Agonizomai: Heb 6:4-6 - Christ - Not to be Denied

Friday, December 18, 2009

Heb 6:4-6 - Christ - Not to be Denied

Heb 6:4-6 - Christ - Not to be Denied

Heb 6:4-6 For it is impossible to restore again to repentance 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 if they then fall away, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt.

What is the "for" for? It precedes an expansion and an explanation of what has been stated immediately prior. That is, grow up as Christians and get on with the job of being instead of doing - in the sense of justification. Abide in the justification God has provided and grow in grace by believing it, and turn from the self-justification of works and ceremonialism, which things you are supposed to have done when you first believed. Don’t even think about going back to that shadowy realm of symbols when the reality that they represent has come in Christ...

...And now...

...for it is impossible to restore (you) again to repentance if you fall away by returning to what never helped you and rejecting the only one who can. A lost soul not knowing about Christ will receive a bad enough condemnation, but a mind that has been enlightened with the gospel and has been drawn by the Holy Spirit - if such a mind should turn back it is tantamount to crucifying Christ a second time and putting him to an open shame.

Now, if I had a dollar for every sensitive soul, or for every repenting sinner or backslider that had been seriously troubled by this passage I would be a wealthy man. Add to that a dime for every Arminian that had seen this as proof positive that salvation, once received, can be lost and I would give even Bill Gates and Warren Buffet taken together a run for their money.

The primary context is apostatizing Jewish professors of the faith. Remember that this letter was written not to condemn but to warn, and that the warning was rendered necessary by many factors which we visited in chapter 1. This is how God works in both believers and reprobates. It is how God makes His rain to fall on the just and the unjust alike, how He leaves the tares to grow up with the wheat until the harvest time. He gives forth His admonishments and his promises by means of which the true children of faith apprehend and walk in his truth. In other words, sooner or later, the warning works for the true believer and not for the reprobate. One it changes and preserves, and the other is hardened.

So this is given to believers so that they will not apostatise. It is love speaking. Don’t go near the hot stove, child, or you will be burned! What is the objective? To terrorize the child? To ensure that the child is burned? Far from it! The objective is that the child will never have to experience the pain that burns bring. It is medicine for the sick soul. It is an inoculation against deadly disease.

It is not meant to snatch away hope from the saint who has committed a great sin, or to deny the backslider any prospect of recovery. It is meant to keep the professors from that sort of apostasy which, having been enlightened by the gospel, nevertheless denies the Christ upon which it is founded. This is speaking of a conscious, informed and deliberate public turning away from Christ. It is announcing to the world, "I believed once, but now I don’t believe that Christ is the eternal Son of God who died and rose again so that all who believe on him will not perish, but have eternal life." And/or it is saying, "I once thought that I needed a righteousness which came from God, but now I believe that I can provide a righteousness of my own."

So apostasy is not necessarily a rejection of all belief, but a rejection of the right belief on essential matters, as laid down by Christ and his apostles. In other words, doctrine matters. Which is why the writer here has been exhorting the Hebrews to grow and mature in Christ. If they had been so doing, they could not possibly come to the place where they were ready to reject the foundation upon which they had built so much.

Now scholars of differing convictions on this passage have variously interpreted it to be a warning to false believers or a warning to true believers (by which they are preserved through faith), a theoretical possibility or a possible situation for true believers. People look at phrases such as "tasted the heavenly gift," "shared in the Holy Spirit," "tasted the goodness of the word of God" and "(tasted) the powers of the age to come" and fall into a couple of broad categories...
1) These graces, experiences, benefits - whatever they are - could not be experienced by an unbeliever and this must, therefore be addressing the very real possibility that saved people can lose their salvation. I have never understood such a conclusion. If there was nothing we could do to get saved (while we were still sinners, Christ died for the ungodly) then what makes us think that there is something we can do to keep ourselves saved or, conversely, to lose what God has appointed us to? It ascribes to man a power he never had. Man always has the responsibility to obey God, saved or not, but he never has the ability in and of himself. Since Adam, Christ is the only man who ever had that.

2) It is possible to go a very long way along the road to salvation without ever actually belonging to Christ. Perhaps this is why Jesus speaks of some claiming to do many wonderful works in his Name and yet disowning them by saying "I never knew you." {Mt 7:21-23}
What this cannot mean to those of us who are enjoying the clarity of the Reformation is what official Roman doctrine asserts in general - that we are saved by grace and kept by works which, if not performed, will ultimately result in our damnation, or at least, our purgation. But the reality of it is this - that if there is never any fruit it is because we are damned. If there is fruit, it is because God has saved us, and appointed us unto good works that we should walk in them.

What it might be, rather than a statement of the possible, is a horror of the unthinkable. It might be hyperbole enlisted to sternly warn any wavering Hebrews. Those who take this line think of all those graces as being exactly the same as the graces enjoyed by all true believers. Thus, to them, the "sharing in the Holy Spirit" is precisely the same as being born again and indwelt by the Spirit. "Enlightening" is exactly the same thing as having the veil lifted and apprehending the truth about the Person of Christ - or seeing Him, if you like.

But there are so many verses elsewhere that support the idea that a person, once born again can never be lost again, that it simply cannot be the case here that the writer is teaching loss of salvation. If we let scripture interpret scripture, He must be teaching the truly reborn believers never turn back and deny Christ. And by "deny Christ" I mean a denial of what the Christ, in the Person of Jesus, achieved by His incarnation, life, death and resurrection. And this is the complete and sufficient propitiation of God’s anger against all of the sins of his elect, and of His atonement for them on their behalf. The turning back to, the reintroduction and re-embracing in the soul of, works self-justification in any measure, no matter how small, is the evidence that there was no true salvation to start with, rather than the loss of it.

Once more, then, this warning of irreversible apostasy is not for those who stumble, but for those who deny the faith; it is for those who, despite having been exposed to the light of the power of God at work in and through the church, and having at one time professed to believe in the Person of Christ (and all that entails), now reverse course and outright deny what he stands for. This is a diatribe against the corruption of the doctrine of salvation by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I literally broke out in a sweat when I first read these verses. I was attending deeply Arminian church, and the pastor routinely aught that we could lose our salvation. After leaving that church, I ended up in another that taught the same thing. So I lived in fear and a definite lack of hope for decades. Thanks be to God, who has delivered me from false teachings, to be free from this guilt and fear! Hearing the doctrines of grace for the first time was a miracle. How hadn't I seen them before? They are everywhere in the Bible, yet I was under the bondage of fear and could not believe them. Praise Go that He gives us understanding of His word and frees us from the traps. Thank you for explaining this so clearly. I wish all Arminians could read this.

9:20 am  

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