The Eternal Danger of Apostasy (Hebrews Sermon 21 of 74)
March 06, 2011 | Andrew Davis
The Eternal Security of the Christian
For me, personally, probably for many of you as well, the most comforting doctrine in Scripture is the eternal security of the believer. Commonly, the doctrine is given us as once saved, always saved. You can't lose your salvation. Just for me personally, just to know with a sense of servitude in my heart, a sense of assurance that when I die, I'm going to be with Jesus, and I'm not going to be condemned, that I've crossed over from death to life, that I'm going to see Jesus on his throne, that he will welcome me into eternal habitations, that I will sit with Christ at the table along with the redeemed from all over the world, that I'm going to be there, that there's actually a place with my name on it that no power can separate me from the love of God in Christ Jesus.
Many Scriptures teach me this. John 6, Jesus says these words with his blessed lips, "For I've come down from Heaven not to do my own 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."
But later in that same chapter, Jesus said, "No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him and I will raise him up at the last day." he says later in that same gospel in John 10, "My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life and they shall never perish. No one can snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one can snatch them out of the Father's hand. I and the Father are one."
Or as the Apostle Paul says in Romans 8, "For those God foreknew, he predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those he predestined, he also called, and those he called, he also justified, and those he justified, he also glorified." These passages and many others teach me the eternal security, the believer that when we come to faith in Christ, we don't receive anything less than eternal life and we will never perish.
But, as we come to Hebrew 6, particularly verses 4-6, we come to one of the most controversial passages in the New Testament, one of the most commonly fought over battle ground text. Because it seems to say that there are genuine Christians that will end up in Hell. It seems to teach that people who are genuinely believers in Christ, can fall away, and not only that they can fall away, but you can never bring them back to repentance.
It's an ancient battle ground over which battles have been waged on this one question: "Can a truly regenerate, a truly converted person, subsequently later on lose their salvation, fall away from Jesus and end up in Hell?" During the time of the Roman persecutions, there was a group of people known as the Novatians. The Christians were being persecuted under one emperor after another but particularly under the wicked Emperor Decius. Some church attenders, some professors of faith in Christ, renounced their faith in order to save their lives. Others, on the other hand, refused to renounce their faith. Some of them were killed. Others suffered the loss of loved ones, or husband's wives, of children, of friends.
After the time of persecution ended, some of those who had repudiated Christ, who had renounced Christ, came back with tears, repentant, wanting to be reinstated to the church. Some churches, some church leaders refused to allow them to come back. A Roman priest in particular named Novatian set himself up as a rival Pope, a rival leader of the Church of Rome, and started a schism with the Roman Church on stricter principles of not allowing the lapsed to come back into the church. Now, those Novatians were eventually condemned as heretics by the official church in Rome. Sadly, the Roman church that condemned them also linked their movement to the Book of Hebrews, and to this passage in particular, and because of this passage, and generally the message of Hebrews, the Roman Church as a whole was slow to accept the Book of Hebrews as canonical Scripture.
Calvinists vs. Arminians
Many, many centuries later, those that strongly espoused the sovereignty of God and salvation, sometimes called Calvinists or reformed in their theology, debated or disputed with those that emphasized the more human focus and salvation, human free will. Arminians, they battled over this text as well. John Wesley, who was the 18th-century founder of Methodism in England, focused on human free will and human decisions all the way throughout salvation. He considered lawlessness the greatest plague in the Church of England, and specifically the view that because we are forgiven of all of our sins by the blood of Christ, we can lead careless, immoral lives and still be assured that we're going to Heaven. He hated that view.
And he blamed reformed theology or strong view of the sovereignty of God. He blamed that view for that way of thinking, that lifestyle. And he said, "Instead, we need to preach that people can be true, genuine Christians one day and still end up in Hell after they die." In his booklet, Predestination Calmly Considered, Wesley took his readers through a back and forth debate on this text, Hebrews 6:4-6, proving that the people described in this text must be genuine Christians who then fall away and are lost. Wesley wrote, "It remains that those who see the light of the glory of God and the face of Jesus Christ, and who have been made partakers of the Holy Ghost of the witness and the fruits of the Spirit, may nevertheless so fall from God as to perish everlastingly."
