Soteriology 43, Hebrews 6:4-6
January 8, 2017
If you need a handout just put your hand up. The other thing that we have is the paper that I wrote, that should be back there. The paper that I wrote actually is posted on our website, in case you want that. To be up to speed you should have two documents; the handout for today and also the paper.
Let’s open our Bibles to the book of Hebrews, chapter 6, verses 4-6. It’s been two weeks since we were studying this so most of you probably don’t remember what it is we’re studying. We’re studying the doctrine of eternal security, and I’m basically trying to show us how to interpret probably one of the most difficult passages in the Bible, that is quoted all of the time in the eternal security debate. It’s Hebrews 6:4-6 and I’m hoping to finish this today, at least Hebrews 6. It says, “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,” oh-oh, “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.”
So many, many people use this passage to say that you could be saved, and it looks like these people are saved, and then fall away from salvation, and then once you fall away from salvation you can never be saved again. That’s the way the verse reads, right, at first glance. In reality there are probably four different views on how to interpret this and what I’ve been kind of working us through is view number 4 and I’m going to cycle back today and show you the prior three views. But this is basically what’s called the loss of blessings view. Do you remember this at all?
And does anybody recall the paradigm that the book presents for properly interpreting the passage? The Kadesh Barnea generation, which is recorded in Numbers 13 and 14. And we think this is the proper paradigm because back in Hebrews 3:7-11 the author of Hebrews refers to that generation. So it’s basically the generation that came out of Egypt after 400 years of slavery, that received the Law of God at Sinai, and then they got to the southern border of Israel and what did they see in the land there? Giants, and they lapsed into unbelief and God says every one of you now, except for two of you, Joshua and Caleb, are going to die in the wilderness.
So the author of Hebrews uses that backdrop to explain the predicament that the Hebrews are in, in the New Testament, because these are people that are basically acquiescing to persecution. And they’re basically wanting to retreat back to the Mosaic Law and the institutions of Judaism to avoid the heavy hand of persecution. The heavy hand of persecution is basically coming against them from unbelieving Jews. So just as the Kadesh Barnea generation failed the author of Hebrews is saying you all are about to fail as well if you don’t reverse course. So the better you understand what happened at Kadesh Barnea the better you understand what’s happening in Hebrews. You guys following me on that?
So our outline is, point number 1, and Roman numeral II, we’re just making two points about each group, the Old Testament group and the New Testament group. And the two things are (a) both groups are believers, there’s very little doubt when you get into the particulars that both these groups are regenerated saved people. But both, the Kadesh Barnea generation threw away a blessing, not heaven, but a blessing they could have had and the author of Hebrews is saying you all are about to do the same thing.
So in that vein we looked at the believing status, didn’t we, of the Kadesh Barnea generation; didn’t we see a lot of proof from the Old Testament, not the least of which is what did they say after they got to the other side of the Red Sea? Moses says of them they believed in the Lord, which is the same Hebrew construction you find where? Abraham, Genesis 15:6. [Genesis 15:6, “Then he believed in the LORD; and He reckoned it to him as righteousness.”] Genesis 15:6 is huge on the doctrine of salvation, that’s the verse Paul appealed to all the time, to teach salvation by faith alone. And I have this quote from Ron Allen who is the first guy to really bring this to my attention, a Hebrew scholar. And it’s not just the Old Testament, it’s the New Testament that tells us that the Kadesh Barnea generation was saved because these folks are in the fall of faith, Hebrews 11.
So we sort of finished that discussion and then I said let’s just make the same two points with the audience of Hebrews. Number 1, the audience of Hebrews, just like the Kadesh Barnea generation, is regenerated and saved. And so we tried to establish that by looking first of all at the extended context. I showed you multiple verses, going all the way back to chapter 1 of Hebrews, indicating these people are saved. They’re called “holy brethren” and all of these expressions are used of them. Never once are they told to believe in Jesus to be saved, which you would expect if the author thought there were any unsaved people in the group.
And from there we went to the context right before the troubling passage, Hebrews 6:4-6, and when you go back to the passages right before Hebrews 6:4-6 to me it’s almost unassailable that these people are saved. Remember Hebrews 5:11-14, he says you need to mature, not to be saved. [Hebrews 5:11-14, “Concerning him we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing.  For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you have need again for someone to teach you the elementary principles of the oracles of God, and you have come to need milk and not solid food.  For everyone who partakes only of milk is not accustomed to the word of righteousness, for he is an infant.  But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil.”]
You’re infants, which could only apply to a saved person. You ought to be a teacher by now. Would the author ever say that to an unsaved person? That doesn’t make a lot of sense, does it? They have the capacity for milk but they need what? To grow to the point where they can digest meat. You’ve become dull of hearing, he doesn’t say you are incapable of hearing but you’re “dull.” That seems to describe a saved person. And these people have the potential of having their senses trained to discern good and evil.
