The Warning against Apostasy (Hebrews 6:4-8) part 1
by John Lowe
Lesson #20 ID3c The Warning against Apostasy (Hebrews 6:4-8) part 1
Scripture: Hebrews 6:4-8 (NIV)
4. It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit,
5. who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age
6. and who have fallen away, to be brought back to repentance. To their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace.
7. Land that drinks in the rain often falling on it and that produces a crop useful to those for whom it is farmed receives the blessing of God.
8. But land that produces thorns and thistles is worthless and is in danger of being cursed. In the end it will be burned.
Under heavy pressure from intimidation and threats of violence, the Christians who sought a relationship with Jesus Christ were considering escaping their suffering by repudiating their faith in Jesus. Therefore, the writer reminds them of what they have at stake. He speaks of five things which have happened to those who are considering turning their backs on Jesus:
1) First, they have been enlightened (v. 4). There was an ancient saying, "When Jesus comes, the shadows depart." Their darkness had been shattered, and the everlasting light had shown on them.
2) They have tasted, which means they had experienced the heavenly gift. God had given Himself to them in His Son (vv. 4-5).
3) Furthermore, they have become partakers of the Holy Spirit, without which no one can be born from above (John 3:5).
4) They have tasted the goodness of the Word of God. They had discovered the truth in the Word of God (v. 4, 5).
5) They had experienced a foretaste of what it is to live in eternity. They had tasted the powers of the coming age.
Could people who had experienced such things ever desert the Redeemer?
(6:4) It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit,
(6:5) who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age
(6:6) and who have fallen away, to be brought back to repentance. To their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace.
To begin with, it must be clear that discerning and devout students of Scripture will not always arrive at the same answer to this question, depending on how they relate the warning of Hebrews to their whole view of the Gospel. Each person is obligated to seek the solution which best harmonizes with his understanding of God's grace in Christ and the freedom and relationship involved in Christian salvation.
To come back to the question raised, “Could people who had experienced such things ever desert the Redeemer?” There can be no doubt that they were considering it; therefore, this writer warns them of what would happen if this took place. If they deserted Jesus, they would crucify Him again. They would be reopening His wounds. They would be casting their lot with those who said, "He deserves death" (Matt. 26:66). Therefore, they would hold Him up to contempt, to let the mocking laughter of those who railed at Him on the cross ring out again. In effect, they would be saying, "We have tried Him and found Him false. He did not do what He promised."
Let me call to your attention that the writer is not discussing the question of salvation at all in this passage. I believe he is describing saved people. They have been enlightened, have tasted the heavenly gift2, have been made partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good Word of God and the powers of the world to come.
The whole gist of the text reveals that he is speaking of rewards, which result from salvation. In verse 6, he says, those who “have fallen away, are to be brought back to repentance” ─not to salvation, but repentance. Repentance is something God has asked believers to do. For example, read the seven letters to the seven churches in Asia, as recorded in Revelations 2 and 3. He says to every one of those churches, “Repent.”
Given these facts, I have concluded that the people addressed were true believers (Jewish believers of the first century), not mere professors. They need to have milk because they are babes. An unsaved person doesn’t need milk; he
needs life. He needs to be born again. He is dead in trespasses and sins. After he is born again, a little milk will help him. Therefore, I believe the writer to the Hebrews is addressing baby Christians, and he is urging them to go on to maturity. Furthermore, how could unsaved people ever disgrace Jesus Christ and put Him to open shame?
We can read this in Hebrews 10:26, “For if we sin willfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins.” All who have ever made a profession, genuine or counterfeit, were once enlightened. Otherwise, they would never have united with a local church and professed to receive Jesus as their Savior. There are many members of the average church who have been “enlightened." They have united with the church. They have followed Christ in baptism. Many of them give liberally of their money ─yet inwardly they do not possess life that produces fruits, meet for repentance ─fruits automatically produced by one who has truly repented of sin and been born again. Any person who has heard the Gospel of the grace of God has been “enlightened," for the Word of God is a lamp, a light, “the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth” (Rom. 1:16).
Many hear the Gospel. They are exposed to the light, but they refuse to walk in it (1 John 1:7). They love darkness rather than light, and they flee from the light (John 3:19, 20). Others hear the Gospel, they believe and are saved. But between those exposed to the light and reject it and those exposed to the light and receive it are those who receive the Gospel, recognize, and are stirred by the truth ─perhaps they are even convicted to the point of trembling as did Felix. Still, they refuse to receive the Lord Jesus by faith and embrace Christianity from the heart.
During the reign of Emperor Diocletian, the Christians were apprehended and ruthlessly persecuted. After the persecution subsided, one test was applied to every surviving member of the church, for the retention of his membership was in question, “Did you deny Christ to save your life?” If he had denied his Lord, he could not continue in the Christian church. If he had held his own life to be dearer to him than Jesus, then Jesus was not his Lord.
To bring a person who has finally denied Jesus back to salvation would be impossible, for it would be saying that the once-for-all death was insufficient. A new foundation would have to be laid. So, we face the question: Could God ever do more for us than he did in Jesus? Could His heart ever be opened in more tender compassion and love than it was on Golgotha? Could a high priest ever come with more sympathy for us than Jesus had? Could God ever offer fuller grace in the forgiveness of our sins than he provided in Jesus? Could there ever be more open, immediate access to God than has been opened for us in Jesus? His clear, shining light for our darkness, with His adequate strength for our weakness, and the Holy Spirit to be our guide, we have complete salvation. If we refuse this or renounce this, there could be nothing more God could do to renew us to repentance.
You should note the words “crucifying” and “subjecting” in verse 6: While “they are crucifying . . . and while they are subjecting him to public disgrace.” The writer did not say that these people could never be brought to repentance. He said that they could not be brought to repentance while treating Jesus Christ in such a shameful way. Once they stop disgracing Jesus Christ in this way, they can be brought to repentance and renew their fellowship with God.
Please keep in mind that the writer's purpose was not to frighten the readers but to assure them. If he had wanted to scare them, he would have named whatever sin (or sins) would have caused them to disgrace Jesus Christ, but he did not do so. He avoided the word apostacy1 and used instead “fallen away.”
There are many examples in Scripture of men who “fell away.” The apostle Peter fell; he suffered loss, but he was not lost. John Mark is another example. He failed so miserably on the first missionary journey that Paul would not take him on the second one. Now, neither Peter nor John Mark lost their salvation, but they certainly failed, and they suffered loss for it.