application to it, but now they were going backward spiritually.

Now, in 6:1-3 they are given the solution to the problem.

Hebrews 6:1-3 (NKJV) Therefore, leaving the discussion of the elementary principles of Christ, let us go on to perfection, not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, 2 of the doctrine of baptisms, of laying on of hands, of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment. 3 And this we will do if God permits.

The opening words of this section are surprising. Our author has just told his readers that they are not really able to assimilate the solid food which he would like to give them - the teaching of Christ's Melchizedecian priesthood - because they are immature. We might have expected him to say, as Paul says to the Corinthians in a similar situation:

1 Corinthians 3:2 (NKJV) I fed you with milk and not with solid food; for until now you were not able to receive it, and even now you are still not able;

But our author doesn't say this, he says, "Let us press on." He judged that no good purpose would be served by going over the first principles again. He decided to pull them forward as rapidly as he could. This was the solution to their problem. If they progressed properly, they would avoid the dangers of immaturity.

Hebrews 6:1 (NKJV) Therefore, leaving the discussion of the elementary principles of Christ, let us go on to perfection, not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God,

The word "leaving" is the Greek word aphiemi, it is a verb meaning: "to put or place" with a preposition prefixed, which means" "off or away". Thus the word means: "to send away, depart, let go, to disregard." They needed to advance, not go over old ground.

The word "perfection" is teleiotes, which means: "completeness."

We shouldn't interpret this in light of 5:14, "full age" (teleios) alone; 5:9 must be considered also, perfect teleioo. For Christ, the idea is that of a finished product. It is likely, then, that perfection points to the finished experience of believers, being conformed to the image of Christ.

The words "let us go on" are passive, which gives us the idea of "be carried on." it is a word taken from the progress which a ship makes when under sail. It most likely suggests that God is the actual agent in the advance. This seems to be speaking of the same idea as:

2 Corinthians 3:18 (NKJV) But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord.

They are to go on to completeness; conversely, they must not lay down a foundation for the fundamentals all over again. This is an objective genitive, which means: "the foundation for" and not "a foundation consisting of."

If the faith is deserted, a new foundation has been laid for fundamental teaching, which starts with repentance. That is, we ought not to lay a new basis for fundamental teaching by deserting it all. So, verse 1 is saying, then: "we must go forward, not backward."

"...repentance from dead works...." - this expression is used again in 9:14 where it seems to refer to the Levitical ritual. Here it would be appropriate in the same sense since many of the readers had been converted to Christianity from Judaism. The rituals they had left behind were lifeless ones. The author implied that they should not return to these dead works in any form since to do so would be to lay again a basis for repenting from them.

By "laying again the foundation", I think implies that they are losing sight of the basics about Christ and are beginning to occupy themselves with Old Testament and Jewish truths that were used as the foundation for presenting and understanding Christ. And the writer doesn't want them to go that far back.

Hebrews 6:1-2 (NKJV) ... not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, 2 of the doctrine of baptisms, of laying on of hands, of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment.

To abandon their Christian profession and fall away would be to abandon all these doctrines. One who took that backward step would need to be taught all over again that acceptance was obtained by faith in God, not by rituals.

Whatever the readers had previously learned, they would be giving up. In this sense the foundation would have been laid for relearning them all over again.

One writer says, "The point of Hebrews 6:1-2 is simply that the unbelieving Jews should let go completely of the immature, elementary shadows and symbols of the Old Covenant and take hold of the mature and perfect reality of the New." He's way off - this is not a call to salvation. He is calling believers on to completeness; they're to move on from the basics of Christian doctrine. They're to get off their liquid diet and move on to solid food. Notice what 6:1 says, "Let us go on to perfection." He even puts himself in the number: "Let us go on . . ." Not just, "You go on . . ." but, "You and me - let us go on to perfection." This is his life goal and this is his goal for them.

Hebrews 6:3 (NKJV) And this we will do if God permits.

"This we will do" refers to going on to perfection. "If God permits" - this is a third class condition meaning: "maybe he will, and maybe he won't." The need for Divine enablement is the point. The context will show that it is sadly possible for a Christian to reach a point when he cannot go on to completeness but will fall under Divine chastisement

Apart from his grace, none of us can go on to maturity, but we must use the means of grace; bible study, prayer, corporate worship. We must use the means of grace if we are to grow.

