As the author of Hebrews challenges the recipients of that book’s message to grow and mature, and not remain spiritual infants, we arrive at some content that – at least in today’s world – is a little complicated.
This passage is one that must be considered when discussing a topic that is often called “eternal security”. Having said that, though, “eternal security” seems to be a phrase that human beings made up, and not something that appears directly in the Bible. Here’s a quick primer on two viewpoints that are held in the Christian community. (Note that these both come with my advance apologies for anyone who feels that I’m not doing justice to their point of view. These summaries aren’t the main point that I’m hoping to share today.)
- Those who believe in eternal security are confident that once a person is saved, they are permanently saved. When reading passages in the Bible about those who have been a part of the church and now no longer follow Jesus (or when observing others who do so today), adherents to this point of view usually consider those people to have never been truly saved in the first place.
- Those who disagree with this concept of eternal security believe that someone can turn away from the faith and “lose” (or give up) their salvation. In light of passages in the Bible about the permanence of God’s faithfulness in salvation, this viewpoint suggests that God is faithful, but individuals retain their free will to choose something other than Him, even after accepting Jesus as their Lord and Savior.
Having shared these summaries, I’d like to make a different point from the following passage. However, I think that it is important for readers to understand the context in which this passage is sometimes discussed.
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 and who have fallen away, to be brought back to repentance. To their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace.
Hebrews 6:4-6 NIV
Plenty of smart theologians have wrestled with this passage (and other verses), and they have come up with different conclusions. I’m not going to try and convince you of one position or another, but I would like to walk through this passage with some thoughts to help us all get closer to the truth.
If you’ve done any study on this topic, I think that you will agree that there are passages in the Bible that – if taken in isolation – seem to make the case both for and against eternal security. As a result, we must consider not only the contexts of these passages, but also the entirety of the Bible. So, what is the context for the passage above? The author of Hebrews has been talking about the recipients of this message being immature enough to ”need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again” (Hebrews 5:12).
In addition, I think that we should understand what this does not seem to be saying. In English, the concept of “falling away” sounds pretty easy to do, like slipping off of a balance beam or tightrope. However, based on commentary and footnotes, the language seems to be suggesting something more like something called “apostasy”. I think of apostasy as those who openly “de-convert” from Christianity, abandoning faith in Jesus for something else. (Having said that, I don’t believe that “de-conversion” is really a descriptive term, since those who leave the Christian faith generally choose to believe in and follow something else.)
By the way, if you’re stuck in the middle, searching for the truth after someone or something in the Christian world really hurt or offended you, I pray that you will find the truth. Remember, Jesus Christ was perfect, and His teachings have been found by many people – even non-Christians – to be valuable. Christ’s followers, though (including me), are substantially less perfect! Let me know if you have any questions.
Let me ask a question, though: Why do we consider the topic of eternal security to be important? Let’s take a look at that in the next article.
From Sunday School lesson prepared for November 14, 2021
- The Lookout, November 14, 2021 © 2021 Christian Standard Media.
- Scripture taken from the Holy Bible, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
- The College Press Commentary, Hebrews, by Jim Girdwood and Peter Verkruyse. College Press Publishing Company, © 1997.