************ Sermon on Hebrews 6:6 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on March 6, 2016
"Impossible to Restore"
This evening we come to one of the most difficult passages in all of Scripture. Over the years, debates have raged in the church as to whether or not our Bible reading refers to genuine believers. If it does, then we have a passage teaching us that truly regenerate believers can fall away from faith and lose their salvation.
I worked on this sermon right after conducting the funeral of Henry Visser. Based on Romans 8:37, I spoke about the assurance of salvation that is ours because Christ loves us. Henry, I said, was sure of his salvation. He was sure of where he was going.
So, does our Bible reading from Hebrews contradict what I said at Henry's funeral? Is Hebrews teaching that genuine Christians, real Christians, can lose their salvation?
I An Impossible Repentance (vs 4a)
A As you know, the penalties which early Christians had to suffer were terrible beyond description. All the world knows of the Christians who were flung to the lions or burned at the stake; but these were kindly deaths. Nero wrapped Christians in tar, set them alight, and used them as living torches to light his gardens. He sewed them in the skins of wild animals and set his hunting dogs upon them to tear them to death. They were tortured on the rack; they were scraped with pincers; molten lead was poured hissing upon them; red hot brass plates were affixed to the tenderest parts of their bodies; eyes were torn out; parts of their bodies were cut off and roasted before their eyes; their hands and feet were burned while cold water was poured over them to increase the agony. These things are not pleasant to think about, but these are the things a man had to be prepared for, if he took his stand with Christ.
The author of Hebrews knew that under the threat of this kind of suffering some of the Jewish Christians were thinking of leaving Jesus for Moses. That is why the book of Hebrews is filled with so many warnings and encouragements to keep the faith:
(Heb 2:1) We must pay more careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away.
(Heb 3:1) Therefore, holy brothers, who share in the heavenly calling, fix your thoughts on Jesus, the apostle and high priest whom we confess.
(Heb 3:12) See to it, brothers, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God.
(Heb 4:14) Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess.
B Now, in spite of these warnings, we know that some of the early Christians did recant their faith and deny Christ. Later, some of these lapsed Christians repented of this sin and again confessed Christ. Some of them even ended up dying for the Gospel.
This created a problem for the early church. What to do with these repentant Christians? Can they be readmitted to church membership? Can they be welcomed again as brothers and sisters in Christ even though they had committed the terrible sin of denying the Lord?
In answer to this, the Novatians of the second century held a strict view that refused readmission to communion of those baptized Christians who had denied their faith or made a ritual sacrifice to the pagan gods. Their reason for acting this way is the text in front of us this evening:
(Heb 6:6) It is impossible ... 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.Did you hear the word "impossible"? No repentance. No forgiveness. No salvation.
Based upon our text for this evening, the Donatists of the third century went a step further. If the person who recanted the faith was a pastor, then all of his baptisms were suspect and the recipients had to be rebaptized.
According to the Novatians and Donatists, there is no repentance and no forgiveness for lapsed Christians. Based upon Hebrews 6, they are telling us this simply is not possible.
There is more at stake here than first meets the eye. Both the Novatians and the Donatists believe it is possible for a true believer to fall from the faith. They both believe it is possible for true believers to lose their salvation.
C Those of Arminian theology believe the same thing. They declare that our passage from Hebrews 6 destroys any confidence in the perseverance of the saints. They declare that our passage teaches that genuine Christians can lose their salvation. They declare that our passage takes away the Christian's assurance. Look at the religious or spiritual experiences mentioned in verses 4 & 5:
(Heb 6:4-5) ... those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, (5) who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age ...Hebrews 6 seems to teach that those who experience all of these spiritual blessings can fall away. According to the Arminians, it appears that true Christians can fall away from the faith.
D Last week when we looked at Hebrews we were told to become mature in the faith, to grow up in the faith, to eat solid food instead of milk, to move beyond the ABCs of the Christian faith. Hebrews ended this section with, "And God permitting, we will do so" (Heb 6:3).
"And God permitting, we will do so" (Heb 6:3). Here is a reminder that God is sovereign. Here is a reminder that our work and worry does us no good without His blessing.
"And God permitting, we will do so" (Heb 6:3). Yet, as our Scripture reading makes clear, God does not permit every church member to grow and develop in the faith. In fact, some have the opposite happen as they fall away from Christ.
Telling us what? Telling us we need to keep in mind that man is not the author and finisher of his faith. Rather, Jesus Christ is the great High Priest and -- as Hebrews tells us -- He alone is the Author and Finisher of our faith (cf Heb 2:10; 12:2). Telling us the perseverance of the saints starts with God!
II Blessings of the Covenant Community (vs 4b-5)
A There are numerous Bible passages that affirm the perseverance or preservation of the saints. There are numerous Bible passages that teach true believers cannot lose their salvation (Jn 6:39; Rom 8:28–29; Eph 4:30; Phil 1:6; 1 Pet 1:3–5; etc). So, then, how are we to understand our Bible reading?
