Hebrews 6

Read Hebrews 6.

The Bible clearly teaches that true salvation can never be lost (John 10:27-30). But Hebrews 6 presents a significant challenge because it seems to describe a genuine Christian who somehow became unsaved.

Verses 4-5 describe the person in question in not merely as one who “believes” in Christ. That would be easier to handle because we know that there are different kinds of “belief” (see James 2:19). But our passage, Hebrews 6:4-5 seems to go overboard to describe someone who has received the gift of new life from God. This person has “been enlightened” has “tasted the heavenly gift” has “shared in the Holy Spirit” has “tasted the goodness of the word of God” and even has tasted “the powers of the coming age” (vv. 4-5). The word “tasted,” commentators point out, doesn’t just mean “sampled” like a child might taste, then refuse his vegetables, because the author of Hebrews used the same word in Hebrews 2:9 to tell us that Christ would “taste death for everyone.” So the description here is not of someone who merely professes salvation; this person has deeply experienced Christ in multiple meaningful ways.

Yet, the author of Hebrews said, “It is impossible if someone experiences all this and falls away to be brought back to repentance.” Falling away must mean a departure from the Christian faith in some way because the end of verse 6 says they “are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace.” In other words, they have joined the ranks of those who rejected and crucified Christ originally. So what do we make of this passage?

Clearly the person described in this passage has been associated with the Christian community that we call the church for some time. He has seen God do things and heard God’s truth. But the passage does not say that he put his faith in Christ. It does imply that he expressed some form of repentance for verse 6 says that his repentance cannot be “brought back.”

There have been many attempts to explain this passage and this devotional is not the best place to weed through them all. What I would say about this passage is the following:

First, “falling away” does not seem to mean a cooling toward Christ or a period of wandering or questioning one’s faith. It seems to be more deliberate and intentional that that because verse 6 says a person like this is “crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace.” This is a public, explicit denial of Jesus, a Judas-like departure where the person in question joins the ranks of those who consciously chose to put Jesus to death. So someone who has moments of weak faith does not seem to be in the same category. Though Peter denied Christ three times, he did not join those who were crying “crucify him” so this seems to be a meaningful difference.

Second, what else does the passage say about this person? Verses 7-8 use the metaphor of farm land to describe why this person can’t be restored. The reason is that he or she received all of this goodness from God but never produced a crop; instead, all they produced was “thorns and thistles.” This indicates that, although they had all the blessings of the Christian faith showered on them (vv. 4-5), it landed on a hard heart that never produced the evidence of true faith that the Bible says always accompanies salvation. 

Third, speaking of what “accompanies salvation,” the author of Hebrews in verse 9 contrasts his readers with this person who falls away. And, what is the difference between them in verse 9? The readers show lives that evidence “the things that have to do with salvation.” They are productive for Christ; verse 10 specifies how: “God is not unjust; he will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people and continue to help them.”

So this passage is a warning that tells us not to judge anyone’s Christianity based on their association with the church for a long time or even their profession of repentance. Those are necessary for salvation, but they are not proof of salvation because there can be false professions and self-deceived people.

Instead, the Bible always commends a productive, enduring faith. Verse 11 demonstrates the importance of this when it says, “We want each of you to show this same diligence to the very end, so that what you hope for may be fully realized.” So, while we do believe in what is called “eternal security,” a better way to describe this aspect of our doctrine is the “perseverance of the saints.” Our eternal security, like every aspect of our salvation, is totally dependent on the grace of God. But the genuine gift of God in salvation is productive—it shows itself in a person’s life by how that person responds to the truth.

When someone receives all of God’s gracious gifts and becomes more like Christ, showing their love for Christ by working for him and helping his people (again, verse 10), that person is demonstrating the things that accompany salvation. When someone receives the gracious gifts of God but continues to produce more “thorns and thistles” of sinful patterns (v. 8) and ultimately rejects Christ and campaigns for his disgrace (v. 6b), that person is hopelessly lost.

So, cultivate your faith! Respond to God’s word and let it produce a holy life, one that is growing in the fruit of the Spirit and the love of God’s people. The one who believes in Jesus and grows in him to the end will be saved—not because you did something to earn salvation but because you have genuinely be born into new life that has changed your life more and more to the glory of God.

Hebrews 6

Today let’s read Hebrews 6.

The book of Hebrews contains sections of teaching punctuated by warnings not to turn away from following Jesus. When we read verses 4-8 today, we were reading the scariest and most difficult to interpret warning section in Hebrews. It’s the scariest, in my opinion, because it says “It is impossible for those… who have fallen away, to be brought back to repentance” (vv. 4, 6). It is the hardest to interpret because the description of the person who fell away sounds like a genuine convert to Christ. They “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” (vv. 4b-5). So it sure seems like someone lost his or her salvation in this passage.

Given these things, there are different ways of interpreting this passage. Some chalk it up to a hypothetical situation–if it were possible to fall away from Christ, such a person could never be saved. Others believe that it does describe someone who lost his or her salvation. I believe the author is describing someone who looks like a genuine Christian in every possible way but never truly came to know Christ. Why do I think that? Verse 9: “Even though we speak like this, dear friends, we are convinced of better things in your case—the things that have to do with salvation.” The last phrase, “things that have to do with salvation” is a contrast to verses 4-8. Those things in verses 4-8, then, describe things that are not salvation. They look like it but are not genuine. The warning is about being careful not to fake your faith. If you see all the transforming power of Jesus in operation in the church but you pretend to follow Jesus instead of actually trusting him, then you turn away, you won’t ever come back to Christ and find genuine salvation.

Notice, though, how much ink the author of Hebrews spent reassuring the readers of their security in Christ. That’s what verses 9-20 are all about. The author of Hebrews knew that his warning was scary but he did not write it to shake the faith of true Christians. He reminded them of the evidence of their genuine faith in verse 10, how they had shown love in tangible ways to others. This is evidence of God’s transforming work of faith in their lives and “God is not unjust” so he won’t ignore the real evidence of a person’s conversion on the day of judgment.

The author of Hebrews wrote this chapter to stimulate us to keep following Christ and serving him: “We do not want you to become lazy, but to imitate those who through faith and patience inherit what has been promised” (v. 12). But he did not want the believers to think that their salvation was dependent on their good works. Verses 13-18 describe how our salvation is tied not to our good works but to the unshakable promises of God. Just as he swore by himself to Abraham and delivered on that oath (vv. 13-15) so he also has promised to save those of us “who have fled to take hold of the hope set before us” (v. 18). This hope is secure, like an anchor, according to verse 19 because it is tied to Jesus our high priest (v. 19).

In this life you will have ups and downs. You may have moments of strong, deep faith and other moments of questioning. You will have moments of victory over sin and other moments of defeat. Don’t put your confidence in these things. Look at the output of your life for evidence of real faith–yes, but remember that our “hope is built on nothing less than Jesus blood and righteousness.” When we stand before God, it is his work on our behalf that will carry us into God’s presence. Given that, we work to glorify God with the time we have on this earth because of the confidence he gives us by grace.