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Squarely Addressing Hebrews 6:4–6
Dennis Johnson discusses Hebrews 6:4–6, one of many New Testomony’s most well-known—and debated—warning passages, a piece of Scripture that many individuals suppose teaches that Christians can lose their salvation. He explains why he does not suppose that is what the creator of Hebrews was saying, tips on how to reply when individuals who as soon as claimed to be Christians stroll away from God, and whether or not or not we might be sure about our personal salvation.
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Dennis, thanks a lot for becoming a member of us right now on The Crossway Podcast.
Effectively, thanks for inviting me.
Sooner or later in life I feel most of us will know somebody—perhaps a pal or member of the family or religious mentor—who will flip away from what as soon as appeared like a vibrant religion, and perhaps even going as far as to go away their church, depart their household, or perhaps even resign Christ altogether. Clearly this may be very destabilizing and complicated for individuals who are left questioning, what occurred, what had been the issues that led to this, and what ought to we make of this expertise? So I ponder if you happen to’ve ever skilled something like that in your years as a pastor or professor.
Effectively I’ve. And really, one factor that involves my thoughts is as I’ve taught Hebrews over time, I had a scholar some years in the past who was a powerful believer, however was troubled by his previous as a result of he remembered being a powerful believer in his highschool years, after which renouncing what he professed to consider in his school years and for a number of years of his younger grownup life, after which the Lord introduced him again. And he puzzled if he had dedicated the irreversible apostasy that Hebrews 6 talks about. So I consider him every time I flip to this passage as a result of—clearly we don’t know others’ hearts—however as I noticed him after that entire course of, his coronary heart for the Lord was true. And I mentioned, “I don’t know what was happening with you in your school years. I can’t say. However, from the fruit I see now, I’m assured that you just didn’t commit that type of apostasy that Hebrews 6 is speaking about, from which it’s not possible for folks to be renewed to repentance. So, I’ve had that have. Sure, I’ve additionally identified individuals who have walked, it appeared, with Christ, and have turned away as effectively. It’s coronary heart breaking, it’s complicated, and as you mentioned it makes us really feel like, the place did that come from and what did I miss? I really feel that misery, and I’ve felt it on occasion.
Typically I feel it’s arduous for us to know tips on how to speak with somebody who has fallen away from Christ and who as soon as was a powerful believer, so far as we might inform, and now they’ve rejected him. What sensible recommendation would you provide to family and friends?
Wow, there’s in all probability nobody piece of recommendation that matches all circumstances. I’d say very often we have to ask—and family and friends could know or could have a clue—what’s it about Jesus folks that has damage them previously? What are the scars that they’ve acquired from the church? The church which they need to give you the chance rightly to establish with the Lord of the church, with Christ, however we typically ship horrible alerts about who our Grasp is in the way in which we deal with each other. So if that’s a trigger—it’s not the one trigger—then I feel mates and households must say, You understand, you’re completely proper concerning the church. We do fail in plenty of methods and it’s critical. However what about Jesus? In your individual thoughts, are you able to make a distinction between what you’ve skilled in church and what the Scriptures reveal about this wonderful God-man Messiah: compassionate, filled with integrity, laying down his life for his folks. Have you might have you turned your again actually on Jesus or have you ever turned your again on him since you affiliate him with the damage that you just’ve had within the church?
I feel that’s one state of affairs. One other may be that they’ve simply been uncovered someplace alongside the road—perhaps in college, perhaps of their studying—to assaults on the reliability of the Scriptures. Or they felt stress from our tradition to say, Effectively, clearly issues like miracles couldn’t occur. And so the strategy for them may be a bit of totally different, and you’ll want to say, You understand, typically we have to push again in opposition to tradition. Tradition has not all the time been proper. We all know that previous cultures haven’t been proper, however what about our tradition too? Perhaps it is best to take a recent take a look at this assortment of books that claims for itself to be the phrase of the Dwelling God and never simply consider all the things you’ve been advised about it, however truly return to it afresh and pay attention and once more wrestle with who Jesus Christ is.
