First off, I am going to set out to prove that the writer of Hebrews was addressing true, converted Christians, and not merely those in the church that professed to be Christians, but had not yet been converted by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. To fully understand what the intention of the writer of this epistle to the Hebrews was, we must go back to chapter 5, verses 11 and 12, where Christ’s rank or order is compared to the priest/king Melchizedek. “There is much more we would like to say about this, but it is difficult to explain, especially since you are spiritually dull and don't seem to listen.” NLT “In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God's word all over again. You need milk, not solid food!” NIV There is no doubt this letter was primarily being written to those who were not recent converts. Some were still practicing the Jewish tradition of worshipping angels. Some were still regarding Moses as their holiest patriarch. They had not mentally or spiritually progressed in understanding the higher principles of Christian doctrine, or a higher plane of experience in their relationship with the trinity. Also, if the readers were not yet converted true Christians, why would the message of the letter here not be, “You need to be saved!” Why even try to teach anything more advanced than Christ being after the order of Melchizedek to someone who does not know Christ?
Secondly, let’s move on to 6:1-3, “So let us stop going over the basic teachings about Christ again and again. Let us go on instead and become mature in our understanding. Surely we don't need to start again with the fundamental importance of repenting from evil deeds and placing our faith in God. You don't need further instruction about (the several Jewish traditional) baptisms, the laying on of hands (for a variety of ritualistic reasons), the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. And so, God willing, we will move forward to further understanding.” NLT (my amplifications in parentheses) If we were to just read 6:1 and 2, we might be able to come to the conclusion that the audience of this letter were, in fact, simply those who had been exposed to the gospel and doctrines described, but had not yet surrendered their lives to Christ as savior and Lord. But verse 3 throws a big wrench in the works: “And so, God willing, we will move forward to further understanding.” This verse is not to be understood that God in some way may not be willing that the readers make such an advancement in spiritual knowledge, or that they may not have it in them to be able to accomplish it. The only way it could be possible that they would move on to further understanding is by their dependence upon God to allow His Holy Spirit within them to reveal His deeper wisdom and discernment. These were Spirit indwelt believers, though they were found very lazy and complacent in exercising His power and fruit.
This brings us to the controversial 6:4-6. Calvinists would determine this passage as literal, but hypothetical, based upon their views of divine predestination of souls to salvation, while those of the school of Amenianism would view this passage as being proof of the possibility of free-will apostasy of a true believer.
There is no doubt the writer of Hebrews mentioned to his readers in other verses the result of apostasy – utterly rejecting Christ as their savior. This calls for a little historical background. 1) Judaizers were preying on Jewish Christians, telling them that in order to fully be a true Christian, they had to go back to observing the Mosaic Laws that Christ on the cross abolished. If some of them fell for the deception, they would essentially have turned their backs on the grace and mercy that the crucifixion brought; thus ultimately turning their backs on and rejecting Christ and all He accomplished and stood for.
2) Any converted Jew or pagan may fall back into an habitual lifestyle of sin they were living before they were born again.
In either case, the outcome would have to be the same according to the justice of God – eternal condemnation.
This is precisely the reason the writer of Hebrews used such strikingly strong language referring to the results of apostasy.
To be clear “…For it is impossible…” in 6:4 does not refer to it being possible for a true, persevering Christian to lose their salvation. It simply states the obvious that it would be impossible to return to Christ’s atonement on the cross for their sins if one was to utterly rejected Him in some manner. Nowhere in the 6:4-6 passage is it conclusively stated that any true believer had or would fall way from the grace of Christ.
It is also extremely important to keep into focus that the “advanced teachings” the Hebrews writer was trying to get the readers to understand were the teachings that surpassed those that they had been holding onto – those of specifically Jewish tradition and ritual. For if they stayed in those socio-cultural rites, they would be more prone to be susceptible to the Judaizer’s attempts to lure them back into the practices of the Law.
Therefore, it could be concluded that 6;4-6 was written as a strong, but purely hypothetical situation for the expressed purpose of impressing upon the Hebrews they should be wise and discerning in judging the influences that were trying to lead them away from the path of the Gospel, while giving them a reality check concerning their weak spiritual condition. The writer knew the Hebrews were “dull of hearing”, and the Holy Spirit guided him in delivering the exact words they needed to understand in order to break through to the next level.