When one of Wesley's protege pastors was asked, "Do you believe in the perseverance of the saints?", he answered, "Certainly I do." The question was surprise and said, "I thought you did not." The Methodist preacher then explained, "Oh, sir, you have been misinformed. It is the perseverance of sinners that we doubt." Well, I don't find that very comforting because I am a sinner, and I need to know that God is going to persevere with me as a sinner until he saves me to the uttermost. I want to know this doctrine of security and I want to know if this text, Hebrews 6:4-6, takes my security away from me. That's what I want to know. I want to understand this passage of Scripture and I want you to do it as well. Does this passage teach that a genuine Christian can fall away from Christ?
If so, how can we have any assurance at all, on a Sunday afternoon or a Tuesday morning or at any point in your life, how can you know? You don't know the future. And if it doesn't teach that a Christian can lose their salvation, what does it teach? What is it here for?
Three Basic Approaches to Hebrews 6
There are three basic approaches to this text. The first approach, the man-centered or free will approach, this passage is clearly talking about true and genuine Christians who have been justified, and it's also clearly teaching that such people can lose their salvation, can renounce or repudiate Christ and end up condemned.
Secondly, is what's known as the so-called "straw man" approach. In other words, this is just a rhetorical technique by the author to Hebrews. He's talking clearly about true Christians, the languages of true Christians. It must be, according to this view. But it says, "If they fall away." And since no true Christian can fall away, then this is an empty set. It's talking about nobody really. But the passage does us some good, and that's why it's in there.
The third approach, which is the one I take, is that this passage is not speaking about true genuine Christians, that the five designators that are in here come short of designating these people as regenerate.
There are people that derive tremendous benefits from regular church attendance at good healthy churches. Those benefits come to them through the power of the Holy Spirit, but they are short of being regenerate, and that it's possible to be actively involved in a good healthy church like that and then later fall away from Christ, and I believe going as far as this passage goes, viciously repudiate Christ, become an enemy of the church, a vocal enemy in some public way trample the blood of Christ under foot or at least in some vicious, private way. And whenever there's an opportunity that they can communicate this, this is their heart's state.
And you can't restore those people back to their prior confession and that the passage does do true believers good in a mysterious and a powerful way these warnings, as they do throughout the book of Hebrews, keep us with the proper state of mind. And let me tell you right now what I think that is. I'll say it again perhaps at the end, but I want to say it to you right now: "How does God want the truly regenerate person to think and feel about these things now?" And this is what I think. I think if you have, as a Christian, a solid assurance of your final salvation based on the finished work of Christ on the cross and your faith, the internal testimony, the Holy Spirit that you are a child of God, and you with great joy can sing with full assurance that you're going to end up in Heaven, and day after day after day you fight sin and hate it and fight it with everything you have inside because it's evil and it will be no part of your future life in Heaven, then you're exactly where you need to be.
And there are verses that do kind of some of the one work, and some other verses do some of the other work, and all put together, they shape our hearts and get us to be exactly where we need to be, joyful assurance coupled with unending warfare while we live in the body of death. That's what you've got. That's the Christian life.
I. The General Exhortation: Let Us Go On to Maturity
Alright, well let's look more specifically at this passage, and I'm just trying to stay as close as I can to the phrases in this text. Whenever I'm in doubt, I cling even closer to the Scripture than ever before. So we're going to go phrase by phrase. We're going to try to understand this and see what the Lord is saying to us through it.
Now the context of Hebrews 6:1-6, media context is Hebrews 5. Now, the author has been warning a church of Jewish people that made professions of faith in Christ, who under intense and growing persecution, they were, I think, being tempted to forsake Jesus in particular and go back to old, to comfortable Old Covenant Judaism. The author is showing them that to do so would involve an open rejection of Christ as Messiah, to refuse God's call to come over into the Promised Land of the new covenant of salvation in Jesus. And so the author has been consistently, through the first five chapters, proclaiming the greatness of Jesus. Just how majestic he is.
The radiant display of God's glory is Jesus, greater than any angel, greater than Moses, who was just a servant in God's house, but Jesus a Son over God's house, greater than Moses because he gives us a better sabbath rest and therefore he's better than Joshua because he leads us into an eternal sabbath rest in Heaven with God. He's greater than Aaron because his priesthood is a greater priesthood than the ironic priesthood. He is a priest forever in the order of Melchizedek. And so the author's been portraying the greatness of Jesus, and then he gets to this word, Melchizedek.
