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?

21 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.

  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…

  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.

  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

  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:
    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.

  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”.

  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.

  8. It can be quite tempting for any person who is reading Hebrew 6 to assume that one can lost his/her slavation in Christ if one keep on sinning after being saved. I myself has struggled with these warning passages in Hebrew. But after scrutinzing the original historical context before making an exposition within a modern context does make a huge differences in a reference to understianding what the passages really meant. Historically speaking, the author was highly concerned about the possibility of apostasy among Jewish Christian who were living in Rome who were about to face a severe persecution from Judaism and by Rome offcials. Back in those days, Greco-Roman cultures views suffering as a kind of unsuccessful or some sort of punishment from gods. There were a lot of pressures coming from the cultures itself along with false teaching were circulating toward the Christian to reject their faith in Christ. At this point, the primary mission for the author of Hebrew was to combats and encourage his reader to firmly hold their hope and confidence in Christ regardless fo what the situation might be (obedient perseverance). Since Christ is the perfect final revaltion of God and the final purification of our sins, and is the only bridge to the promise land, therefore anyone that rejected their faith will be impossible to bring them back to repentance because there is no greater sacrifices apart from Jesus. Yet, they are crucifying the Son all over again by rejecting the very claim of Jesus and the message of God. Apostasy by definition is “the deliberate decision to no longer be a Christian ( Jobes, pg. 135).cThe purpose of these warning passages in Hebrew is to remind his reader the consequences of apostasy, and of course apostasy is the only things that can make a Christian to loose their salvation in Christ. We received this salvation by accepting it, and as long as we don’t reject and abide in Christ, there’s nothing that can separates us from that. We share Christ perfection and holiness, as long as we don’t reject him we are secure.

  9. Last night at the senior high youth group that I help out in, one of the main questions was whether people can lose their salvation. And before giving my thoughts, I asked the whole group who thought yes, and who thought no, and why they believed this. There was good responses on both sides and even solid scriptures to represent both sides. One of the students who believed people could lose their salvation, pointed out Hebrews 10:26 and some of chapter 6, which in his opinion obviously supported that someone could lose their salvation. While I am have been a firm believer for years that once someone is truly saved and the Holy Spirit has indwelt them and sealed their salvation (Eph. 1:13-14) that person can not possibly lose their salvation. With that said, these passages in Hebrews have been a dark spot that I haven’t always been able to answer or reconcile with my own beliefs. Our lecture today, helped to be more confident in my beliefs and to realize that these verses are not really talking about someone losing their salvation. Instead the author of Hebrews is using a rhetorical motif that by giving a worst case scenario, he will discourage his readers/hearers from actually recanting their faith (Class Notes, 56). The context for this passage is also radically different than that of the students in my youth group, meaning this doesn’t really apply to them. I find it funny that the people who often debate the most passionately about people being able to lose their salvation, are the people who really don’t need to be worried about it. While I have known a few people who were active in church, led people to Christ, and even attended a Bible College. Those same people have slowly lost their seal for Christ, and appears to no longer have a Christian faith. I myself have never wondered if they have lost their salvation, but I have often wondered if those people were ever truly saved in the first place. In the end, God only knows who will be saved. Like Patrick McGillicuddy would always say “When you get to Heaven there will be people there that you didn’t think will be there, just like there will be people who aren’t there, that you thought would be there.

  10. After re-reading Hebrews 6:4-12, I have come to the conclusion that I am not sure of my conclusion. Well, for starters, the first part of the passage directly states that those who fall away from the faith cannot be reconciled again: “For it is impossible, for those who have been enlightened and tasted the goodness of God, and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance…” This statement is clear, but the next paragraph so to speak, states, “though we speak in this way…we feel sure of better things…” Does this mean that the writer was stating a stereotype or a false way that some people think, then countering that thought in the next? He then goes on to state that God is not so unjust to forget the work and salvation that you have shown. I believe this means that the writer actually believes that God promised us salvation, and that once you have it it cannot be taken away.

