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.
Those who say that Christians can lose their salvation assert that all these things that the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews1 has listed are distinguishing evidences of a true Christian—and they argue that if those who have possessed these marks “fall away” from this state, then they have lost their salvation.
But if it were true that a regenerate soul could become unregenerate again, then why did the author not say that these people were born-again Christians, or that they had a true faith, or even that they were indeed saved—and thus explicitly warn true Christians that they could lose their salvation?
If we start our consideration earlier in the epistle, we see the author is writing to a group of people whom he embraces as members of his own spiritual family—the adopted covenant people of God—where he writes of them inclusively as “we”, “us”, “our”, “one another”, “sons”, “children” and even “bretheren” of Christ. Just read through from the beginning of Hebrews up to the sixth chapter and you will see what I mean.
He encourages his readers to “go on unto perfection” (Hebrews 6:1; see also 10:14)—to get on with living the Christian life, and to bear spiritual fruit. He exhorts them to not procrastinate or be merely interested in the elementary “principles of the doctrine of Christ” (Hebrews 6:1a). We must all strive to grow up to a perfect state (v.1b).
Hearts Hardened Against God
If you had read these earlier chapters of Hebrews, you will have noticed how the epistle writer reminded his readers how there had been some among the people of God in Old Testament times who were unbelievers—who had hardened their hearts against God and he had been grieved with them for forty years in the wilderness (3:16-19).
In a similar manner, among these New Testament believers to whom he was writing, there were some people who had merely “tasted” of the “heavenly gift” of the Gospel of Christ, but who did not drink deeply and benefit from it, so to speak. They had become “partakers2 of the Holy Ghost”—but this partaking had not saved them. What does this mean? They had heard faithful, Holy Spirit enabled Gospel preaching and they had recieved it into their minds, thought about it and understood it—and in this way partook of it—but it is possible to do all that without actually believing it from a regenerate heart.
Some people are “enlightened” inasmuch as they have been taught the truth from the Bible, from the pulpit, from their parents, etc. This teaching has affected them in some measure—they have become “partakers of the Holy Ghost” though learning from the Holy Ghost-inspired Scriptures (see 2 Timothy 3:16; 2 Peter 1:21). But they haven’t actually been born again.
The Lord Jesus Christ teaches us that some people can “receive the word with joy” and “for a while believe,” but they, sadly, fall away in a time of temptation (Luke 8:13).
They have become “almost persuaded,” like king Agrippa (Acts 26:28). Indeed they have gone further than Agrippa in that they have attended a Christian church and they have some appreciation of the preaching, worship and fellowship there. But they are essentially unchanged—they are not born again.
These people of whom the author of Hebrews had written had “tasted…of the powers of the world to come” (Hebrews 6:4,5), inasmuch as they had become somewhat interested in sound preaching on salvation (for a while) they have persuaded themselves that they too will have a place in heaven. But their faith was still as “dead” as their spiritually-dead hearts, and no good works came from it (compare James 2:14-26; see also Ephesians 2:8-10).
These mere tasters have even repented of their sins in some measure, as is evident from the fact that after they “fall away” it would be impossible to renew them “unto repentance”.
It is a sad fact that some people can be moved by the Gospel to temporarily reform in life and morals, and to feel regret for their sins—but this reformation proves ultimately to fall short of actual conversion.
“It is impossible” (v.4) to renew such people even to the measure of repentance that they had before, i.e. even to the level of “Christian” morals that they previously seemed to have had. Of course, with God nothing is impossible (Luke 1:37)—but if God will leave them in their state of hardened deadness against him, then you cannot reach through to them, and they cannot turn themselves.
All they partook of was a sip of Christ, as it were. And when they could tolerate him no more, they wanted no more of him. Their close encounter with the Gospel has only left them hardened against it, and against the Lord Jesus Christ himself.
An unregenerate person can have such an exposure to the Gospel as Hebrews 6 describes, but still “fall away” instead of becoming a true Christian. And in their rejection of Christ, after getting to know so much about him, they in effect “crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh” (v.6)—just as surely as those who had campaigned for his crucifixion, or who had actually hammered in the nails.
That they “crucify to themselves” Christ does not imply that he was ever crucified for them. Do not think that Christ’s blood has been shed in vain for these people.
Persuaded of Better Things
The original intended readership of this epistle were true Christians, but immature: as it is written, “But, beloved, we are persuaded of better things of you, and things that accompany salvation, though we thus speak” (Hebrews 6:9).
That is a key point to grasp here. The author had seen “things that accompany salvation” in “you”, namely these Hebrew Christians to whom he had written—and these things he had not seen in “those” others whom he has just warned about.
True but immature Christians can appear to be indistinguishable from mere tasters. All of us must “go on unto perfection” in sanctification, and thereby prove that we are true Christians. Merely tasting Christ is not enough.
Another objective is in the mind of the author. He had written this epistle “to the Hebrews” who had become Christians. They had newly emerged from Judaism, a religion that was officially recognised by the Roman authorities in those days.
But now they were “babes in Christ” and they were subjected to both Roman and Jewish hostility. The great temptation was to revert back to the safety of Judaism. The epistle throughout warns against this, and of the dire consequences that apostatising from Christ would incur.
The Old Testament dispensation was now “ready to vanish away” (Hebrews 8:13; 10:5-10; see also 2 Corinthians 3:6-14). So they must grasp hold of the Gospel and never let go. The Lord Jesus Christ, the crucified Son of God—has himself fulfilled the types and shadows of the Old Testament. Outside of the Messiah there is no salvation, and there never was. All who are ever saved in this Gospel Age, and who ever were saved in earlier times, are saved by the Messiah, the Lord Jesus.