Then from there I said let’s look at the paragraph right before Hebrews 6:4-6 and we said that the word “therefore” connects that paragraph with what precedes it. So whatever conclusion you’re reaching with Hebrews 5 you’ve got to reach that with Hebrews 6 because all of these paragraphs in Hebrews are lexically connected to each other. And this is where he tells these people that they need to press on to maturity. The author uses the words “us” and “we” to describe their predicament. So the author is, in essence, saying that he’s in the same boat that they’re in spiritually. They already have faith towards God and they need to leave beside the elementary things of spirituality, which apparently they already had. So do these people look saved or unsaved? They look saved to me.
And then I said okay, now we can go into the belly of the beast and look at Hebrews 6:4-6. And see, this is the analysis that you’re not getting many times; people, to prove a point are throwing a set of verses at you but they’re not connecting the dots for you. If I were to get up here and just toss Hebrews 6:4-6 into your lap with no background you would probably leave here thinking you could lose your salvation as well. So that’s why contextual Bible study becomes such a big deal.
You notice the word “for,” remember we made that case, the word “for” in verse 4 that connects verse 4 back to verse 3. So whatever your conclusion about verses 1-3 you have to reach about verses 4-6. And by the way, how do we interpret words in Hebrews 6:4-6, tasted, partakers? What strategy shall we use? Shall we run off to every other book in the Bible to help us understand this? No, the first order of business is to ask yourself how does the author use the same word in the same book. And many theologians will give you every other verse in the Bible, or every other time the word is used in the Bible without referencing the same book. But as you study these terms in the same book, and how the author uses the same words in the same book, which is how you always start a word study; to figure out what a word means you always start with the immediate context. And if the immediate context doesn’t give you a clue you move out to the same book; how is the word used in the same book? And then if a writer wrote another book, like Paul wrote 13, let’s look at how that same word is used in Paul’s 13 other books. And then from there let’s go to other New Testament writers who are talking on the same subject. And then after that we’ll look at the rest of the New Testament.
And see what’s happening is in this debate people aren’t starting you in the center circle; they’re immediately pushing you into the outer circle because many times they have a theological agenda. So this is just a basic rule of Bible study interpretation.
So when we examine these terms in the same book, to my mind it becomes overwhelming that these people are saved. They’re called enlightened and when you study Hebrews 10:32-34, same author, same book, you’ll see very clearly that “enlightened” means a saved person. [Hebrews 10:32-34, “But remember the former days, when, after being enlightened, you endured a great conflict of sufferings,  partly by being made a public spectacle through reproaches and tribulations, and partly by becoming sharers with those who were so treated.  For you showed sympathy to the prisoners and accepted joyfully the seizure of your property, knowing that you have for yourselves a better possession and a lasting one.”]
It says they “tasted of the heavenly gift.” Now a lot of people will run to every verse in the Bible, like Jesus tasting sour wine, so they’ll say look, He just tasted it, He didn’t really swallow, it was just a sampling, not a whole experience. But when you go to Hebrews 2:9 “tasted” is used of Christ’s death which is speaking of a full experience. “Partakers of the Holy Spirit,” we tracked the word metechó, partnership, through Hebrews and it always refers to saved, regenerated people. We did the same thing with “tasted of the Word of God,” “tasted of the powers of the age to come.”
So even Reformed people acknowledge that the most immediate impulse would be to interpret that this cluster of statements, as describing regenerate persons. But you see, they don’t come to that conclusion because it conflicts with their theological agenda that they’re trying to push. See that? But you when you read these guys they come out and they say well, you know, if I didn’t have my theology I guess I would interpret these as saved people. I think systematic theology is a wonderful discipline, I really do. I spent a lot of my life studying systematic theology but the bottom line is your theology, whatever it is, is only as good as the text it’s found in. If there’s not textual support for your theological belief, whatever it may be, it’s time to readjust your theology. And the power of pride and human will is so strong that once people buy into a theological system the temptation is to try to make the text fit your theology. And I think that’s largely what’s going on here.
It’s like talking to somebody that’s involved in forensics, or criminal investigation work, or a police officer, and if you talk to someone who’s really good at that kind of thing, because nobody was there at the crime scene, nobody saw it, you have to piece together what happened through evidence that you have. Someone that’s really on the ball in terms of criminal investigation will tell you that we try not to develop a theory on who the bad guy is too fast because the temptation is to fall in love with your theory and then to make the evidence fit your theory. And you don’t want to do that, you want to remain objective and neutral as much as you can and try to let your theory be built from the what? Evidence.
