For an introduction to this series, click here.
November 9, 2007
The first passage we will discuss is one of the most confusing passages in all the Bible. Lots of people use this passage to "prove" that people can lose their salvation, although we will see this passage at the same time defeats their own argument.
"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. Though we speak in this way, yet in your case, beloved, we feel sure of better things—things that belong to salvation. For God is not unjust so as to overlook your work and the love that you have shown for his name in serving the saints, as you still do. And we desire each one of you to show the same earnestness to have the full assurance of hope until the end, so that you may not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises." (6:4-12)
If you read the overall context, it is clear the entire passage is talking about people who profess salvation but are not truly saved. (Remember this epistle is addressed to both believers and unbelievers.) The writer here says that two different types of ground receive the same rain, but one bears fruit and the other thorns, and the thorns are to be burned. I think the overall point of this warning is that if you can leave behind the things of God permanently, then you are not saved. Unfortunately, it is easy to sincerely think you are a Christian and deceive yourself and others. There are plenty of warnings about this from Jesus and in the epistles. A believer and an unbeliever may sit in the same congregation, hear the same teaching and arrive at different ends.
But what about the phrases "tasted the heavenly gift" and "shared in the Holy Spirit?" That sounds like it is describing saved people. Now we know the Bible clearly teaches that salvation is forever. When you come to a passage like this that seems to teach otherwise, you don't throw out what you already know to be true. These phrases must describe people who have participated in Christian activities, for lack of a better term. They have been in church and saw God work, and they were excited intellectually. They may have attended prayer meetings and sensed that something exciting was going on. They mistook their excitement for a work of God in their life.
Perhaps some of the Christians were confused by some of these people. Maybe some of these false professors had left and not come back. They were perhaps wondering how someone they thought was saved could abandon their faith. The message here is that one who is truly saved cannot abandon the faith. They may backslide, but they will be miserable until they come back into fellowship with the Lord and with fellow believers.
"For when God made a promise to Abraham, since he had no one greater by whom to swear, he swore by himself, saying, 'Surely I will bless you and multiply you.' And thus Abraham, having patiently waited, obtained the promise. For people swear by something greater than themselves, and in all their disputes an oath is final for confirmation. So when God desired to show more convincingly to the heirs of the promise the unchangeable character of his purpose, he guaranteed it with an oath, so that by two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us. We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain, where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf, having become a high priest forever after the order of Melchizedek." (6:13-20, ESV)
God's promises to us are sure. God made a promise and He swore an oath, and so we have "two unchangeable things" on which to place our belief.