Calvinism and Hebrews 6:4-6 – “impossible… to restore”

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Some argue that Calvinism and Hebrews 6:4-6 are contradictory because Hebrews 6:4-6 teaches that people who have truly been saved can end up falling away and not being saved. They argue that this contradicts the Calvinist doctrines of unconditional election and perseverance of the saints. However, there is a very reasonable interpretation of Hebrews 6:4-6 that does not at all contradict the doctrines of Calvinism.

Hebrews 6:4-6 and Calvinism

4 For it is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, 5 and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, 6 and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt.

Hebrews 6:4-6

Calvinism’s Answer to Hebrews 6:4-6

Interpretation of Hebrews 6:4-6

Hebrews 6:4-6 is saying that even people who seemed to have been true believers and have externally experienced many of the benefits of salvation can still fall away from the faith. In these instances, these people were never truly saved.

John Calvin on Hebrews 6:4-6 and Calvinism

v. 4

”For it is impossible, etc.” This passage has given occasion to many to repudiate this Epistle, especially as the Novatians armed themselves with it to deny pardon to the fallen. Hence those of the Western Church, in particular, refused the authority of this Epistle, because the sect of Novatus annoyed them; and they were not sufficiently conversant in the truth so as to be equal to refute it by argument. But when the design of the Apostle is understood, it then appears evident that there is nothing here which countenances so delirious an error. Some who hold sacred the authority of the Epistle, while they attempt to dissipate this absurdity, yet do nothing but evade it. For some take “impossible” in the sense of rare or difficult, which is wholly different from its meaning. Many confine it to that repentance by which the catechumens in the ancient Church were wont to be prepared for baptism, as though indeed the Apostles prescribed fasting, or such things to the baptized. And then what great thing would the Apostle have said, by denying that repentance, the appendage of baptism, could be repeated? He threatens with the severest vengeance of God all those who would cast away the grace which had been once received; what weight would the sentence have had to shake the secure and the wavering with terror, if he only reminded them that there was no longer room for their first repentance? For this would extend to every kind of offense. What then is to be said? Since the Lord gives the hope of mercy to all without exception, it is wholly unreasonable that any one for any cause whatever should be precluded.

The knot of the question is in the word, fall away. Whosoever then understands its meaning, can easily extricate himself from every difficulty. But it must be noticed, that there is a twofold falling away, one particular, and the other general. He who has in anything, or in any ways offended, has fallen away from his state as a Christian; therefore all sins are so many fallings. But the Apostle speaks not here of theft, or perjury, or murder, or drunkenness, or adultery; but he refers to a total defection or falling away from the Gospel, when a sinner offends not God in some one thing, but entirely renounces his grace.

And that this may be better understood, let us suppose a contrast between the gifts of God, which he has mentioned, and this falling away. For he falls away who forsakes the word of God, who extinguishes its light, who deprives himself of the taste of the heavens or gift, who relinquishes the participation of the Spirit. Now this is wholly to renounce God. We now see whom he excluded from the hope of pardon, even the apostates who alienated themselves from the Gospel of Christ, which they had previously embraced, and from the grace of God; and this happens to no one but to him who sins against the Holy Spirit. For he who violates the second table of the Law, or transgresses the first through ignorance, is not guilty of this defection; nor does God surely deprive any of his grace in such a way as to leave them none remaining except the reprobate.

If any one asks why the Apostle makes mention here of such apostasy while he is addressing believers, who were far off from a perfidy so heinous; to this I answer, that the danger was pointed out by him in time, that they might be on their guard. And this ought to be observed; for when we turn aside from the right way, we not only excuse to others our vices, but we also impose on ourselves. Satan stealthily creeps on us, and by degrees allures us by clandestine arts, so that when we go astray we know not that we are going astray. Thus gradually we slide, until at length we rush headlong into ruin. We may observe this daily in many. Therefore the Apostle does not without reason forewarn all the disciples of Christ to beware in time; for a continued torpor commonly ends in lethargy, which is followed by alienation of mind.

