If They Shall Fall Away
There is often discussion, debate, and argument among sincere Christians who believe the Word of God regarding the security of the believer’s position in Christ, and the eternality of salvation. The most referred to passage of scripture among those who see warnings of the possibility of the Christian losing his place in Christ, and therefore losing his salvation is found in Hebrews chapter 6, verses 4 – 8. The most common rebuttal to this is that this passage is talking about those who are not really saved, so they are not really losing their salvation, they are simply falling away because they were really not saved in the first place. While this may be an easy counter-argument to use, it does not really pass the scriptural test. Another less common defense, but one used just the same, is that this passage is not to members of the Body of Christ, but to Jews in the tribulation period, of whom it is possible to lose salvation, especially if they are to accept the mark of the beast. This defense is an easy way to put it from us without having to deal with the issue at hand: Can a saved person lose his salvation?
I had the privilege (challenge) of teaching this passage in an adult Sunday school class a while ago. It was during a study of the entire book of Hebrews, where my lot fell to teach 6:1 through 8:6 in as many lessons as necessary. As I have always stood firm on the truth of eternal security, I was glad to teach this passage, because I did not want someone to teach it that did not. But then I was faced with another dilemma. How was I to hold to eternal security when all of the arguments that I had heard in response to the arguments against security from this passage were weak at best? As I prayed over this, I left it with the Lord to shed light on this passage for me so that I would be an faithful teacher of the Word, and not a teacher of the doctrines that I want to be true. I had to go back to the beginning — “What does the passage say?” I had to lose all preconceived notions of what I thought it said, or what I thought it meant, and went back to the words:
“For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost, And have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come, If they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance; seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put Him to an open shame. For the earth which drinketh in the rain that cometh oft upon it, and bringeth forth herbs meet for them by whom it is dressed, receiveth blessing from God: But that which beareth thorns and briers is rejected, and is nigh unto cursing; whose end is to be burned” (Hebrews 6:4 – 8).
From the words of this passage, one thing is abundantly clear: that it is impossible that these once enlightened people who tasted the heavenly gift, the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come, who were also partakers of the Holy Ghost, could be renewed to repentance after falling away. They are guilty of newly crucifying the Son of God! This is a curse of the highest order, for if it does teach the possibility of a true Christian losing his salvation, it surely also teaches that he will not get it back after falling away. This is a cursing of the highest order. It truly is teaching the “unpardonable sin”, because one who has never been saved at least still has the possibility to be saved. The fallen-away believer in this passage does not have that possibility, if that is what this passage is about.
There are some things that this passage does not say about these once enlightened people. It does not say that:
- They are justified by grace (Romans 3:24)
- That they are justified by faith (Romans 5:1)
- That they have eternal life (John 10:28, 3:16, Romans 6:23)
It is of utmost importance in this passage to realize who this is written to. It is the Epistle to the Hebrews. The Hebrews, were known as the nation of Israel. This was God’s chosen people. Of them it is said that:
“What advantage then hath the Jew? or what profit is there of circumcision? Much every way: chiefly, because that unto them were committed the oracles of God” (Romans 3:1 – 2).
“Who are Israelites; to whom pertaineth the adoption, and the glory, and the covenants, and the giving of the law, and the service of God, and the promises; Whose are the fathers, and of whom as concerning the flesh Christ came, Who is over all, God blessed for ever. Amen” (Romans 9:4 – 5).
There is much more that we could say about the special place that the Hebrew people had in God’s dealing with men. When we come to the New Testament, we need that understanding to “rightly divide the Word of Truth” (2 Timothy 2:15).
To speak of being “once enlightened”, the best commentary on this is the Gospel of John:
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by Him; and without Him was not any thing made that was made. In Him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.
“There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. The same came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light, that all men through him might believe. He was not that Light, but was sent to bear witness of that Light. That was the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made by Him, and the world knew him not. He came unto His own, and His own received Him not. But as many as received Him, to them gave He power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on His name: Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:1 – 13).
“And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved. But he that doeth truth cometh to the light, that his deeds may be made manifest, that they are wrought in God” (John 3:19 – 21)
The ministry of our Lord Jesus was very specifically to the Nation of Israel:
“…I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matthew 15:24).
“Now I say that Jesus Christ was a minister of the circumcision for the truth of God, to confirm the promises made unto the fathers…” (Romans 15:8).
From the above passages from John we can see that the Israelites were enlightened by His ministry and His person being among them. What they did with that light is another story, but they certainly were enlightened. And having tasted of the heavenly gift and having partaken of the Holy Ghost, tasted the good Word of God and the powers of the world (Greek: αἰῶνος “age”) to come? Does this not perfectly describe the days of His visitation, and the period of forbearance following? The signs and wonders that the Apostles of Christ worked among the Israelites during the ministry immediately following our Lord’s resurrection and ascension were surely “powers of the age to come”, the age to come being the Reign of Jesus Christ on this earth. By the period of forbearance, these passages should be of help to explain it:
“Wherefore I say unto you, All manner of sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven unto men: but the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost shall not be forgiven unto men. And whosoever speaketh a word against the Son of Man, it shall be forgiven him: but whosoever speaketh against the Holy Ghost, it shall not be forgiven him, neither in this world, neither in the world to come” (Matthew 12:31 – 32).
