The opening portion of Hebrews chapter 6 can be difficult to comprehend. There are several differing interpretations of these verses put forth by many respected people. In today’s sermon, we are going to carefully consider this passage and seek God’s wisdom in understanding it.
Earlier this week I read an article about a former megachurch pastor and best-selling Christian author who was prominent during the Purity Movement of the 1990’s and early 2000’s - commonly called “True Love Waits”. After several years of professing Jesus as his Lord and Savior, preaching and teaching from the Bible to thousands of listeners, and engaging in all sorts of charitable services and good works, this man has now renounced his faith in Christ and abandoned the faith. How could such a startling reversal be possible? He is a perfect example of the person described in our focal passage today.
This message is titled “Fourth Warning: Don’t Depart”. It is the fourth of six warning passages found in Hebrews.
I. PRESSING ON (v1-3)
In the final verses of the preceding chapter, the writer rebuked his Hebrew audience for their spiritual immaturity and unfamiliarity with God’s word. Because of their overall spiritual ineptness, he knew that some of his teachings would be hard to explain. Perhaps some of the Hebrew Christians would understand them, but many wouldn’t. Still he prepared to move forward with his presentation. Thus, he writes here “let us press on to maturity” by going beyond “the elementary teaching of Christ”.
He lists a few of these elementary teachings which will be foundational to his coming thesis. The first is “repentance from dead works” and “faith toward God”. By now the Hebrew believers should understand that no amount of good works has the power to save, but rather that salvation only comes by faith in God through Jesus Christ. The second basic instruction concerns “washings” and the “laying on of hands”. They should already know that water cannot wash away sin, nor can a person’s sin be imputed to another by the laying on of hands. The third truth deals with “the resurrection of the dead” and “eternal judgment”. These Hebrew Christians should realize that those who have been born again will be raised to new life with Jesus while those who are lost will face eternal judgment separated from God.
With these fundamentals in place, the writer of Hebrews now plans to proceed with more advanced teaching. However, this will only be meaningfully communicated “if God permits”. It is the Holy Spirit who opens the eyes and illuminates the minds of people to understand the LORD’s words. Without Him, no one could see God or grasp His teachings.
II. FALLING AWAY (v4-6)
In this passage the writer gives 5 descriptors of the person he has in view. They have been “enlightened” to know at least some things about God. They have “tasted of the heavenly gift” which could refer to them being baptized or participating in the Lord’s Supper. They have been made “partakers of the Holy Spirit”, though this is not the same as being indwelt by Him. They are familiar with and have experienced the “good word of God” in their lives. Finally, they have seen firsthand and acknowledged the “powers of the age to come” through the miraculous works of God. In other words, they appear by all accounts to be born again believers.
However, the writer states that some of these people “have fallen away”. As stated earlier in this series, the Bible clearly and definitely teaches that a person’s salvation is both granted by and secured by God. Therefore, once a person is truly saved they can never lose their salvation because it is wholly dependent on God and He will not revoke His promise. This doctrine is called the “Perseverance of the Saints” - sometimes referred to as “Once Saved, Always Saved”. Therefore, this passage cannot be teaching that a saved person can again become lost. Rather it is stating that a lost person who convincingly appears to be a Christian can and likely will at some point fall away from the faith.
When someone who has lived the Christian lifestyle and been active in the church for a long period of time abandons the faith, it is “impossible to renew them again to repentance”. This phrase is best understood in light of Jesus’ declaration to the disciples in Matthew 19:26 regarding the salvation of rich people. He says “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” In other words, unless God Himself acts in the life of this wayward person they will never repent and turn back. It is impossible for human influence alone, even that of the saints, to restore them to the faith.
In the case of the Hebrews, if they were to depart from Christianity and return to their former ways it would be Judaism. The Jews were the ones who crucified “the Son of God and put Him to open shame.” In effect, those who walked away from the faith would “again crucify to themselves” the very Jesus whom they had professed to be their Savior.
III. BRINGING FORTH (v7-8)
In writer closes this section of his letter with an analogy. He compares a person’s life with the ground. For a time it may bring “forth useful vegetation” which is beneficial to others. As such, this individual might even receive limited “blessings from God”. If however this same field begins to produce only “thorns and thistles” it becomes “worthless”, “close to being cursed”, and “ends up being burned”. This agricultural example demonstrates how a person’s entire life can change dramatically, such as when they fall away from their faith in Christ.
To extend this analogy a bit, people are not saved based upon the quality of the vegetation their lives produce. Even though someone may yield a useful crop for a time, if Jesus is not the Lord of their lives they remain unsaved. In other words, it is the owner of the field that matters - not the quality of produce that it yields.
The verses we’ve studied today are often used by those who reject the eternal security of the believer. They falsely teach that a person can lose their salvation. In closing, I want to remind us all of the broader teachings of the Bible regarding this important topic.
Referring to His sheep Jesus says: “and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand.” (John 10:28-29) - No one and nothing can keep prevent a redeemed person from receiving their salvation.
Scripture says: “Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy...” (Jude 24) - You see? It is God who keeps us from stumbling and Jesus who presents us blameless before the Father. He alone is responsible for our salvation. It is not up to us to keep it or lose it.
How about this one? “Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption” (Ephesians 4:30) - Notice that our salvation isn’t sealed until the day we sin and fall away, but rather is sealed until the day of our final redemption. It is secure.
Beloved, there are hundreds of verses in Scripture (in addition to these) that teach and repeatedly affirm the eternal security of the believer. It is well-established doctrine. Therefore this passage does not suggest that saved people can again become lost, but rather reveals how closely those who fall away from Jesus (and were never truly saved to begin with) can appear to be Christians. Finally, it gravely warns those who renounce their faith and depart from the Lord that any future chance at repentance is highly unlikely.
The convicting work of God through the Holy Spirit enables lost sinners with brief opportunities to receive salvation. These moments of conviction are few and fleeting for anyone, much less a chameleon Christian who has turned his or her back on God. Don’t walk away from God, because you may never be given a chance to return.