  11. The author seems to be making an attempt at encouraging his audience. ” v.9 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.” I would say that apostasy is something they would have already been exposed to. There must have been people in their congregation who “signed up” but never had the level of commitment or exposure to the Holy Spirit that was necessary. The previous verses (4-8) appear to show what an apostate is like, but the author seems confident in their ability to “remain diligent to the very end” because what they “hope for” is faith in Christ through a matured faith. Perhaps a better question to wrestle with after reading this passage is what should Christians be doing to foster spiritual growth and maturity in order to avoid apostasy?

  12. Personally, I was raised in a Christian home my whole life and I accepted Jesus at a young age, my dad used to be a youth pastor and now that I am older and have gone through things that have shaped me to who I am. I personally believe I am a Christian, and it isn’t by my parents it’s by my own doing. I have always heard and continue to this day hear stories about people accepting Jesus as their Lord and Savior and then drifting away from Him and going down the wrong path. Then they go through something very tragic and start coming back to Jesus.
    I think the key part in the blog post is that if they are to the point where they are “denying that they were even saved” is part of the problem. I personally believe that if they some reason passed away during their time when they walked away then I don’t think they are saved. But as I think about this my question is “If they first believed and then walked away, which led to denying that they were saved, then were they really saved the first time if they end up coming back to Christ”? The true conversion was when they “came back” to Christianity. In the “Letters to the Church” by Karen H. Jobes mentions that in Hebrews 10:16-18 it says, “Their sins and lawless acts I will remember no more.’ And where these have been forgiven, sacrifice for sins is no longer necessary”(pg. 236). I think that this is reminding us as Christians that our sins are forgiven, and God will not remember them.

  13. This topic is one that is so impossible to decide how to interpret it. We are not currently in the position to have to hide our faith for the fact our lives are at stake. This is a difficult topic to speak on because so many people have chosen both directions that you can choose. There are countless Martyrs who have died sticking to what they believe and not lying to make sure that they survive. It is in my opinion different if they are to denounce their faith in their hearts in difference from their actions (as long as the actions they are required to do do not go against their Christian moralities). This theory can be backed up by Hebrews 6:9-10 which talks ultimately about God looking at His people’s true hearts and knowing where they truly align their beliefs. Jobe uses the backing of the verses Romans 8:28, 39 to prove the idea of eternal security, in that you cannot lose your salvation once you put your faith in him. She then brings up how salvation is not a ticket to heaven. Only those who are constantly striving for Jesus and to further their faith can gain the “ticket” to Heaven.

  14. I believe that the author of Hebrews does not believe that a Christian would deny their faith publicly and consider themselves a Christian in secret. The ESV, when referring to Heb 6:11-12 states that the main message in this warning is to encourage perseverance, right up to the end. If a believer is denying their faith then they aren’t really persevering. The ESV states that this would demand “hope, and faith”. If a Christian has this kind of hope and faith then they are not likely going to deny their faith. The ESV also implies that the author of Hebrews believed in the salvation of the people they were writing to. It says that the writer warned the reader of these things, but possibly did not believe they would fall away, and that their lives were giving examples of “spiritual renewal” and having “things that belong to salvation.” After reading through this section of Hebrews a few more times, I believe that this letter was not written to imply that people can fall away from salvation. I believe that the people the author was referring to are people who were not really saved. I agree with the ESV when the author describes people who were acting Christian in public but may not have really been saved, and then turned back when they faced opposition.

  15. Eternal security can mean many different things depending on the person using the term. It seems well supported that no amount of sin – so long as the person is repentant and still following Christ faithfully – can take someone from the Father’s hand, nor can any other evil force take away a person’s salvation from them. However, the more divisive question is whether a person who commits apostasy was truly saved in the first place.

    I tend to fall into the camp of both options being possible, that some may commit apostasy having been truly saved before, and perhaps some others not having been truly saved. A verse I always bring up regarding this topic is Revelation 22, where we are warned that any who take away from the book of John’s revelation will have their share in the “tree of life and the holy city” taken away. This seems to imply that those deceivers did indeed have a share, which is being taken away. It does not say that “any who take away from this book of prophecy didn’t have a spot in heaven anyway.” Of course, one’s interpretation of the passage could differ.

    Of course, the main point is that – no matter if you were really saved or not – DON’T COMMIT APOSTASY! This issue tends to be so controversial in certain branches of the Church that I wouldn’t be surprised if someone left the faith, and the believers spent so much mental energy arguing about if they used to be saved or not that they were too distracted to try and lead that person back to the Church.