But we must notice in passing the names by which he signalizes the knowledge of the Gospel. He calls it illumination; it hence follows that men are blind, until Christ, the light of the world, enlightens them. He calls it a tasting of the heavenly gift; intimating that the things which Christ confers on us are above nature and the world, and that they are yet tasted by faith. He calls it the participation of the Spirit; for he it is who distributes to every one, as he wills, all the light and knowledge which he can have; for without him no one can say that Jesus is the Lord, (1Co 12:3;) he opens for us the eyes of our minds, and reveals to us the secret things of God. He calls it a tasting of the good word of God; by which he means, that the will of God is therein revealed, not in any sort of way, but in such a way as sweetly to delight us; in short, by this title is pointed out the difference between the Law and the Gospel; for that has nothing but severity and condemnation, but this is a sweet testimony of God’s love and fatherly kindness towards us. And lastly, he calls it a tasting of the powers of the world to come; by which he intimates, that we are admitted by faith as it were into the kingdom of heaven, so that we see in spirit that blessed immortality which is hid from our senses.

Let us then know, that the Gospel cannot be otherwise rightly known than by the illumination of the Spirit, and that being thus drawn away from the world, we are raised up to heaven, and that knowing the goodness of God we rely on his word. But here arises a new question, how can it be that he who has once made such a progress should afterwards fall away? For God, it may be said, calls none effectually but the elect, and Paul testifies that they are really his sons who are led by his Spirit, (Rom 8:14;) and he teaches us, that it is a sure pledge of adoption when Christ makes us partakers of his Spirit. The elect are also beyond the danger of finally falling away; for the Father who gave them to be preserved by Christ his Son is greater than all, and Christ promises to watch over them all so that none may perish. To all this I answer, That God indeed favors none but the elect alone with the Spirit of regeneration, and that by this they are distinguished from the reprobate; for they are renewed after his image and receive the earnest of the Spirit in hope of the future inheritance, and by the same Spirit the Gospel is sealed in their hearts. But I cannot admit that all this is any reason why he should not grant the reprobate also some taste of his grace, why he should not irradiate their minds with some sparks of his light, why he should not give them some perception of his goodness, and in some sort engrave his word on their hearts. Otherwise, where would be the temporal faith mentioned by Mar 4:17 ? There is therefore some knowledge even in the reprobate, which afterwards vanishes away, either because it did not strike roots sufficiently deep, or because it withers, being choked up.

And by this bridle the Lord keeps us in fear and humility; and we certainly see how prone human nature is otherwise to security and foolish confidence. At the same time our solicitude ought to be such as not to disturb the peace of conscience. For the Lord strengthens faith in us, while he subdues our flesh: and hence he would have faith to remain and rest tranquilly as in a safe haven; but he exercises the flesh with various conflicts, that it may not grow wanton through idleness.

v. 6

To renew them again into repentance, etc. Though this seems hard, yet there is no reason to charge God with cruelty when any one suffers only the punishment of his own defection; nor is this inconsistent with other parts of Scripture, where God’s mercy is offered to sinners as soon as they sigh for it, (Eze 18:27;) for repentance is required, which he never truly feels who has once wholly fallen away from the Gospel; for such are deprived, as they deserve, of God’s Spirit and given up to a reprobate mind, so that being the slaves of the devil they rush headlong into destruction. Thus it happens that they cease not to add sin to sin, until being wholly hardened they despise God, or like men in despair, express madly their hatred to him. The end of all apostates is, that they are either smitten with stupor, and fear nothing, or curse God their judge, because they cannot escape from him. (99)

In short, the Apostle warns us, that repentance is not at the will of man, but that it is given by God to those only who have not wholly fallen away from the faith. It is a warning very necessary to us, lest by often delaying until tomorrow, we should alienate ourselves more and more from God. The ungodly indeed deceive themselves by such sayings as this, — that it will be sufficient for them to repent of their wicked life at their last breath. But when they come to die, the dire torments of conscience which they suffer, prove to them that the conversion of man is not an ordinary work. As then the Lord promises pardon to none but to those who repent of their iniquity, it is no wonder that they perish who either through despair or contempt, rush on in their obstinacy into destruction. But when any one rises up again after falling, we may hence conclude that he had not been guilty of defection, however grievously he may have sinned. Crucifying again, etc. He also adds this to defend God’s severity against the calumnies of men; for it would be wholly unbecoming, that God by pardoning apostates should expose his own Son to contempt. They are then wholly unworthy to obtain mercy. But the reason why he says, that Christ would thus be crucified again, is, because we die with him for the very purpose of living afterwards a new life; when therefore any return as it were unto death, they have need of another sacrifice, as we shall find in the tenth chapter. Crucifying for themselves means as far as in them lies. For this would be the case, and Christ would be slandered as it were triumphantly, were it allowed men to return to him after having fallen away and forsaken him.