The Bible does comprise warning passages like these in Hebrews, Hebrews 6 particularly, and a few folks have learn these all through the years as instructing that true Christians can truly lose their salvation, whereas others produce other explanations for the way we must always perceive these passages. I simply wish to learn Hebrew 6:4–6 proper from time to time perhaps you possibly can stroll us via
it and assist us to grasp what you suppose it’s saying.
So Hebrews 6:4–6 says, “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.” To many individuals studying that passage, it sounds loads just like the creator of Hebrews is speaking a few Christian dropping his or her salvation and it being not possible to achieve it again. How would you learn that passage? How would you reply to that understanding?
Effectively, as we take into consideration phrases like enlightened, the Holy Spirit being a part of their expertise—it does sound like they’re real believers renewed by the Holy Spirit. Let me say initially, I don’t suppose the textual content is saying Christian’s can lose their salvation. Amongst different issues, Hebrews goes to go on in chapter 7 to speak about the truth that Christ saves to the uttermost these to come back to God via him. So the author to the Hebrews agrees very a lot—as we might count on, since he’s writing impressed Scripture via the Holy Spirit—with what Jesus says in John 6 and John 10 that he won’t lose any of these whom the Father has given to him, that nobody can snatch his sheep out of his hand, as Jesus says in that fantastic assertion in John 10. He agrees with what Paul says in Romans 8, that these whom God has predestined to be conformed to the picture of his son, he has referred to as, he’s justified, and he’s glorified. There’s no loss. There’s no slippage in that course of as a result of God is devoted, and God is robust.
So then we have to ask: what sort of folks is Hebrews 6 speaking about? Since his level is not only that these folks may fall away, however that if these folks fall away from their place within the Christian group, it’s not possible to resume them, to revive them to repentance. That’s his level, that there’s a level of no return. What’s he speaking about?
As I’ve wrestled with this textual content, I’m persuaded that he’s emphasizing that it’s potential to be a member of the Christian church, the Christian group, and to be uncovered to all of the fantastic blessings that that entails temporally, and but not have actually taken maintain of what these blessings level to in Christ, not having actually trusted in Christ. They’ve been enlightened. They’ve heard the gospel. They’ve tasted the heavenly reward after which a line or two later, he says they’ve tasted the goodness of the phrase of God. They’ve heard the phrase of God, which is the reward from heaven.
Hebrews talks about God now preaching to us from heaven as he preached to the Israelites within the wilderness on Earth. They heard his voice on earth. Now we hear via the preachers of the gospel, we hear from heaven God talking. Perhaps essentially the most puzzling is that this line: “They have become partners or partakers of the Holy Spirit.” That phrase “partners” or “partakers” is identical phrase that he used when he was quoting one of many Psalms again in chapter 1 concerning the companions of the Messiah, those that have fellowship basically with the Messiah, and he’s anointed above his companions. After which he says they’ve tasted the powers or the miracles of the age to come back. And the phrase powers there is identical phrase that he’s utilized in chapter 2 for miracles. Effectively, that’s loads.
Let me put it this manner: I feel what he’s saying is there are people who find themselves within the church who hear the gospel preached and particularly within the period of the apostles, when the apostles had been preaching and God was confirming their eyewitness testimony to the gospel via miracles. Paul talks concerning the indicators of the apostle. There have been folks in that group who had all the exterior blessings and advantages. Perhaps even sounded and regarded like a Christian however who had not embraced the gospel, had not been united to Christ by saving religion. And it’s potential for them to show away. And in the event that they do commit that form of irreversible apostasy, there’s no return for them.
So that you’re saying this passage is speaking about individuals who have been, as you mentioned early on, within the Christian group, so a part of a visual Christian group, have then been witnessed to and even skilled the advantages and the blessings of being part of that group, after which it’s after they intentionally flip away from from God and the gospel, that’s a state of affairs that he’s describing right here. Is that proper?
That’s proper. And I feel what’s useful to us is to recollect is that Hebrews 6 comes after Hebrews Three and 4, the place he has drawn the analogy with Israel, the wilderness era that got here out with Moses and skilled many exterior blessings as a part of God’s outdated covenant group. And but he mentioned for therefore a lot of them the phrase that they heard was not blended with religion in these folks. And so, as we all know, apart from principally Joshua and Caleb, that entire Exodus era died within the wilderness and didn’t enter the Promised Land. And he’s utilizing that as an analogy for the church now on this new covenant period. He says it’s potential to be a part of the brand new covenant Israel—the church—and listen to the phrase however not have it blended with religion in our personal hearts. And that’s a harmful place to be in, a deadly place to be.