But see, this is a little game that’s going on all the time in theological circles, is people are in love with an idea and this is why the book of Colossians warns us not to be hoodwinked by human philosophy. So once you fall in love with an idea you’re going to try to come to the Bible and make it fit your idea. And that’s what I think these systems that I’ve been talking about, Calvinism, Arminianism, basically are doing.
People say well, doesn’t the word repentance mean an unbeliever? No, because a believer needs to repent also right? Did you guys commit any sins this week as believers? Well, you’re committing one right now, lying, because you’re not raising your hand. So we all need to repent, we step out of line constantly and God convicts us, doesn’t He. So repentance applies to a believer. “Fallen away” doesn’t mean fallen away from salvation, it means fallen away from maturity, fallen away from growth, fallen away from fellowship.
And then after we went through Hebrews 6:4-6 I said well now let’s look at the subsequent context. So that’s where we found ourselves. Remember Hebrews 6:7-12, what does it say here? “For ground that drinks the rain which often falls on it 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.  But, beloved, we are convinced of better things concerning you, and things that accompany salvation, though we are speaking in this way.  For God is not unjust so as to forget your work and the love which you have shown toward His name, in having ministered and in still ministering to the saints.  And we desire that each one of you show the same diligence so as to realize the full assurance of hope until the end,  so that you will not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises.”
So the introductory word “for” connects verse 7 back to verse 6. So your conclusion with verses 7-12 is obviously going to influence your conclusion about Hebrews 6:4-6. I showed you the word “drink” and how… now the author doesn’t use this word in the same book, it’s the verb pino, and I showed you in John 4 how that’s used, in John 7, to describe salvation. People say well how could these people be saved, there’s “thorns and thistles” as well as a blessing. Well, these people are called what? The Hebrews, which means they’re what? Jewish, so they would understand the Kadesh Barnea paradigm, wouldn’t they, how the Kadesh Barnea generation came out of Egypt, they crossed the Red Sea, the believed in the Lord, and as saved people God gave them the what at Sinai? The Mosaic Covenant, which has in it blessings for obedience and what? Curses for disobedience. See, this is how a Jewish mind would understand how the concept of a curse could apply to a saved person. See that? I showed you the word “beloved,” how when that word is not used of the Trinity, I think it’s used about 60 times, it’s always used of a Christian, no questions asked. And then the writer wants people to imitate these folks, which would be a very strange thing to say if these people aren’t saved.
Now this is where we left off last time so I think on the packet of notes I gave you, I think it’s page 12 (if your numbering system is the same as mine) and it would be the second slide. I’m not sure if my numbering system is the same as yours.
So let me give you some reasons why people think Hebrews 6:7-12 refers to unsaved people and let me give you a brief response. First of all, you’ll notice this word “thorns and thistles.” People say a believer can’t bear thorns and thistles in their life, only vegetation. The NIV, which is a paraphrase, completely messes this verse up. This is why people are so confused on this, because a lot of people are what I like to call NIV positive, they’re reading the NIV all the time… which is not a bad… you know, if you just want a devotional ditty for the day it’s not a bad translation, but it doesn’t help you too much with the in-depth verse by verse kind of teaching we’re doing here, and it gives you the impression that there’s two lands here because this is the illustration that the author uses for his thoughts; in Hebrews 6:4-6 he uses the illustration of land. And verse 7 mentions land, and verse 8 mentions land. [Hebrews 6:7, “For ground that drinks the rain which often falls on it 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.”] And so the NIV gives you the impression the good land that bears vegetation is the believer, the bad land that brings forth thorns and thistles is the unbeliever. People think there’s two lands there, and I can assure you in the Greek text and the NASB and the KJV do a better job here, the word “land” only shows up once in verse 7; there are not two lands. There is one land.
So what about this business of thorns and thistles? Could a believer actually bear both vegetation and thorns and thistles? And the answer is yes, and in fact, that’s the predicament that the Hebrews are in. There’s some negative things happening because these people are not growing to a maturity the way they should, Hebrews 5:11-14, but at the same time there’s some good things happening. That’s why the writer says, chapter 6, verse 9, “we are convinced of better things concerning you.” And in fact, almost every biblical character you study you’ll see good things and bad things in their life. Abraham, I can show you good things and bad things. Moses, I can show you good things and bad things. Solomon, David, I can show you good things and bad things. The only two characters I know of in the Bible where almost nothing negative is said (other than Christ of course) would be Joseph and Daniel. Every other character of the Bible there’s some major flaw in their walk with the Lord as they’re saved persons. And if you’re honest with yourself and look at your own life you’ll see the same pattern; you’ll see God doing some neat things but then you’ll see a few thorns and thistles there, and you say Lord, help me with this. So thorns and thistles in and of itself does not disqualify this from being saved people.