    The author of Hebrews does not care about the theological debate, but rather he cares about the condition of those who are about to endure great suffering at the hands of the Roman government. It does not matter if they were saved or not at this time or that time, but rather the important part is that they endure suffering without denying Christ. Earthly suffering cannot compare to eternal joy in the presence of God, but when we’re in the midst of pain, sorrow, agony, etc. it can certainly feel like being a Christian is secondary to self-preservation.

    A question I like to ask people who are talking about this issue (to spice up the conversation, naturally) is this… “if the person who rejected God didn’t reject God, would they be saved now?” It’s just a rehashing of the same question (if they weren’t saved in the first place, then the answer would be “no”, and if they were it would be “yes”), but it brings a slightly different angle that I think can be helpful for clarifying exactly what each party believes. Especially if someone believes that apostasy means being never saved in the first place, but then answers “yes” to the question. It can help them weed out inconsistencies in their beliefs.

    Another fun question to ask is, “if someone was never saved in the first place, how can they commit apostasy? Don’t you have to believe something to change your mind on it?”

    • That’s really the issue isn’t it? The writer of Hebrews seems to be saying that the person who is really in Christ will not walk away from their faith. That’s pretty much the standard Calvinist approach, the ones who are really Christians will persevere to the end. Those who do not persevere to the end we’re never really Christians in the first place.

  16. This is a very difficult topic to address in the book of Hebrews. I do not understand how someone can fully turn away from their faith if they were honestly and truly saved by God. I understand that there are things that lead us astray from God, but how is it that some can completely turn from him? Were they really saved when they said they were? I find myself asking another question about if these people really know the only true God. I believe that if you declare Christ as your savior at all in your lifetime and truly mean it, then you will be saved. That is how I was raised and what to believe. With me believing this then Hebrews 6:4-12 means that a person could deny Christ publicly and say they are complete Jews, but still be a Christian. People lie all the time. God forgives us and our sin. I feel like this would be a part of that. It is certain that there are people like this in the world. People who deny their beliefs and faith to keep peace. Can God forgive these people who completely turn from him? I really do wonder about this question, but then I remember that he can do anything. So for the people who do go down the wrong path after claiming Christ for their salvation, we must pray for them. All we can do is hope and pray that when they pass on that they are in heaven. I guess this topic is super difficult to discuss because I have never been on the path that claims Christ and then turns away. I would love to hear someone’s thoughts that have been in this position before. How can one obtain salvation and then not get to heaven? Such an interesting and controversial topic for this part of Hebrews. Not easy to talk about either.

  17. I think this is a difficult topic to address. The main idea of a person walking away from their faith completely and even denying that they were ever saved. Yes, we all can find ourselves straying away from God as Christians at some point during our walk of faith. But to completely leave it behind and claim that we were never a Christian, is something that is hard to think about. To be saved you must accept Christ into your heart and mean it and if you do that, you are a saved Christian. This is a hard thing to comprehend as saved Christians, the idea that there are people who will publicly deny Christ, but count themselves as faithful Jews, Christians in secret. It is hard to comprehend as a saved Christian that people who have been “saved” and invested in the church can find it in themselves to just walk away from it all, like they were never a saved Christian. In my opinion it’s one thing to grow up in the church with doubts and disbelief and being saved at a later point in life. But it’s a completely different thing and crazy to think that people who are saved and grown up Christians are just walking away from God, acting like they were never a saved Christian.

  18. The topic of Salvation is very broad and can be a difficult topic to talk about. There are so many questions that can arise when talking about Salvation. I am sure that we all know of a person that has walked away from God. In Hebrews 3:12-14, the author is talking about the dangers of having an unbelieving heart. I believe that having an unbelieving heart doesn’t mean that a person is unsaved. I believe that the word “unbelieving” in that verse means that a person is putting their own interest before God. Personally, I think that some of those people that walk away from the faith after being “saved”, might have never been saved in the first place. But we can’t really know that except God. He is the only one that knows who has truly been saved. The question can arise how much compassion will God have for those that willingly walked away from Him after knowing of Him? I agree with you (P.Long) “our personal experience clouds our thinking”. It is interesting how the author of Hebrews stayed away from addressing this theology.

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