You are free to conclude that this passage proves the possibility of the loss of salvation. Proponents of this thinking can look to Hebrews 10:26 and 27, “If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the Truth, no sacrifice for sin is left, but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God”. The sinning spoken of here is an habitual, obstinate, rebellious lifestyle of sin. “Knowledge” here is epignosis. The problem with understanding the usage of this word in any given verse is that it has multiple meanings. Theologians will tend to define this word as meaning simply “a recognition or understanding of the Truth (Gospel) when it is used in verses like we’re speaking of here. This is because, if they used the other definition “a full, experiential knowledge” in these verses, they would have to admit the verses were speaking of true believers who had the indwelling of the Holy Spirit that revealed to them that knowledge. And true believers cannot continue to live an habitual lifestyle of sin after they have been born again. Nor can a true believer forfeit their salvation by doing so.
Yet, after all the seeming warning of apostasy to his readers, the writer of Hebrews states in 10:39, “But we are not of them who draw back unto perdition; but them who believe to the saving of the soul”. KJV “Drawing back” here does not mean utter rejection of Christ, but rather instances of sinning we all do, even the heavy-duty ones. For Christ’s blood covers all repented sins except the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit. Nearly every commentary on the Hebrews passages in this blog agree in the doctrinal stance that theologian Albert Barnes wrote. “But we are not of them…” - We who are true Christians do not belong to such a class. In this the apostle expresses the fullest conviction that none of those to whom he wrote would apostatize. The case which he had been describing was only a supposable case, not one which he believed would occur. He had only been stating what “must” happen if a sincere Christian should apostatize. But he did not mean to say that this “would” occur in regard to them. or in any case. He made a statement of a general principle under the divine administration, and he designed that this should be a means of keeping them in the path to life. What could be a more effectual means than the assurance that if a Christian should apostatize “he must inevitably perish forever?”
I will approach this subject this way: No evidence can be found that a true persevering believer can completely and utterly fall from grace. It all comes down to is this: “Those who endure to the end shall be saved.” True believers will endure to the end, because they know full well the strength to do so comes from God through His Holy Spirit. One may say, “But only the omniscient God knows who will and will not be saved in the end. So how do we even know we may not at some future date come to the point where we utterly reject Christ and lose our salvation”? We know, because the Bible makes it clear in many scriptures that those who have the Holy Spirit have salvation and eternal life. And how do we know we have the Holy Spirit dwelling within us? Because we are told we become new creatures. We see this when changes have occurred in our hearts and minds that would be impossible for our carnal nature to change. We acquire a spiritual conscience that was not there before. We feel remorse when we have sinned. Where does that remorse come from? The conviction of the Holy Spirit within us. We have a desire, no matter how weak or strong, to learn more about who God is. That is a far cry from being completely apathetic about such things in our prior lives. Yet, there is the argument that our God-given free will can override the desire and conviction of the Spirit.
Perseverance means trying our best to stay obedient to the Word and maintain an ever-growing faith in God. Unfortunately, many people who believe they are Christians simply do not live up to the name. There are a myriad of reasons why there are so many of these people even in churches have not yet made Christ their Lord and master of their lives. I’m sorry to say that it is not enough to profess Jesus as your savior and be baptized, and – Poof! – you’re on your way to heaven.
Let’s continue on with verses 7 and 8, “When the ground soaks up the falling rain and bears a good crop for the farmer, it has God's blessing. But if a field bears thorns and thistles, it is useless. The farmer will soon condemn that field and burn it.” This could be speaking of those who profess Christ as their savior to no avail, because they accept under false pretense, therefore the Spirit does not indwell in them. According to the Barna Group, a Christian polling organization, it is astounding out of the usual 10,000 “evangelicals” they poll, how many actually do not believe Jesus is the Son of God. Or that no one will go to hell! False pretense indeed! However, in the context of the verses before it, the directness of these verses may have been calculated to warn the readers of the consequences of apostasy by reverting to the Old law.
The Amplified Bible renders Ephesians 1:13, “In Him you also who have heard the Word of Truth, the glad tidings (Gospel) of your salvation, and have believed in and adhered to and relied on Him, were stamped with the seal of the long-promised Holy Spirit. The AB uses the same verbs to amplify the words “believe” and “faith” – “adhere” and “rely”. This denotes complete surrender of our wills to God. Profession of Christ and baptism can be an exercise of vanity unless we possess the Spirit God gives us through our utter dependence on Him to save us and bear good fruit instead of thorns and thistles. And to rely on and try our best to live by the infallible Word of God.
In love, David