We are looking at the third warning passage in the book of Hebrews, which runs from 5:11 thru 6:20. The section we want to look at this morning, 6:4-8, has been called the most controversial text in the whole Bible. You will find people arguing more about the meaning of this passage than any other passage in the New Testament and possibly even the Old Testament.
It's amazing how often this passage comes up. It is quoted in many churches as proof that Christians can forfeit God's acceptance by committing sins. How can any Christian ever have confidence he/she is secure, since we all continue to commit sins? The churches that hold this view require that people get saved over and over again after each moral lapse, and that the only way to be secure is to never sin intentionally. This leads many to give up altogether. Also, those of you who have very sensitive consciences are often troubled by passages like this.
To say that this passage teaches that we can lose our salvation is to attack the finished work of Christ for us. The New Testament constantly emphasizes the security of the one who believes in Christ (10:14,17). Any teaching that we can lose God's acceptance because of our sins is implying that we are maintaining God's acceptance (at least in part) by our good works. This is salvation by works - and it is HERESY!
This is no doubt a difficult passage, and some aspects of it are very difficult to explain dogmatically, some of the terms and phrases used can be interpreted in several different ways. But overall I think the meaning of this section is clear in light of its context and the theme of the book.
Hebrews is written to a group of suffering, persecuted Jewish believers, who because of persecution are tempted to forsake the Christian faith and turn back to Judaism. The theme verse of Hebrews is:
Hebrews 10:23 (NKJV) Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful.
Hebrews presents the supremacy of Jesus Christ both in his person and work to all which proceed Him in the Old Testament, and because of this, the readership should holdfast to their Christian confession and not abandon it for some form of Judaism; to do so would result in chastening.
The message of this third warning passage is: "The danger of apostasy must be avoided by a persevering progress toward spiritual maturity." In 5:11-14, he gives us the problems of immaturity. The word "dull" in 5:11 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. The words "you have become" are from the Greek ginomai, which is present tense, which 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.
In verse 12, he says that they should have been teachers by now, but they still needed some to teach them the ABC's of Christianity. Then in verses 13-14, he tells them the dangers of immaturity - babies can't make sound decisions, they can't discern good from evil. He is rebuking them for their immaturity.
In 6:1-3, he shows them the alternative to progress, which is apostasy and judgement. A literal wording of this would be, "For it is impossible to renew to repentance those who were..... and have fallen away."
This is a strong warning, and we do well to labor to understand it. This warning has been both unduly minimized and unduly exaggerated. It has been unduly minimized by K. Wuest when he assures us that, "'Having fallen away' is a conditional participle here presenting a hypothetical case, a straw man and the sin in question cannot be committed today since no temple and no sacrifices are in existence." So, according to Wuest this has no application to us today. We can't fall away.
Noel Weeks says this, "In verse 6 'crucify' is a reference to the actual crucifixion of our Lord by the Jews and Romans. And so what is impossible is the revivification of Judaism." So, again it means nothing to us.
The Hypothetical view says: Hebrews 6 speaks of a sin which it is impossible for a Christian to commit, but agrees that it is speaking to Christians. Griffith Thomas holds this view and writes, "The passage is apparently a supposed case to correct their wrong ideas and the argument seems to be that if it were possible for those who have had the experience of verses 4-6 to fall away, but it isn't possible, it would be impossible to renew them unless Christ dies a second time." According to this view, our author is describing a situation which simply cannot happen with respect to a believer. But the purpose of this warning is to stir them to perseverance. What is the point of warning them of the danger of apostasy and then assuring them that they are in no danger of falling into apostasy?
C. Ryrie and D. Pentacost hold a form of this view. They say the author is saying something like this, "If you could fall away, you could not be saved again, but since you can't fall away you must go on."
On the other hand, our author's meaning can be exaggerated to the point of distortion. It was the view of the early church Father Tertullian that the word "enlightened" in verse 4 referred to Christian baptism, and therefore, what the passage is telling us is that there is no forgiveness for sins committed after you are baptized. Wow! We're all in deep trouble!
The Arminian view teaches that Hebrews 6 is warning believers that they could lose their salvation and end up in Hell. That's an unduly exaggerated view.
Just to show you the multiplicity of interpretations on this text, let me share with you the strange view of Henry Alford. He says, "The people described in Hebrews 6:4-6 are regenerate, they are born again but they are not elect." He makes a distinction between the regenerate and the elect. He says, "Believers could fall away and lose their salvation but the elect could not."
Only the elect can be regenerate. Regeneration is a supernatural act, God gives a person a new heart, and he is spiritually alive (Ephesians 2:1-6). To be regenerate is to be in union with Christ.