(99) Some render the verb “renew” actively, in this way, — “For it is impossible as to those who have been once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and have been made partakers of holy spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the world to come, and have fallen away, to renew them again unto repentance, since they crucify again as to themselves to Son of God, and expose him to open shame.”

This is more consistent with the foregoing, for the Apostle speaks of teaching. It is as though he had said “It is impossible for us as teachers;” as they had no commission. To “renew” may be rendered to “restore.” It is only found here, but is used by the Sept. for a verb which means renewing in the sense of restoring. See Psa 103:5; Lam 5:21. Josephus applies it to the renovation or restoration of the temple. The “crucifying” was what they did by falling away; for they thereby professed that he deserved to be crucified as an imposter, and thus counted his blood, as it is said in Heb 10:29, “unholy,” as the blood of a malefactor; and they thus also exhibited him as an object of public contempt. — Ed.

John Gill on Hebrews 6:4-6 and Calvinism

v. 4

”’For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened,….”’ The Syriac and Ethiopic versions render it, “baptized”; and the word is thought to be so used in Heb 10:32. And indeed baptism was called very early “illumination” by the ancients, as by Justin Martyr ((Apolog. 2. p. 94.)), and Clemens Alexandrinus ((Paedagog. l. 1. c. 6. p. 93.)), because only enlightened persons were the proper subjects of it; and the word once here used seems to confirm this sense, since baptism, when rightly administered, was not repeated; but then this sense depends upon an use of a word, which it is not certain did as yet obtain; nor does the apostle take notice of baptism in a parallel place, Heb 10:26. This gave rise to, and seems to favour the error of Novatus, that those who fall into sin after baptism are to be cut off from the communion of the church, and never more to be restored unto it; contrary to the promises of God to returning backsliders, and contrary to facts, as well as to the directions of Christ, and his apostles, to receive and restore such persons; and such a notion tends to set aside the intercession of Christ for fallen believers, and to plunge them into despair: it is better therefore to retain the word “enlightened”, in its proper sense, and to understand it of persons enlightened with Gospel knowledge; there are some who are savingly enlightened by the Spirit of God, to see the impurity of their hearts and actions, and their impotency to perform that which is good, the imperfection of their own righteousness to justify them, their lost state and condition by nature, and to see Christ and salvation by him, and their interest in it; and these being “once” enlightened, never become darkness, or ever so fall as to perish; for if God had a mind to destroy them, he would never have shown them these things, and therefore cannot be the persons designed here; unless we render the words, as the Syriac version does, “it is impossible”—-Nwjxy bwtd, “that they should sin again”; so as to die spiritually, lose the grace of God, and stand in need of a new work upon them, which would be impossible to be done: but rather such are meant, who are so enlightened as to see the evil effects of sin, but not the evil that is in sin; to see the good things which come by Christ, but not the goodness that is in Christ; so as to reform externally, but not to be sanctified internally; to have knowledge of the Gospel doctrinally, but not experimentally; yea, to have such light into it, as to be able to preach it to others, and yet be destitute of the grace of God:

