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Warning
When God says "No More"
There comes a time when
Hebrews 6:1-6
Do these verses prove that salvation can be lost?

Scary Verses We Need to Understand

Pastor Douglas Shearer

 

ScreenShot20141023at40114PMThere is perhaps no passage of scripture more troubling for Christians than Hebrews 6:1-6. Can a Christian lose his salvation? A straight forward reading of Hebrews 6:1-6 seems to suggest that, yes, a Christian can indeed forfeit his salvation; that, yes, salvation is not an iron-clad certainty. But that interpretation conflicts with other passages of scripture that suggest quite the contrary. What’s the answer? The point I will be making here is that Hebrews 6:1-6 does not address the issue of salvation at all; but it nonetheless underscores a very sobering truth - a truth much needed among a generation of Christians apparently addicted to “easy believism,” and “greasy grace.”

Let’s now take a good look at Hebrews 6:1-6.

Therefore leaving the principles of the doctrine of Christ, let us go on unto maturity; not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works, and of faith toward God,

Of the doctrine of baptisms, and of laying on of hands, and of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment.

And this will we do, if God permits.

For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost,

And have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come,

if they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance; seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame.

Hebrews 6:1-6

The whole purpose of the Book of Hebrews can be summed up in the six words I’ve highlighted in the middle of verse 1.

Therefore leaving the principles of the doctrine of Christ (i.e., the basics of the faith), let us go on unto maturity; not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works, and of faith toward God ...

Hebrews 6:1

“Let us go on unto maturity” - meaning “Let’s grow up.” Screenshot20121003at44724PMThe problem with so many Christians - here in the Book of Hebrews it happens to be Jewish Christians, but it could just as easily be Gentile Christians - is that, though for many years they’ve known the joy of being pardoned from their sins, they haven’t grown up. There’s been no real change in their lives. They’re Christians, but they’ve never gone on to maturity; they’re still babes in Christ.

Let me show you what I mean. Let’s back up just a little - into Chapter 5 - and read Hebrews 5:8-14 - because these verses help to set the context for Hebrews 6:1-6.

The author of Hebrews is just getting started with an explanation of Melchisedec's priesthood; it’s an extraordinary teaching - a glorious teaching - meant to reveal the deeper riches God has laid up for us in Christ; but in the middle of his explanation he suddenly and quite unexpectedly breaks off. Let’s look at the passage in question - beginning with verse 8 ...

Though he were a Son (speaking here of Christ), yet learned he obedience by the things that he suffered;

And being made perfect, he became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him;

Called of God a high priest after the order of Melchisedec.

Hebrews 5:8-10

Here’s the break! The author would like to go on; but he doesn’t; he stops himself - and pay close attention to what he says:

Of whom (i.e., Melchisedec) we have many things to say, and hard to be uttered (i.e., difficult to explain), seeing ye are dull of hearing (i.e., hard to teach).

For when by this time ye ought to be teachers, ye have need that one teach you again the first principles of the oracles of God (i.e., the basic doctrines of the faith); and are become such as have need of milk, and not of strong meat.

For every one who uses milk is unskillful in the word of righteousness: for he is a babe.

But strong meat belongs to them who are of full age (i.e., who are mature), even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.

Hebrews 5:11-14

First, let me clear up the meaning of the phrase “even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.” Do you see it there in verse 14? It’s not a phrase which suggests mysticism; we’re not talking here about a “word of knowledge” or a “prophetic word” or a “word of wisdom.” That’s not what this phrase means. It’s a colloquial expression meaning “put into practice what you’ve learned” - or, stated a little differently, “walk out the truths you’ve been taught.”

Let’s read verse 14 with this change.

But strong meat (i.e., the teaching on Melchisedec) belongs to them who are mature, even those who have put into practice what they’ve learned - and who have walked out the truths they’ve been taught.

