Salvation 2.0: Part 9.3: Why Heb 6:4-6 is Good News

grace5As we considered in the last post of this series, Hebrews 6:4-6 teaches that it’s possible for a Christian to so rebel against God that he falls away, and this happens when the Christian can no longer be brought back to repentance. However, as noted in the previous post,

Therefore, we must be careful not to interpret this passage to say that someone who is sorrowful for his sins and wants to return to God will be denied by God. It plainly says no such thing! Nothing here contradicts the Parable of the Prodigal Son. God forgives … Jesus saves … if we are penitent.

We don’t need to imagine that God will reject a penitent believer, but neither do we need to imagine that it’s easy to give up your rebellion and return. Not only is there a point where it becomes impossible to repent, long before then, there’s a time when it’s very difficult to repent. Rebellion is nothing to toy with. It’s seductive, addictive, and extremely difficult to escape.

Renewing to repentance

Heb 6:4-6 speaks in the passive voice: the rebel must “be brought back to repentance.” The emphasis is not on the person himself repenting (which, of course, is the goal) but on the efforts of others to bring him back. I think there are two “others” in mind: God working through his Spirit and the other members of this person’s church.

Repentance is a work of the Spirit —

(Rom 8:13-14)  For if you live according to the sinful nature, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live, 14 because those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.

(2 Th 2:13)  But we ought always to thank God for you, brothers loved by the Lord, because from the beginning God chose you to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth.

Indeed, to resist the Spirit’s work is to grieve the Spirit (Eph 4:30).

But a much more prominent theme of Hebrews is the importance of our fellow
Christians —

(Heb 3:13)  But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.

(Heb 6:10)  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.

(Heb 10:24-25)  And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. 25 Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another–and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

(Heb 10:33-35)  Sometimes you were publicly exposed to insult and persecution; at other times you stood side by side with those who were so treated. 34 You sympathized with those in prison and joyfully accepted the confiscation of your property, because you knew that you yourselves had better and lasting possessions. 35 So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded.

(Heb 13:1)  Keep on loving each other as brothers.

(Heb 13:17)  Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give an account. Obey them so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no advantage to you.

The message is that salvation is not entirely an individual thing. We struggle together, we encourage each other, we are accountable to each other, and we are responsible for each other.

God’s incredible patience

Of course, if you don’t fall away until you are so far removed from God that repentance is impossible for you, then you remain saved up to that point. That makes God an incredibly patient Father! And many protest such a generous interpretation. But that’s what the passage says.

Now, some argue that there’s another falling away — a reversible one that happens when you rebel but before you become so hardened that you won’t repent. It’s a nice theory, but I can’t find it in the Bible. Rather, I find evidence that God is actually unbelievably patient.

(Rev 2:18-24)  “To the angel of the church in Thyatira write: These are the words of the Son of God, whose eyes are like blazing fire and whose feet are like burnished bronze. 19 I know your deeds, your love and faith, your service and perseverance, and that you are now doing more than you did at first. 20 Nevertheless, I have this against you: You tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess. By her teaching she misleads my servants into sexual immorality and the eating of food sacrificed to idols. 21 I have given her time to repent of her immorality, but she is unwilling. 22 So I will cast her on a bed of suffering, and I will make those who commit adultery with her suffer intensely, unless they repent of her ways. 23 I will strike her children dead. Then all the churches will know that I am he who searches hearts and minds, and I will repay each of you according to your deeds. 24 Now I say to the rest of you in Thyatira, to you who do not hold to her teaching and have not learned Satan’s so-called deep secrets (I will not impose any other burden on you):

What is the sin that so concerns the Son of God? Well –

  • In some sense, she is like Jezebel — a prophetess of Baal and opponent of God’s own prophet Elijah
  • She claimed to be a prophetess
  • She encourages fornication
  • She encourages idolatrous practices
  • Others commit “adultery” with her

Mounce notes in the his New International Commentary on Revelation that fornication was a common feature of pagan feasts — which, of course, also involved eating meats sacrificed to pagan gods. Hence, he suggests that this was the likely context of the warning — especially given how central such feasts/orgies were to business guilds and Greek society. To refuse to participate was not like choosing the Methodist Church instead of the Church of Christ — it was to surrender one’s position in the business community and society in general.

