The Security of the Believer

A Discourse on Hebrews 6:4-6
by Richard Mummau

"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, And have tasted of the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come, 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" (Hebrews 6:4-6).
Many sincere Christians after reading these two verses have become discouraged and have almost given up the faith because they have decided that they sinned and have no hope to repent again. This conclusion is arrived at because they read these verses without considering the context in which it is written. While God has given us warnings in the Scriptures, this passage is really intended to instruct us how to deal redemptively in bringing backsliders back into the fellowship with God and the church. The book of Hebrews was written to Jewish Christians, but the truth taught here is for all times and for all Christians.

Briefly stated, this passage is declaring that:

  1. It is possible for a saved person to fall away from the faith.

  2. When a saved person falls away from the faith, it does not mean that he was not "born again" initially.

  3. When a saved person falls away from the faith it is possible to restore them, but it is impossible to restore them the same way they were saved the first time. In other words, a person cannot be born again the second time.
The writer states in Hebrews 5:11-14 that the Hebrews were not growing in their Christian experience. He says they "are dull of hearing," and still babes. The phrase "word of righteousness" in Heb 5:13 is referring to the way in which God saves a person and brings him into a right relationship with Himself.

The Jewish religious economy is known for its many sacrifices. Every year the Jews had to bring a sin offering. The Hebrew Christians were now confronted with the truth that Jesus Christ had by one offering made the final sacrifice for all sin for all time. They were having trouble accepting and applying this truth. They had helped people through to a salvation experience with Jesus Christ. These new believers had given evidence of being saved or "born again." There was fruit that gave evidence that they were indeed Christians. But some of these Christians after a period of time fell away from the faith. When this happened the Jewish Christians thought that they were not properly converted the first time, so they had them start over again. In other words, they tried to have them become "born again" the second time rather than making things right and starting off where they lost out. They did this by discounting all that happened before and making them believe again, repent again, laying hands on them again in baptism, etc. By doing everything again they were implying that the reason they fell away was that God's work in their lives wasn't sufficient the first time. When they did this they were "holding Him up to open shame and crucifying Him afresh."

This interpretation of Hebrews 6:6 is supported by Hebrews 6:1-3. In these verses the Paul tells the Jewish Christians, "Therefore leaving the principles of the doctrine of Christ,....not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works, and of faith toward God, of the doctrine of baptisms, and of laying on of hands." Verses 7 and 8 are given as an example of what the Hebrew Christians were doing. One kind of earth was watered and blessed by God. Some earth brought forth herbs, and some of the same earth brought forth thorns and briars. What the Hebrew Christians were doing by having Christians start over again was the same as saying that God's rain and blessing on the earth that brought forth thorns and briars was not good enough, when it was the condition of the earth that made the difference. In this example the earth represents those who have experienced the new birth. Likewise, when a person falls away, it is because of some fault or failure in the exercise of faith of the persons who falls away, not because Jesus didn't do His work right when He saved that person.

There is a current doctrine that says if a person falls away, they were not saved in the first place. Often people will say that the person only "tasted" salvation, but did not experience it. This passage clearly refutes this teaching. Hebrews 6:1-8 is teaching that when a person falls away and does repent, he continues from where he left off. The phrase "For it is impossible to renew them again unto repentance" is referring to taking them back to another New Birth. Also, Hebrews 2:9 says that Jesus was willing to taste death for every man, and we know that Jesus actually experienced death. The word taste is translated from the same Greek word in both Hebrews 6:5 and Hebrews 2:9. Generally, the reason people interpret taste in this way is tomake room for their doctrine "Once saved, always saved."

The Apostle Paul in his epistle to the Romans says that "if we live after the flesh, we shall die", so it is possible for a Christian to come to the place when he dies spiritually and is no longer a Christian. But when this person repents and comes again into a saving relationship with Jesus Christ, it is a person being brought back from the dead, not being born again the second time. When Lazarus gave evidence of being alive after he was buried in the tomb, it was not because he was "born again," but because he was brought back to life. There are numerous instances in the Scriptures of people being restored to life, and not one of them was "reborn." The account of the prodigal son is another example. He was born, left home, and returned in repentance. His father said when he returned "For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost and is found."

An example of being "born again" the second time is -- if when Israel sinned after crossing the Red Sea, Moses would have tried to take the Israelites back into Egypt and let God bring them out again. Another example would be to tell a person who made a wrong turn in Indiana on his way from Pennsylvania to California that he had to go back to Pennsylvania and start over.

