A Question I Was Asked:

'Please Can You Clarify Hebrews 6:4-6?'

'My question concerns Hebrews 6:4-6, where it describes how, if someone who has been a believer but has ''fallen away,'' they cannot then come back to repentance. I don't understand how this can be true if God is a God of mercy and compassion. Any thoughts you have on this would be very gratefully received!'

My Reply:

Hebrews 6:4-6 says this,

'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'." (NKJV).

The problems here, as with so many questions which I receive, are really two:

1. Not putting things into the correct context in which they appear biblically.

2. Tending to jump to a doctrinal/teaching conclusion without taking all of the Scriptures pertaining to that particular doctrine/teaching into account.

At first glance this Scripture might seem to indicate that the truly called and chosen can - thereafter - irreversibly fall away, but numerous other Scriptures - not just a few! - show that the Elect of God are under grace and while they may indeed go through 'backsliding phases' they will not fail to enter God's eternal kingdom. They cannot be snatched away out of Christ's hand! As I say, such Scriptures are many but, just to take one chapter, Paul wrote Romans 8 specifically to show that the truly called are assured of inheriting Eternal Life, no matter what happens to them while living their earthly lives. The New Testament also reveals that God sees the Holy Spirit, which is given to believers, as the 'deposit' or 'down payment' on Eternal Life. God - effectively - guarantees that any receiving His Holy Spirit will enter His kingdom!

'Now it is God who has made us for this very purpose and has given us the Spirit as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.' (2 Corinthians 5:5, NIV).

(More on the teaching that the Holy Spirit is the 'earnest of our inheritance' here).

Therefore, the writer of Hebrews is obviously not saying what - at first glance - he might appear to be saying! So what did the writer of Hebrews mean by his comments in 6:4-6? It is really very simple: the writer is writing philosophically and hypothetically, moreover, he is writing as a spur to good works. He is saying, 'Look, it is impossible for the converted to be re-converted, if it were possible, they would be - in a manner - re-crucifying Christ!'

The writer is not talking about a particular group of people - in fact, in verse 9, it continues,

'But, beloved, we are confident of better things concerning you, yes, things that accompany salvation, though we speak in this manner.'

He is speaking 'in this manner' (apparently) as a spur for the Hebrews to 'stay on course', which spur all Christians need from time to time! But the approach is philosophical and hypothetical: the truly converted can obviously never be re-converted!! He is not saying that this has actually happened, rather, he is speaking hypothetically and in a philosophical vein. In fact, in verse 10, the writer explains his approach,

'God is not unjust; he will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people and continue to help them. We want each of you to show this same dilligence to the very end, in order to make your hope sure. We do not want you to become lazy, but to imitate those who through faith and patience inherit what has been promised.' (Verses 10-12. NIV).

So here the writer makes it quite clear that he is making comments to encourage spiritual dilligence! It is strange really, when Hebrews states that something is impossible but a few start to worry that it might be possible! A person who falls completely away from having any interest in Jesus and the Gospel will - thereafter - never want to return in any case. That person might have had some initial enthusiasm and interest but was never truly called and never truly received the Spirit of God as many Scriptures make clear. Yes, some do walk away from the Gospel (although I don't think that many do), but according to biblical teaching, these people never 'had' salvation in the first place; 1 John 2: 19. True believers are sealed - no one can 'pluck them', or 'snatch them' out of God's hand: John 6:44; John10:27-29.

The bottom line is that Jesus rejects nobody who approaches Him in faith (John 6:37, 47; Acts 16:30-31), however, Jesus Himself knows all who will approach Him in faith because that has been divinely granted to them.

So while it is true that Hebrews 6 presents a picture of Christians completely falling away if they lack diligence, the concept of the truly converted falling completely away but then wanting to return to God is written at a philosophical and hypothetical level and as an encouragement for Christian zeal. Numerous New Testament Scriptures reveal that those under the grace of Christ are sealed by 'the Spirit of Promise.'

To further deepen one's understanding on this point, I would strongly recommend the reading of Once Saved, Always Saved? and What is the Unpardonable Sin?

Robin A. Brace, 2006.