The trade guilds practically controlled the city of Thyatira; every industry was strictly regulated by these guilds. In order to work in a trade; you had to belong to the guild – sort of like a powerful union. But to be a member of a guild also meant worshipping the pagan god connected to the guild. Any Christian involved in any trade was presented with the problem: his or her faithfulness to Christ would affect his livelihood.

The amazing thing is that God shows “Jezebel” any patience at all! I mean, how could someone be true to her faith in Jesus and submission to Jesus as Lord and yet not only teach these things but also encourage others to do the same? This passage shows God to be astonishingly patient! But his patience is not unlimited, and he will at some point give up on those who deny Jesus as Son of God and Lord.

Now, we all know people who’ve seemingly fallen away, rejected the holy things of God, and even become an enemy of God, only to later repent and become very faithful Christians. Obviously, as it wasn’t impossible for them to repent, they never really fell away. Either they weren’t saved at all before they appeared to fall away or they remained saved throughout their time of rebellion. And passages such as the one just quoted from Revelation tell me that it’s entirely possible that such a person remained saved throughout his time of rebellion.

Now, some argue that such a teaching is dangerous, as it seemingly gives permission to rebel and then come back to Jesus, but my experience is that the vast majority of those who rebel never come back. It’s like an addiction. Some kick it and go on to live healthy, happy, productive lives in Jesus. Most don’t, and only an idiot takes that chance.

The real lesson is, I think, that we give up on people far too easily and far too quickly. When we try to bring a beloved brother or sister to repentance and fail, we very often give up. I don’t think God does, and he sometimes succeeds. He’d succeed more often if his children didn’t give up so easily.

Profile photo of Jay Guin

About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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16 Responses to Salvation 2.0: Part 9.3: Why Heb 6:4-6 is Good News

  1. laymond says:

    1Ti 4:1 Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils;

    1Ti 4:2 Speaking lies in hypocrisy; having their conscience seared with a hot iron;

    It is very hard, if not impossible to reach a seared conscience. But that does not mean we should give up on trying.

  2. Dwight says:

    Looking at Israel. They time and time again turned from God and God time and time again accepted them back when they returned to God. Now we should keep in mind that God had a couple of times thought of destroying Israel, but didn’t because of Jesus coming from Israel, so this is a reflection of how bad Israel had gotten. And yet God didn’t turn them away when they returned back to Him.

  3. Monty says:

    Part of preaching the gospel, as taught to Timothy, is to rebuke, or the correction of error. Paul condemned Peter, Barnabus, and others for disassociating themselves from the Gentile brethren when the Jews showed up. I understand Paul’s strong condemnation for their action but truly I can’t see those good brethren(as wrong as they were in the moment) as being “lost” when compared to Jezebel teaching it’s good to commit fornication. Fornication was something everyone knew was wrong. No if, ands, and buts. Peter, Barnabus and company experienced a pressurized moment in the infancy of the good news spreading to the Gentiles and failed in that moment to live up to what Gospel means. But lost? Not unless they failed to repent, and I don’t think any of us would think that probable. Unless we make repentance for every wrong ever committed the ticket to salvation ,if so, then God will have to just forgive some wrongs that are never thought of, or confessed, if any of us are going to be saved. And then we are back to (as I said in an earlier post), sin-repent-get forgiveness with every sin we commit or else we’re condemned or lost until we do. If they (Peter and company)had persisted(hard to imagine they would) now that a chosen Apostle had condemned their actions, then yeh, but as you say Jay, God is patient. If he would be patient with the error of someone he called “Jezebel”, then surely he was as patient(if not more so) with Peter and company. A willingness to repent when wrong is pointed out shows a good heart, does it not, and a failure to repent shows a heart of unbelief. I don’t think Peter and Barnabus had hearts of unbelief. If they themselves had refused to eat with the Gentiles before the Jews arrived then they would have been guilty of not accepting the Gentiles as equal brethren, but that was not the case. They were guilty of being fearful and not wanting to make waves with the circumcision group. They knew they would be condemned for eating with them, and fearful of that condemnation they withdrew. They should have stood boldly against the Judaizers. I’m sure it never happened again.

