Hebrews 6:4-12 – “It is Impossible…” (Part 1)

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?

9 thoughts on “Hebrews 6:4-12 – “It is Impossible…” (Part 1)

  1. One cannot deny the potency of the suggestion of apostasy in this passage. However, it could be suggested the author of Hebrews believes God, in His omniscience, completely understands the horrors of persecution these Believers are about to face. The language seems to switch to one of understanding when the author states, “Even though we speak like this, dear friends, we are convinced of better things in your case—the things that have to do with salvation. 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” (Heb. 6:9-10). Therefore, it would seem as if God ultimately knows the individuals’ true hearts, minds, and motives – even to the point of not being able to publicly maintain a Christian faith. Verse 11 appears to be more of an urging than a command to “show this same diligence to the end, so that what you hope for may be fully realized”. One could conclude that God’s promise of salvation will remain regardless, however, the best heavenly reward would come by standing firm in the faith through the bitter end.

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  2. I sometimes think that this is a topic that is really hard to talk about. I know people who I thought were always saved get “saved” later on in life. This just makes my confusion even more the bewildered. However I am trying to read the passage in it’s context and I know that there are many things that I could over look. Knowing this please read this knowing that I know I have a lot to learn. I think that in v.12 we see that “…through faith and patience inherit the promises.” I think that the author is trying to say that if you’re a follower of Christ you will follow Him through the times when you supposedly “turn your back on God.” I think that if someone denies Christ that they will be denied eternal life. (John 13:26-27, Matthew 10:33). I think that this is something that requires serious study and I have given it an effort at least…

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  3. I agree with you Dan that Scripture seems to support the idea that someone who denies Christ publicly will be denied by Christ. It’s hard to hold firmly to this because like P. Long said, we do have people we know that this may be true of. I think that this passage needs to be read in context of the suffering that the readers were preparing for. I do not think the author is condemning the people here for apostasy, I think he was warning against it. Perhaps he saw the vulnerability in the readers and wanted to address that specifically. Maybe some were already starting to slide away as tension rose. Perhaps even some tried resorting back to Judaism. “To return from Christianity to Judaism is to agree that Jesus’ blood has no significance other than that of a common criminal or the untimely death of a good man” (Jobes 135).
    This blunt warning could have been like when a parent warns his or her child of drinking. While the child has never been drunk, he has experimented with alcohol. They see a warning sign of a bad habit, and so they warn them of the effects that could be down the road. The author of Hebrews may have seen that the readers were in a bad position, letting their faith wane, and therefore he warned them of what could happen down the road. Hebrews 6:11 says, “We want each of you to show this same diligence to the very end, so that what you hope for may be fully realized.” He encouraged them to persevere, because if they didn’t, they were serious consequences.

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  4. This is a really difficult passage to study. Growing up with reformed parents, I would usually take the side of the Calvinists. Whenever this topic is brought up, on whether someone who turns from their faith is still saved or not, I generally come to the conclusion that if they really, truly turned away from their faith then they were probably never truly saved to begin with. What I am really struggling with in this passage is Hebrews 6:4 and the word “enlightenment”. The Calvinist in me wants to take that word rather lightly, as to mean someone who may have experienced some kind of spirituality, but not necessarily salvation. On the other hand, the writer of Hebrews seems to make it pretty clear that it means salvation. The rest of Hebrews 6:4 reads, “…who have tasted the Holy gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit. This leads me to believe that the writer is talking about someone who has been saved. Furthering my Calvinist view, I would like to go back to the context. Was the writer just trying to scare or shock the audience, so that they knew how important it was to keep the faith?
    -McKenzie McCord- 1/31/18

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  5. Here is little bit of a different take from a year or so ago based on when I taught this passage to an adult Sunday school class:
    http://distinguishingtruth.com/2016/05/24/if-they-shall-fall-away
    I never was satisfied with either the “Calvinist” or the “Arminian” arguments, and really most other arguments as well.
    In short, the “enlightenment” has to do with the Lord’s ministry (the Light of the world) among the Hebrew people and the “falling away” is the falling away of the majority in the nation from their place of national privilege.
    The entire epistle is about the believers in the nation moving on, going “on to perfection”, and that they are being called to suffer with Christ “without the camp”. Even though the nation was in unbelief, just like at Kadesh-Barnea, those who did believe, like Caleb and Joshua, were to maintain faith even though their entering in to the promised land was postponed.

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  6. This is an interesting and strong reading. Growing up like P. Long has stated we all know people who go to church claim they are saved but we still wonder are they truly saved or do they truly believe. Personally growing up i was taught that if you confess Jesus as your Lord and savior you will have eternal life. Therefore, when reading Hebrews 6:4-12 and considering the context of the time i would say that the writer of Hebrews would think it was possible that his readers could deny their faith publicly, declare that they are faithful Jews, and still consider themselves Christians in secret. I believe the writer is assuming that some of the readers would be in that situation. “Regardless of the motivation of their temptation, he warns them that if they do turn away from Christ for any reason, there is nowhere to go but toward apostasy, which would be a spiritually fatal mistake (Heb. 6:4 – 12; 10:26 – 31)” (Jobes 42). To have eternal life i do not think you can be a “secret Christian”.

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  7. This is a really emotion filled conversation that people have. Many people have had to relative or friend that they think knew Jesus, just made bad decisions, obviously, their reaction is to hope they are in heaven. No one wants to imagine a possibility of their relatives really being gone. We question if someone walks away and denies Christ and never looks back, will God forgive them? If the contents of Hebrews is looked at in a historical sense this passage was talking to the Jews so they did not fall back to the old covenant. The author wanted it to be known that Jesus had come, that the old way of being saved was dead because the Son of God has come to die for them. Jobe states, “(1) that the issues must have concerned Jewish theology and ritual as practiced in the priesthood and sacrificial system, evidenced by the elaborate and extensive discussion of Christ superseding both and (2) that the original readers were in danger of turning away from Christ, quite possibly by returning to the practice of first-century Judaism,” (Jobe, pg.135). This would make it look like that the author was really talking to the people in that time frame. There was a big fear that people revert back to their old ways, due to the fact they were uncertain. And we see still to this day that people will act upon the old Jewish Laws because they think that it is still required to be saved. “no sacrifice for sins is left, but only a fearful expectation of [God’s wrathful] judgment,” (Hebrews 10:26-27). This makes it clear that making sacrifices for sins do not matter. We need to confess our sins to God because He is the only way to heaven and Jesus gave us that way! It should not be taken lightly that God did that for us. It is hard to think that there is a possibility for someone to walk away and never receive him again. Will we ever have a clearcut answer? I think due to how I was raised, I think I am prone to give everyone the benefit of a doubt. To me, once you accept Jesus as your Savior the Holy Spirit is always with you. It is hard for me not to think in that light.

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