Alford writes, "We must recognize the fact that these persons are truly the partakers of spiritual life, they are regenerate by the Holy Spirit, elect they are not or they could not fall away by the force of the term." I don't know how you could begin to support that from Scripture.
What does the term "fall away" mean? If we understood that, it would greatly help our interpretation. "Fall away" is from the Greek word parapipto, which means: " to fall aside, to apostatize." Commentators agree that the issue here is apostasy, but they don't agree on what apostasy is. We've already looked at what some say it means, and there are many views, but we'll stick to the three main views.
1. The Arminian view: this teaches that apostasy is losing eternal life. That in itself should dispel that view. If you can lose it, it's not "eternal" life.
John 6:37 (NKJV) "All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will by no means cast out.
John 3:36 (NKJV) "He who believes in the Son has everlasting life; and he who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him."
The Greek word for "everlasting" is aionios, it means: "forever, everlasting, without end." How long do you imagine that everlasting life would last?
The argument that we find in Romans 5:8-10 is the most powerful argument with respect to assurance of our salvation that can be found anywhere in the whole of Scripture.
Romans 5:8-10 (NKJV) But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. 9 Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him. 10 For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life.
Verse 9 says, "much more than" this is an a fortiori argument, which is an argument from the lesser to the greater. If God has done the greater (verse 8), surely he will do the lesser (verse 9). Verse 10 also says, "much more" - now that we are reconciled, we shall be saved through sharing in his life. We are in Christ. We are accounted perfectly righteous, having paid the debt of sin and having fulfilled the law by our union with Jesus Christ.
If God sent his son to die for us while we were enemies, ungodly, sinners, how much more will he do for us now that we are his children and righteous? Because we share his life, we are eternally saved, eternally secure. Also notice:
Romans 5:18-19 (NKJV) Therefore, as through one man's (Adam)offense judgment came to all men, resulting in condemnation, (spiritual death) even so through one Man's (Jesus) righteous act the free gift came to all men, resulting in justification of life (spiritual life). 19 For as by one man's disobedience many were made sinners, so also by one Man's obedience many will be made righteous.
Is our salvation secure? Our salvation is based upon the act of One person - Jesus Christ. Please get that! The security of our salvation is not based upon our acts. Just as we were all condemned by Adam's act, so also we are made righteous by Jesus Christ's act. We were all condemned through no fault of our own individually, we are also justified through Jesus Christ through no merit of our own. Understanding our condemnation in Adam helps us to see that our salvation is not based upon our works but upon Christ's finished work. Our salvation is secure because it is based upon what Christ did for us, not on what we do for ourselves. So, we see that the Arminian view cannot be correct because we cannot lose our salvation.
2. The Lordship View: says that an apostate is someone who superficially attached themselves to the church, someone who knew the truth and pretended to believe it. They were never really saved, they were make believers. So, according to this view, apostasy is when an unbeliever quits pretending he's a believer. Why warn against that? That sounds like a good thing. After all a person can't get saved until they realize that they are lost.
For the most part the Lordship people are Calvinist. What is a Calvinist? A Calvinist is someone who believes the teachings of Calvin. They believe that salvation is of the Lord. They believe that it is God who chooses who will be saved. So, a Calvinist knows that if a person is elect, they are going to end up in heaven.
Romans 8:29-30 (NKJV) For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. 30 Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified.
Notice that it is not WHAT he foreknew but WHOM he foreknew. The term "foreknew" must have a limited meaning, for if it simply means to know ahead of time, then in the context of Romans 8 everyone will be glorified because all whom God foreknew he glorified; the chain is unbroken. The term "foreknew" has the idea of loved, to love before hand.
The term "predestined" means: "destined or determined before hand by divine decree." What predestined means in its most elementary form is that our final destination, heaven or hell, is decided by God not only before we get there, but before we are born. This teaches us that all who are called are justified. To be justified is to be saved, and all who are saved will be glorified. So everyone must not be called. This is the golden chain of salvation.
All of the elect will end up in heaven, there is no way of them losing eternal life. So what is the danger of make believers falling away? That would actually be good, because it would purify the church.
3. Free Grace View: teaches that an apostate is a believer who turns their back on Christianity. They fall away from their fellowship with the Lord and come under his temporal judgement. This, I believe, makes sense, to warn believers against falling away from the faith.
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 words "fall away" are from the Greek word parapipto. We saw the word pipto used in:
Hebrews 4:11 (NKJV) Let us therefore be diligent to enter that rest, lest anyone fall according to the same example of disobedience.
