Recently, a friend asked me to help her defend the biblical doctrine of Perseverance of the Saints against a refutation based on Hebrew 6:1-6. Hebrews 6:4-6 states:
“For it is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt.”
The Arminian’s stance on this verse would be to say that one can indeed lose one’s salvation and from a first glance it would seem so; however, when looks at the passage in the context of the chapter and the whole of Scripture it does support the perseverance of the saints. In chapter 5, the author of Hebrews ended the chapter by discussing how the church in Jerusalem is immature in their knowledge and teaching of deeper doctrines; by partaking of “solid food” they might be able to discern good and evil. The writer then uses a powerful connecting word, “therefore” to connect this with an exhortation to put off basic doctrines and learn and teach the deeper theological issues. Hebrews 6:4-6 speaks of those who have been exposed to the church and partaken of the benefits of the church yet they have fallen away into various vices and denied the faith by their actions and words. According to an Arminian, this looks like losing their salvation; however, in the context of the chapter and the entirety of Scripture, this is not the case.
Within Hebrews 6, the writer states in verse 8 that a land that bears thorns and thistles is destined to be burned and contrariwise a land that takes the rain and grows good fruit will be blessed by the Lord. These persons mentioned in these verses were not Christians to begin with for their fruits dictate otherwise. Elsewhere in Scripture, agriculture is used to demonstrate this. “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. 16 You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? 17 So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. 18 A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 Thus you will recognize them by their fruits. (Matt 7: 15-20)” We are all known by our fruits, in context to Hebrews 5 and 6, this is what he was talking about when he charged the church to grow deeper in the knowledge of the doctrines that they may discern evil from good. You know that if there were such a situation in Hebrews 6:6, that this person was merely “a wolf in sheep’s clothing”. Jesus warns us that there are tares mixed in with the wheat and they are indeed sown by the devil. In contrast to the Arminian argument of Hebrews 6:6, there are other statements throughout Scripture that promise that the Lord will not let his elect fall out of his hand.
A well quoted passage and promise to those who believe that they will never fall away is Romans 8:38-39: “For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord”. This covers the entire scope of every creature, person, or situation that we deem destructive to our body and soul. In fact, this verse is a great comfort to our brothers and sisters in Christ who are persecuted in other lands. If their salvation were dependent on their own power and could be denied at anytime, it would be so easy to shirk their salvation to save their fleeting lives. Similarly John 10:28 – I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand- is another wonderful verse which supports this doctrine. This verse is doubly powerful in defending the doctrines since Christ himself states that he alone has the power of salvation and also states that they will never fall away. 2 Timothy 1:12 states that “But I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed, and I am convinced that he is able to guard until that Day what has been entrusted to me”. The last pronoun of the verse is also translated in other versions as “him” and would make more sense in the verse. Paul writing to Timothy states that though he suffered as a preacher of the gospel, he is not ashamed and is convinced that the Lord will preserve those whom he predestined to become children of God. And I share the same conviction as Paul did. For those who still do not understand this doctrine and struggle with it I suggest you read this article: http://www.prca.org/fivepoints/chapter5.html. It is very well done and the author also discusses the other tenants of the Five Points of Calvinism.
The key to understanding Hebrew 6:4-6 is that the author is charging the church to be better equipped to see false teachers and the wolves among the sheep. Furthermore, learning deeper doctrines help us to recognize any sin in our lives and to be better at making your calling and election sure. With a greater knowledge of what pleases God and what displeases him helps us to learn how we may better glorify and enjoy God as well as rooting out the weeds and wolves in the garden of the Lord.