Yeah, I feel one of the vital difficult phrases even on this passage that I’d love to listen to you converse to particularly is when he says to “restore them again to repentance” and that once more appears to suggest that there was a time after they did have repentance and but they’ve misplaced that by some means after which he’s saying it’s not possible for them to regain that. However you recognize, we see in Scripture the concept of religion and repentance going collectively. And so how is it that these folks might have had repentance at one level nevertheless it not be saving.
That may be a nice query. And once more, I feel he’s saying: as we take a look at each other and as creatures who can’t learn hearts, it regarded in each manner, form, and kind as if that they had actually repented. I take into consideration the account of Simon the magician in Acts Eight when Philip preached in Samaria and folks heard the gospel, God once more gave some miraculous indicators there despite the fact that Philip wasn’t an apostle. However he was a consultant of the gospel at that time, and plenty of believed, and Luke information that Simon additionally believed. And once more Luke is I’d say at this level as a historian not presuming to probe the depth of Simon’s coronary heart, however we may be extra cautious right now. However Luke’s writing Scripture, so he’s writing reality, however we would say he professed religion. He acquired baptism. However then when Peter and John come and Simon says, “I want to buy the power to give the Holy Spirit,” and Peter seems at what’s happening in Simon’s coronary heart, and he says, “You’re not right with God, you’re still in the bond of iniquity.” He principally says, “You’re going to hell, and send your money with you.” Luke simply information Simon’s ultimate response saying “If you would pray,” and Peter calls him to repentance, after which Simon says, “Pray for me that this won’t happen,” and we don’t fairly know whether or not that lastly received via to him or whether or not he’s simply scared of penalties, however the New Testomony can converse that manner at occasions, describing folks when it comes to what they appear to be and perhaps even see themselves as being at a selected level. Sort of a repentance.
Paul talks at one level in 2 Corinthians a few worldly repentance that’s all about remorse however doesn’t convey life. I take into consideration the distinction between Judas and Peter. Sort of on the identical second—you recognize, Judas betrays Jesus, Peter denies Jesus thrice. Judas has a form of repentance. It’s not deep, nevertheless it’s a remorse that he is aware of what he’s finished is improper and goes out and commits suicide. Peter is confronted by his failure to come clean with the truth that he belongs to Jesus. However Jesus has prayed for him. And effectively, Peter additionally feels deep grief. It doesn’t result in damage and loss of life and suicide. It results in restoration due to the faithfulness of Christ. So we wrestle with that. However once more, our HolySpirit-inspired author-preacher right here is eager to make the purpose that it’s potential to expertise unimaginable blessings from God as part of a covenant group and but not have that religion that endures.
We are able to’t take this textual content out of the remainder of Hebrews 6. He’s going to go on in 6 via 12, after he offers a bit of analogy that perhaps was drawn from Jesus’s parable of the sower and the seeds; he talks about one sort of land that bears good fruit, and one other sort of land that bears thorns and thistles and is destroyed, however then he says—such a delicate pastor, after such a scary warning—“But we are persuaded about you, brothers, about better things, things that belong to salvation.” And so the warning is to not terrify them however to induce them to stay near the Lord to encourage each other. After which he involves verse 12 and he says, “We want you to be imitators of those who through faith and patience, long-suffering, inherit the promises.” So it’s that religion that lasts that receives the guarantees that proves then to be the real factor all alongside.
Why do you suppose he teaches right here that it’s not possible for individuals who have skilled the blessings of the covenant group after which walked away to be restored again to it? Take the case of younger individuals who grew up within the church. Their households or their dad and mom had been believers. They made a career of religion at a youthful age and perhaps flourished in what gave the impression to be true religion of their earlier years after which perhaps in highschool or in school walked away and received into issues they shouldn’t have and finally ended up saying, “I’m not a Christian anymore.” Is that this passage instructing us that there’s no hope for them at that time, that they’re past redemption indirectly?