And as soon as he mentions Melchizedek, "you are priest forever in the order of Melchizedek," he stops. He interrupts himself and he gives the Hebrew Christians a full chapter and a half of rebuke, exhortation, warning and encouragement. That's Hebrews 5:11-6:20. And we're right in the middle of that interruption. The author has interrupted himself. But don't think that that interruption is something off by the side. It's really the very reason why he wrote the whole letter. And so he interrupts himself and he brings it right home to bear, "All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, training and righteousness."
And so he is doing that right here. And then in Chapter 7, he resumes his train of thought and he goes on with this issue of Melchizedek. He's trying to show us that we have a high priest who can pray to God for us, who can save us from our sins, who can minister better than any of the other priests could do. Now, the rebuke we've already seen, last week, Hebrews 5:11-14. We have a lot to say about this Melchizedek figure, but it's hard to explain because you're sluggish and lazy in your hearing. By now, you should be further ahead.
"You need milk and not solid food." And he's urging them. He's rebuking them. Then he gives us this exhortation in Hebrews 6:1-3. And the basic exhortation here is, "Let us go on to perfection or maturity," depending how you translate it. But the aim, the goal, is perfection. What could be achieved really is maturity, but that's the exhortation. Let's go on to maturity in Christ. Then he gives them a very serious warning which is the controversial passage verses four through eight, in effect saying that it's impossible to bring those who fall away, after these experiences, those who fall away back to repentance.
Then he gives them some encouragements and exhortations from 9-20, Hebrews 6:9-20, how the author sees better things in them, things that accompany salvation. He remembers their labors for Christ. He points them to God's awesome power to finish their salvation and exhorts them one more time not to be lazy in their Christian life. So that's the context. So the general exhortation here is, "Let us go on to maturity." This is the main concern for this epistle, for these Christians to continue in Christ right to the end of their lives, not just to begin with Jesus, but to continue right to the end with Jesus, for them not to drift away, turn away or fall away, for them to run their race with endurance and then finally enter God's sabbath rest in the end, at the end of their lives.
And so in verse one, we have this clear exhortation. Look at it with me, Hebrews 6:1, "Therefore, let us leave the elementary teachings about Christ and go on to maturity." Maturity is the goal, spiritual maturity in Christ. He's compared them to spiritual babies, but he wants them to be spiritual mature adults, mature in Christ. And in order to do this, they have to have a proper vision of the Christian life. And the final goal of our salvation is total conformity to Christ.
And so it doesn't matter too much to me whether you translate this word "perfection" or "maturity." It doesn't matter much. You are not going to be perfect in this world. That, the Bible is very clear about that. But the Bible is also clear that you are to aim for perfection in this world. At every moment, you're aiming for Christlikeness. I want to be just like Jesus. I don't want to be 90% like Jesus today, I want to be like him completely in every way. And since we go from this exhortation and one of the direst warnings in the entire Bible, it's pretty clear that to remain spiritually immature, to stay as a baby, is actually dangerous for you. It's dangerous.
There's a connection then between continued growth and spiritual safety or protection. Conversely, there is a connection between failure to grow and eventual apostasy. So the issue here with these Hebrew professors of faith in Christ has to do with their inability to hear, to understand and to apply Christian doctrines, specifically this doctrine about Melchizedek.
And he says, "Look, let's leave the elementary doctrines about Christ. Let's not lay again that foundation again," and so that the foundation of the Christian mind is doctrine, Christian ideas, concepts. Paul speaks of this foundation, the foundation of the building. In 1 Corinthians 3:10-11, "By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as an expert builder, and someone else is building on it, but each one should be careful how he builds, for no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ."
What are the elementary doctrines of Christ here?
So what is that foundation? What are the elementary doctrines of Christ here? Well, I think Verse 1 and 2 kind of list them. "Therefore, let us leave the elementary teachings about Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works," is one translation, "or acts that lead to death, faith in God, instruction about washings," or I think baptism is actually a good translation, "the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead and eternal judgment." These are what he calls elementary principles. These are the beginning doctrines of the Christian life.
- Repentance from dead works
So repentance from acts that lead to death. Acts that lead to death are violations of God's law. The only thing you ever need to repent from are sins, right? Sins are always transgressions of God's law. So as you begin to hear the gospel and evangelists, if he's faithfully telling you the truth, he'll say you must repent. You must turn away from your sins because your sins will condemn you. It's a foundational doctrine, repentance from dead works.
