2006-06-22 - Summer Questions
2006 #4 - Eternal Security
Hebrew 6:4-6, "For in the case of those who have once been enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift and have been made partakers of the Holy Spirit; and have tasted the good word of God and that powers of the age to come, have fallen away, it is impossible to renew them again to repentance, since they again crucify to themselves the Son of God, and put Him to open shame."
Today's question: "I have read in Hebrews that if you fall away you cant come back. Am I misunderstanding this? Can I come back into Gods grace if I have fallen away, or is there no hope?"
I asked for a little clarification. He/she wrote back,
"Hebrews 6:4-6, I hope Im understanding this wrong. I gotta tell ya Im quite scared. Thanks for taking the time to read my question."
I think you have asked a great question here, and one I have been looking forward to working with. I am going to change from my normal style today, and pick apart these verses in some detail. Sometimes, we need to look closely at a text and avoid taking it at a "first blush" general reading. I hope we can do that today. My goal today is to dig into the text, and then look briefly at it in a practical, and I hope, helpful manner.
Let us first look at the phrase "once been enlightened," and we see that those in mind here have an understanding of the message of the gospel. They have, as the verse continues, "tasted of the heavenly gift," which could mean that they appear to have been what we would call converted to Christ, but also could mean that they had participated in the Lord's Supper. Let's stick with the first understanding. They seem to have been born again. They even, "have been made partakers of the Holy Spirit," which might lead us to say, then they are assuredly believers. But this does not say specifically that regeneration has taken place in the person, and that is important to note.
We need to introduce the example of Judas here to really understand the text. Judas, went out with the other eleven and performed all the healings and signs that they did, and yet in the end, Christ says respecting him, "one of you is a devil." John 6:70. But let us jump to verse six. We are told of a falling away, and that the result is that it is impossible to renew such to repentance again; to do so would be to crucify Christ again. It is tempting to take verse six and rip it from the context of verse four, but we can't do this. This is one complete thought.
In the Greek, verses 4-6 are one sentence. We have to view the development of the thought we find in verse six in the light of the foundation given in verse four. Verse four does not tell us that these people have received faith, or the "heavenly gift," but rather have "tasted" of it. Again, we do not read that they have received the Holy Spirit, but rather been partakers of Him. There is a distinction here, and it is an important one. In the Greek the important phrase here in verse four, "once been enlightened," might be better translated, "becoming sharers," and it is an aorist passive participle which designates action in a prior time. It does not necessitate that this action is continuing, but rather looks at the action simply as an event. It could be a continuing action, but the tense does not necessitate it, and the fact that the tense is passive leads me to think it is an action in past time.
Let us look, in this light of Scripture at what this passage does not mean. It does not have in mind the Christian who falls into sin for a time, or to use the popular term, backslides. David was a backslider, but was restored again. Peter was a backslider, but was restored again. This text in no place says that it is in reference to someone who has been regenerated by the Holy Spirit. So we can't say that when we sin, we lose our salvation and can't be renewed again into faith. Such an understanding would be absurd. What would be the point, in 1 John 1, of confessing our sin, if having sinned, this passage teaches that we can't be restored again. This would make Paul, who practices, "the very evil that I do not wish," (Romans 7:19) outside the household of faith. This passage is not in reference to someone who, having fallen into a season of sin, comes back to Christ in repentance.
This passage does refer to those who profess, but do not possess, salvation in Christ. This passage does refer to those who pretend to follow Christ for a time, but are not of the true vine. They may look the part, but they do not possess true faith and grace. They are like Judas, and by their fruit we shall know them (Matt. 7:16). We have to remember the words of Christ that, "Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven," (Matt 7:21).
It is not an easy passage. But we must take these verses in the light of the whole of Scripture, and Scripture is clear that, "He who has the Son has the life; he who does not have the son of God does not have the life," (1 John 5:12) See also John 3:36. The issue really is faith in the atonement of Christ for the forgiveness of our sins. If we are resting in Christ alone, we are within the household of faith. We can have assurance of faith based on the promises of God. Salvation is a work of God's mercy to us received by faith. If we could lose our salvation, either it could not be a work of God, or God could not be God as Scripture reveals Him in His sovereignty, because we as the creature would have the power to undo the gift of grace that God has given. Who then would be sovereign? It would make the creature control the creator.
The point of this passage is in reference to those who pretend for a time, or fake faith for a while, but do not have the staying power of regenerating faith as given by the Holy Spirit. To put it simply, no one who sins and is repentant for that sin is excluded from the kingdom of God because of their missing the mark of perfection that we strive for in this life. Having the desire to come back to grace, as you say in your question, should be a great hope for you. It shows that you do believe in Christ and desire to be in His fold. You should have hope. "And the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out," John 6:37.
Soli Deo Gloria,