No, it’s not instructing that. It’s instructing that, in strolling away from the religion, there’s a level of no return, and also you don’t wish to even get near it. However it’s not instructing that it is best to hand over. As a result of we don’t know what God could but do. And we are able to’t learn hearts. We don’t know what’s happening in different folks’s hearts.
Now granted, Peter’s repentance was fast after he denied Jesus thrice, however the reality of the matter is that Jesus mentioned anybody who denies me earlier than males, I’ll deny earlier than my Father in heaven. So we are able to’t say that Peter’s sin was minor, and Judas’s sin was main. Peter’s sin was main, and but there was a spot clearly within the grace of God for Peter’s repentance. And I feel we must always all the time have that form of hope. Certainly one of my professors at seminary had a daughter who effectively into center age lived as an unbeliever—frankly mentioned she was an unbeliever although she had professed religion in her childhood, and nearly as he was dying, because the household gathered, the Holy Spirit touched her coronary heart, and her siblings rejoice that the Lord introduced her to himself. So there’s no level the place you hand over. There’s simply no level the place you hand over. We don’t know.
So what do you suppose he means when he talks about that they’re crucifying as soon as once more the Son of God to their very own hurt and holding him as much as contempt. What’s he getting at there?
Yeah. That is the language out of chapter 10, and it’s parallel to this language right here—crucified the Son of God and submitting him to open contempt. He comes again to it in chapter 10 as effectively.
Mainly what he’s saying is: they professed to depend on the atoning blood of Jesus Christ shed on the cross. They profess their forgiveness from God, their entry to God, now they had been resting and trusting in him. That’s what they mentioned. They had been trusting in Jesus Christ, and now not collaborating in all of these animal sacrifices that God had ordained within the outdated covenant. They had been supposed, as Hebrews reveals us so fantastically, to level to Christ, however now, particularly for these Hebrew Christians, the temptation is to desert their belief in Jesus the Messiah. Whether or not via stress of household or via different pressures to establish with first century Judaism, they’re tempted to return into the sacrificial system of the Outdated Testomony. He says in the event that they try this, in a way they’re saying that the blood of Christ is just not the harmless blood of the Lamb of God, nevertheless it’s merely the blood shed by yet one more prison, yet one more sinner amongst all of the sinners who deserved his personal loss of life. So in impact, they’re figuring out themselves with those that had been glad to crucify Jesus. He says it as a result of he believes that’s what they’re doing, that’s the impact of their actions. However he’s saying it that manner for shock worth. He’s saying, You actually don’t wish to try this since you’re claiming that Jesus is a responsible sinner together with the remainder of us, you recognize higher than that. You understand he’s holy, innocent, undefiled, separated from sinners, separated in that he’s not touched by the stain of our sin though he’s clearly a pal of sinners. That’s all Hebrews language from chapter 7. He’s the one harmless sacrifice who can atone for our sins. Should you go away from him, there isn’t a different place to show for forgiveness.
How would you reply to any person who hears your rationalization of that passage and perhaps feels such as you’re doing a bit of little bit of interpretive gymnastics to make it imply one thing that it looks as if it doesn’t imply? So extra particularly, that it appears to be clearly instructing that somebody can actually be saved after which lose their salvation as a result of perhaps they’ve stopped believing in God, and that was their selection, and now they’re strolling away. How would you reply to somebody who says you’re not taking the plain studying right here and also you’re making an attempt to suit this passage into your theological system that tells you that individuals can’t lose their salvation as soon as they’ve it?
My first response can be, Effectively, let me take into consideration that. Let me actually take a look at that.
However I don’t suppose that’s true. Sure, I come to this textual content persuaded by the opposite passages that we glance to to show the perseverance of the saints. However as I learn Hebrews as a complete—not simply these few verses—do I come away with the impression that Hebrews desires me to grasp that in the end my salvation is dependent upon my holding quick to the very finish aside from Christ holding me quick? Can Jesus let go? Let’s begin with Hebrews, and go to Hebrews 7 the place talks about Christ having the ability to save—attention-grabbing phrase—“to the uttermost.” Utterly. Is it complete? Or is it unendingly? The phrase that he used there may be each as a result of he’s emphasizing the truth that Jesus’s loss of life brings as soon as for all cleaning of conscience. His loss of life by no means must be changed or repeated not like the animal sacrifices of the Outdated Testomony. So those that obtain the good thing about Jesus’s loss of life obtain full and full forgiveness. So he’s capable of save to the uttermost those that come to God via him.
