For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted the heavenly gift, and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, if they fall away, to renew them again to repentance, since they crucify again for themselves the Son of God, and put Him to an open shame. For the earth which drinks in the rain that often comes upon it, and bears herbs useful for those by whom it is cultivated, receives blessing from God; but if it bears thorns and briers, it is rejected and near to being cursed, whose end is to be burned.
If you wear the lenses of performance-based Christianity, this could be a scary scripture, for it sounds like your salvation hinges on your behavior. Do good, get good, but fall away and you’re lost forever. Book of Hebrews was written to a group of Jewish believers in Christ who were tempted under the threat of persecution to return to Judaism. The author is arguing for the superiority of the person and work of Jesus Christ. To abandon Christ for the old Jewish system is to turn from God’s supreme and final provision in His Son to that which is inferior.
Please bear in mind that in every letter written by the apostles that the audience of their letter is very often consists of a mixed audiences of faith professing and faith searching crowd.
First we see that the writer of Hebrew is addressing the mixed crowd that receives this letter. His instruction in Hebrews 6:1-3 is for a group of Jewish observers who are struggling to progress from sluggish faith to maturity. Their faith was more in the images of Christ than Christ himself. John Piper puts it well:
Piper says : In this writer’s mind laying, a foundation for the understanding of Christ is different from teaching about how to live in Christ on the basis of that foundation. The foundation he has in mind is described in 6:1d-2. The striking thing about this list is that it is not distinctively Christian. It is made up of foundational Old Testament and Jewish truths and practices that the readers probably built on when they were converted (or maybe they are in the verge of conversion). The list has three pairs:
- pair one: “repentance from dead works and of faith toward God” (v. 1d);
- pair two: “instruction about washings, and laying on of hands;”
- pair three: “the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment” (v. 2).
All these are common Old Testament beliefs or current practices among the Jews. When these readers were evangelized and converted, these things, it seems, had been made foundational as a way of helping them understand the work of Christ. Christ is the goal and fulfillment of all these things. So when verse 1 says they should leave the “elementary teachings about Christ (or literally: “the word of the beginning of Christ”), what I think it means is that they should not occupy themselves so much with the pre-Christian foundational preparations for Christ that they neglect the glory of the gospel and how to use it to grow into maturity and holiness. In other words, it’s what is stated in Hebrews 5:14 — they need to learn how to take the milk –the basic truths of the gospel — and practice how to grow with them. The need is not to rebuild foundational facts, but to stand on them and live by them. They need to learn how you take basic gospel truth about Christ and use it to become discerning people about good and evil, so that they attain the holiness without which they will not see the Lord (12:14).
Their problem is not lack of foundational knowledge, but lack of fruitfulness in life.
Kenneth Wuest a famous Greek Scholar says that the progression from elementary to maturity is clearly understood when we find “that the writer proves twice over that the New Testament in Jesus’ Blood is superior to and takes the place of the First Testament in animal blood. In the light of this demonstration, he warns them against falling away. He exhorts them to go on to faith in the New Testament Sacrifice. Having left the temple sacrifices, and having identified themselves with the visible Church, from what could they fall away but from their profession of Messiah as High Priest, and to what could they fall back to but First Testament sacrifices? Thus the words, “the principles of the doctrine of Christ,” must refer to the First Testament sacrifices, for these Jews are exhorted to abandon them. Likewise, the word “perfection” must speak of the New Testament Sacrifice to which they are exhorted to allow themselves to be borne along.
Wuest goes on to say : All dependence upon the Levitical sacrifices is to be set aside in order that the Hebrews can go on to “perfection,” which speaks of the NT Sacrifice. So leave the ABC’s of the Levitical Priesthood & the Old Covenant and be borne along to perfection to the perfection of the priesthood of Melchizedek. Hebrew 7:19 says the law of Moses, the sacrificial law, made nothing perfect. Christ’s sacrifice was complete. Thus, the writer exhorts these Hebrews to abandon the type for the reality, that which is incomplete for that which is complete,” .
That means they are called to move from the shadow of Christ (symbolized in the sacrifices and its types) to the substances of Christ Himself!
Who is The Text Addressed To?
A. Robert L. Deffinbaugh shares that “It is very possible that in chapter 6 the author of Hebrew is speaking to a mixed group of believers and unbelievers. How do we know this? There is a clear difference in the pronouns employed in chapter 6 . In our text in Hebrews 6:4-8 the pronouns are third person plural: “those,” “them,” and “they.” These folks are distinguished from the first person plural (“we”) or the second person plural (“you”) of the verses which precede (vs1-3) and follow (9-20) the troublesome words of verses 4-8. In other words, those warned about in 6:4-8 appear to be outside the community of faith” (non believers).
