Hebrews 6:4-12 is one of the difficult in the Bible because it deals with a very sensitive problem: If someone recants their faith and completely turns their back on God, can they still be “saved”? It does not take very long to find a website attributing the doctrine of Eternal Security (Perseverance of the Saints) to be a doctrine hatched in the pit of Hell, or another website declaring that Eternal Security is the central theme of God’s gospel of Grace.
Part of the emotionalism of this issue is that everybody knows someone who attended church, was involved in the ministry of the church, gave of their money and time, and may have even publicly claimed to be a believer. But now, for whatever reason, they have walked as far from God as they can get, denying that they were even saved. Some pastors have been caught in sin and now have left the ministry, perhaps even denying God What about them? Were they “saved”? Are they now “saved” even if they are in a state of denial?
Presuppositions about theology often drive interpretations about this passage. Once we start talking about heavy doctrines like election, predestination, and preservation of the saints people tend to get antsy. To make a very long theological story short, Armenians tend to believe that a person can lose their salvation if they do not “persevere until the end” while the Calvinists tend to believe that a person who is truly saved will always be saved, regardless of any post-conversion behavior. There is a lot behind those two historic positions, in fact, they are logical conclusions drawn from some presuppositions in their respective views of salvation.
A real problem for reading this text is that our personal experience clouds our thinking. We all know someone that seemed saved, but they now appear to have walked away from their faith. Alternatively, we all know at least one prodigal son who has returned to the father and repented of their time during which they appear to have rejected the faith. These stories are rather emotional since these are real people whom we love.
While both sides of this “once saved always saved” discussion must deal with this passage, that is not exactly what the author of Hebrews has in mind. He does not address church discipline or post-reformation theology. In fact, he is neither Calvinist nor Arminian, nor is he a holiness preacher or a post-Enlightenment liberal. To a large extent our post-Reformation questions might obscure what the writer of Hebrews was trying to communicate to his original readers.
The writer of Hebrews is a Jewish Christian addressing other Jewish Christians who are about to endure a time of terrible persecution. Does the writer of Hebrews consider it possible that his readers could deny their faith publicly, declare that they are faithful Jews, and still consider themselves Christians in secret?