Over and over the writer warns his readers to hold fast their Christian commitment. And it is precisely because he is afraid that some of his readers may waver that in Hebrews 6:4-6 he penned words that must certainly go down as among the most solemn words in the Word of God:

Hebrews 6:4-6 (NKJV) For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted the heavenly gift, and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit, 5 and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, 6 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.

These verses show us the alternative to progress. M.R. DeHaan wrote, "This is admittedly one of the most difficult and controversial passages in the entire Bible and has been the battleground of many a fierce conflict among theologians and Bible students."

Now, the question we all ask here is whether the person who falls away like this was ever truly "saved" or "justified" or "called" or "born again." Can you taste and be a partaker of the Holy Spirit and the word of God and the powers of the age to come and not be justified? In other words, is this text teaching that you can lose your standing as a truly saved person and be lost? Or is it teaching that you can have these experiences in verses 4 and 5 and never have been saved? Both teachings are shocking and sobering. Which is true? Neither!

Those who believe that it is possible for a Christian to lose his salvation and be lost eternally, have confidently appealed to these verses for proof of their theory. But we know that Scripture teaches most emphatically and unequivocally the Divine preservation of the saints. And the Word of God does not and cannot contradict itself.

John 10:28 (NKJV) "And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand.

If our Lord asserted that His sheep should never perish, then certainly Hebrews 6 will not teach that some of them do.

Romans 8:35-39 (NKJV) Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? 36 As it is written: "For Your sake we are killed all day long; We are accounted as sheep for the slaughter." 37 Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. 38 For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, 39 nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

If through Paul the Holy Spirit assures us nothing can separate the children from the love of their father, then without a doubt the portion now before us does not declare that something will.

It may not always be easy to discover the perfect consistency of one scripture with another, but we must hold fast to the unerring harmony and integrity of God's truth. We must hold on to the hermeneutic principle of the "Analogy of faith."

Many who hold to the doctrine of eternal security tell us that what is in view here is false professors. The view of this school of interpretation is concisely stated in the notes of this passage in the Scofield Bible which state:

Hebrews 6: 4-8 presents the case of Jewish professed believers who halt short of faith in Christ after advancing to the very threshold of salvation, even going along with the Holy Spirit in His work of enlightenment and conviction. It is not said that they had faith.

Do dead men advance to the threshold of salvation? Is our author writing to false professors? The theme of this book is found in:

Hebrews 10:23 (NKJV) Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful.

Who is being admonished to hold on to their profession? Is it false believers? No! Why would true believers be admonished to hold on to their profession if they couldn't cast it away? The writer of Hebrews is addressing believers whose loss of confidence and whose flagging will to persevere in the Christian race point alarmingly to the possibility of their dropping out of the race altogether.

In verse 4, a series of predictions are made about those whom it is impossible to renew to repentance:

Hebrews 6:4 (NKJV) For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted the heavenly gift, and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit,

John Piper writes, "Without weakening the seriousness and the warning of these verses I want to argue that it is possible to have all these blessings and all these experiences and not be justified or born again or saved." That totally weakens the seriousness of this warning, because he is saying these people aren't Christians. Can these things be said of unbelievers?

He says that these people were "once enlightened" - the Greek word used here is photizo, it means: "to enlighten, illuminate, to give light, to make see." The writer's other use of this verb in 10:32 seems clearly to point to the early days of their conversion experience:

Hebrews 10:32-36 (NKJV) But recall the former days in which, after you were illuminated, you endured a great struggle with sufferings: 33 partly while you were made a spectacle both by reproaches and tribulations, and partly while you became companions of those who were so treated; 34 for you had compassion on me in my chains, and joyfully accepted the plundering of your goods, knowing that you have a better and an enduring possession for yourselves in heaven. 35 Therefore do not cast away your confidence, which has great reward. 36 For you have need of endurance, so that after you have done the will of God, you may receive the promise:

He says that those who were "illuminated" (same word, photizo) "have a better and an enduring possession for yourselves in heaven" - this is truly speaking of believers. In Hebrews 6:4 the word "once" is the Greek word hapax, [hap'-ax] which means: "once for all." They had been "enlightened once for all."