From the cross, our Lord cried “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34).
Peter said to the leaders in Israel:
“The God of Abraham, and of Isaac, and of Jacob, the God of our fathers, hath glorified His Son Jesus; whom ye delivered up, and denied Him in the presence of Pilate, when he was determined to let Him go. But ye denied the Holy One and the Just, and desired a murderer to be granted unto you; And killed the Prince of life, Whom God hath raised from the dead; whereof we are witnesses. … And now, brethren, I wot that through ignorance ye did it, as did also your rulers” (Acts 3:13 – 15, 17).
The ministry of the Apostles to Israel after the Lord ascended was “that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem” (Luke 24:47).
The message to Israel beginning from the preaching of John the Baptist was that of repentance:
“In those days came John the Baptist, preaching in the wilderness of Judaea, And saying, Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 3:1 – 2).
This was the message of our Lord:
“From that time Jesus began to preach, and to say, Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 4:17).
The post-resurrection ministry of the twelve apostles carried the same message, although now with the added crime to be repented of, that they crucified God’s Messiah:
“Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly, that God hath made that same Jesus, Whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ. Now when they heard this, they were pricked in their heart, and said unto Peter and to the rest of the apostles, Men and brethren, what shall we do? Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the Name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call” (Acts 2:36 – 39).
“Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, when the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord; And He shall send Jesus Christ, which before was preached unto you: Whom the heaven must receive until the times of restitution of all things, which God hath spoken by the mouth of all His holy prophets since the world began” (Acts 3:19 – 21).
The book of Acts chronicles the consistent rejection of the Israelites, both in the Land and scattered. The period of forbearance was met with the same resistance:
“Ye stiffnecked and uncircumcised in heart and ears, ye do always resist the Holy Ghost: as your fathers did, so do ye. Which of the prophets have not your fathers persecuted? and they have slain them which shewed before of the coming of the Just One; of Whom ye have been now the betrayers and murderers: Who have received the law by the disposition of angels, and have not kept it” (Acts 7:51 – 53).
“But to Israel he saith, All day long I have stretched forth My hands unto a disobedient and gainsaying people” (Romans 10:21).
So back to the title text: “If they shall fall away”. Israel had fallen away, yet there was some that did believe. The “little flock” (Luke 12:32) who were told by the Lord Himself that it was His Father’s good pleasure to give them the kingdom grew into many thousands of Jews that believed and were zealous of the law (Acts 21:20). The promised kingdom was still not yet, for just as the entire company of Israelites were delayed in entering in to the promised land because of unbelief, those that did believe (Joshua and Caleb) were preserved. This Epistle to the Hebrews is new instruction for a new “wilderness journey”, in which the believers are urged to go “on to perfection” (Hebrews 6:1) and to suffer with Jesus without the camp, bearing His reproach (Hebrews 13:12-13). The Jewish believers and the Gentile believers are now being reconciled into one body with no new calls to renew the nation to repentance. Individual believers are reconciled into one body by the cross. (Ephesians 2:16) The Hebrews epistle is God’s call to the Jewish believers out of the camp and religion of Judaism and on to perfection. If the passage in question is read with this in mind, we find that there is nothing about the believer’s possibility of losing salvation here. It is the nation that has fallen away, and the believing remnant are urged to move on and out.
The truths in Romans 8 of no condemnation (8:1) and no separation (8:39) are not negated or called into question. This also does not cause us to have to qualify the Good Shepherd’s clear statements regarding His relationship to His sheep:
“My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow me: And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of My hand. My Father, which gave them Me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of My Father’s hand. I and My Father are one” (John 10:27 – 30).
We will close this with the truth that defines the way God is dealing with Jews and gentiles today:
“For there is no difference between the Jew and the Greek: for the same Lord over all is rich unto all that call upon Him. For whosoever shall call upon the Name of the Lord shall be saved” (Romans 10:12 – 13).
Charles Miller View All
Husband, father, engineer...Enjoys fishing, archery, guitar, running, and lifting, but most of all reading and studying God's Word.
A thoughtful and good article. Keep it up!
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Reading further in the text it gives the qualification:
Heb 6:6-9 If they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance; seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame. (7) For the earth which drinketh in the rain that cometh oft upon it, and bringeth forth herbs meet for them by whom it is dressed, receiveth blessing from God: (8) But that which beareth thorns and briers is rejected, and is nigh unto cursing; whose end is to be burned. (9) But, beloved, we are persuaded better things of you, and things that accompany salvation, though we thus speak.
So the warning is to those who are not saved but have been partakers of the blessings of God’s gifts to His church without repenting of their sins and believing in Jesus Christ. Which is pretty much what you wrote. Thank you for sharing the Scripture with insight and godly understanding. May Christ richly bless you as you stand firm for His Word. Amen!