Warning to the Backslider: Hebrews 6

By Bernard Gowens

Can a child of God lose his eternal salvation? No! This is not the context of the lesson Paul has directed to the Hebrews. He has addressed a warning to them as believers to persevere in faith and obedience and to proceed in their course of discipleship to maturity, that is, to go on unto perfection.

Generally held by some are three basic positions regarding Hebrews 6:4-8:

The passage teaches that a child of God can lose eternal salvation once he has been saved.

The passage describes people who were church members but were not true believers. They were professors but  not possessors of spiritual life.

The passage is hypothetical, describing the impossibility of apostasy.

The first position must be rejected because the Bible teaches abundantly that the saints are eternally secure in the covenant of Grace. Position #2 must be rejected because the passage describes people who had been enlightened, tasted the heavenly gift, the good word of God, and the power of the world to come. Moreover, they were partakers of the Holy Ghost. These were certainly true believers in God and in possession of Spiritual life. Position #3 must be rejected because Paul does not say that it is impossible to fall away, but it is impossible to renew the one who has fallen away to repentance. Rather than this passage being hypothetical, it is a reality — an actuality. Notice that the subject is not concerning Spiritual salvation but rather that of gospel repentance.

To properly apply the passage to context, then, there must be a fourth position. The context teaches that those possessed with genuine Biblical understanding and experience who turn their backs on the knowledge that God has given them, exchange the gospel for their pre-repentant way of life. Consequently, they commit a presumptuous sin and forfeit every blessing provided by the gospel.

This does not mean that they lose their Spiritual life. The difficulty in properly interpreting Scripture results so often from the failure to distinguish between sonship and discipleship. Failure to make a distinction between a child of God and a Christian is at the root of many displaced contexts in interpreting the word of God. Every true Christian is a child of God, but not every child of God is a Christian. A close learner and follower of Christ walks the narrow way of Christian discipleship. But many children of God walk in disobedience to the teachings of God’s word. Every child of God is eternally preserved in grace, but all will not necessarily persevere.

How does one define perseverance? If perseverance means that every one of the regenerated elect will be a baptized, active, faithful, growing member of the church, the answer would have to be ‘no’. Consider the Rich Young Ruler, whom Jesus loved, that walked away from the Lord because he was covetous. Lot, whom Peter calls a righteous man, was a compromiser. He certainly was not persevering in faith while in Sodom and Gomorrah. Lot’s sermon lacked credibility to his daughters when he announced that God would judge the cities of the plain. Many are the sons of God for Jesus gave His life a ransom for many, but only a few are on the narrow way of discipleship.

Paul gave a warning to the Hebrews who had been blessed to understand the first principles of the gospel lest they should fall away from them and should publicly renounce and reject them and return to their former lifestyle. Apostasy, if committed by them or any other disciple, is a very serious matter. It is a sin against the light of knowledge and has the effect of publicly disgracing the Lord Jesus Christ and defaming His sacrificial death. The committing of this presumptuous sin has the effect of crucifying to themselves the Son of God afresh and bringing Him to an open (public) shame. This sin is so serious that it becomes an irreversible step. This sin is “a sin unto death” (1st John 5:16). The strongest language for the sin of apostasy is found in the New Testament. It is necessary for the reader to read the following verses: 2nd Peter 2:20-21 and Hebrews 10:25-31.

The Apostle Paul wanted the Hebrews to realize the seriousness and penalty for backsliding. He desired, instead, that they pursue the joy of a fruitful life of discipleship. Therefore, he encouraged them by writing Hebrews 6:7: “For the earth which drinketh in the rain that cometh oft upon it, and bringeth forth herbs meet for them by whom it is dressed, receiveth blessing from God.” Stability and growth in Christian discipleship brings forth many an abundant blessing from God. However, apostasy severs one from the abundant life and brings forth a “death” from the fellowship and friendship of God. Except for the intervention of God, this “death” will be carried throughout one’s life even unto corporeal death. Therefore, Paul warns in verse 8: “But that which beareth thorns and briers is rejected, and is nigh unto cursing; whose end is to be burned.”

In Jeremiah 7, Jeremiah was commanded of the Lord to give a call for true repentance to the houses and cities of Judah saying, “Amend your ways and your doings, and I [the Lord of hosts] will cause you to dwell in this place’ (v. 3). He gave them several “if’s” of conditions that must be met in order to avoid God’s severe chastisements. Nevertheless, the people committed “open rebellion” against the Lord of hosts for it says in verse 24, “But they hearkened not, nor inclined their ear, but walked in the counsels and in the imagination of their evil heart, and went backward, and not forward.” Because they fell away, it was impossible to renew them again unto repentance, seeing that they brought open shame upon the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel (Cf. Heb. 6:6). For the penalty of their chastisement, listen to what the God of Israel said in Jeremiah 7:15-16, “And I will cast you out of my sight, as I have cast out all your brethren, even the whole seed of Ephraim. Therefore pray not thou for this people, neither lift up cry nor prayer for them, neither make intercession to me: for I will not hear thee.” This became their “sin unto death.” For emphasis and proof of the seriousness of apostasy, we read 1st John 5:16-17, “If any man see his brother sin a sin which is not unto death, he shall ask, and he shall give him life for them that sin not unto death. There is a sin unto death: I do not say that he shall pray for it. All unrighteousness is sin: and there is a sin not unto death.” (Emphasis mine). The “sin unto death” is a presumptuous sin, the sin of apostasy committed by those who backslide and fall away from true discipleship. These are those who, in open rebellion against the teachings of God’s word, turn back and fall away from their life of Christianity. They crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh and bring Him to an open shame (i.e., publicly).

Paul, being a Jew and knowing their history, loved the Hebrews so much that He labored, prayed, and preached that they would become enriched in faith, increase in the knowledge of the doctrine of grace, and advance from babyhood to maturity in their discipleship. Paul prayed, “…let us go on unto perfection” (Heb. 6:1). “Forward” is the only option open to the Christian. The Christian’s mindset should be, as my son, Mike says, “Onward, not backward, must be our motto.”

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