To Deviate From the Faith

Hebrews 6:4-6

For it is impossible [to restore and bring again to repentance] those who have been once for all enlightened, who have consciously tasted the heavenly gift and have become sharers of the Holy Spirit,
And have felt how good the Word of God is and the mighty powers of the age and world to come,
If they then deviate from the faith and turn away from their allegiance—[it is impossible] to bring them back to repentance, for (because, while, as long as) they nail upon the cross the Son of God afresh [as far as they are concerned] and are holding [Him] up to contempt and shame and public disgrace.

This difficult passage concerning “falling away” has been interpreted in various ways. Some insist that the author of Hebrews is speaking of nominal Christians who heard the truth and appeared to believe in Christ, but eventually demonstrated their shallow adherence to Christ by publicly renouncing Him. Others view these verses as a hypothetical argument. In other words, the author of Hebrews is using this hypothetical case to warn the spiritually immature (vv. 1–3) not to reject God’s offer of salvation (v. 6; 3:12).

Typically those who postulate these two positions cite the numerous passages that speak of a true believer’s eternal security (John 6:39, 40; 10:27–29; Rom. 8:28–30). Once God has saved us, nothing can separate us from His love (Rom. 8:35–39). Still others insist that the author is speaking of genuine Christians who renounce Christ and cease to be Christians. They claim that this is a clear reading of this text and cite the numerous warnings in the NT to resist the deceptions of false teachers as additional evidence for their interpretation (2 Cor. 11:1–4, 13–15; 2 Tim. 2:17, 18; 1 John 2:21–25).

Most likely, the passage concerns true believers in Jesus, who are Jewish, and under persecution are tempted to mesh in with the Jewish religion and its rituals from which they had been freed in Christ. Rather than speaking of a loss of justification, it refers to failure to grow further into maturity. The believer who is tempted in “falling to the side,” as the Greek better translates, after making much progress in the Christian walk as evidenced by the characteristics of Christian growth found in verses 4 and 5 and have subsequently fallen (not from Christ but in the Christian race) place themselves in danger of being stagnated in Christian growth.

Earl D. Radmacher

Published by Intentional Faith

Devoted to a Faith that Thinks

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