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 20 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 sometimes 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. 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.
After this rather stern warning, our author moves onto something wonderful- see you next time!