The word "diligent" is the Greek word spoudazo. It means: "to exert one's self, endeavor, give diligence." The verb speaks of intensity of purpose followed by intensity of effort toward the realization of that purpose. The words "let us"are first person plural expressing the writer's oneness with the readers and in effect issuing a warning not only to them but to himself as well. Thus the thought returns to the necessity of holding onto their Christian profession to the end.
"Lest anyone fall" - this suggests judgement. In the Old Testament context being considered, this recalls the statement of:
Hebrews 3:17 (NKJV) Now with whom was He angry forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose corpses fell in the wilderness?
The word "fell" is the same word pipto. This refers to the judgement under which the disobedient Israelites fell.
Hebrews 3:18-19 (NKJV) And to whom did He swear that they would not enter His rest, but to those who did not obey? 19 So we see that they could not enter in because of unbelief.
They wouldn't believe God, so they were judged. Was the whole generation unregenerate? Was Moses unregenerate? He never entered the promised land - he fell away.
The words "fall away" used in context speak to believers and their judgement as seen in:
Hebrews 6:8 (NKJV) but if it bears thorns and briars, it is rejected and near to being cursed, whose end is to be burned.
Apostasy is a believer forsaking the faith and turning their back on God. This warning is very applicable to us today. To apostatize is to come under the temporal judgement of God. In light of the subject of this book and of its immediate context, I truly believe that this is the meaning of Hebrews 6:4-8.
The opponents of this view bring three major objections, and I would like to attempt to answer these objections.
Objection number 1: It is impossible to renew them to repentance - they say that this apostasy is irremediable, and as we said last time, the word "impossible" means: "impossible." This apostasy may very well be irremediable. I don't think that it is, but if it is true, how does that refute the Free Grace View? This could be what John was talking about in:
1 John 5:16-17 (NKJV) If anyone sees his brother sinning a sin which does not lead to death, he will ask, and He will give him life for those who commit sin not leading to death. There is sin leading to death. I do not say that he should pray about that. 17 All unrighteousness is sin, and there is sin not leading to death.
This couldn't be speaking about unbelievers, how can they sin a sin leading to death when they're already dead?
Let me offer some alternatives; the verb "to renew" is active, not passive, so we cannot render it "it is impossible for them to be renewed". The subject of the verb is missing. The writer does not reveal the identity of the implied agent. The subject could hardly be God. That He would not is conceivable, but not that He could not.
The context would suggest, "It is impossible for us to". The statement of 6:3 would thus nicely dove tail with this "If God allows, we will press forward, but this is something no one can do."
We see a very similar idea in:
Mark 10:23-26 (NKJV) Then Jesus looked around and said to His disciples, "How hard it is for those who have riches to enter the kingdom of God!" 24 And the disciples were astonished at His words. But Jesus answered again and said to them, "Children, how hard it is for those who trust in riches to enter the kingdom of God! 25 "It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God." 26 And they were greatly astonished, saying among themselves, "Who then can be saved?"
The word "needle" here is rhaphis, which means: "to sew, a sewing needle."
So, what Jesus is saying is that it is impossible for those who trust in riches to enter the kingdom of God. A camel can't go through the eye of a sewing needle, and someone who trusts in riches can't enter the kingdom of God. Now notice what else Jesus says:
Mark 10:27 (NKJV) But Jesus looked at them and said, "With men it is impossible, but not with God; for with God all things are possible."
The issue here is faith, trust. Just as salvation is impossible for man to do on his own, so is repentance - turning from sin. Repentance is always about restoration to fellowship with God.
Revelation 3:19 (NKJV) "As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten. Therefore be zealous and repent.
This verse is not salvivic, it is talking about a believer renewing fellowship with the Lord:
Revelation 3:20 (NKJV) "Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me.
Dining is a picture of fellowship. Fellowship between a sinful man and a holy God must always be based upon repentance.
The participles "crucify again" and "put Him to an open shame" indicate why it is impossible for such people to repent. It is impossible for them to repent and restore fellowship with God, because they reject the only means of fellowship - Jesus Christ. In their turn back to Judaism, they are turning away from Christ.
Hebrews 10:26-27 (NKJV) For if we sin willfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, 27 but a certain fearful expectation of judgment, and fiery indignation which will devour the adversaries.
These verses repeat the general sentiment of 6:4-6. What was the purpose of the sacrifices? Fellowship! There is no means of restoring fellowship besides the one he has renounced, Jesus Christ.
Hebrews 10:29 (NKJV) Of how much worse punishment, do you suppose, will he be thought worthy who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, counted the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified a common thing, and insulted the Spirit of grace?
Defection from the Christian fellowship:
Hebrews 10:24-25 (NKJV) And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, 25 not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.
