Teaching series from Hebrews

Can Christians Lose Their Salvation?

Hebrews 6:4-8; 10:26-31

Teaching t05003


We are going to study a couple of problem passages in Hebrews; one that I skipped over in chapter 6 and one that follows the passage we studied last week. It's amazing how often these passages come up. Apparently, they are quoted in many churches as proof that Christians can forfeit God's acceptance by committing sins.

Read 10:26,27. The apparent meaning is that Jesus' sacrifice does not cover certain kinds of sins committed by Christians. Repeated, intentional sins will evidently forfeit God's acceptance and bring us back under his judgment. I have two serious problems with this interpretation:

How can any Christian ever have confidence he/she is secure, since we all continue to commit sins intentionally??? The churches that hold this view require that people get saved over and over again after each moral lapse, and that the only way to be secure is to never sin intentionally. This leads many to give up altogether. Also, those of you who have very sensitive consciences are often troubled by passages like this.

How can we square this interpretation with statements by the same author in the same chapter (not to mention numerous other passages) which affirm the complete forgiveness of Christians? See 10:14,17. Is it reasonable to conclude the author changed his mind about this issue? If God inspired this letter (which he did), did he change his mind about such an important issue? Wouldn't it be more reasonable to look for another interpretation of this passage which was true to the language and harmonized with these other passages?

That is what I want to do today. My goal is that as a result of this study you will be more confident of the complete forgiveness available through Christ, and that you will be equipped to help others who are confused on this important issue.

Interpret the passages in context

One of the cardinal rules of biblical interpretation is that we must interpret any specific passage in light of its overall context. Like any other book, the Bible can be made to appear full of contradictions and downright foolish if its contents are examined out of context.

The story is told about the well-meaning but foolish young Christian who wanted guidance from God. He prayed that God would lead him through his Word, and then closed his eyes, opened his Bible and put his finger on the page. "Judas went out and hanged himself." Troubled, he repeated the practice. "Go and do likewise." Extremely agitated at this pointed, he prayed and tried it one more time. "What you do, do quickly," he read!

We laugh because the story is so outrageous. But it hardly less outrageous to interpret vs 26 the above way, once we examine the context...

In our passage, it is the following context that is determinative. After making a general statement in vs 26,27, the author explains more specifically what he means by "sinning willfully" in vs 28-31 (read).

In vs 28, he alludes to a certain kind of sin in the Old Testament system, since his audience was familiar with it. He calls it "setting aside the law of Moses." Under that system, most sins were atoned for by offering an animal sacrifice. This included things like intentional acts like theft (Lev.6:2-7). But if someone rejected the God of Israel by abandoning his prescribed way of approaching him and instead turned to idol worship, this was a capital crime (Deut.17:2-6).

The author is not arguing that we should stone non-Christians! Rather, he is arguing by a fortiori logic: If Israelites faced physical death for rejecting God under the lesser revelation of the Old Testament system, those who reject God's greater revelation (Jesus) can expect a "severer punishment" - God's eternal judgment.

Vs 29 is the key to understanding what it means to "sin willfully." Let's look at it carefully:

"has trampled underfoot the Son of God" - This means scorning Jesus' claim to be God's Son.

"has regarded as unclean the blood of the covenant" - "Unclean" is literally "common." This means to deny that Jesus' death had any redemptive significance. "His death did nothing to pay for our sins; it was just like any other death."

"has insulted the Spirit of grace" - It is God's Spirit who convicts our hearts when we hear the gospel that we need charity ("grace" is charis). Because we can never meet God's perfect standard by our own good works, we need the "charity" of God's free and undeserved gift of forgiveness through Jesus' death. This means to reject the Spirit's personal urging to admit our need for charity.

Clearly then, to "sin willfully" in vs 26 means to reject Jesus as God's Savior.

Evidently, some of the Jewish people who had been a part of this group had done this. They had come to "the knowledge of the truth" (vs 26) - they understood Jesus' claim to be Messiah and that his death was God's payment for their sins. They may even have identified with the Christian community for a time. But when belief in Jesus began to be persecuted by the state while Judaism remained a protected religion, they shifted ground: "He wasn't the Messiah. His death doesn't forgive sin. I can get to God just fine by offering animal sacrifices through the priest at the Temple." (That they did this seems clear because the whole argument of chapters 7-10 is that it is now wrong to do this.)

The author's conclusion is very different. He says once they understand Jesus' claim to be God's Son and that his death is God's payment for their sins, to reject Jesus is to reject God's only provision for their sins. What was the right way to approach God under the Old Testament system (offering animal sacrifices) has now become rejection of God after Jesus' fulfillment of those sacrifices.

Now let's go to the other passage (6:4-8). While some new information is given, the same basic points are being made (5 WARNING PASSAGES).