6:1-3 = We & You (more for believers)
6:4-8 = Those, Them & They (non believers)
6:9-20 = We and You (believers)
D. According to Robert L. Deffinbaugh:
‘those described in verses 4 and 5 are those who have come very close to faith, but who have never embraced the gospel personally for salvation. The most forceful example of this unbeliever would be Judas, a man who heard the gospel from our Lord, who experienced God’s power, but who never really believed in Jesus for salvation. It would seem that the kind of person who is described above is one who has heard the gospel, who has witnessed and perhaps even experienced its power, but who has not come to faith, and who after experiencing the gospel “up close and personal,” has rejected it”. I see these unbelievers as those who exercise a significant level of authority and influence in the church. I see these folks as being the source of much of the pressure and temptation to revert back to the law-works of unbelieving Judaism.
E. Hebrew 6:7-8 – Our author distinguishes the false believers from the true by using an agricultural illustration in verses 7 and 8. Within the church, there were two kinds of soil. Both soils received the benefit of the rains, but while one soil produced a crop, the other produced only thorns and thistles. The good soil receives God’s blessing, while the bad soil is in danger of being cursed, the worthless produce being fit only for the fire.
F. Those described in verses 4-6 and 8 are the exception (they are the unbelievers) while the majority of the Hebrews are the “good soil” of verse 9. This the author makes very clear in verses 9-12. He begins by calling these believers “dear friends” or “beloved” (verse 9). This is the most intimate reference to these Hebrews so far in the book. He is convinced of better things than what he has just described. These “better things” pertain to what accompanies salvation – the fruit which grows from the soil of salvation.
G. Why they are unbelievers: As noted by Dr. Paul Ellis
1. The author is describing people who are “slow to learn” (5:11), who need someone to teach them “the elementary truths of God’s word all over again” (5:12). They need to hear the gospel again because they clearly haven’t grasped it.
2. He says they live on milk and are “not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness” (5:13). This is a reference to the gospel that reveals a righteousness from God (Rom 1:17).
3. He is exhorting them to leave the elementary and old covenant teachings pertaining to repentance from dead works, faith in God (as opposed to the faith of God), ritual baptisms, etc. We may get confused between OT shadows and NT realities until we recall he is addressing Hebrews schooled in the Mosaic Law and has just spent three chapters explaining Jesus using old covenant terms.
4. Then he says “even though we speak like this, dear friends, we are confident of better things in your case—things that accompany salvation.” (v.9) In other words, the things he has just been speaking of are things which do not accompany salvation. He has been describing religious people who have had a taste – they’ve heard the gospel, benefited from signs and wonders – but they haven’t believed it. They need to hear it and see it all again. They have tasted and seen that the Lord is good but so far they have not actually put their trust in Him (Ps 34:8).
H. Some Word Study:
a. Partakers – The word “partakers” could be describing believers. For example Hebrews defined partakers in Hebrews 3:1 as being believers. They were “once” enlightened. But it could also be describing people like the false prophet Balaam or Judas. People who have tasted the goodness of God and seen the miracles of God and yet were not ready to believe.
b. Renew Them Again to Repentance (v.6) – Why repentant if they are not believers? So some would claim it is addressed to believers. I thought only believers repent? Well some may say this. But we need to see the consistency of the rest of the chapters and writings to pin our stand and convictions behind this. Before Jesus came to the scene preaching the message of the Kingdom, John the Baptist came preaching repentance to the Jewish nation, but it was not repentance that leads to salvation like the ones we experienced. The repentance that is to be experienced in Hebrew 6 is the opportunity for receiving salvation, not salvation itself, that can be lost. So it is possible the use of the word “renew them again to repentance” is targeted towards unbelievers who needed the opportunity to receive salvation.
c. Enlightened (v.4)– The following scriptures and examples will show how the Jewish people were enlightened but many remained unchanged. See the following examples :
1. The Hebrews stood at the entrance of God’s physical rest –the Promised Land. This was after they witnessed the column of cloud in the day and bright fire in the night; the brightness of His glory on Mount Sinai; and the fire that consumed the rebels.
2. The Hebrews saw His light –they were “enlightened”. (Exodus 13: 21-22, 2 Samuel 22: 7-13, Numbers 11: 1-3) They ate the daily bread –the manna– that He provided. The Hebrews tasted the food (“heavenly gift”) given from heaven to know about the word of God (Exodus 16: 11-18, 31, Deuteronomy 8: 1-4).