- Faith in God
Secondly, a faith in God, especially faith in Jesus Christ. He talks about the elementary teachings about Christ. And so, faith in God through Jesus Christ, that you would trust in Jesus. So that's the full issue of repentance and faith, turning away from sin and turning to Jesus and seeing in Jesus in his death on the cross, his blood shed on the cross, your full forgiveness. Putting your trust in Jesus, that's an elementary principle of the Christian faith. It's the beginning doctrine. Turn away from sin and turn to Jesus.
- Instruction about baptisms, the laying on of hands
And then baptisms, plural word, but washings. I think in my interpretation, I'm not so sure about this, but I think it's both water baptism and the baptism of the Holy Spirit. And I believe that water baptism is a sign or a symbol of the true baptism of the Spirit, the cleansing and the washing of the spirit. And then the laying on of hands happened back then in the early church with a new convert, like you remember how Ananias was sent to Saul of Tarsus after Saul had seen the vision of Jesus on the road to Damascus, and he was blinded by that, and he was praying and waiting, and God sent Ananias as the kind of human instrument, the evangelist.
And placing his hands on Saul, he said, "Brother Saul, the Lord has sent me," who you saw on the road to Damascus, "has sent me that you might receive your sight and receive the gift of the Holy Spirit." And so I think the placing and the laying on of hands was a visible demonstration of the gift of the Holy Spirit, the receiving of the Holy Spirit.
- The resurrection of the dead and eternal judgment
The resurrection of the dead and eternal judgement that someday we will be raised up, that the righteous and the unrighteous alike, everyone will be raised up and go to judgment, and that God will separate all people, everyone into the righteous and the wicked, the believers in Christ and the unbelievers. Oh, if I could just plead with you. If you're here now in the state of being an unbeliever in Christ, you don't know how much longer you have to be alive.
You don't know if you'll even make it to tonight. I urge you, while you're listening to me now, that you could, in your mind, picture Jesus on the cross, his blood shed, picture him dead under the wrath of God. His penalty was really for you. And trust in him. Put your faith in him that his righteousness might become yours and that your wickedness is given to him and he'll take it away and God will forgive you of all your sins, and trust in him that he not only died, but that God raised him up from the dead on the third day. I plead with you that you need perhaps this milk. You need these elementary teachings, then trust in Jesus. But if you've already believed all that, believed it years ago, time has come to move on. Let's go past these elementary doctrines, this milk of the cross.
Don't misunderstand. Don't say, "Well, I've got it now. I understand everything there is to know about the cross of Christ." You never will. It's an infinite work. But these doctrines are called elementary. These are the milk doctrines. There's more to learn. So let's leave these elementary teachings, and let's go on to maturity.
Key Statement: “God permitting, we will do so...”
And the next statement is vital. Let us go on to maturity, and God willing, we will do so. Wow. "God permitting," we will go on to maturity. Don't skip over that. Friends, don't skip over anything in the Book of Hebrews. Everything's vital, but what is the author saying here? You might think that's an odd statement. Why wouldn't God permit us to go on to maturity? Well, I don't think this is a throw-away line. It's the key to everything.
All Christian graces come from the Father through the Son by the power of the Holy Spirit. There are no Christian graces or good things that happen to you that don't come from God. And if God permits for you to live, you'll live. And if he does not permit you to live, you will die. And if God permits you to continue in Jesus, you'll continue in Jesus. And if he does not permit you to continue, you will not. It all comes from God. Everything started with God and it will end with God. And so God permitting, you can make a single step in Christian progress.
Jesus put it very plainly when he said, "I am the vine and you're the branches. If you remain in me, if anyone remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit. Apart from me, you can do nothing." That Jesus' version of, "God permitting, we will do so." Apart from Jesus, we can do nothing. Apart from the ongoing sustaining grace of Almighty God through Jesus Christ, we would all be lost in a single day's time. Your faith would disappear if God didn't sustain it moment by moment. And so only if God wills can the Hebrew Christians, number one, keep being Christians, and number two, make progress as Christians, to God alone then be the glory for our salvation. Are you still in Jesus after all these years? Then give him the glory. God has permitted you. He has willed you to still be in Jesus. And if you're still in Jesus tomorrow, give him the glory. But you know what? He's promised you will be.
He will keep his promise, but it all comes back to God. There's no independent Christian life here, but rather totally dependent.
