Hebrews 6:4-6 is perhaps one of the most controversial passages of Scriptures found in the entire Bible. These mere three verses reads as this:
For it is impossible for those who have been enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost,And have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come,
If they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance; seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame.
Such words can cause such controversy within the Christian faith: One group says "Oh, these words mean that one can be convicted by the Holy Spirit and then reject the Gospel without ever being born again." While the other group says that these were true believers who had departed from the faith to such an extent, that they had crossed the point of no return, and they are lost forever, unable to repent.
And so the debate rages on. If you were to go to the Internet, and simply type in Hebrews 6:4-6, a whole list of websites would appear listed, all to do with these verses. And You Tube also, has countless videos of individuals talking to the camera, debating if one can lose his salvation after conversion, or not.
I have watched and listened to those who believe that these verses teach that salvation can be lost. They tend to look sad, as if apologetic, and none of these speakers had any edifying power. Rather, time and time again, they pull my spirit down whenever their videos of their speeches come across. And I'm not alone. Many years ago we as a Baptist Church in Bracknell had a visiting speaker from a Pentecostal church at another town a few miles down the road. This was in the mid 1970s, possibly 1975 or -6. Apparently our congregation was rather shocked as this preacher threw out any assurance of eternal salvation by using, among other Scriptures, Hebrews 6:4-6. The attitude of this guest speaker was one of smugness, as if delivering a basic truth which was meant to free each one of us from the shackles of deception, namely that we believed in eternal security of the saint. A few of us, including myself, complained to one of our deacons, which was passed on to the senior pastor, who himself was away preaching at another church that particular Sunday. Apparently, our guest speaker was barred from further preaching at our fellowship, as he was never seen again.
Hebrews 6:4-6 was also used by the leader of a small Pentecostal church which met at his home roughly about the same time, maybe up to two years later. He used it to prove that our salvation this side of death is not eternal and can be lost. But the biggest affray, leading to a near riot, took place at Minehead, Somerset in Spring 1994. There in front of a large auditorium, a Methodist minister used the same text of Scripture to explode the "myth" of Once Saved Always Saved, which he had abbreviated to OSAS as a further means to discredit its truthfulness. In all these cases, when a preacher delivers a message that salvation can be lost, it has always brought my spirit down and shackled me into bondage of fear, a direct opposite of edifying faith, and I found this to be universal among those who believe in salvation being eternally secure. The near riot in Minehead said it all. Had the message been edifying, the closing worship which followed would have resulted in adoration and rejoicing, with hands lifted up to a holy God. Instead a song was sung which was centred around Romans 8:39 where it says that nothing can separate us from the love of God, followed by a mass counselling session to allay fears. It goes to show how devastating such misapplied Scripture can bring!
Recently I read an article posted by a blogger who I follow on this site. What he wrote not only edified me, but confirmed what I believed for a very long time. That is, the letter in question is called To Hebrews - or Pros Ebraious in Greek. In other words, the letter was written to Jews, Jews, Jews! In every English Bible or New Testament, Hebrews, or To the Hebrews were adequate titles. What was the object of the whole letter? It was to contrast the finished work of Jesus Christ as the final fulfilment of all the Old Testament ordinances along with Temple furniture and regular rituals. The writer explains that these Temple ordinances had only a temporary effect in covering sin, and had to be repeated over and over again. But the Atonement which Jesus had accomplished succeeded in putting sin away forever, for all time, therefore making the Temple, its ordinations and rituals obsolete.
Before the Temple was flattened by the Romans in 70 AD, there were a number of Jews who were familiar with the teachings and fellowship of the churches, especially in Jerusalem, where on Pentecost and soon after, thousands became believers in Jesus Christ. But some of these Jews were not satisfied with doing away with the regular animal sacrifices, and after experiencing the new life among believers, decided to return to the Temple ordinances in order to be saved. To return to animal sacrifice meant that the crucifixion had failed to atone, and because of this, the death of Jesus was treated as of no effect, and something which could be trodden into the ground as a non-event. To them, Jesus was just a condemned criminal who bore his own shame. These Jews felt much happier in keeping with their sacrifices and Temple ordinances. Even in Judaism today, without the Temple and without sacrifices, rituals in synagogues are held, denying the effect of any Atonement Christ had made on the cross.