Hebrews 5:14

The author can’t continue with his teaching on Melchisedec because his students are too immature. They haven’t grown to the point that they can handle difficult teachings. And why? Because they haven’t yet put into practice the little they have learned. That’s the meaning of Hebrews 5:11-14.

For example, it’s one thing to know that the “fruit of the spirit” consists of love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, and self-control; but it’s quite another to have cultivated those virtues in your own life - so that you’re actually walking them out.

Let’s take one of those virtues to illustrate the point I’m making - self-control: there are many Christians who know that “self-control” is the mark of a genuinely mature Christian - that self-control is a fruit of the Spirit. Why is it, then, that so many of those same Christians can’t seem to break themselves free of ...

  • drug addiction
  • alcoholism
  • sexual immorality
  • pornography
  • and other sinful vices that even the unsaved know are wretched and evil?

Screenshot20121003at51721PMWhy is that? It’s because they’ve never grown up. They’ve never put into practice the little they have learned. They’ve never truly appropriated for themselves the grace of God and made use of it. They know the truth, but they’ve never walked it out.

Let’s take another of those virtues - joy: There are many Christians who know that joy is a mark of a genuinely mature Christian - and that it’s a joy which transcends whatever circumstances beset them. Why is it, then, that so many of those same Christians are so often “on a bummer” - so frequently depressed and anxiety-ridden? Why is it that they can’t seem to put a smile on their faces ...

  • unless “all their ducks are lined up;”
  • unless their income is steady and their job is fulfilling and meaningful;
  • unless they’re able to buy a new car and keep up with the “Jones;”
  • unless they’re living in the right neighborhood and their children are attending the right schools;
  • unless their wife treats them just so, or unless their husband treats them just so, or unless their friends treat them just so, or unless their boss treats them just so?

Why is that? It’s because they’ve never grown up. They’ve never put into practice the little they’ve learned. They’ve never truly appropriated for themselves the grace of God and made use of it. They know the truth, but they’ve never walked it out.

This, then, is the immediate context of Hebrews 6:1-6. In short, the issue here is a stubborn refusal to grow up - to press on to maturity - to stop being a baby; to stop making excuses.

Let’s now read again the whole six verse passage that Hebrews 6:1 begins.

Therefore leaving the principles of the doctrine of Christ… (What follows here is a list of some, though not all, of the basic doctrines of the faith)

  • repentance from dead works,
  • faith in God,
  • baptism,
  • laying on of hands (meaning the impartation of authority),
  • the resurrection of the dead, and
  • eternal judgment.

... let us press on to maturity;

... And this will we do, if God permits.

For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Spirit,

And have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the age to come,

If they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance ...

Hebrews 6:1-6

That’s the whole passage; now let’s examine it in detail. I’ve already pointed out to you that verses 1 and 2 are simply telling us to “grow up.” But the key verse here is verse 3. And it’s a very scary verse. All too often we find ourselves riveted on verses 4 and 6 - which, when joined together, read ...

For it is impossible ...

Hebrews 6:4

If they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance ...

Hebrews 6:6

But the really fearful verse is verse 3, not verses 4 and 6. Verses 4 and 6 merely elaborate on verse 3. Look at it closely - and let its meaning sink down into your consciousness.

And this will we do (meaning “press on to maturity”), if God permits.

Hebrews 6:3

Do you see what’s being said here? Do you see that little word “if”? It’s not merely a matter of finally wanting to grow up - of at long last smelling the coffee and waking up; it’s just as much a matter of God permitting us to grow up. Do you see that? Let’s look at it again: "And this will we do, if God permits."

Is the Bible actually saying that it’s possible ...

  • that God won’t permit me to go on;
  • that God won’t let me grow up;
  • that though I acknowledge at long last that I’m a carnal (1 Cor. 3:1) Christian;
  • that though I finally confess I haven’t pressed on to maturity - I’ve wasted much time;
  • that now that I’m finally ready to move forward, God won’t permit it?

Yes, that’s exactly what’s being said here! It’s possible that God won’t permit you to go on if you’ve wasted too much time ...