The Apostle Paul's statement in Galatians 4:19 where he says "My little children, of whom I travail in birth again until Christ be formed in you" is only indicating that he was having to put as much effort and suffer as much pain trying to establish them as he did when he helped to convert them. He calls them "little children" and later brethren, so he was not trying to make Christians out of them, but only trying to help them grow up into fully mature Christians.

Let us consider some other implications we face if we consider those who are restored to the faith as being "born again" another time. Do we as a church rebaptize a person when that person strays from the faith and returns? Generally all they have to do is make confession of their sin, prove themselves, and we restore them to membership again. When we talk to backsliders, do we ask them to accept Christ, or do we just tell them to repent of their sins and be restored again.

I know a person who was born again and afterward had much restitution to make. He had stolen money which he repaid. If He falls away again, should he try to be "born again," and if he does, must he go back and make the same restitution again? We all know the answer is no. We only ask him to repent of the sins that caused him to fall and to make things right from the time he fell away.

This passage gives the Christian assurance and peace in that it confirms that to fail in some area of our Christian experience is not an indication that we are not truly saved. It assures us that what Christ did for us at our conversion is sufficient and that we can trust Him to continue to work in our lives. The blessings experienced by the Passover Blood in Egypt were not an end in themselves, but were continually benefited from as they allowed God to continue to lead them. Now this article is not to negate the fact that a person can depart from the faith to such a degree that he is no longer a saved person. There are many other Scriptures that declare that our salvation is conditional.

There are also Scriptures that make it clear that people can depart so far from the faith that they cannot return, but Hebrews 6:2-4 is not one of them. Romans 1:24 makes it clear that people can become so reprobate that God will give them up to vile affections. Read also Romans 1:26. 2 Thessalonians 2:11 also declares that God will send people strong delusion that they should believe a lie: that they all might be damned who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrightousness. When God gives people up, there is no hope for them any more. The reason is that no man cometh unto Jesus unless God draws him, and when God gives someone over to a reprobate mind, that drawing power is no longer working in that individual. When God gives someone up He does it by completely leaving him and allowing him to be controlled by his own lusts and desires. We must be careful that we do not decide when this is. Only God knows when a person comes to that place. We are to continue to help everyone that we can to come to salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. I know a person who was accused of being so reprobate that there was no hope for him. Well, today that person is a born again Christian and a member of a conservative Mennonite Church.

Probably we should distinguish between a backslider and an apostate. A backslider knows he is wrong, but he is not willing to change. An apostate has convinced himself that he is right and promotes his error as truth. I tend to think that the Apostate is beyond hope. This brings us to another doctrine we should look at.

We are often asked if we believe a person can "lose" their salvation. Most of us probably would say yes. But do we really "lose" our salvation? People can "cease to be a believer." When a person begins to live in sin and disobey the Scriptures, it is because he does not really "believe" the Scriptures. This is not to say that the person who commits a sin has ceased to believe. But when a person can habitually practice those things that the Bible labels sin, they cease to be a believer. Often these are practices that they at one time would have called sin.

Our terminology often leaves people confused and frustrated. When we meet a person who knows only the Calvinistic doctrine of "unconditional eternal security" and we say they can "lose" their salvation, the first thing that comes to their mind is that they can come to the end of a day and not be saved and not know about it. It is like a person working all day and when he goes to his car and reaches in his pocket he cannot find his car key. He lost his keys. This is how those who believe in unconditional eternal security define or understand our use of the term lose. It is easy to understand how this concept would be reprehensible to them.

The Scriptures teach that redemption is all of God, but salvation is conditional and based upon a conscious act of our will in the exercise of faith in Jesus Christ. The Scriptures also teach that a person who continues to exercise saving faith in Jesus Christ is secure. But when a person begins to neglect his spiritual life he will come to the place where he is not truly exercising saving faith in Jesus Christ. He may continue to say he believes, but it is only a verbal belief and not a conscious exercise of the will to live for God. That is all that saving faith is, a conscious exercise of the will to always do what we believe the Bible teaches. It is also obeying the voice of the Spirit in areas where the Scriptures are silent.

When a person continues to habitually practice sin, he "ceases to be a believer" and is no longer a Christian. So the statement "The believer is eternally secure" is a correct statement. It is the definition of who is a believer that must be answered.

Our tendency though, is to write people off quicker than God writes them off. I am convinced that true Christians are more secure then they think they are, and those who are careless in their Christian walk, are probably not as secure as they think they are. May God help us continue to consciously exercise a living faith in Jesus Christ, and may we do it in such a way that others are led to Him.