B Take a close look at the spiritual experiences mentioned in verses 4 & 5: enlightened, tasted the heavenly gift, shared in the Holy Spirit, tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age. Let me ask: Are these experienced only by those with genuine faith? That's what is said by the Novatians, Donatists, and Arminians.
For instance, is it possible to be enlightened with the truth and yet still deny it? Think of the Pharisees. They knew Jesus was from God and yet they said He was from the devil (Lk 11:14-23). Is it possible to taste the heavenly gift without being saved? This is a reference to the Lord's Supper; we all know that not everyone who eats and drinks from the Lord's Table is saved. These unworthy partakers are eating and drinking judgment against themselves (1 Cor 11:17-34). It is possible to share in the Holy Spirit without being a true believer? Unbelievers can share in the blessings of the Holy Spirit when true believers share those blessings with them. It is possible for unbelievers to taste the goodness of the Word of God? Many unbelievers recognize the beauty of Scripture. They see how the Law restrains sin. And, they are able to acknowledge the power of God.
Those who go to church and are not saved are able to experience some of the same blessings as actual believers. They experience the blessings of the covenant community even though they aren't really part of the covenant community. I love what John Calvin says. He says that God grants unbelievers "some taste of His grace" and "irradiates their minds with some sparks of His light." Earlier, Hebrews says the Gospel was preached to them, but those who heard did not combine it with faith (Heb 4:2). So, they are in church. They experience some or even many of the blessings of church life. But they do not believe. There is no real trust in Christ -- the crucified, resurrected, and ruling Savior -- even though the truth and power of the Gospel were experienced.
C Do you know what Hebrews 6 tells us? It tells us we cannot assume that everyone in church is a Christian. We cannot even assume that everyone who makes profession has saving faith. We have a theological phrase for this kind of thinking: presumptive regeneration. There are churches who presume to think every member is saved -- even though the members may lead ungodly lives. And, there are pastors who presume to think every member is saved; you can tell they think that way because they never ever call on the congregation to repent and believe.
Ever since Jesus chose Judas to become a disciple, the Christian community has always included people who aren't believers. Most, if not all, churches have members who are not saved.
This was also true for the original audience of Hebrews. That is why the author continually warns his audience against falling away. He knew there was some in his congregation who were playing with apostasy.
Do you know what Hebrews 6 forces us to do? It forces us to pray. It forces us to pray to the Lord to grant saving faith to everyone who worships with us. We need to pray to the Lord to show His infinite mercy to everyone here.
III Falling Away (vs 6-8)
A "It is impossible ... if they fall away, to be brought back to repentance." Hebrews is NOT talking about true Christian believers. Rather, it is talking about those who "fall away." We have a word for this. An old word. A theological word. The word is "apostasy."
Apostasy is sickness unto death. When apostasy happens there is no repentance and there can be no repentance. It is impossible. So what is apostasy? The sin of apostasy is a conscious, unrepentant denial of Christ.
Consider and contrast Peter and Judas. Both men sinned when they publicly denied Christ. Peter repented and found restoration. Judas simply felt bad and hung himself.
B Judas was apostate. It was impossible for him to be brought back to repentance. Peter was backsliding. Both look the same. So how can we tell the difference?
To recognize apostasy, Hebrews tells us to look for soil that produces "thorns and thistles" (Heb 6:8). Here Hebrews echoes the Parable of the Sower. In some soils/hearts, the good seed of the Word is planted and seems to take root. But Satan comes and takes away the word that was sown in them. Or, when trouble or persecution comes they quickly fall away. Or, the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things come in and choke the word, making it unfruitful (Mk 4:15-17).
To recognize apostasy, look for the "things that accompany salvation" (Heb 6:9). I am talking about the fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:22-24). I am talking about conversion -- the dying away of the old self and the coming to life of the new. I am talking about fixing your eyes on Jesus, His cross and His grave and His rule. The absence of any of these means apostasy.
To recognize apostasy, look for flagrant and unrepentant sin. Look for a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God (Heb 3:12). In such cases, the pain of admonition is refused. Even the official discipline of the church is rejected and scorned.
Backsliding is different than apostasy. To use the words of verse 12, we become lazy. We do not hold firmly to the faith we profess (Heb 4:14). Instead, we allow ourselves to drift away (Heb 2:1).
Some Christians think they have committed the sin of apostasy. In fact, this is the number one concern I hear in response to our church's website. Lots of Christians are concerned that they have lost their salvation. I always tells them that someone who is apostate doesn't care about falling away. I tell them that the very fact that they worry about it shows that the Spirit is working in their hearts to bring them to repentance and faith.
Apostasy is a real sin and its possibility is something to fear, congregation. But, remember, it often look the same as backsliding. Just because someone appears to be apostate does not mean they are. Not even horrible, terrible sins are proof of apostasy. Maybe, like Peter, they may someday repent and reveal themselves to be a true Christian believer.
So, we need to be watching and guarding. We need to be watching and guarding ourselves for backsliding and apostasy. We need to be watching and guarding our brothers and sisters so we can warn them and encourage them. We need to be watching and guarding the larger Christian community as well.
You can e-mail our pastor at: Pastor, Trinity United Reformed Church
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