Last episode we stepped into the book of Hebrews to look at some of the warning passages there.
Anytime you have a conversation about salvation, and whether you are eternally saved, the book of Hebrews will come up.
If you do any bible teaching or you serve in some capacity as a pastor you will have people who ask you about certain verses in Hebrews and they will have a very nervous or scared look on their face.
Finally, often when you hear a person explain what these passages mean, you walk away with the thought in your mind that they really didn’t know what they were saying. Usually the explanation is vague at best.
We want to address that in these two episodes, and we hope you found the last one helpful.
Apostasy is not a light matter. Nor is it something to debate (or have a mere conversation over). It is a heart-breaking thing to watch. However, it is also a reality that is not to be ignored, nor is it something on which to be untaught. Our goal here is not to fill our minds with knowledge, but to move our hearts to care for our brothers and sisters in Christ.
It is a very neglected doctrine, and to be negligent on this topic (and therefore, not heed the warnings) will only be to the harm of the church.
So with that, we don’t have a lot to say by way of introduction, so we will simply jump right into what are likely the two scariest passages on apostasy.
The Two Scariest Passages on Apostasy in The New Testament:
Now he speaks of the real threat of apostasy again.
What is the main point in vss 4-6?
If you fall away it is impossible to be brought back to repentance.
This is key to grasp for anyone who will determine that a Christian, a true Christian, can lose their salvation.
If true, then there is no second opportunity. Which is completely contrary to what most positions hold to, who believe in the loss of salvation and appeal to this passage and chapter 10.
Understand that this is all written in the context of 5:11-6:3, but this will also help us deal easily with chapter 10, so it is worth your time.
There the writer wants to instruct them on many wonderful things, but they are not ready for them. They should be teachers by now, but they are not. Instead they need to be taught the “elementary principles” of God, and that phrase is very interesting and important to understand.
You may think he is saying that they need to go back to the basics of the Christian faith. Sort of like starting back in chapter 1 in the book of theology.
Actually he is saying that they need to go back to the ABCs, and learn them first. They are not ready for even the basics of the Christian faith; rather they need to learn about the preparatory doctrines first.
Already that tells us a lot about these people as we seek to understand the warning passage. These people are not merely stalled in their spiritual growth, but are actually regressing. That is very important to understand.
They are described (starting in v. 11) as dull, unskilled, infants, and unable to discern good and evil. These are not people who did something wrong and foolish once or twice. Rather, these are people who are in a seriously bad place, even though they are professing to be followers of Jesus Christ.
Thus, the writer, now, joins these weak people by using the word “us” in 6:1. So he is not sitting in harsh judgment. Rather, he climbs down into their weakness and basically says to them, “Let’s do this together.” It is very pastoral.
He tells them that they need to leave those elementary teachings. The point, there, is not to say that they should now abandon those teachings. In fact, you can’t do that any more than you can abandon the alphabet as you grow in reading.
Rather, he is saying build off of them, and now move upward. They are not a place to stop; but rather they are a doorway to go through, or a foundation upon which to now build.
Vss 1-2 are important to understand:
“Therefore leaving the elementary teaching about the Christ, let us press on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, of instruction about washings, and laying on of hands, and the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment.” (Heb. 6:1-2)
There is no need to go backward is the point. Those works that are dead are the things that were elementary. They were the foundational instructions regarding what is to come. It is literally rendered as “the word/teaching of the beginning of Christ.”
What is meant here?
He gives three sets of two ideas or couplets: repentance/faith; cleanse/laying on of hands; resurrection/judgment.
These are foundational teachings that the Jews had that were out of the Old Testament.
But they were all pointing to something bigger and greater than themselves–they were pointing to their fulfillment in Jesus Christ.
We would argue that these are the pre-gospel teachings all of these Jews were raised on rather than central, basic Christian doctrines. They are the ABC’s.
These are what they are beginning to want to go back to rather than leave behind because Jesus is better and greater.
So now that they have heard and learned of the Christ/Messiah then these things should be left behind for their purpose no longer exists.
Then he gives six realities of one who has made a profession of faith, but for whom it is impossible to be restored to repentance.
What will stand out in this list is how much this gives the appearance of a true believer. As he does that, you can then begin to realize why these become so scary to read.
Professed repentance (6).
Everything the author says in verses 4-5 lead to this point where a person cannot be renewed again to repentance. And that means that at some point in the past they claimed to repent, and become a follower of Jesus.
But also, that they have now turned away from the faith and have gone into a life of rebellion and no repentance.
2 Corinthians 7:10 “true repentance does not have regret.” In other words, it is impossible to turn from a true repentance. The writer says it is impossible to do. There is this point of no return.
“Have once been enlightened” (4)
Used in John 1:9 of Jesus enlightening mankind.
"There was the true light which, coming into the world, enlightens every man." (Jn. 1:9)
We see this as those who have been taught the gospel message, have given evidence that they have repented and understand it. They are not in the “dark” regarding who Christ is and what the gospel is.
“Tasted of the heavenly gift.”
Some see this as the same as the Holy Spirit, but if you diagram it, it is a separate phrase. We see it as a taste of what a converted life and a forgiven life feels and looks like. They have participated in the community of believers and how redeemed people live and act.
“Been made partakers of the Holy Spirit.”
Here is the key one for anyone looking at this text. In some way or another these people have shared in the Holy Spirit.
So we have to ask questions to get a sense of what is meant. And this is where so many of our other episodes come into play.
Born again? If so, no other place does a regenerate person become unregenerate.
Baptism with the Holy Spirit? Then this would be one who is truly saved who loses salvation because this speaks of being placed into the Church.
Filled with the Holy Spirit? Then this would fit.
“Tasted of the good word of God.”
“[Tasted] of the powers of the age to come.”