”’and have tasted of the heavenly gift;”’ either faith, or a justifying righteousness, or the pardon of sin, or eternal life; which are all spiritual and heavenly gifts of grace, and which true believers have real tastes of; and hypocrites please themselves with, having some speculative notions about them, and some desires after them, arising from a natural principle of self-love. Some think the Holy Ghost is intended; but rather Christ himself, the unspeakable gift of God’s love, given from heaven, as the bread of life. Now there are some who have a saving spiritual taste of this gift; for though God’s people, while unregenerate, have no such taste; their taste is vitiated by sin, and it is not changed; sin is the food they live upon, in which they take an imaginary pleasure, and disrelish every thing else; but when regenerated, their taste is changed, sin is rendered loathsome to them; and they have a real gust of spiritual things, and especially of Christ, and find a real delight and pleasure in feeding by faith upon him; whereby they live upon him, and are nourished up unto eternal life, and therefore cannot be the persons here spoken of: but there are others who taste, but dislike what they taste; have no true love to Christ, and faith in him; or have only a carnal taste of him, know him only after the flesh, or externally, not inwardly and experimentally; or they have only a superficial taste, such as is opposed to eating the flesh, and drinking the blood of Christ, by faith, which is proper to true believers; the gust they have is but temporary, and arises from selfish principles.

”’And were made partakers of the Holy Ghost;”’ not his person, nor his special grace; there are some who so partake of him, as to be united to him, in whom he becomes the principle of spiritual life, and motion: such have the fruits of the Spirit, and communion with him; they enjoy his personal presence and inhabitation in them; they have received him as a spirit of illumination and conviction, of regeneration and sanctification, as the spirit of faith, and as a comforter; and as a spirit of adoption, and the earnest and seal of future glory; but then such can never so fall away as to perish: a believer indeed may be without the sensible presence of the Spirit; the graces of the Spirit may be very low, as to their exercise; and they may not enjoy his comforts, gracious influences, and divine assistance; but the Spirit of God never is, in the above sense, in a castaway; where he takes up his dwelling, he never quits it; if such could perish, not only his own glory, but the glory of the Father, and of the Son, would be lost likewise: but by the Holy Ghost is sometimes meant the gifts of the Spirit, ordinary or extraordinary, 1Co 12:4 and so here; and men may be said to be partakers of the Holy Ghost, to whom he gives wisdom and prudence in things natural and civil; the knowledge of things divine and evangelical, in an external way; the power of working miracles, of prophesying, of speaking with tongues, and of the interpretation of tongues; for the extraordinary gifts of the Holy Ghost seem chiefly designed, which some, in the first times of the Gospel, were partakers of, who had no share in special grace, Mt 7:22.

v. 5

”’And have tasted the good word of God,….”’ Not the Lord Jesus Christ, the essential Word of God, who seems to be intended before by the heavenly gift; but rather, either the Scriptures of truth in general, which are the word of God, endited by him, and contain his mind and will; which he makes use of for conviction, conversion, instruction, and comfort; and which are preserved by him: and these are a good word; they come from him who is good; they are a revelation of good things; they make known things true, pleasant, and profitable: or else the Gospel in particular, of which God is the author; and in which is a wonderful display of his wisdom and grace; and which he owns and blesses for his own glory, and the good of others: and this is a “good word”, the same with דבר טוב, “good matter”, or “word”, in Ps 45:1 פתגם טובי, “my good word”, or “the word of my goodness”, in the Targum on Isa 55:11 for it is the word of righteousness, reconciliation, peace, pardon, life, and salvation. And there is a special and spiritual taste of this good, word, which is delightful, relishing, and nourishing; and such who have it can never totally and finally fall away; because they who taste it, so as to eat and digest it, and be nourished by it, to them it becomes the ingrafted word, which is able to save them: but there is such a taste of this word as is disrelishing, as in profane sinners, and open opposers and persecutors of the word, or as in hypocrites and formal professors; which is only an assent to the Scriptures, as the revelation of God, or a superficial knowledge of the doctrines of the Gospel without the experience of them, and a temporal faith in them, and a natural affection for them, and pleasure with them for a time; as the Jews, and Herod with John’s ministry, and the stony ground hearers.