  • if year after year you’ve refused to believe his promises;
  • if year after year you’ve hardened your heart to his appeals;
  • if year after year you’ve refused to make your marriage right - and haven’t been kind and gentle to your wife;
  • if year after year you’ve made excuses for your drinking, for your use of drugs, your pornography, your evil temper, your impatience, your anger;
  • if year after year you haven’t humbled yourself;
  • if year after year you’ve distanced yourself from others and have held onto your bitterness and your judgmental spirit;
  • if year after year you’ve put your career ahead of God - promising to make amends the next year, but making no real effort to follow through on that promise.

Finally one day you smell the coffee, you come to your senses; a crisis occurs; you awaken to the mess you’ve made of your life and the shame you’ve heaped upon God and your loved ones - and you cry out to the Lord, “I want to go on. I want to cross over into the Promised Land. I’m tired of wandering in this Wilderness. I want victory in my life.”

But the Book of Hebrews solemnly warns you ...

  • that it might be too late;
  • that God might not permit you to achieve victory;
  • that God might not let you cross over into the Promised Land of rest – the land flowing with God’s blessings.

Screenshot20121003at52203PMHasn’t anyone ever taught you this before? It’s a truth that stalks the pages of the New Testament. It’s a warning that’s plainly declared throughout all scripture - Old and New Testaments alike. There comes a time when God won’t honor your supposed repentance anymore. That’s the meaning of verse 3. Your “repentance” notwithstanding, God won’t permit you to go on to maturity - he’ll consign you to wandering aimlessly in the Wilderness.

The teaching here in Hebrews 6 hearkens back to a sobering lesson taught in Numbers 13 and 14. Bear in mind that Hebrews 6 follows a lengthy teaching on Israel’s exodus from Egypt - and her forty years of wandering in the Wilderness. That’s the subject matter of Hebrews 3:1 through 5:10. And it’s against that backdrop that Hebrews 6:1-6 must be understood. It doesn’t stand alone. And all too often pastors are guilty of tearing these verses not only from their immediate context, but from their larger context as well. Hebrews 5:11-14 is the immediate context; and Hebrews 3:1 through 5:10, along with Numbers 13 and 14, constitute the larger context.

Let’s turn to Numbers 13 and 14. We’ll begin with Numbers 13:1-2 ...

And the Lord spoke unto Moses, saying,

Send men, that they may search the land of Canaan, which I give unto the children of Israel: of every tribe of their fathers shall ye send a man, every one a ruler among them.

Numbers 13:1-2

Israel is now at Kadesh Barnea. It has been two years since Israel’s exodus from Egypt. During much of that time, Israel has been camped at the base of Mount Sinai -

  • where God gave Moses the tables of the Law,
  • where the Tabernacle was built,
  • where the Priesthood was organized and commissioned, and
  • where the sacrifices were ordained.

She’s now at the staging area God has selected for the invasion of Canaan. There at Kadesh Barnea, Moses sends twelve spies into Canaan to gather additional information about the Land and about the people living there. That’s what Numbers 13:1-2 are all about.

After forty days, the spies return - and we pick up the story at Numbers 13:25. Remember now, this is what sets the backdrop for Hebrews 6:1-6.

And they returned from searching out the land after forty days.

And they went and came to Moses, and to Aaron, and to all the congregation of the children of Israel, unto the wilderness of Paran, to Kadesh; and brought back word unto them, and unto all the congregation, and showed them the fruit of the land.

And they told him, and said, We came unto the land to which you sent us, and surely it flows with milk and honey; and this is the fruit of it.

Nevertheless the people are strong who dwell in the land, and the cities are walled, and very great: and moreover we saw the children of Anak there (i.e., the giants).

The Amalekites dwell in the land of the south: and the Hittites, and the Jebusites, and the Amorites, dwell in the mountains: and the Canaanites dwell by the sea, and by the coast of Jordan.

And Caleb stilled the people before Moses, and said, Let us go up at once, and possess it; for we are well able to overcome it.

