Would you shed some light on Hebrews 6:4-6 for me? I have known many people (including pastors) that have fallen-away or turned their backs on God, at a certain point, in their lives, only to come back and follow Christ even more fervently. Am I to understand that they will not be redeemed? Are they truly hell bound?
I received the following question the day after Mark wrote. Both are concerned about the same thing: If a Christian falls away (apostasy) from Jesus, are they still saved?
Can a person who swears they understand what it means to ask Jesus to be the Lord and Savior of their life, after many years of professing to walk as a believer, then walk away from Christ and lose their faith for eternity, saying they understand what they are doing, and have decided the God thing is a myth? Or is that impossible, and maybe that person was never a believer? So in short……………can a person lose his/her faith?
After all these years as a believer, I would have said an absolute “no” to this. Now that I have witnessed it first hand, I am rethinking this all over again in light of scripture.
Thanks in advance for your answer!
Dear Mark and L.E.,
Mark! You read right. Hebrews 6:4-6 says that if a Christian turns his/her back on Jesus and commits apostasy then they can never return to Christ for salvation. In other words, “once lost always lost!” Who wants to say that!
Here is the enigmatic passage in its entirety:
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 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.
But, there is more to this Hebrews 6 passage as we shall see.
Our pastor and my dad were discussing the salvation of a man in our church who recently turned away from Jesus, gave up on Christianity and wanted to have nothing more to do with Jesus or His church. We were on the 7th tee, playing golf, waiting our turn to hit. “He started so well, and ended so poorly,” said our pastor. “I’ll tell you what,” he continued, “I’d much rather face Jesus with a poor start and a great ending than with a great start and a poor ending.”
Those two most influential men in my life never considered whether or not the man might, or might not, be a Christian. I grew in a church that believed firmly that once you were saved nothing could remove you from the saving arms of Jesus, even if you later turned your back and fell away in apostasy.
Only later did I encounter Christians who thought otherwise. They had some Bible verses and some strong rational arguments.
For example they turned to Matthew 13:1-9 and 13:18-23 where Jesus taught about four different responses to the gospel. Jesus described Himself as the Sower who scattered the seed of the gospel. The gospel fell on hard ground and the birds quickly appeared and ate the seed. These are people who hear the gospel and reject it outright. In contrast, some seed fell on soft ground, took root, flourished and produced good fruit–some 40, 60 or 100 times what was sown. The reception to the gospel of these people and their ultimate salvation are without question.
However, there is a problem concerning the other two types of soils: the rocky and thorny.
Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants (Matthew 13:5-7).
In both cases the seed took root and grew. However, in each case the plant either withered under the hot sun (persecution) or was choked out by weeds (worldly distractions).
Some argue that these two evidence those who receive the gospel, and for one reason or another, they give up or Christ. In either case they turn away from Christianity, commit apostasy and lose their salvation. After all, goes this reasoning, both died away before producing any fruit and Jesus said, “By their fruit you shall know them. Both are apostates.
Some would argue that these two never became Christians in the first place. However, that argument seems to crumble in light of their positive, initial reception of the gospel.
Of course, another way to view this is to remember that salvation is often a process which occurs over time as a person moves through the steps of confession, repentance, confession and surrender. Ponder this for a while: Is spiritual abortion possible?
One of the critical problems for Christians in the early centuries after Christ was the Roman insistence on emperor worship. Each year everyone in the Empire was required to bow before an altar, burn a pinch of incense and declare, “Caesar is Lord.” Bottom line, the purpose of emperor worship was to solidify the Caesars’ control over the empire.
Confessing “Caesar is Lord” was anathema to Christians. Many refused to fall away and died with the words, “Jesus is Lord” on their lips. But, what about those who acquiesced? Those who broke down and, in essence, denied the Lord Jesus? Were they true Christians or not? Some wanted to forgive them and welcome back into the church fellowship those who repented. Others, wanted to deny them reentrance on the grounds that real Christians would never turn their backs on Jesus.
They could turn to Hebrews 6 to justify their position. Or could they?
I believe that the very nature of God is to love, even those of His children who turn their backs on Him. The key is distinguishing between fellowship and relationship.
Jesus and Paul took great pains to affirm that those who receive Christ are both born and adopted into the family of God. Jesus said to Nicodemus:
“Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. 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 3:5-8).
“Born of water” refers to our physical birth (“Honey, let’s get to the hospital, my water just broke.”). “Born of the Spirit” refers to our spiritual birth by the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit. We have a relationship with our human father which can never be undone.
My father occasionally invoked the Biblical rule to “spare the rod and spoil the child.” I was angry with him and he was angry with me. Our fellowship was impaired. However, nothing could change or alter our relationship. No matter how much our fellowship was upset, I could never undue him as my dad. He could never not be my father just as I could never not be his son.
Likewise, as sons and daughters, born and adopted into the family of God, we have a relationship with our Heavenly Father that can never be broken.
Paul jumped all over this idea of being born into the family of God. Except, he approached it from a different angle: adoption.
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will—to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves (Ephesians 1:3-6).
When mom and dad give us life nothing on earth can make them unmom or undad. In the same way, when the Spirit of God gives us life, He can never be unDad or unFather.
Once our Heavenly Father bestows divine life nothing in the future could surprise Him that would cause Him to take it back. When Jesus gave a future apostate eternal life, He knew of the coming apostasy–and He gave it anyway. By its very definition, forfeiting eternal life seems to me a rather strange impossibility.
Now. let’s return to Hebrews 6:4-6. The writer to the Hebrews is not declaring, “Once lost, always lost.” He is affirming just the opposite, “Once saved, always saved.”
The writer to the Hebrews is utilizing here what is known in Greek as a 4th class conditional statement. A 1st class conditional statement is without a doubt, basically true. For example, Satan said to Jesus, “If you are the Son of God…” You could also translate this as “Since you are the Son of God…” In a first class conditional statement the differences between “if” and “since” are slight.
Now, let’s get to the heart of the matter. A 4th class statement is true, but it can never happen. For example, if I could go to the moon tonight, I would have a lovely view of earth. Now, that is true, but it could never happen. I can’t get to the moon tonight.
As a 4th class conditional statement, Hebrews 6:4-6 is understood like this. If I fall away from Jesus then I could never return; but, the truth is, I can’t fall away from Jesus. If I could fall away then I could never return to Jesus: “Once lost always lost.” No one wants to say that. The writer is making a point of just how horrible it would be if someone fell away and committed apostasy. Jesus would have to be crucified all over again just for them. But, since they can’t fall away, Jesus does not have to suffer and die again on the cross. Such is the height, depth and width of the love and grace of God (Ephesians 3:14-19).
The Prodigal Son (Luke 15) was always his father’s son. No matter how sorry their fellowship soured. In the same way, we are always our Heavenly Father’s son or daughter. Our relationship with Him is eternally safe and secure, no matter how sorry or strained our fellowship with Him might be.
So, Mark and L.E.,I hope this helps. However, I feel it important that we remember Jesus’ Matthew 13 parable about the wheat and the weeds. We can wonder about the security or instability of someone’s salvation; but, we can never in this life know for certain.
Jesus told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, then the weeds also appeared.
The owner’s servants came to him and said, “Sir, didn’t you sow good seed in your field? Where then did the weeds come from?”
“An enemy did this,” he replied.
The servants asked him, “Do you want us to go and pull them up?”
“No,” he answered, “because while you are pulling the weeds, you may uproot the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn” (Matthew 13:24-30).
Of course you get the point. Whether people seem to fall away or not, only God knows for sure.