II. The Terrifying Warning of Apostasy
Then the author turns of this terrifying warning of apostasy, the third and final step in its progression, as I pointed out in the NIV translation, which comes across as, "Don't drift away," Hebrews 2:1, "Don't turn away," Hebrews 3:12, and "Don't fall away," Hebrews 6:6, from the living God. So we have this terrifying warning of apostasy. Now, I can just stop and speak anecdotally to you. I can just speak to you from your experience. Have you ever known anyone that seemed to be doing great in their Christian life, was attending church regularly, coming to Bible studies, talking the talk, seemingly walking the walk, everything going great, and then some time later, they're not there anymore? Then you find them somewhere and you talk to them and their hearts have grown cold and distant from Jesus. Has that ever happened to you? Have you ever met anyone like that?
I have met dozens and dozens of people like that. It's really sad. It's really tragic, and you want to think, "What can I do for these individuals?" And you're praying for them and you're, "What can I do? Maybe I can win them back. I want to win them back." But then the whole time, there's kind of perhaps rising a niggling concern in your own life. "Well, what about me? How do I know that won't happen to me?" So we come to this text and we ask does this text teach that we can lose our salvation? So look at verses 4-6. It says there, "For 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."
III. Four Key Questions of Interpretation
Four key questions of interpretation.
Question number one: Who is the author talking about? What kind of person is this? Is this a regenerate person or not?
Question number two: What does it mean to fall away?
Question number three: What does it mean to renew again to repentance?
Question number four: Why is it impossible to renew such people again to repentance?
These are the four questions that any interpreter of this passage has to face if they want to be faithful. Now, let me tell you something. I think you can hear a lot of pastors preaching this passage, they'll skip these four questions, give you generally what they think and move on. I'm not trying to do that. I want to teach you to ask these kind of questions. These are the questions you have to ask if you want to understand what God means by this text.
Who is the Author speaking about—Christians or not?
Now first, what kind of people is the author talking about? Are these regenerate people or not? Are these Christians or not? Well, first of all, notice the shift of language. In many other passages around, before this and after this, he uses "us" and "you" language. Us and you. He talks about us, he talks about you. Us, you, us, you. He does that a lot. But in this passage, he changes to "those" and "them." Those kind of people. I don't think that's just an accident. Basically, he's taking a "if the shoe fits wear it" kind of approach here. He's laying out description saying if this is you, then this is the situation. He's going to later say, "I actually don't think this is you." But I think that's important. Also, notice things he does not say. He doesn't use certain phrases like this. He doesn't say that these people are chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world.
He doesn't say that they're regenerate or born again by the power of the Holy Spirit. He doesn't use any language about justification here. He doesn't talk about justification through faith. He doesn't talk about being indwelt by the Holy Spirit so that the Holy Spirit then becomes a testimony that they are children of God. He doesn't mention adoption as children of God. These phrases and others like it, he doesn't mention. Actually, a statement after this passage makes it clear that the author does not believe these people to be saved, the people he's describing here. Look at verse nine. This is not in our passage this morning, but look at it. Hebrew 6:9, it says, "Even though we speak like this, dear friends, we're confident of better things in your case," look at the next phrase, "things that accompany salvation."
Well, that tells me everything I need to know about this list. This list does not necessarily accompany salvation. So, in other words, the author has a good confidence that these Hebrews were actually genuine Christians who are being tested, but he does feel they need to be warned nonetheless, and so he warns them about apostasy. Well, what does he say about these people? Well, they have once been enlightened. They have tasted heavenly gift. They have shared in the Holy Spirit. They have tasted the goodness of the word of God and they have tasted the powers of the coming age, these five things. Now, can these descriptors be speaking of someone who was never really a true Christian? Or, on the other hand, can a true Christian fall away and be lost forever? Those are your options. Well, I believe these descriptors are speaking of a category of people who are deeply immersed and involved in the powerful apostolic era church who are experiencing in an overwhelming way the ministry of the Holy Spirit in the daily and weekly life of that healthy church, but who were not regenerate, actually.
He says they "have once been enlightened." It's an interesting phrase. Enlightened, what does that mean? It comes from the Greek word photos, from which we get photography or photon. The Greek word usually means coming to a new understanding by good, solid Christian teaching. That frequently is used that way. For example, in Ephesians 1:18, "I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints," etcetera. So enlightenment comes from kind of what I would say an "aha moment" where you learn something and something new hits you, and it's like, "Ah. Now, I'd never understood that before."
