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The Warning against Apostasy in Hebrews 6:4-8: Understanding the Author's Message.

Looking at Hebrews 6:4-8

Introduction

The Question:

"In my Bible study this week we are discussing Hebrews 6: 4-8. Man! Talk about confusing! I guess I am in good company because as I research what others say about it, there are lots of different opinions. Being a very literal person it really threw me at first, but I got over that. LOL. Is the writer talking about non believers who have been around Christians and learned of Christ but have rejected Him? If so, can't they repent later and receive salvation later? Is this about those who say they are believers but are not "truly" believers? Or are they believers who have become "lazy" and not maturing in their faith which is the group Hebrews is written to? Some of the things I read said it is hypothetical and is indicating that if someone is truly a believer it is not possible for them to fall away just as it is impossible to crucify Christ again."

Great question and this is one that has been asked many times.

The Passage

Hebrews 6:1-9 (ESV) Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, 2 and of instruction about washings, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment.

3 And this we will do if God permits.

4 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, 5 and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, 6 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.

7 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.

8 But if it bears thorns and thistles, it is worthless and near to being cursed, and its end is to be burned.

The Journey

It is imperative that we understand several things before we begin a deep study of this passage.

  • Who is the Author? In this case the question is not easy to answer as the epistle does not give a name. There are many theologians and commentators that follow the early church fathers in accepting that the Apostle Paul is the author. A strong argument could be made that Paul dictated the letter and that Luke, a well educated man, through the Holy Spirit, wrote the letter.

  • Who is the Audience? The audience are “born-again” Christian Jews as seen throughout the letter.

  • Does the Bible teach “eternal security of the believer?” The answer is “yes.”

Going on to perfection

From Hebrews 5:11-6:3 the apostle Paul is considering the state of the audience he is writing. What is their theological and moral state? Why would I say this? Look at some of his questions:

  • Hebrews 5:11 - About this we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing.

  • Their maturity level is in great question by Paul.

The Elementary Doctrines

Hebrews 6:1-3 sets the stage for this passage. Notice that there are several points of interest:

  • “Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity” – the question is, “What are the elementary doctrines of Christ” and what does “maturity” mean?

  • Paul defines the “elementary doctrines of Christ in three groups of two.[1]

    1. Repentance from sinful actions and faith toward God (6:1). That is the salvation of the believer.

    2. The baptism of new believers who have received the gospel and laying on of hands for Christian leaders (6:2). The first act of “obedience” to being a Christian is to be baptized, a proclamation to others that you have made this decision and next would be to proclaim the Gospel message to others. These are fundamental factors of the life in the local church.

    3. Finally, Gospel message includes the good news of the resurrection of the body after death when Jesus comes for His bride. For those that do not accept the Gospel, the judgment of eternal judgment is clear (6:2).

These then are the “elementary doctrines” of Christ, as stated by the author of Hebrews.

Maturity or Perfection

go on to maturity” - Maturity or perfection is a NT term meaning “one who reaches a goal. Perfection or perfectness, stressing the realization of an end in view, the state achieved when a goal has been accomplished" (Col. 3:14; Heb. 6:1).[2]

The key to this idea is “go on to.” Christians are to strive to become “perfect in the faith” or to “achieve the goal of completeness or maturity” in this life. Which by the way is impossible. That is not what the writer said…he didn’t say “become perfect.” He said “go on to” maturity/perfection.

not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God” – which are explained as simply, “not having to be re-introduced” to the idea of salvation through the work of Christ instead of the idea of “works” being the key in salvation.

and of instruction about washings, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment.” – The writer was filling out the list of things the “Hebrews” should already understand concerning Christianity over Judaism.

With said, we can define several things in preparation for verses 4-8.

The author is addressing people who have made a decision for Christ, and is therefore saved by Christ’s work on the cross and they will receive eternal life through their faith in Christ and not in the works of their dead religion.

Now that we have a basis of the writer’s intent and message, we can look at the text you have presented.

Hebrews 6:4-8

4 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, 5 and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, 6 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.

7 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.

8 But if it bears thorns and thistles, it is worthless and near to being cursed, and its end is to be burned.

Let us look at the main statement. “For it is impossible…to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God.”

Jesus only had to die once for all man’s sins. As ridiculous as it sounds, the writer is saying that it is impossible for Jesus to die on the cross again and again and again, every time a believer sins. His work is finished. Christ “sits” at the right hand of God.

For the Christian:

  • We have been enlightened to the truth of the Gospel

  • We have tasted of salvation, the heavenly gift of God

  • We have been imbued with the Holy Spirit

  • We have been able to read the Word of God with the help of the Holy Spirit

  • We have been granted the right to live in “the age to come.”

Therefore if it were possible for the believer were to “fall away from the promise of salvation” then,

There could not be the ability to be restored through repentance because that would cause Christ to have to be crucified once again. Over and over and over again. That actually implies that Jesus work on the cross is not enough. Not enough for all the sins you have done in the past. Christ crucified. Not enough for the sins you will commit today. Christ crucified. Not enough for the sins you will commit in the future. Crucify Christ again.

The Christian life then is one that has the refreshing of the “rain” from heaven. That crop is the spreading of the Gospel message to others. From a single seed (the believer) many plants can be planted through the sharing of the Gospel and the regeneration from a dead person to that of a “join heir of Jesus Christ.”

However, there are those that have received Jesus and refuse through their actions, to refuse to go on to maturity in Christ, not following the doctrines of Christ. Their works before God will be burned up as “wood, hay, and stubble.”

The Apostle Paul, in writing his first epistle to the church at Corinth really laid out this idea very well.

1 Corinthians 3:9-15 For we are God’s fellow workers. You are God’s field, God’s building.

10 According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building upon it. Let each one take care how he builds upon it.

11 For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.

12 Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw - 13 each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done.

14 If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward.

15 If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire.


Pastor Bob

[1] Malcolm B. Yarnell III, “Hebrews,” in CSB Study Bible: Notes, ed. Edwin A. Blum and Trevin Wax (Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers, 2017), 1952. [2] Spiros Zodhiates, The Complete Word Study Dictionary: New Testament (Chattanooga, TN: AMG Publishers, 2000).

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