This past Sunday morning we considered one of the most difficult and challenging passages in all of Scripture, Hebrews 6:4-12. Verses 4-6 are the toughest: “4 For it is impossible, website in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, 5 and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, 6 and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt.” (ESV) So I thought it might be helpful to review it by means of a Q&A.
One thing we have stressed in our study is that we must remember that the aim of Hebrews is not to unsettle the assurance of true believers but rather to express the seriousness of reneging on our commitment to Christ. To renounce our confession of Christ actually or functionally is to step across a line from which we may never return. Thus, we must neither be inappropriately discouraged by this passage, nor must we muffle its warning.
A Pastoral note about this passage:
Lloyd-Jones, in a sermon he preached on Romans 8:17-39, once said: “I can definitely say after some 35 years of pastoral experience that there are no passages in the whole of Scripture which have more frequently troubled people and caused them soul agony than the passage in Hebrews 6:4-8 and the corresponding passage in Hebrews 10:26-29. Large numbers of Christians are held in bondage by Satan owing to a misunderstanding of these particular statements. I do not say that these are the two most difficult passages in the Bible – I do not regard them as such – but I do assert that they are passages the devil seems to use most frequently in order to distress and to trouble God’s people.”
1. What is the specific situation addressed in this passage?
The author of Hebrews is addressing Hebrew Christians, probably in Palestine, who are wavering in their commitment to Christ. For whatever reason, they have begun to question the necessity of Christ, in his person and work, for ultimate fellowship with God. Perhaps influenced by Essene teaching, they are contemplating a return to Judaism or some form of it. They have noted the similarities between Christian and Jewish teaching, and in light of their Jewish religious background (and perhaps pressure from Essene teachers), they are wondering why do we have to believe these extra teachings of Christianity? Aren’t the old ways just as good? Didn’t they come from God too? Consequently, they are contemplating reverting to their former Judaism and abandoning their distinctively Christian confession of faith.
2. What is the specific warning being given in this passage?
If you have confessed Christ as Lord and have become, as it were, a partaker of the blessings of the kingdom of heaven, and then you subsequently reject Christ and deny your confession of him, you are evidencing the kind of a hard heart that is actually incapable of true repentance, because it has no esteem for Christ. It is not that you are incapable of choice thereafter, but that in view of your moral condition you are incapable of repentance. In fact, it is not so much what you have done that has made you incapable of repentance, but rather the hardness of your heart is evidenced in the fact that you cannot repent (because you will not).
3. What do we mean by “apostasy”? Can it happen?
Apostasy means to fall away from the profession of our faith. Yes, it can and does happen. There are many examples of it in Scripture. Note: “apostasy” does not mean “losing your salvation” it means “abandoning your profession of the faith.” The distinction is important, as seen by 1 John 2:19.
4. What are the various views on perseverance? What is the Presbyterian view?
Three views are found among Protestant Christians. First, one popular view is that once a person has made a “decision” or prayed “the sinner’s prayer” (that is, once someone has professed faith) they are thereby regenerated and thus can never lose their salvation no matter how they live from then on (often called “easy believism”). Second, there is the Wesleyan-Arminian view that says that those who truly believe and who have truly been regenerated can lose their salvation by failing to keep up their faith [but they can also later be “saved” again]. Third, the Calvinistic view that says all who truly embrace Christ by faith are eternally saved. Those who are saved are sanctified by the Spirit and persevere in the faith by his grace (often called “perseverance of the saints”).