Five Fatal Flaws: The Warning Passages in Hebrews (3)

This is part 3 of a 5-part series. Previous: 1 2

3. A Warning About God’s Certain Goal (Heb 5:11-6:12)

In speaking with Donald Cole, radio pastor of Moody’s WMBI flagship radio station, I asked him the passage of Scripture he was most often questioned about on his call-in program. Hebrews 6 was the answer. And perhaps one reason is that we stop the warning passage where I have, at chapter 6, verse 12. If we continued to the end of the chapter, we would see the point of the whole passage is found in verse 11. What is it? Ironically, it is written that believers might have “full assurance.”

We must remember that Hebrews is a kind of “conversion table.” I was living in Canada when they changed from Imperial measurement to the metric system. We were given conversion tables that showed us four things: the value under the old system, the value in the new system, the relationship between the two, and (by inference) how the new system, based on 10, was better than the old. The role of this epistle follows suit.

The end of Hebrews 5 expresses the author’s frustration at the lack of progress towards maturity in his hearers: “For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the first principles of the oracles of God” (v 12). Are these not the first (arche) principles also mentioned in Chapter 6?

Some argue that the “ABCs” of Hebrews 6:1-2 are Old Testament; others think they are the introductory truths of Christianity. Are they not both? “Repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, of the doctrine of baptisms (or washings), of laying on of hands, of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment” are foundational, or threshold truths, in both Testaments. The author is not asking his hearers to leave them behind; he is asking them to realize that a foundation, once laid, is not to be relaid but to be built upon.

Who Are These People Who Fall?

Now verse 4. Would you indulge me for a moment? Could we assume that all of these descriptives—enlightened, have tasted the heavenly gift, have become partakers of the Holy Spirit, have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come—are actually describing a saved person? I know many good authors spend pages digging into the Old Testament for examples like King Saul and Balaam to explain how these words describe those who were near but still outside. But look with me at the words used in this passage.

To be enlightened (photizo) is used of believers in Ephesians 1:18. And of whom is the author speaking in Hebrews 10:32: “But call to remembrance the former days, in which, after you were illuminated (photizo), you endured a great fight of afflictions”? Clearly it is talking about the conversion experience.

What about those who have “tasted” (geuomai)? Is it a matter of tasting but not drinking, making a decision whether to “swallow” the truth or not? How does the writer to the Hebrews use this word elsewhere? Note Hebrews 2:9, “But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honor; that He by the grace of God should taste (geuomai) death for every man.” See also 1 Peter 2:3, another verse using the same Greek word that speaks of true Christian experience.

Who are these who “have become partakers of the Holy Spirit” (metochos)? Again the word, also translated “partners” is found in the book of Hebrews—in 1:9 (translated “fellows” or “companions” of Christ); 3:1 (“holy brethren, partakers of the heavenly calling”); 3:14 (“we have become partakers of Christ”); and 12:8 (“of which all have become partakers”—referring to the chastening of all true sons, as opposed to illegimate children). Again, the writer uses the word exclusively of true believers.

Let me ask a question. Suppose you had never heard Hebrews 6. One day I said to you, “I met someone just now; they have been “enlightened, and have tasted the heavenly gift, and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come,” what would your immediate thought be? Would you think, “He must be talking about an unbeliever; someone who has been close to salvation, but never truly believed”? I think not. And can you tell me of any other passage in Scripture that suggests that a person who understands the gospel, then turns back to his religion, cannot subsequently be saved? Millions have done this, but God’s Spirit continues His work and, in time, woos many of them to Christ.

So, as I asked previously, allow me to insert “those who are truly saved” in place of the other descriptive terms: “For it is impossible for those [who are truly saved] if they fall away, to renew them again to repentance, since they crucify again for themselves the Son of God, and put Him to an open shame” (Heb 6:4-6).

Picture a Jewish believer who understands that there is a definite relationship between Judaism and Christianity. Sin is still sin, but now Christ is the sin offering, and the cross is God’s altar. If I sin now, what should I do? I must offer the sacrifice afresh. No! says the author. In their misunderstanding, they were turning the door of salvation into a revolving door. In doing this, they were not being shamed themselves for their failure, but “they crucify again for themselves the Son of God, and put Him to an open shame” (v 6).

