One of the benefits of believing the gospel of grace is that it changes the way you read the Bible. You realize that God is not in the bait and switch business of drawing you in with love only to hammer you with law. He is love all the way through. When you see this you will no longer get frightened when you read a passage like Hebrews 10:26 or this one four chapters earlier:
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, if they fall away, to be brought back to repentance, because to their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace. (Heb 6:4-6)
If you wear the lenses of performance-based Christianity, this is a scary scripture. It sounds like your salvation hinges on your behavior. Do good, get good, but fall away and you’re lost forever. If that’s how this scripture appears to you, change your glasses! What you look through determines what you see. Read this scripture through the lens of Jesus.
So who and what is this passage describing?
Some say this scripture is referring to Christians – those who have become sharers or partakers in the Holy Spirit. If so, then the argument being made is deliberately nonsensical. If they fall away it is impossible for them to get saved again because Jesus would have to come and die again. Since Jesus isn’t going to die again, then it’s impossible for them to fall away. Instead of being a threat to your eternal salvation, this verse supports it.
How many times can you be born again?
I heard one reputable teacher say that if you are saved through an act of your free will, then you can get unsaved through an act of your free will. I guess the conclusion follows the premise but how true is the premise? Were you born into this world through an act of your free will? No, you had absolutely no say in the matter. So what about your spiritual birth?
Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God. (Joh 1:12-13).
To be born again literally means to be born “from above” or, as John puts it, “born of God.” It is 100% a work of the Spirit. You may think that you came to God of your own free will, but reflect for a moment on what actually happened. Who was it that planted and watered the seed of the gospel? (Not you.) Who was it that made the seed grow? (Not you.) Who was it that lifted the veil so that you could see things as they really are? (Not you.) Do you see? You would never have called on the name of the Lord if He had not first called on you.
Here’s my point: When you were dead in the trespasses and uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive together with Christ (Col 2:13). You were dead; now you are alive – all this is because of Him.
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! All this is from God, (2 Cor 5:17-18a)
The important thing is not how you got saved, but that you are saved. When you received the gift of salvation, you became a new creation. If you were to fall away, it would be impossible for you to be born again because you have already been born again. It would be like an adult trying to return to the womb and re-enter the world through the birth canal. Just as it can’t happen in the natural, it can’t happen in the spiritual. Once you’re born you’re born! To claim that you can lose your salvation – that you can undo what God has done – is like saying that God makes mistakes. And He doesn’t.
You may act like an old creation just as a butterfly may act like a caterpillar. But when you do, you are acting contrary to you true identity. We used to say that Christians who fell into sin were back-sliders. But a more accurate description is that they are hypocrites. They are acting contrary to their true identity in Christ.
Make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord. (Heb 12:14)
“Be holy” is not an instruction for improving performance; it’s an admonition to be who you truly are. Be holy, because you are, in fact, holy. “We have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus once for all” (Heb 10:10).
Eat the bread of life, don’t just taste it
Others say that this scripture (Heb 6:4-6 remember?) is referring to unbelievers. It is describing those who have tasted but not eaten the heavenly gift. They have seen the light but preferred the darkness. They may have received the gospel with joy but the seed never took root and grew. When trouble came they fell away.
Consider Judas. Along with the other disciples Judas was involved in a supernatural ministry that saw him casting out demons and healing the sick (Mk 6:13). He may have even prophesied in Jesus’ name. Judas tasted the goodness of the word of God but ultimately he rejected it. When he walked out of the first communion he walked out on Jesus. He was basically saying, “Your blood and your body are not good enough for me.” Judas preferred DIY religion to the grace of God.
Hebrews 6:4-6 says that it is impossible for people like Judas to be brought back to the place of repentance. Why? Because they have heard the truth and rejected it. Those who have never heard the good news of God’s grace may yet receive it. But those who have heard and hardened their hearts toward it, are well and truly lost.
A hard heart is a deadly thing. It will keep you from repenting. It will keep you restless and in bondage to works:
So, as the Holy Spirit says: “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as you did in the rebellion, during the time of testing in the desert.” (Heb 3:7-8)
Judas heard the voice of the Living Word but hardened his heart. He became restless to the point of suicide. He never came to the place of repentance, and he never entered that rest which comes only through faith in Christ.
In Hebrews 5 and 6 we learn that Jesus has been designated by God as a priest forever in the order of Melchizedek. To a Hebrew reader raised on the covenant of law, this would have been an astonishing announcement: “Jesus, the eternal high priest, will forever mediate a new and superior covenant of grace underwritten by the unshakeable oath of God.” There are only two possible responses to such an announcement:
Land that drinks in the rain often falling on it and that produces a crop useful to those for whom it is farmed receives the blessing of God. But land that produces thorns and thistles is worthless and is in danger of being cursed. In the end it will be burned. (Heb 6:7-8)
We can either receive the blessing of God that comes down from heaven like rain and, by so doing, become fruitful and useful, or we can reject what God offers us and be worthless and in danger of being cursed. The righteousness that God gives comes to us is like rain:
You heavens above, rain down righteousness; let the clouds shower it down. Let the earth open wide, let salvation spring up, let righteousness grow with it; I, the Lord, have created it. (Isa 45:8)
God sends His rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. All we can do is respond. We can either put up umbrellas of religious works and say, like Judas, “No thanks, I don’t need it.” Or we can say, “Rain on this filthy sinner and make me clean.” The bad news of the old covenant is that no one will be declared righteous by observing the law (Rom 3:20). The good news of the new is that the righteousness gifted by God comes through faith in Jesus to all who believe (Rom 3:21).
~ Paul Ellis
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