And naturally in Hebrew 7 he additionally says, “Christ is living forever to intercede for us.” So if we’re actually trusting in Christ, Christ is all the time praying for us on the Father’s proper hand. And absolutely the implication is that the Father is greater than happy to reply the Son’s prayers for our perseverance. Hebrews could even be tapping proper in to what Jesus mentioned to Peter when Jesus introduced that Peter would deny him. However Jesus mentioned, “I have prayed for you. So when you are restored, strengthen your brothers.”
So begin with Hebrews, after which don’t take Hebrews 4–6 out of the context of Hebrews, and don’t take it out of the context of the remainder of the New Testomony. Let’s hear Hebrews 4–6 within the context of the pastoral reassurance that comes proper after it. We’re persuaded of higher issues regarding you brothers. We’re speaking concerning the chance that somebody might be a part of the confessing Christian church and never be actually united to Christ in religion. However that’s not what he sees on this congregation that he wrote to within the first century. We see a monitor document of loving the Lord, of serving his folks. Later in chapter 10 he’ll say, “You already suffered in some ways. It hasn’t come to bloodshed for you who are still alive. You haven’t suffered martyrdom, but you’ve suffered loss of property, you’ve identified with those have been humiliated. We see lots of evidence of real saving faith. So take heart and be assured.”
Yeah, I feel that’s what I’d say. And I in all probability, in love, gently push again and say, “And now, if you happen to learn Hebrews 6 as saying that individuals might be actually, genuinely savingly united to Jesus by religion after which stroll away from it, now please assist me perceive John 6, or John 10, or Romans 8:28–30. How does that match with the assurances that God offers us elsewhere that he holds onto his personal?
So it’s arduous to not really feel a certain quantity of private concern and even anxiousness after studying a passage like this or perhaps even significantly watching a pal or cherished one stroll away from God. And I ponder are passages like this meant to make us query our salvation? Is that the suitable response? And if not, how ought to we take care of these emotions as we learn the Bible?
Yeah. I feel I’d not say that they’re meant to make us query our salvation. Though Paul in 2 Corinthians says, “Test yourselves to see whether you’re in the faith.” However I feel he’s doing that partly to the Corinthians rhetorically to say, “There’s a lot of stuff going on among you that doesn’t look very Christlike. So look at yourself.” However the level of passages like these, I feel, it simply suits in with Hebrews’ entire emphasis on the truth that we persevere in our pilgrimage of religion. He makes use of this imagery of Israel’s wilderness expertise placing them to the take a look at, exhibiting an absence of religion in so many, however they’re heading for the Promised Land, heading for town of God—we persevere collectively.
Greater than anything, for a passage like this, our takeaway ought to be that we must be collectively. We have to keep collectively. We have to heed what the preacher to the Hebrews says in chapter 3: we be careful for if there may be anybody hardened or in unbelief. However we exit and encourage each other every day. Individually, we have to say, I must be a part of a vibrant, Bible-preaching, Bible-living church that cares for each other and holds one another accountable so we’re identified. And if I’m a part of a type of church buildings then I must be shut sufficient to my brothers and sisters—if it’s very giant I in all probability can’t try this for tons of—that if there’s somebody in our communion who begins to stray or wander or simply appears to be absent, that we love them sufficient to go after them in love and say, What’s happening?*
So greater than something it’s meant to encourage us to understand that God’s technique of holding onto us is actually his phrase, actually it’s prayer, or sacrament, nevertheless it’s all these issues that come to us within the context of our life collectively as Christ folks, because the church.
Effectively, thanks, Dr. Johnson, for taking the time to talk with us right now and assist us all perceive this passage particularly after which simply the broader subject of whether or not or not we are able to lose our salvation a bit of bit extra clearly and provide us some actual hope and sensible recommendation for the longer term.
Thanks for the chance, Matt. That is actually an essential subject, so I recognize having the ability to chat with you about it.
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