Doesn’t it drive you crazy when combing through multiple commentaries on a particular text only to find an equal number of contrasting explanations? On this one for example…
Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, and of instruction about washings, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. And this we will do if God permits. For it is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt. (Hebrews 6:1-6 ESV)
…is explained in so many different ways that one has to wonder if we can really know anything at all about what the author intended for us to hear. Forgive me here as I muddy the water a little more…
While some will claim this is the ultimate proof text for one to lose their salvation, others will declare that those being discussed in the passage were never saved to begin with.
As is evident, both approaches leave a great deal of tension to reckon with, such as:
- Does this mean we have only one shot at getting it right? If we fail, is it impossible to be restored? If so, who has not fallen?
- How can we have received all of the benefits of salvation as described, and yet, not have been saved?
I can’t help but wonder if the original audience may have had many less problems with these verses than we encounter. Is it possible that we struggle to grasp the author’s intent due to an inadequate knowledge of Scripture and Israel’s history (this letter is addressed to the Hebrews)? After all, the immediate context of these verses is to provide a warning to the reader for not continuing to mature (in the Word) as believers (chapter 5).
The primary issue at hand was that some Jewish converts to Christianity were resorting back to Judaism due to persecution from several fronts. The stern warnings encountered in the letter were of course to convince the readers that there were “no options outside of Jesus and His Gospel.” To try and return to the Old Covenant was futile, for it had been rendered obsolete with Jesus’ coming as the true Lamb of God.
As the author carries his readers from one article to another of all that comprised the Old Covenant, his conclusion is always the same, “Jesus is better.”
There is also though, a sub-topic used by the writer for support of his warnings. To assist in discerning the antithesis of obedience and faithfulness, the author is often referencing the events that occurred at Kadesh Barnea (3, 4).
This of course is where Israel failed to believe that God had given them the Land. The spies returned with their reports, two positively and ten negatively. The people chose to believe the ten, and refused to go in (Numbers 13, 14).
It is alarming then what happens when Israel desires to change their mind when they recognize God’s anger for their refusal to believe Him. They march into Canaan and are abruptly defeated. It is as if because they didn’t go when commanded, and doubted God’s provision, there was no more an opportunity to enter. Save for Joshua and Caleb, none of the adults of this generation would ever see the Promised Land. In his letter to the Hebrews, the author, regarding this event, quotes God (3, 4), “So I swore in My wrath, they shall never enter My rest.” We might also hear him saying of Israel at Kadesh Barnea, “It is impossible to restore them once again…” The opportunity to believe God, to trust His provision, to enter, had passed.
The question then is whether these people were saved or not? If Israel’s history is to be a shadowy type of the true salvation that was to come through Christ alone, then the answer must be yes, they were indeed saved. We might say they were saved from… but not into. They were saved from their enslavement to Pharaoh, but not allowed to enter God’s rest, the land flowing with milk and honey. The Bible clearly acknowledges the pardon of the people’s sin (Numbers 14:20). Still, that pardon didn’t include entry into Canaan.
How does this translate into the age of grace?
Is it possible that in this highly debated sixth chapter of Hebrews, the author isn’t referencing salvation at all? Could he instead be addressing the sanctifying and maturing process that is to be evident where saving grace has been afforded?
If this is possible, does it help explain the unrest we see in the lives of so many professing Christians? Those who can’t seem to find the “rest” that Jesus promised He gives?
We might ask ourselves these questions. Have we refused to leave the elementary doctrines and go on to maturity? Have we been enlightened, tasted the heavenly gift, shared in the Holy Spirit, tasted the goodness of the Word of God and the powers of the age to come, only to then have fallen away… or, quit growing, striving, or faithfully serving? How serious then is the warning of the impossibility of returning to that place where we knew to go, or serve, or give, and yet for whatever reason, chose to neglect our right and maturing relationship with the One who saved us? I can’t help but hear the words, “Anyone who puts their hands to the plow and looks back is not worthy of being My disciple.”
What if, just like Israel, the text is calling us to be ever moving forward as the Holy Spirit leads. What if our failure to do so forever closes the door of opportunity to be obedient in that specific calling? After reconsidering, Israel wanted to go in. Esau wanted his birthright back. David wanted his child to live. None of their wants, no matter how desperate, could bring restoration back to their prior state and offering. In this text’s case, the author declares that these he is writing to have been Christians long enough that they should be teaching the Word, but instead, still need to be taught the basics of the faith. They still needed to be nursed with milk, when they should be eating steaks and spare ribs (5).
Regardless of how we interpret this text, its warning is severe. But if this is a fair treatment of the author’s intent, then we should be striving all the more diligently to continue to grow in the grace we have been freely given in Christ Jesus, forsaking all else as we long to meet Him face to face.
As encouragement, the author expresses in optimism, “We trust, with God’s strength, much better things of you.”
Do you have any experiences that support these thoughts? Is there a time when you knew what you were supposed to do, but didn’t, then found yourself desperately trying to revisit the opportunity, to no avail? Maybe this whole theory sounds like muck to you… any explanations?