But the men who went up with him said, We be not able to go up against the people; for they are stronger than we.

And they brought up an evil report of the land which they had searched unto the children of Israel, saying, The land, through which we have gone to search it, is a land that eats up the inhabitants thereof; and all the people that we saw in it are men of a great stature.

And there we saw the giants, the sons of Anak, which come of the giants: and we were in our own sight as grasshoppers, and so we were in their sight.

And all the congregation lifted up their voice, and cried; and the people wept that night.

And all the children of Israel murmured against Moses and against Aaron: and the whole congregation said unto them, Would God that we had died in the land of Egypt! or would God we had died in this wilderness!

And wherefore hath the Lord brought us unto this land, to fall by the sword, that our wives and our children should be a prey? were it not better for us to return into Egypt?

And they said one to another, Let us make a captain, and let us return into Egypt.

Numbers 13:25 - 14:4

Screenshot20121003at52541PMStop here; that’s enough for the moment. The children of Israel ...

  • want to return to Egypt;
  • they’re refusing to believe God’s promises;
  • they’re refusing to avail themselves of his grace.

And their failure here is inexcusable:

  • They had witnessed with their own eyes the miracles God had wrought in their behalf when he delivered them from Egypt and Pharaoh’s army;
  • they had witnessed the parting of the Red Sea;
  • they had witnessed the miracle of his provision - the manna he had sent from heaven - the water he had brought from out of the rock;
  • they had seen with their own eyes his glory and majesty at Mount Sinai;
  • they had given their word that they would whole-heartedly believe and obey him; and, finally,
  • they had heard with their own ears God’s pledge to cast his mantle of loving protection over them - that he himself would fight for them.

Let’s pick up our story at verse 11 ...

And the Lord said unto Moses, How long will this people provoke me? and how long will it be ere they believe me, for all the signs which I have shown among them?

Numbers 14:11

Continue now with verse 22 ...

Because all those men who have seen my glory, and my miracles (compare to Hebrews 6:4-5), which I did in Egypt and in the wilderness, and have provoked me now these ten times, and have not hearkened to my voice ...

Numbers 14:22

Surely they shall not see the land which I swore unto their fathers, neither shall any of them that provoked me see it ...

Numbers 14:23

God then ordered Israel back from her staging area at Kadesh Barnea - and instructed Moses to tell Israel that he would not permit that generation to take possession of the Land - the land flowing with milk and honey he’d prepared for them. Their children would take it, but they would wander in the wilderness until they all died.

Now look closely at what follows - verses 39 and 40 ...

And Moses told these sayings unto all the children of Israel: and the people mourned greatly.

Numbers 14:39

And they rose up early in the morning, and got them up into the top of the mountain (which looked into the Promised Land), saying, Lo, we be here, and will go up unto the place which the Lord has promised: for we have sinned.

Numbers 14:40

Screenshot20121003at52728PMDo you see the point? Israel repented. The whole nation mourned; they all acknowledged that they’d sinned. But God refused to honor their repentance. And when they sought to cross over into the Promised Land, they were driven back - and utterly defeated.

That’s the story that underlies Hebrews 6:1-6. That’s the tragic event that informs it. Don’t think that God will always honor your repentance; that’s a dangerous misconception. Nevertheless, if finally after repeated warnings he refuses any longer to “renew your repentance” (meaning he refuses to honor it) loss of salvation is not what’s entailed. How do I know? Because God didn’t abandon Israel after her rebellion at Kadesh Barnea - after she was denied possession of the Promised Land - after she was ordered back into the Wilderness. Look closely! Though God didn’t honor Israel’s repentance - or put in the words of Hebrews 6:6 - though God refused to “renew them again to repentance” - he didn’t withdraw his presence. The Tabernacle was not pulled down. Neither was the Ark of the Testimony destroyed. Nor was the priesthood annulled. Nor did the Cloud fail to guard Israel during the day or the Pillar of Fire cease to shield Israel during the night. God’s presence was never revoked.