3. The Holy Spirit that rested on Moses (so that he could fairly judge the disputes of the people) was later partaken (shared) with seventy leaders to help carrying the heavy burden. In this way, the people partook (shared) in the Holy Spirit (Numbers 11: 4-6 & 10-17). The Spirit also rested on their kings ad prophets. We do not share the Holy Spirit, we possess the Holy Spirit (John 14:16)
4. They saw supernatural events occur before their eyes –like the sea parting before them so they could escape from slavery and their enemies be destroyed (Exodus 14: 21-28). Those miracles were physical demonstrations of spiritual power yet to come through Jesus. But even after all of these, those stubborn people deliberately refused to go into the Land –God’s Promised Land of rest. This leads to the idea of why they were“falling away” from seeing the need to embrace all of God’s plan for them and move on to greater glory.
d. Holy Spirit – We may think that the Holy Spirit is only for the believers. F B Hole notes that… “We may well ask if it is possible for anyone to share in this way (having Holy Spirit unction) without being truly converted; Can it be possible to be a partaker of the Holy Ghost” without being born again? The answer to that question is, that it is quite possible. Now we know that only a true believer can be indwelt by the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:9), but all within the circle of Christian profession, whether truly converted or not, partake or share in the benefits of the presence of the Spirit. A man may be enlightened without being saved. He may taste the heavenly gift without receiving it. He may taste the good word of God without digesting it in his inward parts. He may share in “the powers of the world to come.” (i.e. miraculous powers) without experiencing the real power of the world to come. The terrible case of Judas Iscariot furnishes us with an illustration of this very thing. He walked for over three years in the company of the Son of God. What floods of light fell upon his path! What tastes he had of the heavenly gift and of the good Word of God! It could not be said of course that he was a partaker of the Holy Ghost, but he was a partaker of the benefits of the presence of Christ and the Holy Spirit anointing that was upon Jesus- they must have definitely rubbed on Judas!
e. Falling Away – That is what it means “by falling away”. When people constantly hearing but rejecting Jesus as their Messiah that they were so hardened in their heart that there is no more chance of bringing them to repentance though at one point they saw God’s work and dedicated their lives for Him. Hence please note it is written towards the unbelieving Jews. The passage is not about Jews or Gentiles who already believed. Rather it is a letter to Jews who were sitting on the fence.
The promises which however are made are available for the believer upon his belief. Therefore it does not talk about a believer that has gone away. It is possible to come back. The Father of the Prodigal Son proves that!
We also tend to read the Bible with a judgmental mindset. Every word that is strong or seemingly speaking about being lost or cut off tend to be read as one losing salvation. So we see the word “Fall Away” and we think they have fallen from God’s saving power or grace. A word study will shed some light. The word Fallen away is only used once in the NT and it is found here.
Fallen away (3895) (parapipto from pará = to side of or from + pípto= fall) means to fall aside or fall away. Figuratively it means to apostatize or to fall away from adherence to realities and facts of the true faith.
S Lewis Johnson says : However, the position that I am setting forth is that these people are indeed falling away into a lost state, yet their fall is not from a state of salvation but from a state of profession of faith. In other words, those that “fall away” were never saved to begin with and their fall from their false profession is an irrevocable fall.
Johnson continues : For example, let us reflect again on the meaning of Hebrews 2:3 – how will we escape if we neglect so great a salvation?
What does “neglect so great a salvation mean?” It might mean “to neglect” but yet to remain within the sphere of the saved and thus neglecting the full joy of salvation.
He notes the same in Hebrews 3:12 – take care, brethren, that there not be in any one of you an evil, unbelieving heart that falls away from the living God
So again the question, “departing or fall away from what?” So again it could mean to depart from a full understanding and appreciation of salvation (and so apostatizing from that) but yet still remaining within the family of God.
“Who Are Those Who Fall Away?” They are those who have come close to the truth of the gospel, who have benefited from the truth, but in the end have chosen to reject the gospel of Jesus Christ in order to maintain the perceived benefits of the Old Covenant, as though it was superior to the New. These are not believers who fall away, but those who only came close to the truth, only to reject it.
Thus, all of these examples give indication that the individuals who are described in Hebrews 6:4-6 are individuals who have a great deal of knowledge of the truth and of Old Testament elementary principles but have not entered into the experience of the Christian faith. In other words, they are not saved but are apostates who have fallen away from their profession of faith. Yet it seems that the author is sure that the vast majority to whom he is writing are indeed saved, but he is concerned about some. Notice his thoughts the following verses:
But, beloved, we are convinced of better things concerning you, and things that accompany salvation, though we are speaking in this way. For God is not unjust so as to forget your work and the love which you have shown toward His name, in having ministered and in still ministering to the saints. 11 And we desire that each one of you show the same diligence so as to realize the full assurance of hope until the end (Hebrews 6:9-11)
His concern about some in the fellowship is that they have a great deal of light but apparently are not showing much evidence of spiritual growth.