This past Sunday Omaha Bible Church (my home church) had a guest preacher filling the pulpit. It was filled by Timothy Juhnke, a good friend of our Sr. Pastor and himself a Sr. Pastor of Faith Community Church in Kansas City. Pastor Tim brought us a great sermon out of Hebrews 6:1-9. One of the things that struck me was what he said about how this section of verses is often avoided or used in the context of eternal salvation. He said that if you try to use it this you will come to two answers. One would be wrong. (That it is possible to lose you eternal salvation). The other would gut the very power of this Hebrew text.
According to the text, you could only lose your salvation experience once.
It is impossible to to renew them (Heb. 4:6)
Did you catch that word experience? Think about it. Every believer thinks they are true believers. Not one believer would consider themselves to be a false believer. But according to the text here in Hebrews you can have an incredible religious experience and still walk away from that faith. Pastor Tim would contend (and I seem to agree) That it may have only been a religious experience and not true saving faith.
So a question comes to mind. What about back-sliding? Many true believers go through a spiritual drought, where they are burned out or discouraged in their faith. Apostacy and back-sliding are not the same. Apostacy comes when you are so driven away from attending church, fellowshipping with other believers, producing fruit, and making a decisive rejection of Jesus Christ. Now, we should still continue to gospel them so that they may possibly repent of their rejection. But be warned by the text here. If it is a decisive rejection, chances are God has already hardened their heart. For He is a sovereign God and does what he may with His creation. Lest we forget.
Basically, the intention of the author of Hebrews here is to serve warning to the true believer. For when we sin, we never, ever, forget where forgiveness can be found. Run to the cross. The cross is where eternal salvation can be found. Please take the time and click on the sermon link above or below to listen to it.
Thank you Pastor Tim for this awesome and often avoided sermon.
February 18, 2009 at 11:19 pm
I have recently written a post on Eternal Security. In my post I dealt with this passage in depth. You may be interested in looking at it:
By His grace, For His glory
March 30, 2009 at 12:15 am
1 Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, 2 and of instruction about washings, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. 3 And this we will do if God permits.4 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, 5 and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, 6 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. (Hebrews 6:1-6)
This is a weighty topic and it is not easily explained in few words. I want you to understand the meaning of this passage, so think with me here. Before we begin, the primary intended readers of the book of Hebrews were Jews. The basic theme of the book is the superiority of Christianity over Judaism. You see that theme all throughout the book. The point of the book of Hebrews is the superiority of Christ over all things. All throughout the book you see the writer emphasizing this. At the beginning of the book Jesus is superior to Angels. Then it talks about how He’s superior to the prophets: Moses, Joshua, Aaron, the sacrifices, the priesthood of Aaron. Jesus is superior to everything. That is the theme of the book.
In this passage the point is whether you are a Jew still holding to Judaism, or a Jew who has embraced Christianity. It is not talking about losing salvation. This passage is clearly talking about Jewish people who are not saved. Look at the very beginning of verse 1: “Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity.” That word “maturity” also translated as “perfection” is always used in the book of Hebrews to speak of salvation. It is never used to mean spiritual maturity, always salvation. Let’s take a look and see:
Now if perfection had been attainable through the Levitical priesthood (for under it the people received the law), what further need would there have been for another priest to arise. (Hebrews 7:11)
What does this verse mean? It means that if salvation were attainable through the Old Covenant priesthood, there would be no need for Jesus. It is speaking of salvation. Look at verse 19:
18 For on the one hand, a former commandment is set aside because of its weakness and uselessness 19 (for the law made nothing perfect); but on the other hand, a better hope is introduced, through which we draw near to God. (Hebrews 7:18-19)
Again, the Old Testament Covenant is set aside because by it, no one was saved. The Old Testament law was merely a picture of the Lamb of God who would actually save His people. Here’s another:
For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified. (Hebrews 10:14)
This verse is saying that by His death, Jesus Christ perfected forever those who are being sanctified. Sanctification is the process in which we become more like Jesus. It is our constant progression toward spiritual maturity. We see here that the word “perfected” is not referring to spiritual maturity. Christ perfected (or saved) those who are growing in spiritual maturity. Were you spiritually mature the instant you trusted Christ? Absolutely not. This is another instance where the word translated “maturity” or “perfection” is referring to salvation. You will find that such is always the case in Hebrews.
