Is Hebrews 6:4-6 a warning to those who walk away from Jesus? Should it be taken seriously?


"For it is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt." (Hebrews 6:4-6) First, I would have to say the only way we know we are a true believer is if we hold firmly to the end. Yes, a true believer will be held by God to the end. God is faithful to finish what he started (Philippians 1:9) No true believer will ever fully and finally fall away. But the only way we know that God is holding onto us, and has held onto us until the end, is if we are holding onto him, and hold onto him unto the end. I have often thought of it like this, “We can be eternally secure in our salvation because all those who are saved, God will keep, preserve them, and work in them, so that they will persevere all the way to the end. And all those who do persevere to end, were truly saved.

Eternal security underlies perseverance. But perseverance is the fruit, and without fruit, we have nothing, because it just exposes there was no root. This is why the present day teaching that is called ‘once saved always saved’ has gotten so twisted. People often teach it to mean, that if you at one time believed, you are saved forever, even if you don't believe now, and basically you have to go to heaven even if you live like the devil, and don't even actually want to go to heaven. Basically, it boils down to, you believed once, so now you are stuck, you can’t get out of it, even if you want to. My fiends, nowhere does the Bible teach that, ever. Unbelievers will not be going to heaven. There is no promise anywhere in scripture of unbelievers going to heaven. You have to twist and ignore lots of scripture to say that. That means if you prayed a prayer at one time in your life to accept Jesus into your heart or some similar type of prayer and then went on to live the rest of your life as an unbeliever and died an unbeliever, you are not going to heaven. The only assurance and basis for salvation is Christ. But, if you are not believing in or trusting in Christ, why would you have assurance. Why would you think you are saved if there is no faith uniting you to him? That doesn’t make sense. There is no salvation without faith. This is what it means to persevere. This is what we are to persevere in. This is what we work out, this is what we stir up. This is what we fan the flame of. This is what tells us and others that we are a Christian. Yes, it is true, that the Father elects you, the Son purchases you, and the Spirit draws you and sanctifies you (1 Peter 1:2). All three persons of the Trinity unmistakably working together for your salvation, including, preserving you and guarding you through faith (1 Peter 1:5). Yes, salvation is more about God then it is about you. But if you are not currently working out your salvation, if you are not currently believing, if you are not currently pressing on, you have no reason to think any of this is true. Apostate unbelievers do not go to heaven. You will not find anywhere in the bible such a teaching. Rather you will find many warnings against such thinking. So don't let anyone ever teach you such a thing. Our salvation is not so much that we believed once upon a time, but that we are believing now. In fact, the most famous verse in the entire Bible uses a present tense verb that may be translated, “whoever continues believing in him” may have eternal life (see John 3:16) This passage should not be first and foremost turned into an argument of whether we can lose our salvation or not. If you do that, you are missing the point. Turning warning passages in the Bible into debates about whether we can lose our salvation or not, is not the worst thing. There is a place for that. Establishing doctrine is a good thing. But the most important thing is to get the point, to press on, to not turn away, that Jesus is way better than anything out there tempting you to forsake him. That if you turn away from Jesus, there is no salvation to be found anywhere else. Yet, rather let this be said of you, “But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their souls.” (Hebrews 10:39) … think about the options, weigh the outcome … and don’t fall for the lie, “did God really say” … all of Satan’s fruit looks beautiful on the outside … but on the inside is filled with worms … then press on … it is worth it … let this be said of you “For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end.” (Hebrews 3:14) And so, to just dismiss the warning of Hebrews 6:4-6 as no big deal, I believe once a person is saved they will always be saved, they can never fall away, so this cannot be talking about that, is not necessarily reading it in its intended light. In fact the whole letter of Hebrews seems to be written with a two fold purpose in mind; that is to point out how Jesus is so much better than the old covenant ceremonial system these readers were saved out of, and as a warning to not go back to that. To turn this first and foremost into an argument over whether one can lose their salvation is to totally miss the boat. We must first and foremost see this passage as what it is meant to be; a warning, a big, big warning. So don’t be afraid to preach it or teach it. I have heard it said, that a good rule of thumb when preaching or teaching is, emphasize what the Bible emphasizes when it emphasizes it. First, it is a warning to these Jewish believers who are possibly facing persecution, or hardship for their faith to not turn back, and second it is a warning to us, to not turn back to whatever empty thing we came to Christ from. But not only is it a warning to not turn back, it is an exhortation to push on. It seems the readers are at a precipice. Verse 1 says, “let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity”. They are at a precipice whether to return to the dead religion of Judaism or press on into maturity in Christ. If they return to the dead religion of Judaism, it will prove they were never one of Christ to begin with. It will be sad, because they were so close. They had been enlightened, they had tasted, they had heard the goodness of the word of God, and if they turn away now, it will be impossible to restore them. Meaning to bring them back to even the ‘almost’ place. If you think about it, how hard would a person have to be, to have sat under the preaching of the word for a long time, maybe even years, to have been in fellowship with other christians week in and week out, to have watched baptisms and participated in the Lords supper and then to one day say, “you know, I don't want any of this anymore”. I think it would be pretty hard. I have met a few people like that. They know all the answers. They have heard it all before, and they just don't care. Does that mean a person like that can never be restored? Well, that depends. There are some people who walk away from the faith, and at some point in time, maybe years later are restored. But thats not the type of person that is being talked about here. The type of person it is talking about here, says it would be impossible. So the thing is, we don’t know. But what we do know, is it is dangerous to walk away. Theologically, do I think it is actually describing someone who can be a born again Christian and then become un-born again? No, I do not think that this is teaching that. Part of the New Covenant is that God will put in his people a new heart and cause them to walk in His ways and not turn away from doing them good (Ezekiel 36:27, ) In fact, the end of Hebrews ends with this benediction, “Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.” (13:20-21) So it is not finally dependent on us whether we persevere, it is finally dependent on God. He is working in us that which is pleasing in his sight. That’s what Hebrews 13:21 says. He is fulfilling the new covenant promise to preserve us. This means that Hebrews 6:6 would contradict the new covenant if it meant that people could be truly justified members of the new covenant and then commit apostasy and be rejected. That would mean that God did not fulfill his promise to ‘work in them what is pleasing in his sight.’ He would have broken his new covenant promise” And I’m just not thinking that God is going to be a covenant breaker. So like I said, what I think the author is trying to do, is give the strongest warning possible, that this is how far you can go, that is you can even experience some of the blessings of being a christian and still not be a christian. Maybe even think you're a christian and not be one. This author really wants to discourage as many “depart from me, I never knew you’s as he can”. This author is agreeing, that it is really important to ‘make our calling and election sure’. It is really important to examine ourselves to see if we are in the faith’ (2 Cor. 13:5). So, first and foremost I think it is teaching the seriousness of walking away from Christ. It is not trying to teach that people can lose there salvation. And then second I think you can get from it, that if someone does walk away from Christ, they were never one of us to begin with (1 John 2:9). One thing that is really helpful to me, is if you think of the seed and the sower parable here. There is almost the exact kind of picture here. In the parable of the seed and the sower, there are some who come so close, even start to grow for awhile, maybe even show some signs, but then what happens, either the birds come and steal, or the weeds and thistles choke it out. Well, its the same here. Read vs. 7-8, “ For land that has drunk the rain that often falls on it, and produces a crop useful to those for whose sake it is cultivated, receives a blessing from God. But if it bears thorns and thistles, it is worthless and near to being cursed, and its end is to be burned.” The picture is of two different kinds of ground altogether. One responds to the rain [spiritual blessings and opportunities] by producing bountiful vegetation, while the other is barren, lifeless, and thus condemned. Likewise, people who hear the gospel and respond with saving faith bring forth life. Others, however, who sit in church and hear the truth and are blessed by the ministry of the Holy Spirit but eventually turn their back on it all are like a field that never yields vegetation and thus comes into judgment.