2 Corinthians 4:3-6 (NKJV) But even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, 4 whose minds the god of this age has blinded, who do not believe, lest the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine on them. 5 For we do not preach ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord, and ourselves your bondservants for Jesus' sake. 6 For it is the God who commanded light to shine out of darkness, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

In view of this, it is extremely questionable whether an unsaved man could be said to be "enlightened." There is certainly nothing to suggest that here, except bad theology.

They are also said to have "tasted the heavenly gift" - this is most naturally a reference to the gift of eternal life.

James 1:17-18 (NKJV) 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. 18 Of His own will He brought us forth by the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of His creatures.

My favorite Lordship writer says this, "This great gift, however was not received. It was not feasted on, but only tasted, sampled. It was not accepted or lived, only examined." This stands in contrast with the meaning of the word "tasted". The Greek word used here for "tasted" is geuomai, it means: "to experience something to the fullest." This same word is used in:

Hebrews 2:9 (NKJV) But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, for the suffering of death crowned with glory and honor, that He, by the grace of God, might taste death for everyone.

Jesus Christ experienced physical and spiritual death on the cross. The word "geuomai" is common throughout Greek as a metaphor for experiencing. Jesus fully experienced death, and the Hebrews fully experienced the heavenly gift. In no sense does Hebrews 2:9 imply anything less than a full and deep experience of death. Should the same word mean less in Hebrews 6? To what extremes will men go to defend their theories?

They also "have become partakers of the Holy Spirit" - The word "partakers" is the Greek word metochos, which means: "partner or companions." They had become companions of the Holy Spirit. That the writer had in mind a definite, known reception of the Spirit is shown by the use of the aorist participle ginomai - they became partners at a distinct point. Nicole admits, "This expression, perhaps even more than the other, appears to lend support to the view that true Christians are described here."

These Hebrews had also, "tasted the good word of God" - this is the same word, "geuomai" and refers to the believer's experience of appropriating God's Word. What emerges from the list is a series which traces Christian experience up to a certain point. The illumination which results in salvation, which makes possible partnership with the Holy Spirit, under whom we feed on God's Word and taste God's power.

They had also tasted, "the powers of the age to come" - the word "powers" is the Greek word dunamis. This is the New Testament word for "miracles" and is an apparent allusion back to the experience mentioned in:

Hebrews 2:4 (NKJV) God also bearing witness both with signs and wonders, with various miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit, according to His own will?

In every way the language fits true Christians with remarkable ease.

Notice that he says, "the age to come" - the author again uses the Greek word mello. The Greek verb "mello" means: (in the infinitive) "to be about to", and "be on the point of" - see Thayer, Arndt & Gingrich, New Englishman's Greek Concordance and Harper's Analytical Greek Lexicon. As we have seen in our study of Hebrews, the "age to come" is speaking of the consummation of the New Covenant that happened at the return of Christ in AD 70. The writer is telling them that it was "about to come." It was near in time; soon to arrive. Notice when he expected Christ to come:

Hebrews 10:37 (NKJV) "For yet a little while, And He who is coming will come and will not tarry.

The coming of Christ and the end of the age are connected in Scripture. And these Hebrew Christians had tasted - experienced fully - the power of the New Covenant age.

Hebrews 6:6 (NKJV) 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.

The "if" is not warranted, it should read, "and have fallen away." As most expositors agree, the idea refers to apostasy. The total context of the epistle supports this, with repeated exhortations to hold the confession and hope firmly.

A literal rendering of this verse would be, "For it is impossible to renew to repentance those who....and have fallen away." The word "impossible" in verse 4 is from the Greek word adunatos, which means: "could not do, impossible, impotent, not possible, weak." My favorite Lordship writer says, "Some have translated adunatos as 'difficult', but it is clear even from other passages in Hebrews that such a translation is unjustified. The same Greek word is used in 6:18, 10:4, and 11:6." I agree with him completely, but why doesn't he use that same reasoning for the word "tasted"?

The verb is active and not passive so we cannot render it, "it is impossible for them to be renewed." It is improbable that the writer would say that God cannot renew them to repentance. God can do whatever He wishes. The context would suggest either, "it is impossible for us to, or it is impossible for anyone to." The statement may not be absolute in regard to future repentance.