  4. Larry Cheek says:

    Laymond,
    I hope that I am misunderstanding this statement of yours. I seems to me that you are suggesting that we should keep trying to obtain a seared conscience.
    “It is very hard, if not impossible to reach a seared conscience. But that does not mean we should give up on trying.”
    The message that I understand from the concept of a seared conscience is that it is the result of, “giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils; Speaking lies in hypocrisy”
    The conscience is seared over as if with a hot iron so that the truth can no longer be comprehended. The individual will forever be entrapped in the telling of lies and hypocrisy.
    Definitely the opposite of being a Christian.

  5. Dwight says:

    Monty, There is a problem we make among ourselves in regards to others in that we want to be the “hammer of God” by making declarations of others being lost. Even Simon the sorcerer wasn’t declared lost, but headed that way. A lost person will be lost in their sin, but a sinner may or may not be lost, unless they continue in their sin without repentance.
    Yes, we can judge another in regards to sin, but we can’t judge another in regards to damnation or condemnation. We are not the final judge.
    And then there is the fact we are not the apostles and many times we act like we are. We do not understand like the apostles did the things of the scriptures. We must be very careful in arguing that we have and know the truth, instead of reading from the truth. I know many people who argue that they securely know the truth and yet will admit that they have changed their minds over the years in regards to some scriptures, but would have argued then they knew the truth as well.

  6. Monty says:

    Dwight,

    Is that a warning for me, a rebuke, or an agreement, it seems ambiguous? If it’s a warning, all I did was give an opinion, not a thus saith Monty. If you’re in agreement with what I said, great!

  7. Dwight says:

    Just a statement and possibly an indictment of all of us. Sorry for the sense of ambiguity. But I agree with you.

  8. Monty says:

    Dwight,

    Thanks.

  9. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:

    Laymond wrote,

    It is very hard, if not impossible to reach a seared conscience. But that does not mean we should give up on trying.

    Exactly. Thanks.

  10. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:

    Dwight wrote,

    Looking at Israel. They time and time again turned from God and God time and time again accepted them back when they returned to God.

    For the sake of God’s covenant with Abraham, God never destroyed Israel. As you say, he thought long and hard about it. And when God thinks long and hard, well, that’s a lot of thinking.

    (Exod. 32:11-14 ESV) 11 But Moses implored the LORD his God and said, “O LORD, why does your wrath burn hot against your people, whom you have brought out of the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand? 12 Why should the Egyptians say, ‘With evil intent did he bring them out, to kill them in the mountains and to consume them from the face of the earth’? Turn from your burning anger and relent from this disaster against your people. 13 Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, your servants, to whom you swore by your own self, and said to them, ‘I will multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven, and all this land that I have promised I will give to your offspring, and they shall inherit it forever.'” 14 And the LORD relented from the disaster that he had spoken of bringing on his people.

    (Lev. 26:44-45 ESV) 44 Yet for all that, when they are in the land of their enemies, I will not spurn them, neither will I abhor them so as to destroy them utterly and break my covenant with them, for I am the LORD their God. 45 But I will for their sake remember the covenant with their forefathers, whom I brought out of the land of Egypt in the sight of the nations, that I might be their God: I am the LORD.”

    (Deut. 4:29-31 ESV) 29 But from there you will seek the LORD your God and you will find him, if you search after him with all your heart and with all your soul. 30 When you are in tribulation, and all these things come upon you in the latter days, you will return to the LORD your God and obey his voice. 31 For the LORD your God is a merciful God. He will not leave you or destroy you or forget the covenant with your fathers that he swore to them.

    But he did not destroy the nation. Many an Israelite was killed or allowed to die by God without entering the Promised Land. God honored his covenant with Abraham and the nation of Israel. He did not provide for all Israelites to persevere.