Results in judgement:
Hebrews 10:27 (NKJV) but a certain fearful expectation of judgment, and fiery indignation which will devour the adversaries.
If the sin of apostasy is irremediable, then it must be the unpardonable sin; but I think that 1 John applies to apostasy also:
1 John 1:9 (NKJV) If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
To confess our sins would be to turn back to Jesus Christ, but I think the apostate is reserved for discipline after which they may very well turn back to God.
The word "impossible" presents difficulties no matter which view you hold. Arminian - once lost always lost. The Lordship view - this person can never be saved, apostates are damned. This is no doubt difficult, but no matter how you interpret this it does not nullify the Free Grace View of believers losing their fellowship and coming under chastening.
Objection number 2: If believers can apostatize from the faith to the extent that they crucify the Son of God afresh and put him to an open shame - renouncing their Christian faith - that means it would be possible for a Christian to be an unbeliever. How could this be?
Listen carefully believer, we are saved by the act of faith, not the continuity of our faith. If you're saved by the continuity of faith, then you don't really have everlasting life until you die in faith, and certainly you have no assurance. Listen carefully to what John Piper wrote:
I'll be very personal, to give it it's sharpest point. If in the coming years I commit apostasy and fall away from Christ, it will not be because I have not tasted of the word of God and the Spirit of God and the miracles of God. I have drunk of his word. The Spirit has touched me. I have seen his miracles and I have been his instrument for a few.
But if, over the next ten or twenty years, John Piper begins to cool off spiritually and lose interest in spiritual things and become more fascinated with making money and writing Christless books; and I buy the lie that a new wife would be exhilarating and that the children can fend for themselves and that the church of Christ is a drag and that the incarnation is a myth and that there is one life to live so let us eat drink and be merry - if that happens, then know that the truth is this: John Piper was mightily deceived in the first fifty years of his life. His faith was an alien vestige of his father's joy. His fidelity to his wife was a temporary passion and compliance with social pressure; his fatherhood the outworking of natural instincts. His preaching was driven by the love of words and crowds. His writing was a love affair with fame. And his praying was the deepest delusion of all - an attempt to get God to supply the resources of his vanity.
What he is in effect saying is that he has no assurance of eternal life. After 50 years of trusting in Christ, he could quit trusting and end up in Hell. Is he saved by his works or by Christ? The gift of eternal life is indefectable, not the faith that laid hold of it. It is widely held in modern Christendom that the faith of a genuine Christian cannot fail. But is this view biblical?
Let's look first at an Old Testament example. How were people saved in the Old Testament? By faith alone. Solomon was an Old Testament believer.
1 Kings 8:22-23 (NKJV) Then Solomon stood before the altar of the LORD in the presence of all the assembly of Israel, and spread out his hands toward heaven; 23 and he said: "LORD God of Israel, there is no God in heaven above or on earth below like You, who keep Your covenant and mercy with Your servants who walk before You with all their hearts.
1 Kings 8:27-28 (NKJV) "But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Behold, heaven and the heaven of heavens cannot contain You. How much less this temple which I have built! 28 "Yet regard the prayer of Your servant and his supplication, O LORD my God, and listen to the cry and the prayer which Your servant is praying before You today:
1 Kings 8:46 (NKJV) "When they sin against You (for there is no one who does not sin), and You become angry with them and deliver them to the enemy, and they take them captive to the land of the enemy, far or near;
1 Kings 8:60-61 (NKJV) "that all the peoples of the earth may know that the LORD is God; there is no other. 61 "Let your heart therefore be loyal to the LORD our God, to walk in His statutes and keep His commandments, as at this day."
1 Kings 9:4-7 (NKJV) "Now if you walk before Me as your father David walked, in integrity of heart and in uprightness, to do according to all that I have commanded you, and if you keep My statutes and My judgments, 5 "then I will establish the throne of your kingdom over Israel forever, as I promised David your father, saying, 'You shall not fail to have a man on the throne of Israel.' 6 "But if you or your sons at all turn from following Me, and do not keep My commandments and My statutes which I have set before you, but go and serve other gods and worship them, 7 "then I will cut off Israel from the land which I have given them; and this house which I have consecrated for My name I will cast out of My sight. Israel will be a proverb and a byword among all peoples.
