Friday, June 18, 2021

Are You Growing or Dying? (Hebrews 6:4-8)

"It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened … if they fall away, to be brought back to repentance" (Hebrews 6:4–6).

The last two “elementary things” the author mentions are the resurrection from the dead, which establishes that Jesus has entered God’s rest and we will follow Him, and eternal judgment, which establishes that some day God will call us to account.

The author issues a great threat. He says it is impossible for people who have entered the kingdom, if they fall away, to be brought back. There are several ways of taking this statement. One is to say that it is impossible for men but possible for God, but this interpretation has no root in the context.

Another avenue of interpretation is to say that the author is setting forth an hypothesis. In this view, nobody who is truly in the kingdom will ever fall away, but if they did, nothing could be done for them. This interpretation sees the author encouraging his congregation to persevere, especially since he is persuaded that they are truly saved (v. 9).

The third view is that the people who might fall away are people who have experienced a real deliverance and have entered the kingdom in a covenantal sense, but who are not of the elect, not fully regenerate, and thus not destined to persevere. This view takes note of the context, which discusses the people who were delivered from Egypt but rebelled and died in the wilderness. This view says that those who fall away have committed blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. Thus, this interpretation sees the author issuing a serious warning to his readers, even though he has high hopes that none of them will actually fall away.

If we read the description of those who might fall away, in verses 4 and 5, we can see how they can fit both the hypothetical interpretation and the real-threat interpretation. Whichever interpretation of this particular paragraph is right, two things are certain: (1) true believers cannot fall away, and (2) there are people who come into the kingdom and then apostatize. Such people, by rejecting Christ, join hands with those who crucified Him and affirm that He deserved to die (v. 6). Such people deserve their condemnation.

I don't think the author has saved people in mind here. The phrase “once enlightened” is often taken to refer to Christians, and the accompanying warning taken to indicate the danger of losing their salvation if “they fall away” and “crucify again for themselves the Son of God.” But there is no mention of their being saved and they are not described with any terms that apply only to believers (such as holy, born again, righteous, or saints). This problem arises from inaccurately identifying the spiritual condition of the ones being addressed. In this case, they were unbelievers who had been exposed to God’s redemptive truth, and perhaps made a profession of faith, but had not exercised genuine saving faith. In 10:26, the reference once again is to apostate Christians, not to genuine believers who are often incorrectly thought to lose their salvation because of their sins.

Real Christians cannot remain static in the wilderness forever. Eventually, God will shake them up, and they will begin to grow again toward maturity, toward God’s rest. If a “Christian” refuses to grow, he will die in the wilderness. Evaluate yourself: Are you growing or dying?