The reason for the impossibility is given at the end of verse 6, "since they crucify again for themselves the Son of God, and put Him to an open shame" - those who renounce their Christian faith are, with respect to their own conduct and attitude taking a step that amounts to a fresh public rejection of Christ. By renouncing Christ, they reaffirmed the view of Jesus' enemies that He deserved to die on the cross. In this sense, they were crucifying the Son of God all over again. This is a serious step and not to be thought of as easily reversible.

You want to find someone harder to deal with than an unsaved person, talk to an apostate. Many years ago I asked a Christian man who had been sick and out of work for a while how he was doing spiritually? He said to me, "I don't believe in that hocus pocus anymore." He renounced his faith and became an apostate. What can you say to someone who knows the truth?

Some people will have a hard time believing that a Christian could abandon his faith. But the view that a Christian cannot apostatize is an arbitrary theological conviction, and since it is not supported in the Bible, it ought to be given up.

Is the apostate headed for Hell? They've renounced their faith, what happens to them? He may have lost his faith in Christ, but Christ has not lost him:

2 Timothy 2:13 (NKJV) If we are faithless, He remains faithful; He cannot deny Himself.

Do you believe in the GRACE of God?

Romans 4:5 (NKJV) But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness,

Someone is bound to be thinking, "Well I guess it really doesn't matter what we do then after we're saved, throw away your faith, mock Christianity, and you can still go to heaven. It doesn't really matter what you do." Oh yes it does. The apostate is safe from the fires of Hell, but they're not save from the fire of God's chastisement and discipline, and they live in the shadow of disaster.

Hebrews 6:7-8 (NKJV) For the earth which drinks in the rain that often comes upon it, and bears herbs useful for those by whom it is cultivated, receives blessing from God; 8 but if it bears thorns and briars, it is rejected and near to being cursed, whose end is to be burned.

When we become believers, we are like a plot of ground that belongs to God. God has poured out upon us the blessings of His grace like rain from heaven and has a right to expect that our lives will be fruitful, productive and useful to men. And when they are, He blesses that life; but if after the rain has fallen upon our life, if after we have received the blessings of His matchless grace, we produce briars and thorns - then God rejects that kind of life, it falls under his temporal curse and its destiny is to suffer the fire of discipline and chastisement.

The word "rejected" in verse 8 is the Greek word adokimos, it means: "disapproved." This same word is translated "disqualified" in:

1 Corinthians 9:27 (NKJV) But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified.

I think the reason it's impossible for us to talk an apostate Christian back to his former convictions is because God reserves that person for the fire and if recovery in this life is ever to happen, it will only happen after the individual has passed through the searing reality of God's righteous retribution:

Hebrews 10:30-31 (NKJV) For we know Him who said, "Vengeance is Mine, I will repay," says the Lord. And again, "The LORD will judge His people." 31 It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.

The burning is temporary and essentially hopeful. There is an element of hope here, and we see this same hope in:

1 Timothy 1:19-20 (NKJV) having faith and a good conscience, which some having rejected, concerning the faith have suffered shipwreck, 20 of whom are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I delivered to Satan that they may learn not to blaspheme.

The Greek word used here for "learn" is piadeuo and it means: "to be trained, to be educated." It is the normal Greek word for the education of a child who is a minor. Its only other uses by Paul are all in reference to Christians. Paul turned them over to Satan (whatever that means) that they may learn, to educate them. There is an element of hope here just as there is in Hebrews 6.

Immaturity is dangerous, babies can't tell good from evil. We must press on, we must grow up because to turn away is to face ruin and disaster - it is to fall into the hands of the living God. This is a very fearful and serious warning.

2 Peter 1:5-10 (NKJV) But also for this very reason, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue, to virtue knowledge, 6 to knowledge self-control, to self-control perseverance, to perseverance godliness, 7 to godliness brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness love. 8 For if these things are yours and abound, you will be neither barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 For he who lacks these things is shortsighted, even to blindness, and has forgotten that he was cleansed from his old sins. 10 Therefore, brethren, be even more diligent to make your call and election sure, for if you do these things you will never stumble;

Verse 8 says, "if these things are yours and abound, you will be neither barren nor unfruitful" - what if these things aren't yours and abound? You will be barren and unfruitful, and you will fall under temporal judgement. Take heed brethren!

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