A Bible Study by Jack Kelley
It is impossible for those who have been once enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age, if they fall away to be brought back to repentance, because to their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting Him to public disgrace. (Hebr 6:4-6)
Any in depth discussion of the doctrine of eternal security will eventually include these verses and I have seen countless otherwise competent teachers stumble all over themselves in trying to explain them. On its face the passage seems to say that someone who has accepted the Gospel and received the Holy Spirit can not only fall away, but in doing so renders any return to faith impossible. What a scary thought that is. But strangely that and other similar interpretations abound in Christianity today. Here’s my take on it.
One of the rules of interpretation is to use verses in which the point is clear to define the more obscure ones. So you’d think with all the crystal clear verses promising eternal security, that commentators would say, “We must be missing the intent of this one.” Our Lord is not some trickster Who says something openly in one place and then tucks His true feelings into the fine print elsewhere. One of the measures of the inspiration of Scripture is its consistency.
But some folks can’t resist the temptation to use as a club for beating us into submission that which the Lord gave as a gift to release us from bondage. And so they take a whole stack of verses that say we’re saved forever and use this one to throw them all away.
The Testimony Of Two Witnesses
“And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were marked in Him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit Who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession – to the praise of His glory.” (Ephe.1:13-14)
This verse alone should have put an end to any argument, crammed as it is with legal wording and without a single weasel clause (conditions written into agreements that can modify or even annul them). The Greek word translated deposit means “earnest money” in our society and denotes a legally binding obligation to perform. Homebuyers often write weasel clauses like “subject to inspection” or “subject to obtaining reasonable financing” into their earnest money agreements so they can escape from their obligation to purchase if things don’t work out. Notice that Ephe 1:13-14 contains no such conditions. The word translated “guarantee” needs no clarification. And for how long is the guarantee in force? “Until the redemption of those who are God’s possession,” in other words till we’re raptured or resurrected.
But there’s another passage in Hebrews a few chapters later where (if those who deny eternal security are correct) the same author who wrote our opening verse seems to blatantly contradict himself. It culminates with ” … because by one sacrifice He has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.” (Hebr. 10:1-14)
This passage speaks of the permanent and eternal changes brought about by our Lord’s substitutionary death that rendered obsolete the temporary and temporal provisions of the law. Put this together with the Ephesians passage and you have to conclude that you were saved at the first moment of belief and that the Lord has promised to keep you that way forever. Your behavior had nothing to do with getting you saved and it has nothing to do with keeping you that way. We behave the way the Lord wants us to out of gratitude for what we’ve been given not for fear of losing it.
So That’s What That Means
Hebrews 10 actually explains the context of Hebrews 6:4-6. The letter was written to Messianic Jews who had received the gospel but were now being counseled by false teachers (called “Judiazers”) not to stop practicing their temple rituals. These Judiazers were trying to combine the practice of the Levitical system with the Gospel. To gentile believers, they were teaching the need to first submit to the rituals of Judaism before embracing Christianity, and to Jewish believers, they were teaching the need to stay in Judaism. The Holy Spirit’s rebuttal for Gentiles is contained in Acts 15, and for Jews He had someone (probably Paul) write the Letter to the Hebrews.
The issue in Hebrews 6 is not salvation but fellowship. Since believers go on sinning even after they’re saved there has to be an ongoing cleansing process to remain in God’s presence. For Christians, this process is confession as called for in 1 John 1:9-10, but for Jews, it was the daily sacrifice. When Jesus came He rendered the Law obsolete by fulfilling it, so the daily sacrifice the Judiazers were prescribing would no longer cleanse a believer from his ongoing sin. Confession was now the only way to demonstrate repentance.
Placed in that context the passage is correct and the contradiction disappears. It is impossible to be brought back to repentance (fellowship) by killing a lamb, and sinning believers who sought this remedy would remain in their sins and out of fellowship with God. (The phrase “if they fall away” in Hebr. 6:6 means if they fall back into the rituals of the law.) Still saved, they would like the Prodigal Son—estranged from their Father and receive none of the blessings that remaining in His presence would bring. Any attempt to restore themselves to fellowship by any means other than sincere confession would not only be futile but would subject the Lord to public disgrace by implying that His remedy for sin was insufficient or incomplete.
They Aren’t All Dead Yet
The Judiazers were 1st-century proponents of legalism; the process of earning your way to salvation. And there are still plenty of them around. Today they prescribe various forms of penance and good works in place of sacrificing lambs but the idea is the same. They teach that our Lord’s hideous and painful death was not sufficient to save you and keep you; that there is much left undone that you must do. And even though He loved you enough to bring you life when you were still dead in your sins, He’ll now discard you without redress if you don’t toe the mark.
As my friend Hal Lindsey once said, “These people should be horsewhipped from their pulpits for trying to make expensive that which the Lord gave his life to make free.” Sound a little harsh? Read John 2:15. “So He made a whip out of cords and drove all from the Temple area, both sheep and cattle; He scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables.” The only times the Lord ever showed His wrath during his visit here was when confronting the leaders of organized religion. The writer of Hebrews also noted that He is never changing “the same yesterday, today, and forever.” If so maybe Hal’s wish will come true someday soon.