Now what bothers people is this word “worthless,” I mean, how could the word “worthless” be applied to a saved person? The Greek word there is adokimos, and it doesn’t mean rejected, it means disapproved. And Paul applied the word potentially to himself. Was Paul saved? I hope so, good grief. He takes that same word, adokimos, translated “worthless” and applies it to himself as possibly forfeiting a reward at the Bema Seat. So he says, “but I discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified,” adokimos, the exact same word, “from the prize.” So the word “worthless” in and of itself does not automatically disqualify these folks from being saved.
Now what about this word “cursed.” That bothers people, how could God call a saved person “cursed,” and people automatically go back to Genesis 3, the curse that God put upon the woman and the man and the ground following the fall of man. But didn’t we just study a second ago how “cursed” could apply to a saved person? Those coming out of Egypt were regenerated, we made that case (hopefully), they were brought to Sinai and received the Law as saved people.
It’s so important to understand, the Law of God, and if you don’t get this down you’ll be confused about it your whole life, the Law of God was not given to redeem a people, it was given to a redeemed people. The Law of God was given to a nation that was already regenerated. The Law of God was never given to the nation to justify the nation; it was to help the nation, as God’s special nation, grow in the middle tense of their salvation, something we call progressive sanctification.
So they are regenerated, Exodus 14:31, but they don’t receive the law until two months later. ]Exodus 14:31, “When Israel saw the great power which the LORD had used against the Egyptians, the people feared the LORD, and they believed in the LORD and in His servant Moses.”] There’s a two month difference between those first two circles in Goshen, when they put the blood on the doorpost, and I think were probably redeemed at that point in Passover. And two months later, and I get that “two months” figure from Exodus 19:1, they received the Law two months later. [Exodus 19:1, “In the third month after the sons of Israel had gone out of the land of Egypt, on that very day they came into the wilderness of Sinai.”]
The Pharisees come along and they take the Law and they make it an instrument of salvation. To make the Law an instrument of salvation is to ignore the chronology here, of the Old Testament. The Law was never given to redeem a people; it was given to a redeemed people. And the Law, as we have talked about, had built into it blessings and curses. That’s how curse can apply to a saved person. Now as Gentiles it’s hard for us to understand because we don’t have all this Old Testament background but this book was written to the Hebrews; they understand this background.
Now here’s the one that really bothers people, is this word “burned.” I mean, that’s got to be hell, doesn’t it? And this is what Calvinists do and Arminians both, every time they see the word “burn” they think it talks about hell because in this analogy of the field it says, “but if it yields thorns and thistles it is worthless and close to being cursed, and it ends up being burned.” [Hebrews 6:8] You have to transport yourself back into the first century and I actually received an e-mail from somebody when they heard me say this, and they say it’s true in this century with farming. Why do you set a field on fire? You don’t set a field on fire to destroy the field; you set a field on fire to make it more productive.
Now here we are in the 21st century, I know nothing about farming growing up in the city, so we’re divorced from agrarian principles but a first century audience would connect the dots. So Zane Hodges, in The Bible Knowledge Commentary, who wrote the Hebrew section, says: “Naturally the reference to ‘burned’ has caused many to think of hell, but there is nothing in the text to suggest this…to think of hell here is to betray inattention to the imagery employed by the author. The burning of a field to destroy the rank growth it had produced was a practice known in ancient times. Its aim was not the destruction of the field itself (which, of course, the fire could not effect), but the destruction of the unwanted produce of the field. Thereafter the field might be serviceable for cultivation.” [Zane Hodges, “Hebrews,” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary, ed. John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck (Wheaton: Victor, 1983), 795-96.]
Now here is Elder Pliny and this is a Greco-Roman source, going back to biblical times, A.D. 112, very close to when this book was written, within four centuries or so, three centuries maybe, Elder Pliny furnishes an extra biblical evidence of this practice when he says, “…some people also…” this is a quote from his own writings, “…some people also set fire to the stubble in the field…their chief reason, however, for this plan is to burn up the seed of weeds.” [Elder Pliny, Natural History, 18:72:300] So you put a field aflame to make it more productive.
Let me give you two other references where burning does not refer to hell. Remember the Judgment Seat of Rewards? What is God going to do with our works? 1 Corinthians 3:15, put them through a fire. [1 Corinthians 3:15, “If any man’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.”] See, there’s an example where fire tests the quality of the work but it does not apply to the believer. We don’t go through a fire, our works go through a fire to ascertain their quality and whatever remains after the fire finishes its job is part of the rewards we receive above and beyond salvation, 1 Corinthians 3:15.