As Wayne Grudem notes, “the idea of land that once bore good fruit and now bears thorns is not compatible with this picture. The implication is this: While the positive experiences listed in verses 4-6 do not provide us enough information to know whether the people were truly saved or not, the committing of apostasy and holding Christ up to contempt do reveal the true nature of those who fall away: all along they have been like bad ground that can only bear bad fruit. If the metaphor of the thorn-bearing land explains verses 4-6 (as it surely does), then their falling away shows that they were never saved in the first place” And provides this helpful summation: “What has happened to these people? They are at least people who have been affiliated closely with the fellowship of the church. They have had some sorrow for sin and a decision to forsake their sin (repentance). They have clearly understood the gospel and given some assent to it (they have been enlightened). They have come to appreciate the attractiveness of the Christian life and the change that comes about in people’s lives because of becoming a Christian, and they have probably had answers to prayers in their own lives and felt the power of the Holy Spirit at work, perhaps even using some spiritual gifts (they have become ‘associated with’ the work of the Holy Spirit or have become partakers of the Holy Spirit and have tasted the heavenly gift and the powers of the age to come). They have been exposed to the true preaching of the Word and have appreciated much of its teachings (they have tasted the goodness of the Word of God). These factors are all positive, and people who have experienced these things may be genuine Christians. But these factors alone are not enough to give conclusive evidence of any of the decisive beginning stages of the Christian life (regeneration, saving faith and repentance unto life, justification, adoption, initial sanctification). In fact, these experiences are all preliminary to those decisive beginning stages of the Christian life. The actual spiritual status of those who have experienced these things is still unclear”.