Read vs 4,5. Though the description of these folks sounds like true Christians, none of the phrases are definitive. In fact, the author seems to be deliberately pulling his punches.

"enlightened" - could refer to those who merely heard the message (4:2)

"tasted of the heavenly gift" - stops shortly of language like "drink" (1Cor.12:13)

"made partakers of the Holy Spirit" - co-participant, but not necessarily of same essence (see 1:9 concerning Jesus and the angels); stops short of "sealed" (Eph.4:30)

"tasted the good Word of God and the powers of the age to come" - saw verification of truthfulness of message (perhaps even miracles - 2:4), experienced conviction of the Holy Spirit

All of these phrases could describe someone who "rubbed shoulders with" true Christians but who never actually received Christ.

Read vs 6. Most importantly, their problem was not that they had quit going to meetings, gotten drunk, etc. "Fallen away" means they were "crucifying to themselves the Son of God and putting him to open shame." They were publicly rejecting him as Messiah and agreeing that those who killed him as a false Messiah were correct.

Read vs 7,8. It is clear from the parable that these people were headed for God's judgment.

When the author says "it impossible to renew them to repentance," it is unclear whether he means "since" or "while."

If "since," he is saying they are permanently lost. As those who have received all the light God has to give and then rejected it, there is nothing more that can be done for them. This is what Jesus called the "blasphemy against the Holy Spirit" (Mk.3:28-30) >> EXPLAIN. We should be careful not to dogmatically conclude someone has done this, because some very hardened people have come to Christ (PAUL)!

If "while," he saying they can't be forgiven by God as long as they reject Jesus, because they are rejecting the only means of forgiveness which God has provided.

Make the proper applications

>> There is a proper and improper way to apply these passages...

It is proper to use them to warn people that there is such a thing as a superficial faith in Jesus which is not the real thing.

Jesus predicted that the good seed would fall on rocky soil, spring up quickly, but wilt away under heat because it has no firm root (Mk.4:16,17). This is a perfect description of these people.

Many people do this because they are looking for peer acceptance, or because they want God to give them something, etc. But there is no substance to their faith; they never have truly received Christ and asked him to lead their lives. So when they don't get what they want, or when it becomes costly to identify with Christ, they bail out. I know about this personally, because I did it midway through high school. After I rejected Christianity, I used it as my trump card when Christians urged me to receive Christ: "I already tried that and it didn't work." But when I was ready to admit to Christ that I didn't know what I needed and wanted to submit my life to his plan, I immediately knew that I had never truly received him. Maybe you can relate to this...

It is proper use them to warn people that God will not provide alternative means of salvation for those who reject Christ.

Of course, this is the dominant view in our relativistic, "politically correct" culture. You can take a lot of heat for believing there is only one way. So even when you hear the message (God's holiness, our sin, his provision through Jesus' death, and the offer to be forgiven through receiving that offer), and even when God's Spirit convicts you act on the message, it's easy to think "There's no need to commit to this as the only way to God. I may take flak for being so `narrow minded.' Besides, I'm sure there are other ways to God which won't risk being labeled this way."

But the Bible says it isn't this way. God has provided one Savior, not many; and he has one way be accepted by him, not many. As Gal.2:21b says, if there was any other way that people could be saved, then Christ died needlessly. So you have to choose: will you receive God's solution or reject it? The choice is not "Which one of the many valid ways to God will I personalize?" but rather "Will I accept God's only means of salvation, or will I reject it and face his judgment?" I hope you make the right choice!

It is totally improper to use them to threaten Christians that God will reject them if they have even serious moral lapses like sexual immorality, drug abuse, etc. The issue here is rejection of Christ as God's Savior.

These things are wrong, they will hurt us and others, and while we're involved in them we are obviously not walking with God. But God's acceptance remains constant because it is not based on our works for him but only on Christ's finished work for us. That's why the New Testament constantly emphasizes the security of the one who believes in Christ (10:14,17). Any teaching that we can lose God's acceptance because of our sins is implying that we are maintaining God's acceptance (at least in part) by our good works. This is salvation by works - HERESY!!

We should not try to motivate Christians to live for God by threatening them with God's judgment if they don't. This seriously misrepresents God, which he doesn't like. Like the father in the parable of the Prodigal Son, God weeps when we quit walking with him, he doesn't spare us of temporal consequences of our wrong choices - but he never disowns us and he welcomes us back when we return. According to the New Testament, God motivates Christians by urging us to reflect on his COMPLETE FORGIVENESS, by appealing to us to BE WHO YOU ARE, by promising BLESSING FOR US & OTHERS if we walk with him, and by warning us of sin's DESTRUCTIVE EFFECTS.