Have you ever sacrificed a bull on the Altar in Jerusalem? If so, then you have trodden underfoot the cross of Christ, putting him into open shame, because by doing you have denied his atoning effect. On the other hand, as a true believer, did you depart from the faith for a few hours, several days, months, or even years? Have you returned to the faith after decades in the desert? (I knew some who did.) If so then you have not trodden underfoot the Son of God. And will stick my neck out to declare that during your exile in the desert, you had never lost your salvation, as salvation is God's doing, not yours.
Yet there are scores of such well-educated teachers and preachers who claim they know the Bible inside out. They are often upheld by their supporters. The Methodist minister at Minehead was actually exalted by his followers to the status of a prophet, equal in authority to Isaiah, Jeremiah or Micah, an idea I have thoroughly opposed. Most, including myself, have tossed to and fro which of the two sides is right, for surely, both cannot be right. Years of one's Christian life can be wasted on such a debate, when he could have been spending his time serving God in a way that would have brought him the greatest honour. Instead, books were written, websites created, and videos shot, throwing theories and debates to and fro, and leaving me spiritually exhausted and often crestfallen.
Yet there are simple, straightforward principles the Bible outlines which is indeed pleasing to God. These are not debating doctrine but in actual doing of God's word. Doing - something which someone else will benefit, both physically and spiritually. For example, someone with an income sponsoring a child growing up in poverty in the Third World, particularly in Africa. This was something I began doing in 1997, after returning home from Australia, and receiving scores of leaflets from the Christian organisation, Tear Fund (now Compassion.) It took me weeks, even months of persuading, but eventually I got round to sponsoring. The first child had abandoned the project, the second child died soon after he was assigned to me, but the third I stuck with until he became of age. A beautiful relationship blossomed between us. By sponsoring him, he was delivered from poverty, went to school, received qualifications and, I believe, gone to university. Thus fulfilling what Jesus Christ had taught:
Inasmuch as ye have done it unto the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me. Matthew 25:40.
What I write here, I'm not trying to give myself credit, as at first I was unwilling to help. It took months of persuasion to change my mind, simply because by nature, I hate junk mail, and such leaflets tend to end up straight into the bin. But this goes to show the patient grace of God, who did not give up on me when I refused to respond, but in a way, kept on knocking, because at the end of the day he wanted to bless me. It was the patient enduring of God's part that had brought the blessing.
Only the day before I attended a Compassion conference in central London. Believe me, it was a real eye-opener! Here I learnt about the dreadful poverty such families grow up in. One was about a single mother of several children, each with a different father. I thought, "Oooooh!"
Then the speaker asked us all,
"Hands up if any of you felt judgement against this single mother."
Nobody raised their hands, but I knew that I should have done. The mental "Oooooh!" was a glint of mental judgement. Then the speaker went on:
"The only way that this mother could bring food into her house was by prostitution. She had no job, no income and often no food at all in her house. During those times she would boil some water in a pan just to give the impression of cooking. But she had nothing to cook. Prostitution was the only glimmer of hope for survival."
We were told that along with poverty, there was desperation, loss of hope and prone to illness, particularly AIDS. When one of her children received a sponsor, life for the whole family changed dramatically. Not only food and a chance of education arrived, but love and hope - and conversion to Jesus Christ as Saviour. The boy who grew up under my sponsorship also grew up spiritually, enough to send me encouraging Scripture, often when I needed to be encouraged. I'm looking forward to meet him one day in Glory.
Sponsoring a child is one of many of doing God's will. For me personally, learning to be patient, especially in checkout lines, is something I needed to put into practise, and believe me, it was not easy, and even at present, I'm prone to relapse. One of the more testing times is when a customer in front uses a lot of our time trying to redeem a few pennies from a voucher which the till does not accept, and talking continues on between client and teller. Or as a domestic window cleaner, a customer taking a long time to pay his fee, often days or even weeks, and we have a household budget to see to. In all these cases, I have discovered that patience is an oil which makes good relationships and does not put the client under duress. But patience is a virtue I can only acquire by being filled with the Holy Spirit. I believe that having good relationship with an unbelieving client not only avoids unnecessary conflict, but has a greater likelihood of bringing him to the knowledge of Jesus Christ.
The blogger who I follow had put out this test - if what you have read has edified you, then it's likely to be the true Gospel. In turn, anything which brings you down is most certainly a false gospel. I can see the wisdom in his words. After all, Jesus did say:
The thief cometh not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy: I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly. John 10:10.
Now one can't argue over that, far less cause a riot.