A popular doctrine in the religious world states that when someone becomes a Christian they cannot apostatize from the Lord and be lost eternally. A refutation of this erroneous doctrine comes from Hebrews 6:4-6 and other passages.
Our discussion of this passage begins in the overall context of Hebrews. In chapter one, the author discusses the superiority of Christ and of the new covenant. He writes in the next chapter, “Therefore we must give the more earnest heed to the things we have heard, lest we drift away” (Hebrews 2:1).
Two verses later, he is urging them not to “neglect so great a salvation” (Hebrews 2:3). Instead, they should, “hold fast the confidence and the rejoicing of the hope firm to the end” (Hebrews 3:5,6).
The author makes comparisons of their situation to the rebellion of the Israelites in the wilderness and warns the readers of his day to “beware, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God” (Hebrews 3:12).
By invoking the rebellion of the Israelites, the author of Hebrews provides further insight into the possible apostasy of these Christians. He was warning them not to give up heaven the same way their decedents gave up Canaan. “Let us therefore be diligent to enter that rest, lest anyone fall after the same disobedience” (Hebrews 4:11).
The author of Hebrews wrote to Jewish Christians because he was concerned that they would follow their decedents into rebellion against God and miss the spiritual promised land of Heaven.
Hebrews 6:4-6 says, “For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted the heavenly gift, and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, if they fall away to repentance, since they crucify again for themselves the Son of God, and put Him to an open shame.”
The word “impossible” leaps off of the page. The word in Hebrews retains its obvious meaning. In Hebrews 6:18, it is “impossible” for God to lie rather than just difficult or improbable. In Hebrews 10:4, is it merely difficult or improbable for the “blood of bulls and goats to take away sins”? Further, is it merely difficult for someone without faith to please God (Hebrews 11:6)?
Some have tried to soften its impact by rewriting the first part of the passage, “if it is impossible.” Such an argument implies that a “defection of this kind would never actually occur.”/1
Proponents of this argument look to Hebrews 6:9, which says, “but beloved we are confident of better things concerning you, yes, things that accompany salvation, though we speak in this manner.” Hughes notes that those who travel this route say that this verse is an indication that his warning about the “impossibility of restoration for the apostate” is “unrelated to reality and little better than the invention of a bogy for the purpose of frightening them into being better Christians.”/2
“But the end does not justify the means, and to resort to subterfuge and deception and that too within so solemn a context, would be subchristian and incompatible with the whole tenor of the epistle. The confidence expressed in 6:9 and 10:39 arises from the assurance that a true work of God has taken place in their midst; but this does not exclude the possibility that some of their number are rebellious at heart and on the road to irremediable apostasy.”/3
This passage clearly means what it says as we continue an examination of its message.
1/ Philip Edgumbe Hughes, “Hebrews 6:4-6 and the Peril of Apostasy,” Westminster Theological Journal 35 (Fall, 1973): 144.