Now, I believe that everyone who has truly converted is marvelously enlightened, amen? Haven't you had some light shine in your dark heart? Haven't you gotten some light that's true? But is it true that everyone who receives some light from the Gospel is genuinely converted? Now, that's a different question. Is it possible for an un-regenerate person to learn something and come to a new understanding of Christian theology or spiritual things without being regenerate? I think not only is it possible, it actually happens all the time. Recently, I was explaining the sacrificial system to a lapsed Catholic, went through the details of the sacrificial system, which I've done many times in this church. And this individual had heard these words in the mass year after year and have never understood, "Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world." This individual told me, "I have never understood that. Now, I do. Finally, I see the connection between the animal sacrificial system and the death of Jesus." Enlightened, not regenerate.
Actually, in the parable of the seed and the soils, there's a category, the rocky soil, that receives and springs up. Something comes up. They at once received the word with joy. Well, let's trace the joy back to its root. What's the root of joy? An idea, a thought, right? Here's a thought. There's a Heaven. It will last forever. It's going to be beautiful. You should want to be there, whatever. Sounds good to me. And there's joy at that and it comes from enlightenment. Conversely, it's also possible to have some kind of enlightenment on the negative aspects of the Christian faith.
For example, you can hear of the terrors of hell and you can tremble and be worried about it and concerned as the Governor Felix was when he heard Paul, discourse on righteousness and self-control and the judgment to come. And when Felix heard this, Acts 24:25, he was very afraid and he stopped Paul and said, "That's enough for now. I'll send for you again, and we'll talk later." Well, what was Felix thinking? Fear. Why? Because he was enlightened about the true nature of hell and Judgement Day that's coming, but not regenerate. Is it possible then to be enlightened? I think so.
Secondly, "tasted the heavenly gift." What does this mean? I think the heavenly gift here, let's just go right to it, is the Holy Spirit. I think it's the gift of the Holy Spirit. He's frequently spoken of as a gift, the gift of the Holy Spirit. "Repent and believe and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit." He's spoken of as the Spirit from Heaven. You'll receive the gift from Heaven, so he's the heavenly gift, the Holy Spirit. Well, what then does it mean to taste of the heavenly gift? Well, let's try be a heavenly gift sampler. So we have a heavenly gift sample.
Have any of you ever been to Costco? Like, a good friend of mine, who I will not mention from the pulpit, who can actually eat a whole meal from samples at Costco.You may know who I'm talking about. I'm not going to say his name. I love him dearly. But he can go to Costco and he can do very, very well there. But he never buy... Well, I'm not going to go that far. Probably, he buys some things from Costco. I asked him, "Do they have like a furniture set there where you can kind of sit and eat the samples? I mean, do they have a TV plugged in so you can... I mean, it could be your kind of living room for an afternoon, you know?" But you know what I mean. By samples, they're samplers. And you just taste and you're getting tastes, but you're not sitting down to the meal.
Jesus on the cross was offered wine to drink mixed with gall, and he tasted it but he didn't drink. There's a difference between tasting and drinking, friends. And so in this sense, they were partakers of the Holy Spirit. This does not mean they are indwelt by the Holy Spirit. Because in John 14, we're promised the Holy spirit will be with us forever, that when he comes and takes possession of you and you become a son or daughter of the Living God and the Spirit testifies to you, that you're a child of God, that will be forever. He doesn't adopt you one day and un-adopt you the next. But these were merely partakers with the Holy Spirit.
What does that mean, "Partakers of the Holy Spirit"? I think you hang around. Listen, you hang around in a good healthy church, you're going to receive some benefits from the Holy Spirit. You're going to receive the benefit of good teaching.
You're going to receive the benefits of encouragement, benefits of good examples, benefits of financial contributions and generosity. You might receive financial help in a time of need as a gift of the Holy Spirit to you, even though you're unregenerate. These people, I think, have actually gone beyond that. To skip ahead, it says, "They tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age." They might have even been physically, miraculously healed by the power of the Holy Spirit and still unregenerate. Not everyone who gets physically healed is saved. John 5, Jesus warned one of the men he healed, "Stop sinning or something worse will happen to you."
So these people were partakers, the fruit, the gifts of the Spirit flowing horizontally, but they were not genuinely converted. They tasted the goodness of the word of God. I think, again, this refers to the preaching, the teaching of the word, and there's some value and benefit that comes to everybody from a good exposition of Scripture. You're tasting of it, but you're not drawing it in. And the powers of the coming age, it talked in Hebrews 2:4 about the powers of signs and wonders, of miracles, of healings, gifts of tongues and prophecy, and all the stuff that was flowing in the apostolic era of church. And they had tasted or partook of it, but I believe they were not regenerate. So these people have been experiencing the healthiest, most powerful spiritual experience all under the various ministries of the Holy Spirit.
