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. 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.
About 10 years ago, I was teaching a class in a predominately Calvinist group of people. The scope of my engagement was that I would present “controversial” passages giving the various interpretations, and then let each decide their own view. In teaching this section, I presented various views and then broke down the various arguments and ended by saying “We report, you decide!”
The following week, a guy came up to me and said, “Boy Don, you really had me going last week; I had to go home and look this up in my study Bible, and then I saw the note that said that the author obviously was talking about people who weren’t really all the way saved. That was sure a clever way to get us to go deeper into the Word!” Yes, clever.
I thanked the man and told him that it was great to hear that he went deeper into the Word, and found the answer in a margin note… the irony, I’m afraid, was lost on him that day. Clearly, his margin note might reflect the way this is often explained, but it seems at odds with the text under review.
Let’s get back into context. We are in a section of warning to Christians enduring terrible persecution, not to fall away from the faith. We just covered the section referring to spiritual maturity, and now the warning gets a little pointed. It is not possible for someone who falls away from their faith in Christ to return to the faith. Now, a closer look:
It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, (6:4) This verse is a parallelism., thus “enlightened”, “the heavenly gift” and “shared in the Holy Spirit” are all referring to the same thing: receiving the gift of the indwelling Holy Spirit. Let’s be very clear and simple; it doesn’t really matter what your doctrinal position is, the only way that someone can receive the indwelling of the Holy Spirit without “really” being saved, is if they could fool God. It seems unlikely to me that this is possible. Moving on, who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age (6:5) this also provides a challenge for some, for how does an unbeliever “taste the goodness of the word of God”? The only way would be if the “Word” is something on a printed page, rather than a Person. (cf. John 1:14) Tasting the powers of the coming age…? Isn’t that the power to overcome death? (Hint: Yes) So far, the author is referring to a person who has received the indwelling of the Holy Spirit and received the gift of eternal life, and then… 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. (6:6) Here you can see that they have fallen away and would need to be brought back to repentance. Repentance is something that we do after we first believe. This person, who has received the gift of the indwelling Holy Spirit, and the gift of eternal life, would need to be brought back to repentance, so it is impossible since they would be crucifying the Lord over again and subjecting Him to public disgrace. It sure sounds to me like this person had been a “real” Christian, but they gave it all up and now can’t come back. Verses 7 and 8 use another metaphor (land) to underscore that conclusion, or at least that’s how I read it.
If you, dear reader, prefer the doctrine of eternal security, that’s OK by me, but I wouldn’t suggest this text as being one that supports it. Yes, I know there are other passages; maybe they support it better than this one.
Even though we speak like this, dear friends, we are convinced of better things in your case—the things that have to do with salvation. God is not unjust; he will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people and continue to help them. We want each of you to show this same diligence to the very end, so that what you hope for may be fully realized. We do not want you to become lazy, but to imitate those who through faith and patience inherit what has been promised.
This paragraph begins the transition into the next area of discussion in the letter, and it does so on a more optimistic note, showing the love and mercy of God. Even though our author has just delivered a very serious warning, he believes that the people who read it will heed the warning and remain faithful. Notice he says “in your case” as opposed to in every case, meaning that some others might not be so wise. Notice also that our attention is now turned to God’s mercy and forgiveness. This is a really important thing for us to bear in mind, for God is not looking for a technicality to have as an excuse to cut anybody off from relationship. He knows that we will make mistakes He knows that we will slip up, and the blood of Christ is sufficient for those cases. If we can lose our salvation, we would have to really work at it before God gave up on us; we would need to utterly reject Him and walk away, and to me, this seems like a very rare thing, as opposed to those who might have a season out in the wilderness, or benign neglect of our relationship with Him.
The whole point of the warning bears this out; God loves us, even when we aren’t doing a very good job in following Him. Yet, it is much better if we hang in there and see things through.