Treading Under Foot the Son of God
The epistle to the Hebrews issues a further warning against falling away from Christ in chapter 10 verses 26-31. Here believers are warned not to “sin wilfully” after having received the knowledge of the truth, i.e. the Gospel (v.26). This is the sin of intentionally treading under foot the Son of God, and counting his sanctifying blood of the covenant (i.e. the New Covenant) as an unholy thing, and doing despite to the Spirit of grace (v.29).
Such wickedness, we are warned, deserves a “much surer punishment” than the capital punishment required by the Mosaic law (v.28)—indeed an eternal punishment that would be measured out by the living God himself—his “judgment and fiery indignation” against this particular sin (verses 27,30,31).
The purpose of this epistle is to explain and contrast the superiority of Christ over Moses, Christ’s priesthood over the Levitical priesthood, his sacrifice over that of bulls and goats and other animals, his true salvation over these typological “figures” that could not save (Hebrews 9 and 10). For the author’s original intended Hebrew Christian readership to turn from the Messiah, the Saviour, means to turn away from the only sacrifice that can take away sins (this is implied in Hebrews 10:26), to turn back to the types and shadows—and to count them as the real thing instead of what Messiah (Christ) accomplished in the “sacrifice of himself” (Hebrews 9:26).
As the apostle Paul said about the dietary laws and festivals of Moses, the animal sacrifices too were a “shadow of things to come; but the body [which cast the shadow] is of Christ” (Colossians 2:17).
The Hebrews 10 warning goes further than the Hebrews 6 warning. For whereas in Hebrews 6 the author warns about “those” falling away of whom he was not persuaded that they possessed “things that accompany salvation”, here in Hebrews 10 he warns “we” (v.26)—we Christians, a category in which he includes himself. This “we” are those about whom he had written: “we are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all…Having therefore, [we] brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus” (verses 10,19).
The author holds his fellow-Christians close to his own heart, calling them his “brethren”. The warning against that sin of “willingly” turning away from the Son of God to Moses again (verses 26-29) comes after a string of exhortations to remain faithful, and to contribute toward keeping other Christians faithful: “Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith…Let us hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering…And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works: [And let us be] Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but [let us be] exhorting one another” (verses 22-25).
Let us true Christians, together, be doing all these things—these Christian things—for if we sin that sin of wilfully turning our backs on the Lord Jesus Christ, then “there remains no more sacrifice for sins, But a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation…” (v.27).
The author had repeatedly stated previously that animal sacrifices do not cleanse, do not sanctify, do not save the soul (see Hebrews 9:13; and then read through chapter 10 until this passage we are now discussing). And now he argues: why turn back from the one and only Saviour to those animal sacrifices? Why place your hope in animal blood, after coming to faith in Christ’s blood which has actually saved you?
We Are Not of Them That Draw Back
So, is it implied in Hebrews 10:26-31 that born-again Christians can lose their salvation? Are eternal security deniers correct when they point to such warnings as proof that Christians can actually apostatise from Christ? No. For the true Christians are those people who, upon reading these warnings and grasping their meaning, are stirred up to greater desire to keep close to Christ—and to repent of their lack of closeness with him.
We know well that “The Lord shall judge his people,” and that “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (v30,31).
True Christians reason these things through and, believing in this one and only actual salvation by Christ’s sacrifice, and believing that God’s judgment and fiery indignation is the final destination of every other way, therefore take such warnings as this very seriously.
The epistle’s author was persuaded that those Hebrew Christians to whom he was writing really possessed “things that accompany salvation” (Hebrews 6:9), even though he gives them such stark warnings. And now, following on from his Hebrews 10 warning, he calls them to remember how much they have already suffered in “reproaches and afflictions” for Christ, and how much they had financially and physically supported him during his imprisonment for being a preacher of the Gospel (Hebrews 10:33,34). As they look back upon their own persecutions, he reminds them that they (being Christians) certainly “know” they have an “enduring substance” awaiting them in Heaven, and that this is their “confidence” (verses 34,35).
Finally, he is himself confident enough of their salvation to embrace them all in this statement: “But we are not of them who draw back unto perdition; but of them that believe to the saving of the soul” (v.39). This confirms that the Hebrews 10 warning does not deny that God preserves his saints.
To be continued.
- The Epistle to the Hebrews does not begin with the apostle Paul’s usual introduction—“Paul…to the [Christians identified by the name of their home city or region]…”. Therefore the authorship of this epistle is open to question. There are several things that can be pointed to that may indicate that Paul wrote this epistle, e.g. the author was a well educated Jew and a brilliant theologian; there are some similarities in style; the author was (or had been) in prison and they had supported him (10:34); he was very familiar with Timothy (13:23). Also, Hebrews has always been included with the the epistles of Paul, and some of the early “Church Fathers” affirmed that he was the author. However, there are arguments against this. Perhaps the most weighty of these is that Paul was the “apostle to the gentiles” (Romans 11:13)—as though this meant he wouldn’t or shouldn’t even once have written to his own people, who were always in his heart (Romans 10:1; 11:1). Some say that Pet, the apostle to “the circumcision” (Galatians 2:7-9), is a more fitting candidate. And other early Church leaders have also been suggested. All Christians agree that this epistle has been “given by inspiration of God” (2 Timothy 3:16) and has a rightful place in the New Testament Canon. I have personally not been convinced by the arguments against Paul being the human author of Hebrews, but be that as it may, I have merely referred to “the author”, whoever he was.↩
- To partake of something means to eat it (food), or to participate in it (e.g. a study course, a parade). It is not necessarily implied that everything you partake of, you really approve of or really identify with.↩