Friday, January 08, 2016

The Vision (1.8.16): Warning Against Falling Away (Hebrews 6:4-6)

Image:  Dilapidated outbuilding, North Garden, Virginia, January 8, 2016

Hebrews 6:4 For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost, 5 And have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come, 6 If they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance; seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame.

This is one of the most controversial passages in the book of Hebrews and indeed within the New Testament and the entire Bible.  The Puritan John Owen begins his treatment of these verses:  “That this passage in our apostle’s discourse hath been looked upon as accompanied with great difficulties is known to all; and many have the differences been about its interpretation” (Hebrews, Vol. 5, p. 68).

There are at least three interpretations that have been given for those described in this passage:

1.  It refers to those who were once true Christians, but who committed apostasy.  This view is held by consistent Arminians.  We must reject this view, however, because it contradicts the whole counsel of God in Scripture which affirms the perseverance (preservation) of the saints (cf. John 10:27-29; Romans 8:33-39).

2.  It refers to false professors or spiritual hypocrites.  These sorts of persons make an external profession of faith but are not internally changed.  This is the interpretation of this passage held by John Owen, Matthew Poole, and many other godly Reformed interpreters.  There is much to commend this position but the difficulty comes in the descriptions of these persons in vv. 4-5.  They are called, for example, “partakers of the Holy Ghost” (v. 4).  This same term [the Greek noun metochos:  partaker] is clearly used in Hebrews 3:1, however, to refer to those who are Christians:  “holy brethren, partakers of the heavenly calling.”

3.  The passage presents a “hypothetical impossibility,” which serves as a warning to Christian readers.  It takes seriously the description of these persons as Christians (view 1) but also that true Christians could not fall away (view 2).  

Thus, the inspired author (perhaps Paul) here presents a hypothetical impossibility that is meant to serve as a dire and terrifying warning to true believers.  Maybe the best analogy is to that of a loving parent who sees her little child about to run into a busy street, and she calls out at the top of her lungs, “If you take one more step toward that road I’m going tear you from limb to limb!”  Is she really going to rip off his arms and legs?  No.  But she is registering the seriousness of the consequences in dire hypothetical terms in order effectively to warn him and thus to save his life.

This is what God the Father is doing in Hebrews 6:4-6.  Believer, if you fell from grace you would forfeit forever your salvation and you would bring incalculable pain to your loving and gracious Savior.  And it is this gracious warning that is part of the very means that God sovereignly uses to preserve his true saints.

The proper response to this warning is doxological:  Praise be to the triune God who loves us enough to warn us, through tears, so as to keep us safe in Christ.

Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle 

1 comment:

Mad Jack said...

Nice! Thanks for the post.