The other verse I’ll give you is 1 Peter verses 6 and 7 where Peter refers to the trials that we’re going through now as the refiner’s what? Fire; a refiner’s fire has no capacity for destruction of the metal. What does it do with the metal? Purification. [1 Peter 1:6-7, “In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials,  so that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ;”]
So generally fire in the Bible means hell but not every single time. Do you follow me on that? Now how would I determine if fire in the Bible means hell or something else? What’s the dead giveaway? Context, which is the three rules of Bible study interpretation: context, context, context. Which is what I’m trying to drive us back to as we look at a complex passage.
So I’ve tried to make the case in the extended context… let me give you this, one other thing related to burning. Sometimes God’s anger burns against His own people and you see that in Isaiah 9:18-19 and Isaiah 10:17. [Isaiah 9:18, “For wickedness burns like a fire; It consumes briars and thorns; It even sets the thickets of the forest aflame And they roll upward in a column of smoke.” Isaiah 10:17, “And the light of Israel will become a fire and his Holy One a flame, And it will burn and devour his thorns and his briars in a single day.”] I’m giving you examples where burning or fire doesn’t always mean hell. So the reference to being burned in this passage does not in and of itself disqualify these people from being believers.
So what I’ve done, and even if you don’t agree with my conclusions you’re seeing the method, right? Because you’re going to be reading the Bible as God’s people and you have to apply this method of anchoring things in context, trying to figure out what is being said and then coming to your theological conclusion, whatever that may be, after context has been examined. So we’ve looked at extended context, preceding context, immediate context, subsequent context and we have concluded that the Hebrews were believers. That’s my conclusion.
But like the Kadesh Barnea generation these people were on the precipice of losing something. See, both audiences are regenerated but the similarities don’t stop there; both of them… Kadesh Barnea they threw away something they could have had, and the Hebrews generation is about to do the exact same thing. So what is the blessing that the Hebrews are about to throw away? If you go back to chapter 5, verses 11-14 and you go all the way through chapter 6, verse 3 what you discover is the author wants these people to what? To mature, to grow up; by this time some of you ought to be teachers. But if they reject the full revelation of Christ, because they’re afraid of persecution from the unbelieving Jews, and leave New Testament revelation and retreat back to the institutions of Judaism, which are mere shadows of what’s to come, you’re leaving the reality and going back to the shadow and that shadow cannot bring you into maturity. It’s only as you avail yourself to New Testament revelation, particularly the 13 letters of Paul, (everything in the New Testament for that matter) can you grow.
And so I know there’s a big emphasis today on get back to the institutions of Judaism, let’s respect the feast days and the holidays and I’m sort of in favor of that; I think it’s a healthy thing to understand the Jewish background of Christianity. The problem I’m having with a lot of people that are arguing that today is they’re leaving people there and they know all this stuff about the feasts and all these things but they don’t know anything about New Testament revelation. And if you’re retreating to some Old Testament ritual, which was good because God gave it, but it’s just a shadow, that ritual in and of itself cannot help you to grow as a Christian. And so that’s why these people, their growth is stagnated or potentially stagnated.
This is Paul’s whole point in Galatians 3 and 4 when he says the Law of Moses to the New Testament church cannot bring you into maturity. Just like the Kadesh Barnea generation forfeited a blessing of Canaan, you go back to the institutions of Judaism just to avoid persecution, you’re forfeiting a blessing to; you’re going to be stuck at a level of immaturity. And if I’m reading this right you’re not going to be able to get out of. That’s the warning. The warning here is not that you’re going to hell; the warning here is your growth is going to be stunted.
And when you look at Hebrews 6:6 it says it will be impossible to renew you again unto repentance. [Hebrews 6:6, “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.”]
Now this word, adjective “impossible” adunatos does not mean hard or difficult. It means what it says in English, “impossible.” How do I know that? Because that’s how the writer uses the same word in the same book. Doesn’t he say in Hebrews 11:6, “without faith it is” what? “impossible to please God.” [Hebrews 11:6, “And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him.”] Doesn’t he say in Hebrews 10:4, “For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sin.” Now impossible for who? Not God, because is there anything impossible for God? No, there’s not. Genesis 18:14 says, “Is anything too difficult for the LORD?” Answer: NO.
But you see, what’s happening is these people in the New Testament, these Hebrew Christians are meeting in small groups. How do I know that? Because Paul… well, we don’t know if Paul wrote the book of Hebrews but whoever wrote it says, Hebrews 3:13, “But encourage one another day after day….” Hebrews 10:25 says, “not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some….” So what’s keeping you encouraged and not drifting back into Judaism to avoid persecution is you guys are meeting together, you’re stimulating one another unto good works, and you’re fortifying each other. So that’s your biblical basis for having a church to attend, or a small group or something because…you know, when you put out a fire, after you’re finished camping the easiest way to make the fire go out is to separate the coals, right? Because when they’re separated they go out faster.