This could be things such as miracles and wonders (2:4), but should also include a different way of living (Romans 14:17).
Summary of these: They are all in the passive voice, which means they are things that have happened to them, or they have passively experienced; rather than actively did themselves.
The illustration that the writer gives here is what helps us make sense of the passage.
"For ground that drinks the rain which often falls upon it and brings forth vegetation useful to those for whose sake it is also tilled, receives a blessing from God; 8 but if it yields thorns and thistles, it is worthless and close to being cursed, and it ends up being burned." (Heb. 6:7-8)
Key interpretive point is the illustration:
land = professing Christian.
Rain = the gospel
drunk the rain = tasted [whatever]
brings forth vegetation = practicing what you believe [good or bad].
(cf Matthew 13, the soils)
The point of this section is that it is less important what you have experienced, and more important on how you respond (bear fruit) as a result of that experience.
"Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or make the tree bad and its fruit bad; for the tree is known by its fruit." (Matt. 12:33)
The writer is warning Jews who claimed Jesus as Messiah that they were going the wrong way. Instead of leaving behind the things that were merely shadows of Jesus, they were trying to go back to them. His point is that if you first claim Jesus as the true Messiah, and then reject Him to go back to the old things then there is nothing left for you.
"For if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a terrifying expectation of judgment and THE FURY OF A FIRE WHICH WILL CONSUME THE ADVERSARIES. Anyone who has set aside the Law of Moses dies without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. How much severer punishment do you think he will deserve who has trampled under foot the Son of God, and has regarded as unclean the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has insulted the Spirit of grace? For we know Him who said, "VENGEANCE IS MINE, I WILL REPAY." And again, "THE LORD WILL JUDGE HIS PEOPLE." It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God."
This is the starkest picture of the consequences of apostasy in this whole letter. By now it is also rather easy to understand in the context of the entire letter. The key question for most people is what is meant by willful sinning here in this context?
We all know what it means to willfully sin. Frankly, we all do it on any given day. We choose to be angry and say a harsh word. We choose to shade the truth and withhold it. We look and we lust. We go back willingly to a memory that only brings about a bitter heart. We look at others with envy.
That is not what the author is dealing with in this book. He is laboring to warn these Jewish believers to not go back and he has been very specific.
In the verses just prior he is reminding them that through Christ there is no need for an offering for sin. We all now can enter the true, holy place. He commands us to draw near, to hold fast our true confession, and to provoke one another to love and good deeds. This is all about the lasting effects of Jesus’ great and eternal work.
What is the sinning that he has in mind? It is the return to the Old Covenant practices as the way to be right before God.
The writer has talked about how the OC is a shadow of the reality that is found in Jesus Christ. Shadows can never do what reality can do. To go to the shadow for the life and hope that only the reality can bring is utter folly. Note, that it is done with knowledge, not ignorance. The word means full knowledge.
In the context, that would be the specific application -- it is going back to the regulations of the OC. So how would this look today? The answer is found in asking what is behind the willful return to the Old Covenant. At its core is a willful rejection of Jesus.
Notice how he contrasts the Old Covenant and the New Covenant in vss 28-31.
Both brought a curse and a death without mercy, but the image also is from lesser to greater.
He is basically saying, “You think it was bad to reject the Mosaic law? What do you think it will be like to reject God’s Son!?”
To reject Jesus, to treat His sacrificial work as nothing, to essentially spit in the face of the Spirit, there is only one thing waiting for you—terror before the Lord.
To give an enlarged translation of verse 26 would be something like this: “If we go on sinning willfully by going back to the temple and priesthood and animal sacrifices after receiving the knowledge of the truth that all of these are now fulfilled in Jesus the Christ then there no longer remains a sacrifice for us.”
Be on guard.
Be ever growing in sound doctrine.
Do not be friends with sin.
Place yourself in the care of tested and trusted elders/pastors.
Gather for the purpose of spiritual encouragement with members of the church.
Most of all, while not forgetting these things, do listen to the declarations about Jesus made by the writer of Hebrews.
In chapter 1, it is Jesus who upholds all things with his power and has made purification of sin.
"Therefore, since the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself likewise also partook of the same, that through death He might render powerless him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and might free those who through fear of death were subject to slavery all their lives. For assuredly He does not give help to angels, but He gives help to the descendant of Abraham. Therefore, He had to be made like His brethren in all things, so that He might become a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For since He Himself was tempted in that which He has suffered, He is able to come to the aid of those who are tempted."
"For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are open and laid bare to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do. Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need."
"Although He was a Son, He learned obedience from the things which He suffered. And having been made perfect, He became to all those who obey Him the source of eternal salvation," (Heb. 5:8-9)
"but Jesus, on the other hand, because He continues forever, holds His priesthood permanently. Therefore He is able also to save forever those who draw near to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them. For it was fitting for us to have such a high priest, holy, innocent, undefiled, separated from sinners and exalted above the heavens; who does not need daily, like those high priests, to offer up sacrifices, first for His own sins and then for the sins of the people, because this He did once for all when He offered up Himself. For the Law appoints men as high priests who are weak, but the word of the oath, which came after the Law, appoints a Son, made perfect forever." (Heb. 7:24-28)
"And inasmuch as it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment, so Christ also, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time for salvation without reference to sin, to those who eagerly await Him. (Heb. 9:27-28)
Now the God of peace, who brought up from the dead the great Shepherd of the sheep through the blood of the eternal covenant, even Jesus our Lord, equip you in every good thing to do His will, working in us that which is pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen." (Heb. 13:20-21)
Beloved, in the end, it is God Himself who shall keep you. Therefore, do not first look to your own perceived growth as your assurance; rather, look constantly to the One who alone can make you stand in His presence. He is ever faithful.