The falling away (parapipto) of verse 6 means simply to get off the road, to “fall beside.” It is not the same word as to “fall short of the grace of God” (Heb 12:15). That word, hustereo, means to come behind or come up short. The term often used in referring to Hebrews 6:6 is “falling from grace,” but that is not in view here at all. It is certainly not apostasy (apostasia, the “falling away” mentioned in 2 Thess 2:3).

This error of trying to get re-saved is not limited to first century Jews. Thousands of professing Christians make an annual pilgrimage, “walking the aisle” to the “mourner’s bench.” They feel that the last time they tried, it didn’t work, so they try it again. Others kneel by their bed, times without number, seeking to “pray through,” or believe in the right way in order to get it to stick. Assurance eludes them. What is the problem?

Let Me Draw You a Picture

An illustration would help, wouldn’t it. Well, look at that! There is one right at this point in the passage: “For the earth which drinks in the rain that often comes upon it, and bears herbs useful for those by whom it is cultivated, receives blessing from God; but if it bears thorns and briars, it is rejected and near to being cursed, whose end is to be burned” (vv 7-8). Let’s carefully notice the details.

First, this is not a piece of wild prairie grassland, or some unclaimed wasteland. It is cultivated by someone who expects herbs for his labors, just as we are “God’s field” (1 Cor 3:9). Notice also that the person is not the crop; the person is the ground. Some field grows herbs; some grows weeds. Unfortunately, many Jews’ concept of holiness was, “Look, God; no weeds!” But holiness is not merely negative and passive; it is positive and active. God does not want a bare field, where Christianity is described by what I don’t do. He longs for fruit.

So day by day the believer comes: “I have something for You today, Lord.” “What do you have?” “Weeds.” “Well, I burn weeds” (thanks be to Him!). The next day, it’s thorns; the day following, briars. Do you understand the frustration of a farmer who has labored to bring a good crop out of that field? Yet, though it is near to being cursed (versus the other result which is “blessed”), it is not cursed! But it is burned.

This is it’s end (telos, to set out for a definite goal). What is the definite goal of a farmer who burns a field? To destroy the field? Any farmer knows better than that. When a field becomes completely overgrown with weeds, it is burned. Burning is a radical step to give the field a fresh start. And many of God’s people have known the searing effects of God’s chastening, not to destroy them but to restore them to usefulness.

Does the writer speak of this elsewhere in the book? Yes, he does: “Now this, ‘Yet once more,’ indicates the removal of those things that are being shaken, as of things that are made, that the things which cannot be shaken may remain. Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us have grace, by which we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear. For our God is a consuming fire” (Heb 12:27-29).

More could be written on this, but suffice it to say that the believers to whom he spoke, though immature, did have evidences of a coming crop: “But, beloved, we are confident of better things concerning you, yes, things that accompany salvation, though we speak in this manner. For God is not unjust to forget your work and labor of love which you have shown toward His name, in that you have ministered to the saints, and do minister” (vv 9-10).

The need was not to seek a new beginning in repentance, involving a re-crucifixion of Christ (something practiced by millions in sacerdotal churches worldwide), but that “each one of you show the same diligence to the full assurance of hope until the end, that you do not become sluggish, but imitate those who through faith and patience inherit the promises” (vv 11-12). They did not need salvation but “the things that accompany” it.

Full Assurance Is Available For You

How would this full assurance come? To this the author dedicates the rest of the chapter. I find it strange indeed, if the first half of the chapter is about people who are not saved, to spend the last half of the chapter on assurance. It is a thrilling section, but not part of the Hebrews warning passages. I would just add that the idea that holds the two sections together is this: God’s work is complete. The crosswork of Christ never needs to be repeated; and God’s promise is sure. He has sealed it with an oath; secured it with His own character as collateral; and has given us Christ as an anchor for our souls.

In addition, God wants us not only to be sure of heaven, but to know how we will be received when we arrive. Christ as our Forerunner has already entered. How was He received? The Father rose from His throne and said, “Son, sit here with Me.” Amazingly, we will be received in a similar way, sharing Christ’s throne as well. And to complete the picture, Christ as High Priest is praying us home, sustaining our faith all the way. Saved, secure, sure, through Christ alone! God will see to it that we shall soon be where He is and as He is, in glory.

Part 4 continues here.