This is why it’s such a war to get here on Sunday morning; you get in the car to come here on Sunday morning and all hell is breaking loose, the kids are screaming and crying, you’re late, you’re upset because you spilled coffee all over your new jacket, whatever the case maybe. Oh, just sleep in, watch it on the internet… I was once a church attendee myself. I have to show up because I get paid to show up. Howard Hendricks said I get paid to be good, the rest of you are good for nothing. So I have an additional inducement. But the fact of the matter is the devil wants to put every cloud in your mind as to why you shouldn’t come because he knows what you need that given Sunday and he wants to keep you depressed and discouraged all week, and ineffective.
So these people are meeting in these groups and what he’s saying is, when he uses this word “impossible” he’s saying if you go back to Judaism it’s not going to be impossible for God to pull you out, but you’re going to reach a point where your small group that you’re meeting in is not going to be able to help you anymore. There reaches a point where you cross a line and unless God Himself does a miracle man can’t help you; you’re going to be stuck in the old system; you’re going to be stuck at a level of growth and you’re basically going to be stunted there the rest of your life.
I think that’s the warning that he’s giving, and he’s saying just like the Kadesh Barnea generation threw away Canaan but still went to heaven, you’re going to throw away maturity although your salvation is secure. Now had the Hebrews generation crossed the line yet? What do you think? They hadn’t because the writer says, “But beloved, we are convinced of better things concerning you.” You’re approaching the line, like the Kadesh Barnea group did, but you haven’t crossed the point of impossibility; you haven’t crossed the point of no return. So they still had hope, they had not crossed the line as the Exodus generation had done; they’re rapidly approaching the line and the writer is warning them before it’s too late, and he’s using Kadesh Barnea as an example.
And so what I have given you is what I think is the right interpretation of Hebrews 6:4-6. Now as promised I’m going to cycle back and give you what I would consider the three wrong interpretations of this. So now that you know what I think is the right one I want to balance the wrong ones in comparison to the truth that you now know. See that?
The dominant view out there, that has the most press coverage for some reason, this is the only view I knew for years and years, is what’s called the view of Calvinism or the view of Reformed Theology. And what it’s saying is the warnings are addressed to unbelievers in the flock. So he’s talking to believers, believers, believers, but then he kind of thinks, you know, some unsaved people might be in here so I’ll target this warning to unsaved people. So what they want you to believe is this warning is addressed to people who are externally affiliated with Christ; they are professors of Christ but they’re not true possessors, kind of like Judas, people that got around Christ but never really believed in Christ.
John MacArthur is probably the loudest voice on this view and this is something he says. He says, “Does Hebrews 6:4-6 teach that a true believer can lose his salvation? No,” I agree with him there, “in that passage the writer of Hebrews is speaking to the unsaved.” See that? Every time he gets to a warning passage he says oh, those are just unsaved people, it’s speaking to the unsaved who have heard the truth and acknowledge it but who hesitated to embrace Christ. The Holy Spirit warns them, ‘you had better come to Christ now for if you fall away it will be impossible to come again to the point of repentance.’ They were at the best point for repentance-full knowledge, to fall from that which would be fatal.” So the warning is aimed at unsaved within a largely believing flock.
Does that really add up? Well, remember the word “enlightened?” When the Reformed camp interprets the word “enlightened” they want it to mean convicted, enlightened in terms of conviction but not a believer yet. How do we discover what the word “enlightened” means? How does the same writer in the same book use the same word? I showed you Hebrews 10:32-34 where there’s no doubt that “enlightened” means a saved person. And then you notice that it doesn’t just say “enlightened,” it says “they’ve once been enlightened.” See, everybody misses that word, hapax, it’s a onetime thing that happened. This is not the Holy Spirit gradually knocking on someone’s door to convert them; this is somebody that has once and for all been ushered into spiritual life.
How about this word “tasted”? How does the Reformed camp interpret the word “tasted”? Anybody remember? It’s a sampling, like Judas, they kind of licked the lollipop but never swallowed. How do we interpret words? How does the writer use the same word in the same book? You go back to Hebrews 2:9 what does “tasted” mean? [Hebrews 2:9, “But we do see Him who was made for a little while lower than the angels, namely, Jesus, because of the suffering of death crowned with glory and honor, so that by the grace of God He might taste death for everyone.”] It’s talking about the death of Christ which is a what? Full experience.
