The Epistle To The Hebrews, Part 4
By Jack Kelley
We’ve come to the place in our study of Hebrews that’s familiar even to those who haven’t read any other part of the letter. Did the writer intend to warn us that our salvation is conditional and therefore subject to loss? And even more frightening, did he say that once lost it could never be regained? Many people think that’s exactly what’s being said here. Never mind that the rest of the New Testament contains dozens of assurances that our salvation is secure forever, the Letter to the Hebrews (especially chapters 6 and 10) is said by those who argue against eternal security to contain the “fine print” in our contract with God, imposing conditions upon His grace that aren’t mentioned elsewhere. Let’s see if they’re correct.
Warning Against Falling Away
“We have much to say about this, but it is hard to explain because you are slow to learn. In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.” (Hebr. 5:11-14)
The Hebrew Christians, many of whom had been priests of the Old Covenant (Acts 6:7) should have seen the references in their Scriptures of the Coming Messiah and the doctrine of Grace He would illuminate. Genesis 22 and Psalm 51 are two examples among many. Having this background should have uniquely prepared them to be the teachers of those who lacked their depth of knowledge. Instead, they themselves were in need of further instruction.
“Therefore let us leave the elementary teachings about Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again the foundation of repentance from acts that lead to death, and of faith in God, instruction about baptisms, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. And God permitting, we will do so.” (Hebr. 6:1-3)
The elementary teachings about Christ to which the writer refers are those having to do with our salvation. By his examples, he shows that what he’s about to say does not apply to the salvation experience, which includes repentance, faith, baptism and such, but things that are important to more mature believers. So what does come after salvation? Walking in victory and enjoying the blessings that come from being in fellowship with God.
“It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age, if they fall away, to be brought back to repentance, because to their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace.” (Hebr. 6:4-6)
This is perhaps the clearest example in the Bible of the importance of reading in context. If we just lifted these two verses out of the text and looked at them all by themselves we could conclude that the writer was telling his readers that once they’ve been saved if they ever fall away there’s no coming back, ever. But that view conflicts not only with the context of the preceding verses but with the entire thrust of the New Testament.
If salvation is by grace through faith (Ephes. 2:8-9), if the one condition is belief in the death and resurrection of the One God sent to die in our place (John 3:16 & Romans 10:9), if the Holy Spirit is sealed within us at the moment of our belief (Ephes. 1:13-14), if God Himself accepts responsibility for our security, (2 Cor. 1:21-22) if He’s faithful to complete the good work He began in us, (Phil. 1:6) if no one can snatch us out of His hands (John 10:29) and if nothing in all of creation can separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord, (Romans 8:38-39) how does one go about falling away?
Placed back into the context of the letter, it’s clear that the writer had to have something other than salvation on his mind. If we can’t see that by applying the whole counsel of God, we can refer back to verses 1-3 where he told us so himself.
Going back into religious works to keep the salvation they were freely given brings disgrace to God. Sacrificing a lamb for their sins each day was saying that the “once for all time” sacrifice that the Lamb of God had made for them was insufficient. They would be relegating His death to the same status as that of an animal, requiring endless repetition. If salvation comes by faith, it’s kept by faith.
“Land that drinks in the rain often falling on it and that produces a crop useful to those for whom it is farmed receives the blessing of God. But land that produces thorns and thistles is worthless and is in danger of being cursed. In the end it will be burned.” (Hebr. 6:7-9)
Here the writer could have referred us to John 15 and 1 Cor. 3. Like those passages, the issue here is the crop we produce, called fruit in John 15 and our work in 1 Cor. 3. A person produces no crop just by being saved. Producing a crop depends on what you do after you’ve been saved. In John 15 Jesus made it clear that unless we remain in fellowship with Him we can bear no fruit, and would be of no more value to the kingdom than the barren branches of the vine, which were fit only for the fire. (John 15:6) Again, He’s not talking about staying saved but about how we live after we’ve been saved.
In 1 Cor. 3 Paul said that our work will be judged as if by fire. If it burns up in the flames it means our work has no value, but we ourselves would still be saved. (1 Cor. 3:15) These examples make it clear that even though one must precede the other, the salvation we’ve been given is a completely different matter than the crop we produce for the Kingdom.
Remaining in fellowship with the Lord gives us power and blessing, and He promised to do whatever we ask. Apart from Him we can do nothing. (John 15:5,7) In Hebrews 6:7-9 the same thought is being expressed. This is not a salvation passage. It’s a fellowship passage, and as such is consistent with the writer’s earlier analogy of the Israelite who accepted deliverance from bondage in Egypt but refused to walk in faith into the Promised Land. He was still redeemed, still provided for and protected, and still one of God’s people. But he was doomed to live a life of defeat in the wilderness. He would bear no fruit, do no work, and produce no crop. It’s the same for us now as it was for them then.
“Even though we speak like this, dear friends, we are confident of better things in your case—things that accompany salvation. God is not unjust; he will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people and continue to help them. We want each of you to show this same diligence to the very end, in order to make your hope sure. We do not want you to become lazy, but to imitate those who through faith and patience inherit what has been promised.” (Hebr: 6:9-12)
Could he have made it any clearer? He’s not writing about salvation but things that accompany it. Better things that God has in store for those who walk in faith and patiently achieve the victorious life He promised us.
The Certainty of God’s Promise
“When God made his promise to Abraham, since there was no one greater for him to swear by, he swore by himself, saying, “I will surely bless you and give you many descendants.” [Genesis 22:17] And so after waiting patiently, Abraham received what was promised.” (Hebrews 6:13-15)
Abraham didn’t work to earn God’s promise and he didn’t work to keep it. It was a matter of faith.
“What does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.” [Genesis 15:6] Now when a man works, his wages are not credited to him as a gift, but as an obligation. However, to the man who does not work but trusts God who justifies the wicked, his faith is credited as righteousness.” (Romans 4:3-5)
“Men swear by someone greater than themselves, and the oath confirms what is said and puts an end to all argument. Because God wanted to make the unchanging nature of his purpose very clear to the heirs of what was promised, he confirmed it with an oath. God did this so that, by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled to take hold of the hope offered to us may be greatly encouraged. We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain, where Jesus, who went before us, has entered on our behalf. He has become a high priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.” (Hebr. 6:16-20)
Neither His Word nor His oath are subject to change. What was true for Abraham is true for us (Gal. 3:29) because it’s impossible for Him to lie. Like the Israelite of old who fled to the nearest City of Refuge in the hope of receiving protection from the Avenger of Blood, we have fled to the Lord Jesus, who is our refuge, and whose offer of protection is certain and unchanging.
In times when only natural harbors existed, ships that were too large to enter had to anchor outside in open waters, subject to blowing winds and changing seas. To make their ship secure in uncertain weather the sailors rowed their anchor in a small boat to a place inside the harbor and dropped it there, where changing seas and blowing winds couldn’t dislodge it. In the same way, our Lord has taken the hope of our salvation, the anchor of our soul, into the Holy of Holies where nothing can ever change the nature of our relationship with our Creator and Redeemer.
With these two illustrations, the author has confirmed the certainty of our security in the Lord. There is no possibility of change and no fear of loss.
“All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away. For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all that he has given me, but raise them up at the last day. For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.” (John 6:37-40) Once saved, always saved. Selah.