It’s not that God will abandon you ...

  • if you refuse to grow up;
  • if you refuse to press on to maturity;
  • if you refuse to believe his promises and act on them;
  • if year after year you excuse your sins - whatever they might be.

It’s that there may come a time ...

  • when he will refuse any longer to honor your repentance;
  • when he will not permit you to cross over into the Promised Land;
  • when he will say, “No! I won’t let you enjoy my victory; I won’t abandon you, but I won’t let you take possession of my riches - I won’t let you enjoy my rest.”

And that’s exactly what sometimes happens to carnal (1 Cor. 3:1) Christians - Christians ...

  • who have enjoyed God's enlightenment;
  • who have tasted the heavenly gift of salvation;
  • who have been in-dwelt by the Holy Spirit;
  • who have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come ...

... but who have not pressed on to maturity; who, instead, year after year, have excused their failures and have stubbornly refused to act on his promises and walk out his truths.

There may come a day when their cry of repentance won’t be honored; it’s not that they’ll be abandoned; it’s that God won’t permit them to achieve victory. He won’t let them cross over into his promised rest and spiritual glory. They’ll be kept by God himself in the Wilderness - and that’s where they’ll stay until they die.

Hebrews 4:1 makes essentially the same point.

Let us therefore fear, lest, a promise being left us of entering into his rest (of achieving victory; i.e., of not only being delivered from the penalty of sin, but from the power of sin as well), any of you should seem to come short of it.

Hebrews 4:1

Note carefully that the author of Hebrews is speaking to believers. He says,

Let us fear ...

Hebrews 4:1

That means you and me! And the word that’s translated “fear” is the Greek word “phobeo.” We derive our English word “phobia” from it. It means to be “seized with alarm.” Quite frankly, it means to be “terrified.”

Screenshot20121003at52928PMHebrews 4:1 warns us not to come short of God’s “rest” - and Chapter 3 verses 8-19 make clear the meaning of the word “rest” - it’s the Promised Land of victory and maturity; and that’s what’s at issue in Hebrews 6:1-6. God is exhorting us to cross over into that Promised Land - and, what’s more, he’s saying that we should fear coming short of that victory. The very thought should terrify us.

  • Is there a secret sin in your life? Conquer it!
  • Is your marriage less than what it should be? Change it!
  • Are you putting your career ahead of God? Square away your priorities!
  • Are you a loner? Stop blaming others! Join a home fellowship! Get involved in a ministry! Go to a Bible study! Reach out!
  • Are you harboring anger and bitterness in your heart? Rid yourself of it!

The word “fear” is used again and again in the Book of Hebrews. And, once again, I’m warning you not to play down its meaning. Don’t soften it to mean “respect” or “reverence;” because in this context that’s not what it means. It means “terror” and “alarm.”

Turn back with me to Hebrews 6:3-6 ...

And this will we do (meaning go on to maturity), if God permit.

For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Spirit,

And have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the age to come,

If they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance ...

Hebrews 6:3-6

Don't miss the point here: verse 4 - 6 tell us that it’s impossible for those ...

  • who were once enlightened,
  • who have tasted of the heavenly gift
  • who were partakers of the Holy Spirit,
  • who have tasted the good word of God and powers of the age to come

... if they should fall away to renew them again unto repentance.

Hebrews 6:4-6

Why? Because God himself might not permit it.

We need to understand clearly what repentance is meant to do. It’s not some pedantic ritual that guarantees access back into the presence of God; nor is it some magic incantation we mutter to appease God’s anger. That’s not repentance! That’s not what it’s all about!

  • Repentance is meant to open the way to victory.
  • Repentance is meant to give us a fresh start down the road to maturity.

But God now shuts the door on your repentance - because it has been so often abused - its purpose has been so frequently perverted. He now turns you away from Kadesh Barnea - and orders you back into the Wilderness. And when from time to time you attempt on your own to gain victory, you find that it can’t be achieved - whatever it might be: drinking, drugs, temper, pornography, depression, alcoholism - whatever.