So, let’s return to our text. In the beginning of verse 1 we have, “Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity.” The writer of Hebrews is saying, “Leave the teachings of Christ and get saved!” I know, this raises an interesting question. How in the world does one leave the doctrine of Christ and move on to salvation? Isn’t the doctrine of Christ the basic foundation of salvation? For the Gentile believer, yes. But for the Jew, absolutely not. You see, the word “Christ” is not a reference to Jesus. In the Hebrew langauage the word Christ literally means “Messiah.” The writer of Hebrews says here, “Leave the elementary teachings of the Messiah and come to perfection in Jesus!” This statement would never be made to a Christian, therefore we know that this passage is not intended for Christians! The writer is speaking to Jews who have been around the gospel so long that they should be teachers of it (Hebrews 5:12), yet they are so caught up in the tradition of the Old Tesament Covenant that they have not converted to Christianity.
Continue with the rest of verse 1 and through verse 2:
“Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, and of instruction about washings, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. “
Repentance from dead works is not referring to salvation. Repentance is to turn away from something. That is an Old Testament concept. Old Testament repentance is turning away from sin, or dead works. New Testament salvation is turning away from sin and turning to Jesus Christ. This is not a reference to salvation. It is referring to turning away from the Old Testament concept of repentance. It’s like a half-way repentance. Turning from sin is not enough, you must turn to Jesus!
Next is faith toward God. It is not enough to believe in God. Is anyone saved because they believe in God? Absolutely not. In order to be saved you must believe in God, manifested in the flesh. This is the fundamental problem with Judaism. They believe in God, they just don’t accept Jesus as the Son of God. It’s like a half-way belief. Believing in God is not enough, you must believe in Jesus!
The next thing is the teachings about washings. Jewish tradition had all kinds of ceremonies of washings. The writer of Hebrews is saying to leave those teachings. It’s like a half-way washing. Ceremonial washings are not enough, you must be washed in Jesus!
Next is the laying on of hands. Because of the Jewish context, this is not a reference to the New Testament laying on of hands as a symbol of ordination. Instead, it is a reference to the Old Covenant sacrificial system found in Leviticus.
He shall lay his hand on the head of the burnt offering, and it shall be accepted for him to make atonement for him. (Leviticus 1:4)
And he shall lay his hand on the head of his offering and kill it at the entrance of the tent of meeting, and Aaron’s sons the priests shall throw the blood against the sides of the altar. (Leviticus 3:2)
7 If he offers a lamb for his offering, then he shall offer it before the LORD, 8 lay his hand on the head of his offering, and kill it in front of the tent of meeting; and Aaron’s sons shall throw its blood against the sides of the altar. (Leviticus 3:7-8)
12 “If his offering is a goat, then he shall offer it before the LORD 13 and lay his hand on its head and kill it in front of the tent of meeting, and the sons of Aaron shall throw its blood against the sides of the altar. (Leviticus 3:12-13)
He shall bring the bull to the entrance of the tent of meeting before the LORD and lay his hand on the head of the bull and kill the bull before the LORD. (Leviticus 4:4)
And the elders of the congregation shall lay their hands on the head of the bull before the LORD, and the bull shall be killed before the LORD. (Leviticus 4:15)
22 “When a leader sins, doing unintentionally any one of all the things that by the commandments of the LORD his God ought not to be done, and realizes his guilt, 23 or the sin which he has committed is made known to him, he shall bring as his offering a goat, a male without blemish, 24 and shall lay his hand on the head of the goat and kill it in the place where they kill the burnt offering before the LORD; it is a sin offering. (Leviticus 4:22-24)
And he shall lay his hand on the head of the sin offering and kill the sin offering in the place of burnt offering. (Leviticus 4:29)
32 “If he brings a lamb as his offering for a sin offering, he shall bring a female without blemish 33 and lay his hand on the head of the sin offering and kill it for a sin offering in the place where they kill the burnt offering. (Leviticus 4:32-33)
And Aaron shall lay both his hands on the head of the live goat, and confess over it all the iniquities of the people of Israel, and all their transgressions, all their sins. And he shall put them on the head of the goat and send it away into the wilderness by the hand of a man who is in readiness. (Leviticus 16:21)
Before Old Testament sacrifices were made, the priest had to lay his hands on the sacrifice, identifying that animal with the sins that were being atoned for. This is the laying on of hands that is referred to in Hebrews 6:2.