”’And the powers of the world to come;”’ meaning either the state of the church, and the glorious things relating to it, after the first resurrection, which they might have some notional apprehensions of; or the ultimate state of glory and happiness, the powers of which are the immortality, incorruption, and glory of the body, the perfect holiness and knowledge of the soul, entire freedom from all evils of every kind, full communion with Father, Son, and Spirit, and a complete enjoyment of all happiness for ever; which hypocrites may have a notional knowledge of, a natural desire after, and delight in the contemplation and hope of, as Balaam had; or rather the δυναμεις, miracles and mighty works in the former part of the Gospel dispensation, or times of the Messiah, the Jews’ world to come, [See comments on Heb 2:5], are intended; which many, as Judas and others, were able to perform, who were not sincere Christians, or true believers.

v. 6

”’If they shall fall away,….”’ This is not supposed of true believers, as appears from Heb 6:9 nor is it to be supposed of them that they may fall totally and finally; they may indeed fall, not only into afflictions and temptations, but into sin; and from a lively and comfortable exercise of grace, and from a degree of steadfastness in the Gospel; but not irrecoverably: for they are held and secured by a threefold cord, which can never be broken; by God the Father, who has loved them with an everlasting love, has chosen them in Christ, secured them in the covenant of grace, keeps them by his power, has given them grace, and will give them glory; and by the Son, who has undertook for them, redeemed and purchased them, prays and makes preparations in heaven for them, they are built on him, united to him, and are his jewels, whom he will preserve; and by the Holy Ghost, whose grace is incorruptible, whose personal indwelling is for ever, who himself is the earnest and seal of the heavenly inheritance, and who having begun, will finish the good work of grace: but falling away, so as to perish, may be supposed, and is true of many professors of religion; who may fall from the profession of the Gospel they have made, and from the truth of it, and into an open denial of it; yea, into an hatred and persecution of what they once received the external knowledge of; and so shall fall short of heaven, and into condemnation: for,

”’to renew them again unto repentance,”’ is a thing impossible: by “repentance” is meant, not baptism of repentance; nor admission to a solemn form of public repentance in the church; nor a legal repentance, but an evangelical one: and so to be “renewed” unto it is not to be baptized again, or to be restored anew to the church by repentance, and absolution; but must be understood either of renovation of the soul, in order to repentance; or of the reforming of the outward conversation, as an evidence of it; or of a renewing of the exercise of the grace of repentance and to be renewed “again” to repentance does not suppose that persons may have true repentance and lose it; for though truly penitent persons may lose the exercise of this grace for a time, yet the grace itself can never be lost: moreover, these apostates before described had only a show of repentance, a counterfeit one; such as Cain, Pharaoh, and Judas had; and consequently, the renewing of them again to repentance, is to that which they only seemed to have, and to make pretensions unto; now to renew them to a true repentance, which they once made a profession of, the apostle says is a thing “impossible”: the meaning of which is not only that it is difficult; or that it is rare and unusual; or that it is unsuitable and improper; but it is absolutely impossible: it is impossible to these men to renew themselves to repentance; renovation is the work of the Holy Ghost, and not of man; and repentance is God’s gift, and not in man’s power; and it is impossible for ministers to renew them, to restore and bring them back, by true repentance; yea, it is impossible to God himself, not through any impotence in him, but from the nature of the sin these men are guilty of; for by the high, though outward attainments they arrive unto, according to the description of them, their sin is the sin against the Holy Ghost, for which no sacrifice can be offered up, and of which there is no remission, and so no repentance; for these two go together, and for which prayer is not to be made; see Mt 12:32 and chiefly because to renew such persons to repentance, is repugnant to the determined will of God, who cannot go against his own purposes and resolutions; and so the Jews ((Maimon. Hilchot. Teshuba, c. 6. sect. 3. {m} Vid. R. David Kimchi in Isa. xxii. 14.)) speak of repentance being withheld by God from Pharaoh, and, from the people of Israel; of which they understand Ex 9:16 and say, that when the holy blessed God withholds repentance from a sinner, אינו יכול לשוב, “he cannot repent”; but must die in his wickedness which he first committed of his own will; and they further observe {m}, that he that profanes the name of God has it not in his power to depend on repentance, nor can his iniquity be expiated on the day of atonement, or be removed by chastisement:

