I gave this question a lot of thought and decided a Bible study was in order. Read it or don’t. But I am convinced.
Looking at Hebrews 6:4-6 we read…
4 For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted the heavenly gift, and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit, 5 and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, 6 [c]if they fall away, to renew them again to repentance, since they crucify again for themselves the Son of God, and put Him to an open shame.
It is impossible for those who were once enlighted…who are the “Those“ who the writer is speaking to? Some will argue that the writer is speaking to Christians here, but that cannot be the case as we will see moving forward. People tend to get hung up on verses 4-6 but fail to look at the big “but” in verse 9 where the author (who incidentally I believe to be Paul- another debate for later I trust) moves from addressing unbelievers to focus now on believers by addressing them as “beloved,” distinguishing them from the previous subjects.
9 But, beloved, we are confident of better things concerning you, yes, things that accompany salvation, though we speak in this manner.
What makes verses 4-6 so dangerous for the young believer is that they may read this and come away with the notion that they can somehow lose their salvation. As if the LORD would say, “well…you blew it this time…three strikes you’re out.” That is not the case though, and it is important that as believers, when we are truly saved, we stand on the security of our salvation. First of all our salvation wasn’t won by anything we could ever do, so it is hardly feasible for us to do anything to lose that which we never won in the first place.
The fact is that this passage is not directed at the believer but the person who has attained to the degree which Jesus called, “tares amongst the wheat.” They have tasted of Christ, they have full knowledge of Christ, but have come short of full surrender to Christ. That is they have a mental assent but no real descent into depths of love, mercy and grace afforded to us by Christ through the regeneration of salvation. And so what I hope to show you here is that the author is not directing this passage to believers, but to those who have a form of religion that is short of salvation.
Let me preface that this passage makes no mention of regeneration, justification, sanctification or of new birth for that matter. This will become more clear moving forward.
Coming to verse 5 we find, ironically, 5 brushes with salvation but none that take the unbeliever into true salvation.
The first brush with salvation is being enlightened. The Greek word for this is actually “phōtizō“ which means to be informed, or mentally aware of something. No where in the New Testament is this word used to mean anything else other than mental assent. In fact, none of the terms found in this passage are used in the New Testament with regard to conversion. And I might add that proper hermeneutics prevents us from using these terms out of context here too. And I think that this is where a lot of young believers get off course with regard to proper exegesis of the Scriptures and end up misinterpreting Scripture. The word “enlightened” here means a person freshly informed not permanently reborn.
In the Sermon on the Mount we have the WORD of God taught by the WORD of God. Jesus brings it in this sermon and the people were astonished, the Bible tells us. These people were truly enlightened, no doubt. The sad fact though is that many of the people in the area of Palestine heard Jesus speak, even seeing the miraculous things He did, but still did not come to the LORD for salvation.
If you look at John 6:66, Jesus, who after feeding upwards to 20,000 people (when you include women and children) has just explained the truth of what it means to follow after Him, and we read that “many of his disciples turned away and followed after Him no longer” (paraphrased). And these were people that called themselves “His disciples.” And so “enlightened,” but not saved.
Peter talks about these kinds of people in 2 Peter 2:20-22 where he writes:
[2Pe 2:20-22 NKJV]
20 For if, after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge (emphasis mine) of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overcome, the latter end is worse for them than the beginning.
21 For it would have been better for them not to have known (emphasis mine) the way of righteousness, than having known [it], to turn from the holy commandment delivered to them.
22 But it has happened to them according to the true proverb: “A dog returns to his own vomit,” and, “a sow, having washed, to her wallowing in the mire.”
Next we see here that these people the author is addressing in this passage have “tasted the heavenly gift,” and so you say, what is that? Some would argue that it is the Holy Spirit, and of course we know that as believers when we receive salvation the LORD gives us the gift of the Holy Spirit. Many commentators agree that because the Holy Spirit is referenced in the next verse that the mention of gift here is regarding Jesus Christ, to which I would agree. Jesus is after all, “God’s indescribable gift.” Notice here that the author uses the word “tasted here” this means to merely sample or to examine. You know when you go to the mall and there are those people with the little trays with pieces of food that have toothpicks in them. They are handing out samples. The goal is to get you to say, “Wow, that was really good,” and then stand in line to buy the real deal (so they can upsell you on the large drink and fries…I digress). In my mall analogy, these are the people who are content with the sample but fail to get in line for the full meal deal. They have experienced the life of the believer but never given over their lives and become true believers. Sure they go to church, they tithe, they even serve, but they are not fully surrendered to Jesus. I like what my old pastor used to say, “Going to church doesn’t make you a Christian any more than going to McDonalds makes you a Big Mack!” So true. But there is a big difference between someone who tastes and someone who eats and digests.