They were there week after week at church. They heard the word of God unfolded. Christians were using their spiritual gifts in their lives to heal them or bless them or encourage them or help them in some way. Their minds had been enlightened by the Gospel and they had sampled these good things, but tragically they had never believed and they'd never been converted.
What does it mean to “fall away”?
Second question: What does it mean then to fall away? Well, first of all, let's be clear what this does not mean. Listen carefully to this because Satan can use this to discourage you. This does not refer to various temptations that may cause ordinary Christians to stumble along the way.
It does not refer to that. It doesn't even refer to grievous sins that may lay hold of someone and even in some mysterious way take them captive for a period of time in which they're habitually drawn into that lifestyle. It doesn't refer to that. It's not stumbling therefore into this or that sin. Neither is it falling prey to some surprising temptation that seizes you and drags you away or falling even into false doctrines or false understandings of aspects of the Christian life. And it certainly doesn't refer to somebody who's walking with the Lord, living a very disciplined, upright life, having daily quiet times, venturing out into evangelism, serving others, memorizing Scripture, but then through a variety of temptations, through weariness, through circumstances, tragedies in their family, starts to get cold or drift back somewhat and struggle attending church. This is not what this is talking about. There are other verses about that condition. This isn't talking about that.
Well then, what does it mean? It means a total renunciation as an act of the will, of all the doctrines and commitments of the Christian faith, a full rejection of Jesus Christ as the Son of God, as the Savior of the world, a denial of the saving power of the blood of Jesus Christ shed on the cross. It consists in a vowed, deliberate repudiation of Jesus Christ, falling into another religion like Old Covenant Judaism or Islam or Buddhism or paganism or even atheism.
John Owen called it this, "A voluntary, resolved relinquishment of and apostasy from the Gospel, the faith, the rule and obedience thereof which cannot happen without the person casting the highest reproach and disgrace imaginable upon the person of Jesus Christ himself."
Look at verse six, "To their loss, they're crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace." In effect, they're standing with the crucifiers of Jesus and giving full ascent to what they did, glad that Jesus was crucified because he deserves it. He's a blasphemer and a deceiver of the people, publicly disgracing Jesus, cursing his name. Same themes come again in Hebrews 10, "If we deliberately keep on sinning," verse 26 and following, "after we've received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, but only a fearful expectation of judgement and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God." So the word "deliberately keep on sinning," describes this apostasy. Deliberately means willingly with the full agreement of the heart, and from the heart sinning by trampling the blood of Jesus under foot as if it were an unholy thing.
Hebrews 10:29, "How much more severely do you think a man deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of God under foot, who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified him and has insulted the spirit of grace."
What does it mean to “renew again to repentance”?
Thirdly, what does it mean to renew again to repentance? Well, the author speaks of what many of us, any of us, would want to do to such a person, make some effort to win them back, renew them again to repentance. We yearn to bring them back to their former way of life, their former outward profession. "Just come back, and it'll be like it used to be. Come back and be part of us. Come to church again and come and partake of the Lord's supper again, and come and sit under the preaching again, and just be part of us again." Early church thought this meant baptism, a rebaptism for this, but there's no connection, open connection, here to baptism.
Some people think it teaches a real inward genuine repentance toward Jesus. But the problem with that interpretation is they never had that to begin with or else they wouldn't have fallen away. So you can't renew them back to something they never had. So instead, it's that they would come back and do the things they used to do, make that outward profession, continue to live the Christian life. And the author says it is impossible. It is impossible. You cannot renew them again to repentance. It cannot happen. They fall away. They are like trampling the Son of God under foot. They're despising him, blaspheming him and is impossible to renew them again to repentance.
Why is it “impossible” to renew such people to repentance?
Question four: Why? Why? Why is it impossible to do it? Well, I think you should go back to the beginning of Verse 4 to understand this, and if you have the NIV with you, you're greatly at a disadvantage here. And why? Because they left off a keyword. The first word in Verse 4 should be the word, "for."