So what is happening is people want to take you to passages like Matthew 27:34, John 2:9, passages like that, Jesus tasted sour wine. And it’s true, it’s the same word but that’s not how the writer uses that word in the same book. And certainly the word “once” one time, hapax, wouldn’t apply to that circumstance either. [Matthew 27:34, “they gave Him wine to drink mixed with gall; and after tasting it, He was unwilling to drink.” John 2:9, “When the headwaiter tasted the water which had become wine, and did not know where it came from (but the servants who had drawn the water knew), the headwaiter called the bridegroom,”]
So Albert Barnes says this concerning the Reformed interpretation: “…and it seems plain to me, that no other interpretation would ever have been thought of, if this view” that’s the rewards view, “had not seemed to conflict with the doctrine of the ‘perseverance of the” what? “perseverance of the saints.’” [Albert Barnes, Notes, Explanatory and Practical, on the Epistle to the Hebrews (New York: Harper and Brothers Publishers, 1854), 134.]
If you fall in love with Calvinistic theology what you believe is faith is a gift and proof that you have received that gift is you will always, with very few exceptions, persevere in good works. So that’s where you get into fruit inspecting of yourself and other people to see if you’re really one of the elect. If you’ve already fallen in love with that philosophy what is your temptation to do as an interpreter when you come to Hebrews 6:4-6? Oh, we’ll just make that apply to unbelievers. But see, that’s a case where you’re trying to force the Bible into your manmade theological system (do you follow?) rather than building your theological system from the Bible. And I think that’s largely what’s happening with Reformed theology.
Zane Hodges, in The Bible Knowledge Commentary says, ““The assertion that such a failure is not possible for a regenerate person is a” what kind of proposition? “theological proposition which is not supported by the New Testament…’” [Zane Hodges, “Hebrews,” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary, ed. John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck (Wheaton: Victor, 1983), 795.]
What is a “theological proposition”? It’s an overarching belief you have about God. Your overarching belief that you have about God is only as good as the text it’s found in. If you have a belief about God that cannot be defended from the text then get rid of your theological belief and readjust it. But see, people don’t want to do that. They want to make the Bible fit their system. It’s like that commercial where that guy… it’s a long time ago, but that guy goes in to get his mechanical work done, I think it actually was an elderly lade and she needed something in her car that obviously wouldn’t fit, and the mechanic holds up a wrench and says “we’ll make it fit.” And a lot of people are like that, you know, I’m going to make it fit! I’m not going to give up my belief system. And that’s a lack of humility.
Beloved, I have taught things in my life that are wrong; I’ve believed things in my life that were wrong. It’s part of the growing process. And if I’m not willing to get before the Lord and say I had it wrong, how do I grow. And, you know, a lot of times people in these theological conflicts are just not willing to do that. So I think that’s what’s happening with this word “tasted.”
Some people say well, you know, Hebrews 6:4-6 is pretty convincing but you know, it doesn’t mention a broken and contrite heart. Well, that’s what you call an argument from silence; you don’t evaluate a passage by what’s not there, you evaluate a passage by what’s there. If I’m going to figure out whether people are saved based on what a passage doesn’t say I couldn’t conclude (based on that standard) that the Corinthians were saved because Paul never says they had a broken and contrite heart. So be careful about presuppositions. This is why I think the Reformed view doesn’t work.
Now what about the Arminian view. By the way, it also ignores the Kadesh Barnea paradigm, all of the people at Kadesh Barnea were what? Saved.
Now what about the Arminian view? Arminians say these people were saved, and I agree with them at that point, so I actually have more in common with Arminians than Calvinists on this, but what happened to their salvation? They lost salvation. That’s how they interpret Hebrews 6:4-6.
Let me ask you a basic question: if the paradigm of the book is Kadesh Barnea and this crowd blew it at Kadesh Barnea and didn’t enter Canaan, can I ask you a basic question? Did that crowd ever stop being God’s elect nation? They never did! In fact, what did God do for these people for forty years? Didn’t he just keep giving them manna over and over again. He kept providing for them because they were still His people although they forfeited a blessing. He actually gave them military victory later on, Numbers 21. He even told them in Numbers 24 that the Messiah was going to come forth from their loins, from Israel.
So what I’m saying is they forfeited a blessing but they never stopped being God’s elect nation. That’s the paradigm of the book. So that’s what He’s saying to the Hebrews—you’re going to forfeit a blessing, which is maturity and growth, you’re going to be stuck at a certain level of spiritual infancy but you’re still My people, you’re still going to heaven. You’re not going to forfeit heaven but you’re going to forfeit a blessing which you could have had.