And the Amalekites and the Canaanites who dwelt on that hill, came down and smote them, and cut them to pieces ...

Numbers 14:45

You can’t achieve victory on your own; it can only be attained in the power of the Holy Spirit; therefore seek the Lord while he can be found - turn to him before it’s too late - don’t waste any more time; don’t presume on his patience any longer. Don’t linger any more in a state of unbelief. Don’t wait until God refuses any longer to honor your repentance (the meaning of Hebrews 6:6) - when he turns a deaf ear to your weeping - and there’s no changing his mind.

And the Amorites, which dwelt in that mountain, came out against you, and chased you, as bees do, and destroyed you in Seir, even Hormah.

And ye returned and wept before the Lord; but the Lord would not hearken to your voice, nor give ear unto you.

Deuteronomy 1:44-45

Don’t wait until you find to your horror that there’s no new beginning! There’s no fresh infusion of grace! There’s just an aimless wandering - lost somewhere between the abject slavery of Egypt and Screenshot20121003at53223PMthe promised peace, rest, and victory of Canaan.

But I will end this lesson on a note of hopefulness - just at the author of Hebrews does. Let’s read Hebrews 6:9 ...

But, beloved, we are persuaded better things of you, and things that accompany salvation, though we thus speak.

Hebrews 6:9

I am persuaded that none of you has been turned back into the “Wilderness.” I can’t be sure of that, of course; but that’s my confidence. And why am I confident? It’s because you’re studying this lesson. It’s unlikely that you’d be doing that if you’d actually “been turned back into the Wilderness.” So, don’t despair - but do sober up. Don’t let this lesson of Hebrews 6:1-6 harden from a warning into judgment. God’s grace is abundant. It’s lavish. His victories are final and complete. Step forward in faith. Don’t draw back. Confess whatever sins beset you - both to God and to fellow-believers; get them into the light where they can be dealt with; grab hold of your brothers and sisters and make your life a part of theirs - and theirs a part of yours; strengthen your feeble knees and steady your quaking hands - take a firm grip - and start trusting God.It is he who will win the victory for you. Follow him into battle.

-- Summation --

 

Hebrews 6:1-6 can't be properly understood if it's torn from context - and that is what's almost always done. When its context is identified and it's exegeted in light of that context, it becomes readily apparent that salvation is not what's at issue. The explanation is fairly straight forward: the context of Hebrews 6 is established in Chapters 4 and 5 - which address the issue of Israel's failure to believe God, specifically, when she rebelled against God at Kadesh Barnea, God's staging area for the conquest of Canaan. That incident is recorded in Numbers 14. Israel's rebellion prompted God to order her back into the Wilderness - away from Screenshot20121003at53419PMKadesh Barnea. During the evening, however, after Moses announced God's intention, Israel wept - and the next morning she repented.

"... and the people mourned greatly. And they arose early in the morning and went to the top of the mountain, 'Here we are, and we will go up to the place which the Lord has promised, for we have sinned.'"

But God refused to honor her repentance - which defines the meaning of Hebrews 6:4 - "... if they shall fall away to renew them unto repentance." And when she attacked, the Canaanites repulsed her. She was not permitted to go forward into the Promised Land - which defines the meaning of Hebrews 6:3 - "... if he permits."

But did God's refusal to honor her repentance imply his rejection of her? Of course not! How can we be sure? It's simple: God accompanied her throughout her entire 40 years of wandering. In other words, though God denied to Israel possession of the Promised Land, he never withdrew his presence when he turned her back into the Wilderness: the Ark of the Covenant remained; the priesthood continued to function with God's blessing; the cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night continued to stand guard over Israel's camp; etc. Clearly, then, salvation is not what's at issue in Hebrews 6; rather it's the "rest" that Hebrews 4 and 5 so clearly tell us the Promised Land is meant to symbolize.