Now the next part is the part that people who have a hang-up against the possibility or idea that eternal salvation is just that, “eternal” and then have their big, “AHA! Gotcha” moment. In the next part of the verse the author says that “they have become partakers of the Holy Spirit.” There you have it…case closed. Only true Christians can be partakers of the Holy Spirit. But hold on sparky…let’s look at the original language (yes I pulled the Greek card). The Greek word here for “partakers” is the word, “metochos“and it means companions or associates. We see this same word used back in chapter 1 of Hebrews. Again, that pesky thing called hermeneutics. Now, I like to use the analogy of a concert here. I can go to a concert and really get into the music. I can pump my fist, jump in the mosh pit, heck I can even stage dive, but just because I am the most enthusiastic fan, it does not mean I am in the band. Sure, I may be associated with the band, I could even be the number 1 stalker fan, but just because I associate with the band does not make me a member. If an unbeliever walks into a Bible teaching church, witnesses the worship, hears the message, experiences the fellowship, and even participates, they are, no doubt associated with the things of the Spirit. As we worship the LORD in spirit and in truth, the Holy Spirit is present. By mere proximity they are associated with the goings on of the Spirit. I would even argue that the Holy Spirit is wooing them even then. You can be associated with the things of the Holy Spirit and still not be indwelled by the Holy Spirit which is evidence of salvation.
The author then goes on to say that, “they have tasted the good word of God.” So, again we see the word “tasted” here and we have already discussed the meaning of that word, but what I would like to point your attention to here is the word for “word” here in verse 5. The use of the word, “word” is not the Greek word, “logos” which involves the entirety of the WORD of God, but the Greek word, “rhēma” which speaks of the parts of the WORD rather than the whole. And this is another one of those things that the author does that makes me think it is none other than the Apostle Paul writing this (I know that might start a whole new debate, but I just had to put that here in defense of Pauline authorship of Hebrews…lol). Perhaps this is a play on words suggesting that they have sampled the WORD of God, but fallen way short of experiencing the fullness of the WORD of God from the perspective of a saved believer, being, as one of my detractors pointed out earlier in the thread, “spiritually discerned.”
Next Paul says (ahhh…see what I did there), that they “tasted the power of the age to come…” So then what is that. Well the word “power” here is the Greek word “dynamis” which is where we get our English word, “dynamite” from and when we see this in the New Testament the word is closely associated with the miracles of God which were, no doubt, dynamite to witness. Now the phrase, “powers of the age to come,” simply expands upon the signs, wonders and miracles which they witnessed. So, they have tasted, they have experienced, they have witnessed, and have been associated with the things of Christ to the point where you might event think they were saved, yet they fell short of salvation because there was no true confession, or repentance associated with genuine salvation. Simply put they were not saved.
And so coming to verse 6 we see that, “If they (see the description of the unbelievers above) fall away…” And we have already looked at this term, “fall away.” And so what the author is saying here is that if these unbelievers, who have been so close to the truth walk away from the truth, then it is impossible for them to come to the truth.
We see this in our own day, at least here in the South where there is a church on every corner. We are inundated from birth with the idea of Jesus. We are Christians because, after all, we are “Merican’s” right? We get this false sense of security because our parents and grandparents had faith in Jesus that we can somehow ride their coat tails in. Or worse, we can go through the motions, stand at an altar call, get baptized, go to and even lead Sunday school classes, and still not be saved.
You will recall that Matthew 7:21-23 Jesus says…
[Mat 7:21-23 NKJV]
21 “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven.
22 “Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’
23 “And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’
So, it is one thing to have mental assent, it is even something to say, you have prophesied in the name of Jesus, even casting out demons and performing miracles. But if you are not saved, even though you have all of this going for you, then you are simply not saved.
But what the author (and I will keep Paul out of this one this time…lol) is saying, is that here are people that have been so close to salvation that they could taste it. They have been exposed and know the truth. For them to walk away after having received such knowledge, it is impossible for them to come to a saving knowledge of Jesus. He then goes on in verse 6 to liken them unto the very same people who crucified Christ in the first place. Quite an indictment.
But listen, I get it. It is often the case that we take a stance on issues centered around theology and base our arguments on what we learned in our past. After reading We Are Church, don’t you think it is high time that we start to question the veracity of Scriptures for ourselves. In the book of Acts we read of those who were more fair-minded, the Bereans. They readily and eagerly heard the words of the Apostle Paul. But then went and checked it out for themselves. We ought to be doing that same thing when we approach the study of Scripture. There are a whole lot of fancy words like Hermenuetics, Apologetics, Ecclesiology, Eschatology and things that will inflate your knowledge, and there is nothing at all wrong with studying to show yourself approved, but we need to check our motives for gaining knowledge and understand that all of the knowledge in the world of Christ does not make save us. It is only by the shed blood of Jesus, repentance on our part and confession that we have our salvation anything else is not salvation but slave-ation as we are still enslaved by our sins.
For those who have questioned whether this passage of Scripture suggests that a believer can fall away, I simply say, “Don’t believe the hype.” Here are some passages of Scripture to encourage you.
[Jhn 10:27-30 NKJV]
27 “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. 28 “And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand. 29 “My Father, who has given [them] to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch [them] out of My Father’s hand. 30 “I and [My] Father are one.”
[Rom 8:35, 38-39 NKJV]
35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? [Shall] tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? … 38 For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, 39 nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
[1Pe 1:3-4 NKJV]
3 Blessed [be] the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 to an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that does not fade away, reserved in heaven for you,
Inevitably, some will say…”Well, maybe I can do something on my own to fall away from Christ.” Do you really want me to go there?
The LORD be with you all. Grapes to you and peas!