”’seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh;”’ who is truly and properly God, begotten of the Father, and of the same nature with him, in whom he greatly delights; this is Christ’s highest name and title; and it was for asserting himself to be the Son of God that he was crucified; and his being so puts an infinite virtue in his sufferings and death; and it heightens the sin of the Jews, and of these apostates, in crucifying him. He was once crucified, and it is both impossible and unnecessary that he should be, properly speaking, “crucified afresh”, or “again”; it is impossible, because he is risen from the dead, and will never die more; it is unnecessary, because he has finished and completed what he suffered the death of the cross for; but men may be said to crucify him again, when, by denying him to be the Son of God, they justify the crucifixion of him on that account; and when they lessen and vilify the virtue of his blood and sacrifice; and when both by errors and immoralities they cause him to be blasphemed, and evil spoken of; and when they persecute him in his members: and this may be said to be done “to themselves afresh”; not that Christ was crucified for them before, but that they now crucify him again, as much as in them lies; or “with themselves”, in their own breasts and minds, and to their own destruction. Now this being the case, it makes their renewal to repentance impossible; because, as before observed, the sin they commit is unpardonable; it is a denial of Christ, who gives repentance; and such who sin it must arrive to such hardness of heart as to admit of no repentance; and it is just with God to give up such to a final impenitence, as those, who knowingly and out of malice and envy crucified Christ, had neither pardon nor repentance; and besides, this sin of denying Christ to be the Son of God, and Saviour of men, after so much light and knowledge, precludes the way of salvation, unless Christ was to be crucified again, which is impossible; for so the Syriac version connects this clause with the word “impossible”, as well as a foregoing one, rendering it, “it is impossible to crucify the Son of God again, and to put him to shame”; and so the Arabic version. Christ was put to open shame at the time of his apprehension, prosecution, and crucifixion; and so he is by such apostates, who, was he on earth, would treat him in the same manner the Jews did; and who do traduce him as an impostor and a deceiver, and give the lie to his doctrines, and expose him by their lives, and persecute him in his saints.

John Piper

What is this situation where repentance is impossible? It is described like this:For in the case of those who have once been enlightened and have tasted of the heavenly gift and have been made partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, it is impossible to renew them again to repentance, since they again crucify to themselves the Son of God, and put him to open shame. (Hebrews 6:4–6)The situation is this: First, someone receives great blessings and has high religious experiences (verses 4–5). And then second, that same person falls away and, in doing so, re-crucifies the Son of God and puts him to an open shame. And then third, it is impossible to renew that person to repentance.

Let’s look at these three parts of the situation.

1. There are great blessings and high religious experiences (verses 4–5).He mentions four. First, a person may be “enlightened” (verse 4). Second, a person may have tasted the heavenly gift and become a partaker of the Holy Spirit (verse 4). The heavenly gift probably is the Holy Spirit. Third, a person may have tasted the good word of God (verse 5). And fourth, the person may have tasted the powers of the age to come (verse 5; see Hebrews 2:4).

2. In spite of all these blessings and experiences, this person then falls away (verse 6).

That is, he falls away from Christ and the Spirit and the word and the powers of the age to come. He turns his back on the worth of these great realities and goes after other things with his heart. The effect of this change is to re-crucify Christ and put him to open shame (verse 6b).

Why is that called re-crucifixion? There are at least two reasons why this kind of apostasy is re-crucifixion of Christ.

One is that Christ was crucified the first time to make his people pure and holy. That’s why he shed his blood. Hebrews 13:12 says, “Jesus also suffered outside the gate that he might sanctify the people through his own blood.” He died to sanctify us. He died to make us pure and holy and devoted to him (seeHebrews 9:14; Titus 2:14). So when we turn our backs on purity and holiness and devotion, which his cross was designed to bring about, we say yes to the impurity and worldliness and unbelief that nailed him there in the first place. Which means we crucify him again.

There is another reason this kind of falling away is a re-crucifying of Christ. When a person chooses against Christ and turns back to the way of the world and the sovereignty of his own will and the fleeting pleasures of earth, he says in effect that these are worth more than Christ is worth. They are worth more than the love of Christ and the wisdom of Christ and the power of Christ and all that God promises to be for us in Christ. And when a person says that, it is the same as saying, “I agree with the crucifiers of Jesus.” Because what could shame Christ more today than to have someone taste his goodness and wisdom and power and then say, “No, there is something better and more to be desired.” That puts him to a public shame.

