Summary: Can true Christians sin so as to loose all hope of restoration?
Hebrews 6:4-6 has given rise to much controversy and the opinion of commentators and of the Christian world is fiercely divided about its meaning. Some hold that the passage is not intended to describe true Christians, but only those who have come close to salvation and then fell back. Others maintain that it refers to those who are true Christians and then apostatize. The contending parties have been Calvinists and Armenians; each party, in general, interpreting it according to the views which they hold about the possibility of true Christians falling from grace. This passage has been difficult for both sides – difficult for Calvinists because it sounds like a saved person falls away and does not persevere; difficult for Arminians because those who “fall away” cannot be renewed to repentance.
Can we form an unbiased view of the meaning of the passage or must we read it with our minds already made up and force it to fit with our Theology? You will have to judge this for yourselves! It is hard to look at a passage without colouring it with our preconceptions.
My studies have identified 7 options to explain this passage the people referred to were:
1. true Christians who sinned in some gross way and were condemned to eternal judgement with no hope of restoration
2. true Christians who sinned in some gross way and could not be restored by any human intervention, but God will bring some devastating judgement into their lives after which they will turn back to Him
3. true Christians who sinned in some gross way and could not be restored by any human intervention while they continued to disgrace the Lord
4. true Christians who sinned in some gross way and could not be restored to repentance in this life, they would die and go to heaven, but only by the skin of their teeth as it were
5. not genuine Christians, but had come within a gnat’s whisker of salvation. Having come so close they knowingly renounced the gospel and turn back to their old life. After this there was no further hope for them.
6. Jewish apostates – this passage is no longer relevant because the temple has been destroyed.
7. this is a hypothetical scenario and if it were possible for a Christian to sin is such a gross way then it would also be impossible to restore them, but it isn’t
Whichever option we adopt has to meet fit the following points that the passage makes:
1. the fivefold description of the people concerned in vv 4 and 5
2. the terrible verdict on their actions in v 6
3. the analogy of the land, its produce and end described in v 7&8
In considering this we must also bear in mind
• the immediate and general context of the passage
• the teaching of the remainder of Scripture, for it never contradicts itself
• the danger of reading in words or statements that are not there
• a general maxim of interpretation that it is foolish to interpret a straightforward passage in the light of an obscure one. Start with teaching that is clear and unambiguous and let this illuminate passages that we find hard to understand.
So we have 7 options. Each option has three criteria and each criterion 4 maxims. Phew! With 84 combinations how on earth are we going to deal with this today? The answer is, of course, that we can’t, but we can make a start.
1. The fivefold description (Who are they?)
This is not an academic study for many Christians have worried that they had committed this sin and were lost for ever. It is important for us to know if it teaches that Christians who fall into serious sin can never be restored to faith.
The first question is who is the writer was writing about. If we can answer this we may be able to narrow down the options. Does it describe the saved or the lost? Christians or non-Christians? Whoever they were they are described as the:
• once enlightened v4
• tasted the heavenly gift v4
• partakers of the Holy Spirit v4
• tasted the good word of God v5
• tasted the powers of the age to come v5
What do you think? Do these terms describe a Christian?
• Certainly we could not become a Christian unless we were enlightened. Naturally we live in darkness until God gives us light by the Holy Spirit.
• It is also quite reasonable to describe us as having tasted the heavenly gift, after all Ps 34:8 encourages us to taste and see that the LORD is good.
• In the same way true Christians are certainly partakers of the Holy Spirit for it is He that reveals our sin and points us to Christ for salvation. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not His Ro 8:9. Interestingly the word translated partakers means partners. Isn’t it amazing that God chooses us as partners in the work of the Gospel. The writer has already used this word twice in chapter 3