Do you see what the writer is doing in these verses? He is saying, “Leave the half-way repentance of the Old Testament and turn to Jesus, leave the half-way belief in God and believe in His Son Jesus, leave the half-way ceremonial washings and be cleansed by Jesus, leave the half-way Old Testament sacrificial system and be joined to the perfect sacrifice of Jesus! The writer of Hebrews is telling these Jews to leave the ways of the Old Covenant and commit the the New Covenant in Jesus! Again we see the superiority of Jesus as the theme. This is not directed to Christians, this is a call of Jews to become Christians! Now let’s see how that applies to our “problem text”:
4 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, 5 and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, 6 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. (Hebrews 6:4-6)
Some will say that this means a believer can lose their salvation. If anyone says that is true, just point out to them that according to verse 6, they can never be saved again! If this is talking about a Christian, it says that once they have fallen away it is impossible to restore them to repentance. If this passage is talking about Christians, which it is not, once you lose your salvation you can never regain it. Nobody, not even those who believe you can lose your salvation, would allow for that.
But for us, we have seen that this passage is not talking to Christians. It is the writer of Hebrews persuading Jews to become Christians. It is written to unbelievers.
The Jews in this passage have received the full revelation of God. They “have been enlightened” (verse 4). This refers to the light through knowledge and teaching. The natural knowledge acquired through the senses. They have heard the gospel many times and they understood it fully. They comprehended it intellectually and were on the edge of decision. They knew it completely, yet they had not committed themselves to it.
They “have tasted the heavenly gift and have shared in the Holy Spirit” (verse 4). They saw first hand the miracles done by the Holy Spirit (Hebrews 2:4).
They “have tasted the goodness of the Word of God and the powers of the age to come” (verse 5). They had been around long enough that they should be teachers (Hebrews 5:12). They had the privilege of sitting under the Word of God on a consistent basis. They knew God’s word and understood it intellectually. They had the head knowledge, but had not committed themselves to it.
Here is the picture the writer of Hebrews is painting. These are Jewish unbelievers who have received the full revelation of God. They have known and understood the gospel, they have seen the work of the Holy Spirit first hand, they have been under the sound teaching of God’s word and understand it comprehensively. There is no further revelation for them to know. They have heard everything there is to hear about the gospel message. At this point, if they turn away from Jesus, back to their Old Testament traditions, it will be impossible for them to be brought to a condition of genuine repentance because they have rejected all the truth that there is! There is no more revelation to be seen, no more truth to be proclaimed. They have seen it all and comprehended it, yet they reject it and refuse to commit themselves to it. Therefore, they are hopeless and will never return to the edge of conversion.
The writer of Hebrews summarizes this section with an illustration:
7 For land that has drunk the rain that often falls on it, and produces a crop useful to those for whose sake it is cultivated, receives a blessing from God. 8 But if it bears thorns and thistles, it is worthless and near to being cursed, and its end is to be burned. (Hebrews 6:7-8)
And so we see that the rain of God’s complete revelation has fallen on these people. In some it produces an abundant crop of genuine repentance and faith in Jesus. In others it produces the rejection of Jesus as the Messiah. Those who reject God’s revelation of His Son are cursed and thrown into the fire of Hell. This is not a warning to Christians about losing their salvation. This is a call for Jews to turn to Jesus and become Christians themselves!
By His Grace – For His Glory