It is one thing for a stranger to the faith to resist Christ. But it is another thing for a person who has been in the church and has been enlightened and tasted of the heavenly gift and become a partaker of the Holy Spirit and tasted of the good word of God and the powers of the age to come — it’s another thing for that person to say after all those blessings and all those experiences, “I think what the world offers is better than Christ.” That is a re-crucifying of Jesus and a putting him to public shame worse than any outsider could, who never tasted the truth.

3. Which leads, to the conclusion that “it is impossible to renew [such a person] again to repentance” (verse 6).

We saw an illustration of this last week from Hebrews 12:16–17. There it speaks a similar kind of warning as here:

[Let] there be no immoral or godless person like Esau, who sold his own birthright for a single meal. For you know that even afterwards, when he desired to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no place for repentance, though he sought for it with tears.

Will genuine repentance be rejected by God? Don’t make the mistake of thinking that Esau genuinely repented and was rejected by God. God does not reject genuine repentance. The text says plainly that he found no place for repentance. In other words, he couldn’t repent. He was so hardened (seeHebrews 3:8, 15; 4:7) that he cried out for things to go better in his life, but inside he would not submit to God’s terms. He was, as verse 16 says, “immoral and godless.”

Esau is an illustration of what the writer has in mind in Hebrews 6:6 when he says it is impossible to renew this person again to repentance. Here is the terrifying prospect behind all the warnings of this book not to drift but to take heed and consider Jesus and to exhort each other every day and to fear unbelief and carelessness. Why? Is anything really at stake? The prospect exists that you and I who believe we are chosen and called and justified might slide into a slow process of indifference and hardening and eventually fall away and reject Christ and put him to an open shame. We may actually come to a point where there is no return, because we have been forsaken utterly by God. That’s what the word “impossible” means in verse 6. O, how it should put you on an urgent pursuit of mercy this morning!


Now the question we all ask here is whether the person who falls away was ever truly “saved” or “justified” or “called” or “born again.” Can you taste and be a partaker of the Holy Spirit and the word of God and the powers of the age to come and not be justified? In other words, is this text teaching that you can lose your standing as a truly saved person and be lost? Or is it teaching that you can have these experiences in verses 4 and 5 and never have been saved? Both teachings are shocking and sobering. Which is true?

Without weakening the seriousness and the warning of these verses, I want to argue that it is possible to have all these blessings and all these experiences and not be justified or born again or saved. I will mention only five reasons, all of them taken from Hebrews — and there are many more outside Hebrews (Romans 8:29–39; Jude 24–25; Ephesians 1:3–14; 1 John 2:19; 1 Peter 1:5;Philippians 1:6; 2:13; 1 Corinthians 1:8–9; 1 Thessalonians 5:23–24;Ezekiel 11:19; 36:27; Deuteronomy 30:6; Jeremiah 24:7; 32:40).

1. Consider verses 7–8. Here the situation with those who fall away is put in a picture. After verse 6 says that repentance is impossible for the apostates, verses 7–8 say,

For ground that drinks the rain which often falls upon it [this drinking of frequent rains is a reference to all the blessings of verses 4–5: the light, the Spirit, the word the powers] and brings forth vegetation useful to those for whose sake it is also tilled, receives a blessing from God; but if it yields thorns and thistles, it is worthless and close to being cursed, and it ends up being burned.So the picture is not of a field that had life and vegetation and then lost it. The picture is of two different kinds of fields — one is fruitful and blessed; the other is barren and cursed. I think the point is this: If we have sat in church with the light and the Spirit and the word and the work of God coming to us and blessing us and even shaping us in some degree, but then turn our back on it, we are like a field without vegetation and will come into judgment. The rain we have drunk (light, Spirit, word, powers) produced no life in the field.

2. Consider verse 9. After holding out the real possibility that some in the church might commit apostasy, he says,

But, beloved, we are convinced of better things concerning you, and things that accompany salvation, though we are speaking in this way.The key phrase is “things that accompany salvation.” The “better things” that he is confident about are things that always go with salvation (literally, are possessed by salvation). They belong to salvation. So what he is saying is that he believes they really are “saved” and that therefore they will not commit apostasy and be a barren field. They will bear fruit. They will not fall away. The phrase “things that accompany salvation” shows that the writer really believes that they have salvation and therefore will have the things that always accompany salvation: persevering faith and fruitfulness. He does not believe that fruitlessness and apostasy accompany salvation. Better things do.