Sam Storms concluding, “I conclude that the people described in 6:4-5 who, according to v. 6, “fall away” are not now and never were born-again believers. They are not Christians who have “lost” their salvation.

I believe the spiritual state and experience of those described in Hebrews 6:4-6 is virtually identical to that of the first three of four soils in the parable of the sower (see Matthew 13:3-23; Mark 4:1-9; Luke 8:4-15). In that parable, only the fourth soil is called “good” and subsequently bears fruit. The other three represent those who hear the gospel and respond with varying degrees of understanding, interest, and joy, none of which, however, bear fruit that would testify of genuine spiritual life. That is to say, they experienced “enlightenment” and “tasted” the goodness and power of the ministry of the Spirit and the blessings of the kingdom, yet turned their back on the truth when trials, troubles, or temptations came their way. Their apostasy was proof of the falsity of their initial “faith”. I would almost explain the first 3 categories of men in in Matthew 13:3-9, 18-23, quite similar to how Hebrews 6:4-6 talks about them. In Hebrews 6:4-6 they experienced “enlightenment” and “tasted” the goodness of the ministry of the Spirit as well as the blessings of the kingdom, but they were not quite there. They might have even looked like christians for a little while, responded rightly to gospel proclamations, but without those responses coming from a regenerated heart, they are not real, and will eventually wither and die. I think the parable of the sower is a good illustration of how that plays out in real life. We see some stay for a little while, some a little while longer, and some may even live as if they are Christians for awhile, but the falling away is proof they never were. Only those who have good soil press on into maturity. What is interesting is the parable shows the absolute sovereignty of God in salvation. Soil cannot make itself good soil, just like one cannot give themselves a new heart. Soil is, and we are, completely dependent on outside circumstances. In other words, soil, whether it is good or not is completely dependent on God. It is God who makes soil good. It is he who makes soil bad. Though their are many second causes (factors), none are outside of his control, and him being the ultimate first cause, is the cause that is under, over and in between all causes. He is the controller of all circumstances. He has allotted the times and places that soil will be, and the influences and circumstances that will contribute to that soil. The reality is, for whatever reason, God has deemed not all soil will be good. Only the fourth soil is called “good” and thus bears fruit. Yet, don't get to pie in the sky. The other three represent real people, who have heard the gospel, and for whatever reason have turned their back on it. These might be people you love. So it is serious business. There might have been an initial positive response, with what looks like understanding, and maybe even joy, but ultimately no lasting fruit. This is the reality of things. This is sad. But Jesus is a realist. He’s not trying to pull a bait and switch on his disciples. Our first response should be to ask ourselves, do we hear and understand? Are we bearing fruit? Those who have ears to hear, do not have ears to hear by accident. Are you hearing and obeying, and bearing fruit? If you are, don't take that for granted. For many are called, but few are chosen. And then next, we should realize that ministry is going to be hard. That maybe we should pay attention to how we work the ground, how we prepare the soil. God plans to use us as the means by which he not only scatters seed (his word), this is ultimately his mission in the world we are called to, but even to use us in preparing the ground, weeding it, and fending off the birds (false teachers and what not). I am thinking this has a lot to do with ministry. We could pull in text from other areas. But one thing is for sure, making disciples is serious business. Yes, God is ultimately sovereign, but that doesn't take away how he has chosen to exercise his sovereignty in the world; through willing disciples who have been made willing, by being given ears to hear, and hearts to obey, and now as we go forth, we bear precious seed. Don't just take your own salvation seriously. It is a tremendous thing that we have been given ears to hear. But also take the salvation of others seriously. It is a tremendous stewardship to care for God’s Word and the souls it ministers to. Yes, some will fall away, we can expect that, but let it not be for want of our caring. That which is spiritual will produce spiritual things. That which is fleshly will ultimately produce fleshly things. The first three turned their back on the truth when trials, troubles, or temptations came their way. Their falling away was proof of the falsity of their initial “faith”.