If you have an NIV, do what I did right here and write the word "for" right there at the beginning of verse 4. It's easy. "For" for four right in there. Stick the word "for" in there. Why? Well, because the "for" makes you go back a verse to Verse 3, and what does verse three say? "And God permitting we will do so." That's why it's impossible. You know why? God isn't going to do it. God grants repentance. It's not impossible because God can't do it. God can do anything. Remember the story of the rich young ruler who comes and then goes away sad, and Jesus makes the statement, "It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of Heaven." Disciples are astonished and say, "Who then can be saved?" You remember Jesus' answer? "With man, this is impossible, but with God all things are possible." So there's no lack in God. God can take out any heart of stone and put in the heart of flesh. He can do it any time he wants.
The reason it's impossible to renew these apostates to repentance is that God has willed not to. He's made no promises to them to renew them. There's nothing in his character that obligates him to reclaim the apostate. He's not forced or compelled in any way, and he's saying here that he will not bless any such efforts. So John Owen said this, "The apostle instructs us no further in the nature of future events but as our own duty is concerned in them. It is not for us either to look for or hope for or pray for or endeavor towards the renewal of such persons unto repentance. God gives law unto us in these things but not unto himself, interestingly. It may be possible with God for all we know. Only he will not have us to expect any such thing from him nor has he appointed any means for us to attempt it. What he shall do we ought thankfully to accept, but our own duty towards such persons is absolutely at an end." I really think this is the best interpretation of Jesus' statement, "Do not give dogs what is sacred. Do not throw pearls before pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet and then turn and tear you to pieces."
IV. Key Questions of Application
If that verse has any application, I think its application is here now. These are vigorous enemies of the cross now. They are apostates and they're trampling Jesus publicly. "Leave them alone. There's nothing more he can do for them." Application for us. And I just want to put it in question form: Does this passage teach that a true believer can lose his or her salvation? At least this much you can answer, "Pastor doesn't think so." Alright, you can go with that. Whatever you think is up to you. But I think I've laid out evidence for why I just don't think that that's... And if you believe that, then you have to go back to the passages I quoted from John and tell me what they mean because I don't know what they could mean if they don't mean what they seem to mean. I think it's plain that the five descriptions of the apostates in this passage come short of speaking of a genuine Christian.
Secondly, how should a Christian hear this dreadful warning? How should you hear this warning? I think the best phrase is from Philippians, "With fear and trembling." "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom." And so I told you a combination of joyful expectancy based on the work of Christ and a fear and trembling, working out your salvation, putting sin to death and saying, "Oh, God, strengthen me. Help me in my battle against sin. This is a hard battle. I need your help. Please be with me. Pour out your grace on me and I know that I'll continue in Jesus. Thank you that you have promised that you'll do that." Look at verses 11 and 12. There is a kind of life that leads to Heaven. Hebrews 6:11-12 describes it. We'll get to it in due time, but I just want to read it now. "We want each of you to show the 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."
A diligent life ends up in Heaven. Not a lazy life. A life filled with faith and patience in the battle of Christianity. So this warning against apostasy is meant to jar us out of complacency, that just because we go to a good church, we're surrounded by God's people, we receive the benefits of their spiritual gifts, we enjoy happy feelings of spiritual enlightenment, that we are because of those things regenerate. Rather, we must look deeper. Is our faith working deep conviction of an hatred towards sin? Is there a pattern of growing holiness in our lives, our private lives? Are we working out our salvation with fear and trembling? Are we trusting in Jesus day after day, confident that he will sustain us to the very end, but not allowing that confidence to be a license for sin? Truly a lapsed regenerate child of God hears this warning soberly and brings it back to Jesus and says, "Jesus deliver me from sin. Help me to run this Christian race with endurance." And it stands over many Evangelical and Baptist churches that have easy believe-ism, a walk the aisle, raise your hand, instant baptism, pray the sinners prayer, receive full assurance of salvation, be taught immediately once saved, always saved, and then lead sinful self-indulgent lives in which there's no pattern of holiness, eventually leave off attending church since you already have your fire insurance, it stands over such churches and says, "You are shoddy workmen." Paul laid a foundation and the builders that came after needed to build with gold and silver and costly stones and you're building with straw and wood and stubble. That is not the genuine Gospel. And a true Christian should look after this passage and just look after your genuine heart love for Jesus.
Spend this afternoon telling Jesus you love him. If he convicts you of sin, repent. Ask for forgiveness. Let him cleanse you and restore you. Rest in your assurance that you're going to be in Heaven when you die, and then keep getting to work fighting sin. And finally, if you're lost, you've heard the gospel today. Don't walk out of here without a saving interest in Jesus. Trust in Jesus for the salvation of your souls. Close with me in prayer.