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Thursday, February 12, 2015

Impossible to Renew [Part 2]

Having established the context, therefore, we may move on to a closer look at the passage in question:
“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. For land that has drunk the rain that often falls on it, and produces a crop useful to those for whose sake it is cultivated, receives a blessing from God. But if it bears thorns and thistles, it is worthless and near to being cursed, and its end is to be burned.” (Hebrews 6:4-8)
This Passage does NOT Refer to Christians

Several phrases are used here which seem to imply that the audience are believers: they have been “enlightened”, they have “tasted the heavenly gift”, they have “shared in the Holy Spirit”. This is strong language to use of the unsaved. Doesn’t it, then, refer to Christians? Despite the controversy on this subject, we believe that the answer is no.

The Evidence

Firstly, none of the terms used here are used anywhere else in Scripture to refer to salvation. Nor are any of the normal New Testament terms and synonyms for salvation used in this passage. Nowhere is it stated that these people have been justified, sanctified, born again, regenerated, or saved. No mention is made of faith or of eternal life. Verse 6 does not say that these people cannot be renewed to salvation, but that they cannot be renewed to repentance. Repentance is only one element in salvation, not the totality of it. John preached a message of repentance, and many came to be baptized by him. Yet even those who had received John’s baptism needed to put their faith in Christ in order to be saved.

Secondly, the phrases here could certainly apply to unbelievers. One may be enlightened by being instructed or informed about a truth previously unknown. John said that Jesus Christ was the true light that enlightens every man, but not every man is saved. These Hebrews had been introduced to the Light of the world, and seen the glory of God in Him. That did not mean, however, that they had received Him. The word used twice in this verse, tasted, refers to experiencing something. The experience is real, but it is not necessarily total. For instance, the host at the banquet at Cana tasted the water that had been made into wine. Jesus tasted the vinegar and gall offered to him and refused to drink it. In a similar way, these people tasted of the heavenly gift. The nature of this gift is not made clear. However, Christ spoke of Himself as the gift of God. The gift may also be the spiritual blessings enjoyed by the church through Christ. It is possible to experience rich spiritual blessings from God by association with His people, and yet still have an unbelieving and unregenerate heart, as the Israelites in the wilderness did.

These people had shared in the Holy Spirit. This word shared refers to a partnership or association. It does not necessarily mean that these Hebrews were indwelt by the Spirit, but it tells us that they had lived in close association with Him and His power. The Scripture tells us that the Holy Spirit does work in the lives and hearts of unbelievers, convicting them of sin. They had tasted the good word of God. This was true of Israel even in idolatrous unbelief — they enjoyed hearing God’s word as spoken through His prophets, but that did not make them believers. Finally, they had also experienced the powers of the age to come. This age is the Messianic Age, the Millennium, of which the miracles and signs done by Christ during His ministry on earth and by the apostles in the early days of the church were a foretaste. These Jewish people had seen such wonders at close hand. Some of them may even have benefited directly from healings and other miracles done by true believers in the power of the Spirit. But that did not make them saved.

Who is the Warning Intended For?

The author’s warning amounts to this: people who have had their minds opened to the truth about salvation, who have encountered Christ as He really is, have witnessed and been blessed by the ministry of the Spirit, have heard the full message of the gospel and recognized its goodness, and who have seen all the evidences available that Jesus really is the Messiah — if people like this harden their hearts and turn away from the path of Christian discipleship to go back to Judaism, there is no help for them. There is nothing further which can be done to persuade them to accept Christ: they have already seen and experienced all the things designed to draw people to saving faith, but deliberately turned away from receiving Christ in order to preserve their own temporal comfort and security. Of course such a person cannot be brought back to repentance. As the author says, it is as though they are crucifying Jesus all over again with their own hands, and heaping shame upon Him, for by rejecting the gospel they side with those who despised and killed the Lord.

This point is further underlined by an illustration, or parable. Inspired no doubt by Christ’s parable of the sower and the seed, the author compares the heart and life of a man to soil, and God’s spiritual blessings to rain. The life of a true believer, receiving the spiritual nourishment and refreshment coming from God, will naturally respond by producing fruit of obedience which God will bless. The life of an apostate, however, who receives precisely the same spiritual nourishment and refreshment, produces evil and unbelief. There is nothing wrong with the rain falling upon the ground; the fault lies with the essential nature of the ground on which it falls. Increasing the amount of rain will not make a difference. The bad ground will still bring up only thorns and thistles, because the quality of the soil is poor. In the same way a person who has experienced all God has to offer an unbeliever and then turns his back on the truth cannot be renewed to repentance. Nothing but punishment and destruction awaits a person of this kind.

Looking closely at this passage, then, we see that although it does contain an important warning, it holds no fear for the person who has truly received Christ as Lord and Saviour and whose life is bearing fruit for Him. A true believer cannot lose his or her salvation. The only people who need be afraid when reading this passage are those who are presently claiming to believe, but in their hearts are considering turning away from the truth to go back to their former way of life. Such people need to realize that while those who reject Christ out of ignorance will always have a chance to repent, those who have already seen it all and then have turned their backs — only the Lord knows who these people are — will not have such a chance.

This is a solemn thought, and one that should make every professing Christian consider his ways and his heart. Though our passage was not directly addressed to believers in general, nevertheless as the inspired word of God it contains truths which all believers should carefully and prayerfully consider.

RJA

Republished by permission of the author

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