  11. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:

    Monty,

    I recognize that Gal 2 doesn’t fit the pattern of Heb 6:4-6 very obviously. I’ve struggled over the years to reconcile the two. Here’s my theory —

    Peter’s sin was not in being wrong and not really about who he ate with. His sin was division. He effectively split the church by denying the salvation (by his actions) of the Gentiles. And this is an especially pernicious sin for a leader, teacher, and apostle — who is held to a higher standard.

    Just as we see in the disfellowship passages, those who divide get run out the church more quickly than those who just err. Division cuts to the heart of the gospel — meaning you should find yourself disfellowshiped for being a divider long before your heart is too hard to repent. The flock must be kept safe.

    Paul thought like a rabbi. Excommunication to protect the people derives from the Torah passages on being “cut off” from the people, meaning expelled from the camp and left to die in the desert. Most people don’t get cut off until they’re beyond redemption — but a divider, well, that’s a wolf among sheep. He gets cut off to protect the flock, even if he might repent. (I use “cut off” to refer to a disfellowship done to protect the flock from danger of a wolf, rather than disfellowship primarily prompted to gain repentance. Hence, “cut off” can happen sooner as the goal is to protect the flock from a thief, a seducer, or a divider. You can’t wait to rid the church of such a person — and so they may be cut off before they’ve hit the Heb 6:4-6 hardening beyond repentance.)

    In that sense, Peter was condemned. He merited expulsion. He stood condemned, worthy of punishment — if necessary, being turned over to Satan, who rules the desert outside the camp and the city walls.

    “Condemned” doubtless refers to deserving punishment (and outside of grace), but perhaps Paul had deserving to be be cut off/disfellowshipped in mind — which is related but not the same thing.

    Liddell-Scott says the Greek means “sentence was passed.” So perhaps the sentence is not the loss of salvation but being cut off (absent repentance, as always).

    So that’s a meandering response, and I need to sleep on it. But that’s my thinking this hour.

  12. buckeyechuck says:

    Jay, it seems to me the word “condemned” can mean incorrect, wrong, or guilty of error, without equaling loss of salvation. Considering your thoughts on Hebrews 6 from this post, It seems beyond a possibility that Peter was outside of grace even with his error. If he was, then his error makes my errors look far more grievous and my salvation less secure. I don’t believe that is the intent of that passage. If Peter were to continue his division, then would he have been worthy of the loss of grace given your thoughts here regarding Hebrews 6? How would Peter’s error of division compare to those who teach division today for far lesser points of doctrinal difference, such as instrumental music or marriage and divorce issues just to name two? Obviously, there are texts where “condemned” does mean that salvation has been lost. Perhaps we should not get too caught up in a super finite meaning of the word “condemned.”

  13. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:

    Buckeye Chuck,

    Did you read my response to Monty posted immediately above your comment at http://oneinjesus.info/2015/12/salvation-2-0-part-9-3-why-heb-64-6-is-good-news/#comment-161821? I think we are likely pretty close in our thinking.

  14. Christopher says:

    “I have given her time to repent of her immorality, but she is unwilling. So I will cast her on a bed of suffering, and I will make those who commit adultery with her suffer intensely, unless they repent of her ways.”

    I have always wondered why God did not simply strike this woman dead – in the hopes she would repent? The use of the word “unless” seems to imply that her folowers will suffer unless they repent (and not until). Secondly, we see clearly here that God can be the cause of suffering. Why do we think He is unwilling to heal people as readily as He is to make them suffer? Why should anyone, for instance, suffer with a disease like leprosy all of his miserable life if he is not unrepentant? If suffering is intended to bring people to repentance, where are the “times of refreshing” in terms of healing one receives when he repents?

  15. Larry Cheek says:

    Christopher,
    Where did you find that one receives healing when he repents?

  16. Christopher says:

    Larry,

    Gehazi apparently was, since he and his descendants were cursed with leprosy forever by Elisha but winds up in the presence of the king, answering his questions, a while later. But you didn’t answer the question posed: why do we suppose God is unwilling to heal people as readily as He is willing to afflict them? Who is the author of death and disease if not God? Is it Satan?

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