1 Kings 11:1-11 (NKJV) But King Solomon loved many foreign women, as well as the daughter of Pharaoh: women of the Moabites, Ammonites, Edomites, Sidonians, and Hittites; 2 from the nations of whom the LORD had said to the children of Israel, "You shall not intermarry with them, nor they with you. Surely they will turn away your hearts after their gods." Solomon clung to these in love. 3 And he had seven hundred wives, princesses, and three hundred concubines; and his wives turned away his heart. 4 For it was so, when Solomon was old, that his wives turned his heart after other gods; and his heart was not loyal to the LORD his God, as was the heart of his father David. 5 For Solomon went after Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians, and after Milcom the abomination of the Ammonites. 6 Solomon did evil in the sight of the LORD, and did not fully follow the LORD, as did his father David. 7 Then Solomon built a high place for Chemosh the abomination of Moab, on the hill that is east of Jerusalem, and for Molech the abomination of the people of Ammon. 8 And he did likewise for all his foreign wives, who burned incense and sacrificed to their gods.
The worship of Molech involved human sacrifices, especially children. Solomon left the faith and followed other Gods.
9 So the LORD became angry with Solomon, because his heart had turned from the LORD God of Israel, who had appeared to him twice, 10 and had commanded him concerning this thing, that he should not go after other gods; but he did not keep what the LORD had commanded. 11 Therefore the LORD said to Solomon, "Because you have done this, and have not kept My covenant and My statutes, which I have commanded you, I will surely tear the kingdom away from you and give it to your servant.
Because of his sin, Solomon faced temporal judgement from the Lord.
Let's move on to the New Testament.
Luke 22:31-32 (NKJV) And the Lord said, "Simon, Simon! Indeed, Satan has asked for you, that he may sift you as wheat. 32 "But I have prayed for you, that your faith should not fail; and when you have returned to Me, strengthen your brethren."
The word "fail" is from the Greek word ekleipo, which means: "to omit, to cease, to die." Why would Jesus pray that Peter's faith wouldn't fail if the faith of a believer couldn't fail?
2 Timothy 2:18 (NKJV) who have strayed concerning the truth, saying that the resurrection is already past; and they overthrow the faith of some.
The reason that their teaching that the resurrection has already happened was overthrowing the faith of some was that it postulated a consummation of the spiritual kingdom, while the earthly temple in Jerusalem still stood. This was a mixture of law and grace. This destroyed the faith of some by making the works of the law a part of the New Covenant.
2 Timothy 4:7 (NKJV) I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.
So what? What's the big deal that Paul kept the faith if a believer can't lose their faith? This was Paul's last letter, he died not long after writing it. The theme of this letter is the need for faithful endurance in the face of hardship. Some of the believers had their faith overthrown, but not Paul.
I think that the Bible teaches that a believer can lose their faith and come under the temporal judgement of God.
Objection number 3: They say that Hebrews 6:8 is clearly eternal judgement;
Hebrews 6:8 (NKJV) but if it bears thorns and briars, it is rejected and near to being cursed, whose end is to be burned.
The word "rejected" is the very same word that Paul uses 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.
Paul disciplined himself so that he would not be rejected or disqualified.
We see this same idea in:
John 15:1-3 (NKJV) "I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. 2 "Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit. 3 "You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you.
In verse 3, Jesus tells the disciples that they are clean. To understand exactly what he means by this, we need to look back at chapter 13.
John 13:8-10 (NKJV) Peter said to Him, "You shall never wash my feet!" Jesus answered him, "If I do not wash you, you have no part with Me." 9 Simon Peter said to Him, "Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head!" 10 Jesus said to him, "He who is bathed needs only to wash his feet, but is completely clean; and you are clean, but not all of you."
"Clean" here refers to salvation. Not all of them were clean, because Judas was with them. In chapter 15, he simply says, "Now you are clean." Jesus is talking to his children, they were believers. Now, look at what he tells them in verse 4.
John 15:4 (NKJV) "Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me.
It is to those who are clean that he says, "Abide in Me." To be a Christian and to abide in Christ are two different things. "Abide in me" is the active voice. That is something we are expected to do. We initiate that. The word, "abide" is the simple word, "remain." "Stay with me," he is saying. "Keep close to me." In other places, it is the word "Follow me," "do what I say," "obey my commands." Christians are exhorted to abide in Christ, because this privilege and duty may be neglected, and very often is.
Failure to abide will result in judgement:
John 15:6 (NKJV) "If anyone does not abide in Me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered; and they gather them and throw them into the fire, and they are burned.
Is this a reference to Hell? If it is, believers are going to Hell (verse 3). The vine is not literal, the branches are not literal, the fruit is not literal, and neither is the fire. Fire is often used as a figure of temporal afflictions.
I think that Hebrews 6:8 is even stronger than John 15 because in Hebrews it is more than barrenness, the ground is producing thorns and thistles.
The particulars of Hebrews 6:4-8 are difficult but the overall meaning seems quite clear, to apostatize is to face the temporal judgement of the Lord.
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