“Those who have once been enlightened – having tasted the sweetness of the heavenly gift, and who have received the Holy Spirit, and have experienced the wholesome nourishment of the Word of God, and felt the spiritual energy of the age to come – to afterward fall away from the faith it is impossible to bring them again to repentance. Allegorically, they continue to crucify the Son of God anew by mocking His death and exposing Him to public contempt.” (paraphrased)
The evangelical world is sharply divided concerning this passage. While some view it as proof Believers can fall from grace, others feel it describes those who are not truly saved. Such assumptions have eternal consequences. This in-depth portrait of Christianity leaves no doubt the writer intends to warn his readers of the possibility of discarding their faith in Christ. The clear terminology in this passage cannot refer to sinners or nominal Christians for they have nothing to “fall away” from. The five-fold description of “those who repudiate their faith” show they were indeed Christians at one time. It would be pointless to warn someone about this who has never been converted. It is inconceivable the writer would so strongly caution them if apostasy was not possible. The context demands this interpretation, for the specific purpose of the epistle is to warn Believers against returning to their former lifestyles.
The writer has already warned them against “departing (aphistemi) from the living God” (3:12). Aphistemi means to revolt, leave, withdraw, and abandon. If the danger of denouncing Christ was not real and eminent, the writer could have toned down his pleas for perseverance. One must be determined to pick up his cross daily and follow Him (Lk. 9:23). Key words in God’s redemptive promises are “obey, yield and continue”. Salvation does not diminish the power of choice. Apostates deliberately choose to reject Christ. A Believer is saved voluntarily and remains in that position voluntarily. Those who walk away from Christ do so deliberately.
Reflect carefully on the following verses:
<> The righteous man can turn away from his righteousness (Ez. 18:24-27).
<> The Lord destroys those who forsake Him (Jer. 15:6-7 & 23:39).
<> Defiant sinners, blasphemers, those who despises His words
and break His commandments will be cut off (Num. 15:30-31).
<> God will cast off forever those who forsake Him (I Chron. 28:9 & II Chron. 15:2).
<> Those who forsake the Lord will be consumed (Isa. 1:28 & 65:11-12).
<> Only Believers have their names written in heaven (Lk. 10:20 & Rev. 21:27).
<> God can remove names from the book of life (Rev. 3:5).
<> Moses feared God would blot his name from the book of life (Ex. 32:32-33).
<> Those who brag they are standing should take heed lest they fall (I Cor. 10:12).
<> Demas forsook Paul because he loved the world (II Tim. 4:10).
<> Eternal life is attained only by patient continuance (Rom. 2:7).
<> The Christian must continue in God’s goodness or be cut off (Rom.11:22).
<> Saints can be led away by the errors of the wicked and fall from their own steadfastness
(II Pet. 3:17).
It is the responsibility of every saint to persevere. No Bible verse indicates one cannot willfully reject the Lord (Jn. 10:28-30). We must remain grounded and settled in the faith – and not be moved away from the Gospel message (Col. 1:22-23). In the parable of the seed and soil, Jesus said those with shallow roots will wither away (Mk. 4:5-6). Many have rejected Jesus after having known the way of righteousness and the holy commandment delivered unto them (II Pet. 2:20-21). Paul warns of those who have “cast off their faith” and “turned aside after Satan” (I Tim. 5:12-15). The writer of Hebrews echoes the thoughts of Jesus: “If you continue in my word, then are you my disciples indeed (Jn. 8:31). Because God’s Word is immutable, our security in Christ rests on its consistenency. How each person chooses to appropriate His promises determines their destiny.
In Hebrews we are told of four impossible things. It is not possible for apostates to be saved, for God to lie, for animal blood to remove sin, or to please God without faith (6:4, 18; 10:4; 11:6). In this passage, everything pivots on the word “impossible” (adunaton). In every place adunaton is used in this epistle, it specifies something that positively cannot be done. The term does not refer to spiritual lethargy or backsliding, but emphatically denies the possibility of salvation for apostates. If they reject God’s plan of salvation, nothing can save them.
The writer states five emphatic facts:
1. They were once enlightened
“Once” (hapax) means “once and for all.” The same term is later used to declare “Christ was offered once to bear the sins of many” (9:28). “Those who were enlightened” is common terminology regarding those who are truly converted, having turned from darkness to light (Eph. 1:18 & I Pet. 2:9). Jesus proclaimed Himself to be “the Light of the world” (Jn. 9:5). The concept of falling – having been “once enlightened” – is synonymous with “sinning willfully after one has “full knowledge of the truth” (10:26). A superficial commitment to Jesus is insufficient. Simply repeating a prayer of repentance is not enough. God’s mandate is a perpetual life of faith. One must be born again in order to see the kingdom of God, but it is assumed that person will remain true to Jesus until death (Jn. 3:3). Only those who endure to the end will be saved (Mt. 10:22).