3. Consider Hebrews 3:14 (and 3:6).

We have become partakers of Christ, if we hold fast the beginning of our assurance firm until the end.

The key point here is the tense of the verb, “we have become partakers of Christ.” Not we “will become partakers” and not “we are now partakers,” but “we have become partakers of Christ — if we hold fast our assurance.” In other words, perseverance in faith proves that you became a partaker in Christ. Which means that if you do not persevere in faith, it does not show that you fall out of partaking in Christ, but that you never became a partaker in Christ. If we hold fast to our assurance, we have become partakers of Christ; and if we do not hold fast, but commit apostasy (as Hebrews 6:6 describes), then we have not become partakers of Christ. (The same argument holds for the tense of the verb in Hebrews 3:6.) Therefore, it seems clear that this writer does not believe you can be in Christ and then out again.

4. Consider Hebrews 10:14.

By one offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified [present tense, ongoing action].

If Hebrews 6:6 meant that you could be justified by the blood of Christ and then lose that standing with God, this verse would seem to have no meaning. It says that, for those who are now being sanctified (that is, who are now indwelt by the Spirit and born of God and are growing in holiness by faith), the offering of Christ on the cross has perfected that person for all time. For all time! In other words, to become a beneficiary of the perfecting, justifying work of Christ on the cross is to be perfected in the sight of God forever. This reality suggests that Hebrews 6:6 does not mean that those who re-crucify Christ were once really justified by the blood of Jesus and were really being sanctified in an inward spiritual sense.

5. Consider Hebrews 13:20–21.

Now the God of peace, who brought up from the dead the great shepherd of the sheep through the blood of the eternal covenant, even Jesus our Lord, equip you in every good thing to do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen.

Verse 20 speaks of an eternal covenant sealed by the blood of Jesus. That is the new covenant which this book has made much of in chapters 8 and 9. The new covenant is the promise that God will put a new heart in us and cause us to walk in his ways and not turn away from doing us good (Ezekiel 11:19; 36:27;Jeremiah 24:7; 32:40). So in verse 21 he says that it is not finally dependent on us whether we persevere in faith and bear fruit. It is finally dependent on God: He is working in us that which is pleasing in his sight. He is fulfilling the new covenant promise to preserve us.

This truth means that Hebrews 6:6 would contradict the new covenant if it meant that people could be truly justified members of the new covenant and then commit apostasy and be rejected. That would mean that God did not fulfill his promise to “work in them what is pleasing in his sight.” He would have broken his new covenant promise.

For these five reasons I conclude that, if a person falls away and re-crucifies the Son of God, he has never been justified. His faith was not a saving faith.


I’ll be very personal, to give it it’s sharpest point. If in the coming years I commit apostasy and fall away from Christ, it will not be because I have not tasted of the word of God and the Spirit of God and the miracles of God. I have drunk of his word. The Spirit has touched me. I have seen his miracles and I have been his instrument for a few.

But if, over the next ten or twenty years, John Piper begins to cool off spiritually and lose interest in spiritual things and become more fascinated with making money and writing Christless books — if I buy the lie that a new wife would be exhilarating and that the children can fend for themselves and that the church of Christ is a drag and that the incarnation is a myth and that there is one life to live, so let us eat, drink, and be merry — if that happens, then know that the truth is this: John Piper was mightily deceived in the first fifty years of his life.

His faith was an alien vestige of his father’s joy. His fidelity to his wife was a temporary passion and compliance with social pressure. His fatherhood was the outworking of natural instincts. His preaching was driven by the love of words and crowds. His writing was a love affair with fame. And his praying was the deepest delusion of all — an attempt to get God to supply the resources of his vanity.If this possibility does not make me serious and vigilant in the pursuit of everlasting joy, what will?

The practical conclusion of this awesome truth is given in next week’s text. In the meantime, I pray that you will not be glib, but serious, about whether Christ is your highest joy. If you really bank your hope on him and in him, he will not let you go.

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