This is one of the more controversial passages in scripture. Many Christians use it to try to prove that it is possible for a person to lose their salvation. The writer of Hebrews says,
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.(6:4-6)
At first glance, it sure looks like it’s possible to lose your salvation. But I want to bring into focus a single word in there: “impossible.”
If you are going to say that it is possible for a person to fall away and thus lose their salvation, you also have to say it is impossible for them to get it back. There is no out.
The word impossible there in Greek has exactly the same meaning in English: impossible.
The question, though, is if that is true in our experience? How many people do we know that “fell away” and yet later came back to God?
According to this passage, they must have never really “fallen away” because they came back.
So if you are going to say that a person can lose their salvation, you have to have a very narrow definition of “fall away.” It has to mean someone who has completely hardened their heart to God such that they will never come back again. But we can never say with any certainty that this is true of anyone until they actually die.
And even if they do die, the question becomes, “Did they really fall away? Maybe if they had had a little more time, they would have eventually come back.”
I personally believe that once a God saves a person, they are always saved. I don’t think it’s possible for God to choose someone to be saved before time began (Ephesians 1:4-5), and then be caught by surprise when they “fall away,” thus causing God to reject them.
What do I then make of this being “enlightened, tasting of the heavenly gift, sharing in the Holy Spirit,” and all the rest?
I think the best thing to do is point to Judas Iscariot. All these things perfectly describe Judas. He had all the teaching of Jesus, perhaps was even convinced by it initially. He tasted of the heavenly gift, sharing in the power of the Holy Spirit, performing miracles and casting out demons like the rest of the disciples (Matthew 10:8). And yet, Jesus knew from the beginning that he never had true faith and was going to betray him (John 6:64).
In short, he was the perfect tare in the wheat field. He looked like a believer, he acted like a believer, but he never truly believed.
And that’s what you see in the latter part of this passage.
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. (7-8)
The other 11 disciples, though they had their share of weeds, ultimately produced the crop that comes from salvation. Judas, on the other hand, when all was said and done, only produced thorns and thistles in his life, and he perished because of it.
Add to this that the writer of Hebrews had also talked about the Jews who had come out of Egypt. They experienced the giving of the law, experienced all the miracles, and yet because they never really believed, never entered the promised land. From all this, I think the warning is clear: genuine faith is necessary for salvation.
What kind of “faith” do you have? Are you truly a believer? Then it should show in your life. You should be maturing, becoming more and more like Christ each day.
A “faith” that bears no fruit will ultimately shown for the counterfeit faith it is on the day of judgment, if not before, when those who claim to be Christians “fall away,” proving themselves to have been tares all along.
What kind of faith do you have?