Beyond that the Arminian view contradicts all of the other very crystal clear passages we’ve gone over in this course, like John 10 where Jesus says we’re in His hand and nothing can take us out of it. It contradicts all those crystal clear passages. So that’s your first hint that the Arminian view is problematic.
So the Calvinist view basically says… its aimed at unbelievers, I don’t think that works. The Arminian view basically says they’re saved but they lost their salvation. I don’t think that fits the biblical evidence; I don’t think it fits the Kadesh Barnea generation which is the paradigm of the book.
The last view is called the hypothetical view which I like to call the Disneyworld view because that’s the best example I can think of; you haul your kids across the country to go to Disneyworld or if you liked that movie, Vacation, Wally World, I don’t recommend that though, it’s not a G rated movie… we won’t go into that. But you take them all the way across the country and you get them into the amusement park and your kids start acting up and so what do you as a parent do? “If you don’t straighten up we’re going to go home!” Now you know that you’re not going to go home, look at all the headache you’ve put together to get across the country to go to the amusement park. But it’s a threat that the kids think is real but you know is not real. So that’s how a lot of people handle Hebrews 6:4-6, including my hero, Charles Ryrie… say it ain’t so Charles, good grief.
This is right out of his Ryrie Study Bible, he says, “Others understand the passage to be a warning to genuine believers to urge them on in Christian growth and maturity. To ‘fall away’ is impossible (since, according to this view, true believers are eternally secure), but the phrase is placed in the sentence to strengthen the warning. It is similar to saying something like this to a class of students: ‘It is impossible for a student, once enrolled in this course, if he turns the clock back [which cannot could never happen],” see that, “to start the course over.” But he says “we all know that could never happen. Therefore, let all students go on to deeper knowledge.’ In this view the phrases in verses 4-5 are understood to refer to the conversion experience.”
Basically what he’s saying is God is making a threat which He knows He’ll never make good on. And see, these warnings are so severe that a lot of people just have concluded they couldn’t apply to a believer. But let me ask you a question: if I stand up here and say these only apply to unbelievers are you going to listen to anything else I have to say? But see, with the view I have that you, as a Christian can still go to heaven but forfeit something I’ve got everybody’s attention. See that. There’s a pastoral ministry philosophy mindset to this. You get up and tell people these are for unbelievers they’re not going to listen to you.
Now Ryrie is not saying these are unbelievers, what he’s saying is it’s an idle threat, which I have a problem with because that makes God what? Deceptive, doesn’t it? Doesn’t this same book, Hebrews 6:18 tell us that it is impossible for God to lie. [Hebrews 6:18, “so that by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie…”] You make God out to be a common parent who just breathes idle threats I think you’ve reduced God to man’s image. So I have a problem with that.
Beyond that, if the background of the book is Kadesh-Barnea let me ask you a question: Did the Kadesh-Barnea generation really lose something? I mean, they lost something very real, they lost something very tangible, they lost something very practical. They forfeited a blessing! Now why would he use this as an example if we all know (wink, wink, wink) that these people really aren’t going to lose anything, God is just making an idle threat.
So in conclusion, what did the Exodus generation and the Hebrews have in common? Both saved, both on the precipice of forfeiting something. The Kadesh-barnea generation forfeited something; the Hebrews generation almost forfeited something, they were crossing that point of no return but hadn’t crossed it yet. And the way to really understand this is to use Kadesh-barnea as a lens for interpreting Hebrews 6:4-6. The other views that you’re getting, whether it’s the Reformed view, the Arminian view, or the hypothetical view, I don’t think stack up well compared to the loss of blessings view.
So what have I tried to say in three sessions? Hebrews 6:4-6 does not teach you can lose your salvation. See, you could have showed up just now and gotten that conclusion without hearing all this other stuff. You’re not going to lose your salvation but by way of application what if you get saved out of Roman Catholicism? What if you get saved out of Mormonism? What if you get saved out of the Watchtower organization? What are those cultures going to do to you? Come back, persecute you to come back and this is how the book of Hebrews is applicable then because if you go back to those systems you’re going back to a system that cannot help you grow. You only grow in Christ when you’re in the New Testament church, receiving from the New Testament gifts, studying New Testament revelation and applying it to daily life. This is how it’s applied.
Beloved, there are millions of people, I believe, that are saved but because of their spiritual choices, because they’re making spiritual choices concerning what church to attend in terms of keeping peace in the family, or whatever, that they are stuck at a level, they are stunted at a level of growth that they can’t get out of. That’s how the book of Hebrews applies; they’re going to heaven, they’re blood bought souls, they’re redeemed by the grace of God, but they are stuck at a spiritual level and that’s what I think the book of Hebrews is talking about. Okay, any thoughts or questions?