NOTES on Hebrews 6:4-6 (click here for study)

The author of Hebrews has just delivered a warning to these Jewish believers not to resist spiritual maturity. He has just told them not to be content to drink spiritual "milk", but to become "acquainted with the teaching about righteousness". (v. 5:13) He has said they are not to lay "again the foundation of repentance from acts that lead to death, and of faith in God, instruction about baptisms, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment." (6:1-3) He has chastised them for being "slow to learn," (v. 5:11), or spiritually lazy. They are to grow with the Lord, moving beyond the first teachings of Christianity into a mature understanding of Christ's sacrifice and his role as our high priest in the presence of God.

Then the author delivers two of the most controversial verses in the Scriptures:

"It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age, if they fall away, to be brought back to repentance, because to their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace." (6"4-6)


Possible Interpretations

There are several different ways theologians have interpreted the passage above, but the three most common ways (suggested in the NIV study Bible notes) are as follows: 1. This passage means that saved people can lose their salvation by lack of diligence. 2. This warning is a hypothetical argument for young Christians to convince them to move into spiritual maturity or risk divine judgment or discipline. 3. This argument is for people who profess Christianity but whose apostasy proves that they had never truly been born again.

The first interpretation contradicts the clear teaching in scripture that once we accept Jesus and allow him to change our hearts, we are secure. Jesus said, "My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand." (John 10:27-28) No one (even we ourselves) can negate God's love, forgiveness, and salvation. People who have experienced a new birth are new creatures living in an entirely new reality. They have living souls instead of the dead souls with which they were born. They are intimate with Jesus, and they will not leave him for the old way of living.

The second interpretation fits the context of the preceding passage about advancing beyond the elementary teachings toward the teaching about righteousness. The problem with this interpretation, however, is that it suggests that young Christians aren't secure in their salvation. It suggests that they must mature in order to avoid God's judgment, and it further suggests that they are in a category different from that of mature Christians. There are not two classes of Christians; when a person truly accepts Jesus and his sacrifice and redemption, he or she is truly saved and secure in that salvation.

The third interpretation fits the rest of the Bible's teaching about the security of salvation and about the possibility that people can verbalize belief in Jesus and can function within the Christian community without actually having a new birth. Jesus' parable of the sower in Matthew 13 illustrates such a person. The seeds sown on rocky soil grew up quickly and produced great-looking plants. But they did not have deep roots, and when the sun got hot, those plants quickly withered and died. To those looking on, however, those plants appeared to be healthy and destined for a productive life before they withered.

Matthew 13:20-21 explains it this way: "The one who received the seed that fell on rocky places is the man who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. But since he has no root, he lasts only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, he quickly falls away."

These people appear to embrace the gospel and to flourish in it. But, invisible to onlookers, they are not grounded in the word and in the Lord, and they cannot survive. They may function in a local body and appear to be committed believers, but they have not allowed the Holy Spirit to permeate their hearts and to give them a new birth. They have no deep understanding of the gospel. They have an intellectual rather than a heart experience with the truth.


Judas As Example

Jesus taught that people within the Christian community would be lost. In Matthew 24:24 he warns against false Christs and false prophets who would pose as believers and would perpetrate great deception.

The parable of the ten virgins in Matthew 25:1-13 also describes people waiting side-by-side for Jesus, the bridegroom. Half of them, however, did not bring oil with them, and because they could not light their lamps when the bridegroom appeared, they were shut out.

"I tell you the truth," the bridegroom tells them, "I don't know you."

The oil symbolizes the Holy Spirit. Those who allow the Holy Spirit to permeate them and to give them new hearts will be connected to Jesus, and he will know them. Those who do not allow the Holy Spirit to give them a new birth, he does not know.

The parable of the talents in Matthew 25:14-30 also illustrates that apparent Christians will be subject to judgment. The master, before leaving on a journey, gave talents to three of his servants. To one he gave ten; to one he gave five; and to one, one. The first two doubled their talents by the time the master returned. The third servant buried his talent in the ground and ignored it until the master came back. The master was pleased with the first two and gave them greater responsibility. He was angry, however, with the third man, and he had him thrown "into the darkness, where there will be weeping gnashing of teeth."

The talents in this parable can be compared to the gifts of the Spirit which every believer receives. The third servant, however, did not accept his gift and tried to relieve himself of its responsibility. People who profess Christ with their lips and their intellects but do not allow the Holy Spirit to change them and to give them new hearts and lives are not born again and cannot see the kingdom of heaven. These people reject the power of the Holy Spirit.

Jesus said to Nicodemus, "I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, 'You must be born again.' The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit." (John 3:3, 7-8)

Judas is an example of the kind of person Hebrews 6:4-6 is talking about. Judas was not only functioning in the body of believers, he was in Jesus' inner circle. He definitely "tasted the goodness of the word of God" as he listened for three years to Jesus teaching the scriptures to his disciples. He had definitely "been enlightened", had "tasted the heavenly gift", and had "shared in the Holy Spirit".

Judas was one of the twelve when Jesus sent his disciples out to witness in the towns of Israel. "He called his twelve disciples to him and gave them authority to drive out evil spirits and to heal every disease and sickness." (Matthew 10:1) Jesus gave Judas the power of the Holy Spirit to perform miracles alongside the other eleven disciples.

Yet Judas was following Jesus and making use of God's gifts for his own advancement. Judas did not love Jesus with a deep heart love; he loved what he hoped Jesus would accomplish for him politically.

Judas ultimately betrayed Jesus and hanged himself in a flood of remorse and guilt.


Warning Against Return to Legalism

The letter to the Hebrews is a treatise on the superiority of Jesus to the all the Old Testament patriarchs and symbols including Abraham and the Levitical priesthood. It is written to Jews, possibly priests, who had converted to Christianity. They were in danger of being enticed back to Judaism, and if they succumbed to the pressure to return to their Old Covenant symbols, they would be making the statement that Christ was not enough. If they went back to their original "comfort zone", they would be asserting that their rituals and works were still important to them, more important than trusting Jesus to replace all those old habits. This letter is warning them not to return to what they once had.

Once these Jews had a taste of the gospel and the freedom of knowing their salvation was complete, they could not return to their old ways unless they had not let the Holy Spirit regenerate them. If they did return, the author is saying, they would not be able to come back because they would have asserted that their works were more important than Jesus and the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit.


Call to Commitment

This passage in Hebrews is reminding us that God calls us to a full commitment to him. It's not enough to have an intellectual understanding of correct doctrine. Doctrine does not save us. Only Jesus does that, and it's only when we accept him and allow the Holy Spirit to give us a new birth that we become spiritually alive and enter eternity with Jesus.

God wants all of us, not just our minds and emotions and actions. He wants us to completely give ourselves up to him. He asks us to trust him with our hearts. He asks us to submit our fears to him and to let him transform our lives.

God is calling us to leave our old habits of legalism behind us. He is asking us to trust him to be all we need. He's calling us to give up our control over our lives and let him begin to direct us instead.

God is calling us to be submissive and humble. We have to give up our intellectual arrogance and let the Holy Spirit begin to teach us and to show us reality as it really is, not as we try to make it.

God is calling us to be accountable to him. He's asking us to accept him and his gift of the Holy Spirit and to let him direct our decisions instead of our ignoring his gifts to us and plunging ahead with our owns plans and dreams. He asks us to honor him and to let him glorify himself in us by bringing our spirits alive and giving us true Sabbath rest-all the time.

Praise God for loving us without limits. Praise Jesus for saving us and making us eternally his. Praise the Holy Spirit for indwelling us and making us new.

"Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Amen."

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