2. They had tasted the heavenly gift
The metaphorical use of the word “taste” (geuomai) does not mean to merely sample something, but to fully experience it by ingestion. The writer earlier stated Jesus “tasted” (geuomai) death for every man (2:9). Tasting is a method used to comprehend the nature or quality of something. Although this “heavenly gift” is not specified, Jesus spoke of Himself as “the gift of God” (Jn. 4:10). Paul states that “the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Rom. 6:23). “The heavenly gift” may be a reference to the plan of salvation, redemption, the Holy Spirit, or any number of blessings which originate from heaven.
3. They were partakers of the Holy Spirit
To “receive the Spirit of God” is terminology ascribed only to Christians. The Holy Spirit convicts, saves, and sanctifies those who come to Christ, but never fills sinners. To be “sealed by the Spirit” does not mean one cannot later willingly reject Him (Eph. 1:13). This is the unpardonable sin Jesus mentioned, for to renounce Him is to blaspheme the Spirit of God (Mt. 12:32). Those who apostatize have no further desire to obey the Holy Spirit – and actually despise Him (Heb. 10:29).
4. They tasted the good Word of God
This metaphor indicates those who partake of God’s Word have accepted it as the foundation of all truth. The apostle John “ate” the Word of God (Rev. 10:10). “How sweet are Your words to my taste!” cried the Psalmist (Ps. 119:103). Jeremiah wrote he had consumed the words of God (15:16). David instructs us to “taste and see that the Lord is good” (Ps. 34:8). Peter uses this term when reminding us we “have tasted and seen that the Lord is gracious” (I Pet. 2:3). Having experienced the benefits of the Gospel, we must allow the word of Christ to dwell in us richly (Col. 3:16).
5. They tasted the powers of the world to come
First-century Hebrews divided time into two ages: the present and the future. The old covenant dispensation anticipated the future kingdom promised to God’s children, but their present era ushered in the glorious messianic era (Isa. 11:1-10) The original recipients of the epistle to the Hebrews were among the first to enjoy the power of the Holy Spirit in the new dispensation.
The writer speaks of “they who fall away” in the third person, while his readers are usually addressed in the first or second person. “They” refers to any and all persons who betray Christ. “Fall away” (parapipto) means to deviate, swerve, turn aside, and totally abandon God’s salvation. It is the same term Paul uses when referring to those who have fallen from grace (Gal. 5:4). The same word in II Thessalonians 2:3 is apostasia. It is “rebellion against God; a premeditated return to sin; an abandonment of one’s faith in Christ”. Those who renounce Him are beyond hope of redemption. “To renew them again to repentance” presupposes they had previously repented. However, apostates will not seek forgiveness of sins. The absolute impossibility of restoration proves they refers to former Believers. When one has wholeheartedly experienced redemption, to later renounce the Lord imposes an irreversible sentence of damnation.
To the religious leaders, Jesus was an impostor and deserved all the horrors heaped upon Him. Those who disown Christ agree with those who crucified Him, view Jesus guilty as charged, and deserving of crucifixion. Metaphorically, they spit in Christ’s face and slap Him (Mt. 26:67). They stand with Judas who betrayed Him (27:3-4). They are as guilty as the soldiers who beat Him and the chief priests who taunted Him to come down from His cross (vv. 29-31, 42). Like the Pharisees, they claim Jesus was a deceiver (v. 63). Those who “swerve from the faith” nail God’s Son to the cross again, thereby proclaiming Jesus’ death has no vicarious merit (I Tim.1:5-6). Because there is no greater dishonor possible, those who apostatize can never be restored to the Kingdom of God.
“Putting Him to an open shame” means to expose the Son of God to public humiliation, disgrace, and contempt. Having openly renounced the only means of salvation, they now mock the Redeemer by reverting to their sinful lifestyle. Such persons cannot simultaneously love, serve, and honor Jesus.
The writer shows that rejecting Christ is possible, but fatal. He is determined to stress the vital importance of staying true to Jesus Christ. If the faith of his readers continues to weaken, hardening of their hearts will ultimately result in an unwillingness to repent.
QUESTIONS: THIRD WARNING: DON’T DENOUNCE (Part 3) – UNPARDONABLE SIN
1. One can lose their salvation as easily as they lose their sunglasses. True or False?
2. To realize the danger of apostasy is to doubt God’s keeping power. True or False?
3. In what must Believers abide? (John 15:4)
4. In what must we continue? (John 15:9)
5. What must we keep in order to abide in Christ? (John 15:10)
6. What caused Demas to forsake Paul? (II Timothy 4:10)
7. According to Jesus, who is truly saved? (Matthew 10:22)
8. According to I Timothy 5:15, who influences Believers to turn away from Christ?
9. List safeguards you are building into your life that will help you stay true to Christ.
10. What is your most powerful incentive to serve God?