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Hebrews 6:1-8

04.21.2011

Although this passage is broader than just the one topic, I’d like to focus on the latter half of this week’s reading, dealing with a frequently recurring topic here on NatNav, whether a believer can lose his salvation. 

As I mention in my newly revised ‘About‘ page, I agree with 2 ½ points of TULIP Calvinism.  But my good buddy (and vocal Calvinist) Mo tells me that, no, I’m in fact just a 1-point Calvinist, which isn’t even a thing.  But the one point for which I get credit is the perseverance of the saints, the conviction that no believer can lose his salvation.

Romans 5:1-11, 8:35-39; and John 6:39-40, 44, 10:28-29, are all cited as support for this doctrine, and they are strong arguments.  Today’s Hebrews passage, however, is often used to support the alternative view, particularly vv. 4-8.  Allow me to break down why I think that interpretation is erroneous.

Of whom is our author speaking?  What does it mean to be enlightened, taste the heavenly gift and the goodness of the word, and share in the Spirit?  That sounds to me an insufficient description of a disciple of Christ.  To be enlightened is to be shown the Truth, which is short of submitting to the Truth.  To taste is a lesser form of eating, much less than having your fill.  The idea is that this is someone who has learned the Gospel and experienced the power and peace that it brings, perhaps even intellectually admitting its value and truth, but someone who has not given themselves over to Christ to become a follower, a disciple, a Christian.

I think this warning separates those who hear and reject the Holy Spirit (blaspheme it, in other words) from those who are never exposed to the Gospel.  This passage comes on the heels of the one about maturing in faith and building on basics, so it makes sense to think of the author here as concerned more with those who may be in the fellowship and have convinced themselves they know all there is to know, but who remain ultimately uncommitted to Christ.  This sounds to me a lot like Simon Magus from Tuesday’s reading in Acts 8.

Secondly, notice in v. 6 what, specifically, our author says is impossible.  It’s not impossible to save or forgive this person, but impossible to restore this person to repentance.  Salvation and forgiveness come from God, to whom nothing is impossible.  Repentance, though, comes from within the individual.  Our author is saying that the act of knowingly rejecting the Holy Spirit’s testimony hardens the apostate’s heart beyond the point of repentance.  Lewis describes this state in The Great Divorce:

For a damned soul is nearly nothing: it is shrunk, shut up in itself.  Good beats upon the damned incessantly as sound waves beat upon the ears of the deaf, but they cannot receive it.  Their fists are clenched, their teeth are clenched, their eyes fast shut.  First they will not, in the end they cannot, open their hands for gifts, or their mouths for food, or their eyes to see.

As always, it’s impossible to know the heart of another, believer or seeker or heathen.  These words then serve, as do so many similar passages from Paul and James, to guide the individual in knowing his own heart and testing the resilience of his own faith.  Paired with last week’s passage, the author is outlining the healthy Christian life as one of growth or regress; there is no comfortable stasis in the Christian life.  If a believer does not desire to continue growing closer to God but rather to carve out a niche of comfort and camp out there, then our author is suggesting that this person is not static but regressing and that they should examine their faith.  In what is their faith placed?  Have they tasted but not partaken?  Have they hardened their heart to the Truth?

Echoing Jesus’ fruit-bearing vine illustration, the author draws from OT imagery to provide another metric for measuring our hearts.  Good land receives gifts from the Lord and turns those gifts into a bounty.  Bad land squanders the gifts and returns only thistles and thorns.  Notice there is no mention of land that has borne fruit and then decides to cease; land that is cursed has always been cursed.

At the time of harvest (a metaphor Jesus often uses for the end times), the good land will be blessed and the bad land burned.  Creation will be redeemed to glorify God.  Sin (and those who cling to it) will be destroyed.  Our author insists we can know and correct (through repentance) the state of our souls by seeing how our lives bear out the gifts of the Holy Spirit: bountiful or barren.

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