My men’s group is currently working through Hebrews which is really cool because it’s a great Biblical book for getting back on track in the journey of faith, following in the footsteps of our Hero and Champion, our Forerunner Jesus. But once again I have found myself drawn into the never ending debate about the meaning of Hebrews 6:4-6, “It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened... who have shared in the Holy Spirit... and who have fallen away, to be brought back to repentance....”
Does Hebrews 6:4–6 teach that true believers can lose their salvation?
John MacArthur and John Piper both say “No.” The way I see it Hebrews 6 says “Yes,” but we should do everything we can to make sure it doesn’t happen to anyone. Hebrews is all about encouraging those who are drifting away to reset their focus on Jesus. It warns us to pay more care attention to faithfulness and inspires us to believe that we can follow in the footsteps of Jesus our Hero, Champion of Salvation and Forerunner in Faithfulness.
Want to weigh in? Check out MacArthur's “No” answer then read my “Yes” answer below and then post a comment and say what you think. This one is resolvable.
Check out John MacArthur's answer (click here) (And don't worry about it being too long; it’s a short answer, especially for MacArthur.)
Does Hebrews 6:4–6 teach that true believers can lose their salvation?
Yes. In that passage, the writer of Hebrews is speaking to those who have “been enlightened,” “tasted the heavenly gift” and “shared in the Holy Spirit.” MacArthur sees tentativeness in these descriptions and says they “hesitated to embrace Christ,” but he is clearly mistaken because this same author uses these verbs elsewhere in Hebrews with no tentativeness: (1) Encouraging Christians to persevere, in 10:32 he says, “Remember those earlier days after you had received the light” or embraced Christ, (2) When Hebrews 2:9 says Jesus tasted death for everyone this obviously means he experienced it, and (3) In Hebrews 3, the author's “holy brothers and sisters” are said to “share in the heavenly calling” as well as to “share in Christ” (3:1,14). If we take his descriptions seriously, it is clear that the writer is addressing Christians who in spite of these real Christian experiences have also “fallen away”; after all this they have rejected Christ, a fatal sin.
Because John MacArthur believes the warning is addressed to the unsaved “who have hesitated to embrace Christ,” he holds that the passage teaches that the opportunity for receiving salvation can be lost, not salvation itself. If MacArthur's interpretation were true, however, the passage would teach that once a person comes close to Christ and refuses to believe, it becomes impossible for that person to come back say six months later and accept Christ as Saviour and Lord. Not only is that bizarre, but it’s also lacking in any other support from the New Testament, and flies in the face of the experience of many true believers in our churches who would claim that kind refusing-then-later-accepting Christ as their story. When Billy Graham encourages people to come forward and accept Christ, he tells them that they may not have another chance, but he would never subscribe to MacArthur's interpretation of Hebrews 6:4-6 and say, “You had better come to Christ now, for if you fall away it will be impossible for you to come again to the point of repentance.”
Believers will not fear losing their salvation if they heed the warning and move on to maturity in their faith which is exactly what the writer of Hebrews fully expects them to do (6:1,9). It may be unsettling but the bigger passage here, Hebrews 5:11–6:20, is telling us that any believer who refuses to grow up and continues to drink only milk, refusing solid food and the responsibilities of maturity should be worried. Jesus is our forerunner, how could it be acceptable not to run after him, growing in faithfulness?
If you are a Christian, rejoice! The Champion of your salvation (Heb 2:10) has set you on a journey of faithfulness and Jesus himself is our Forerunner, blazing the trail we are to follow.
OK, John MacArthur's answer was shorter than mine. So what’s all this got to do with John Piper? Both MacArthur and Piper are Calvinists, holding that no true believer can lose their salvation, “once saved, always saved.” While it’s good to develop one's beliefs into a theology (like Calvinism), it can be a problem when we don’t allow Scripture to challenge our beliefs and sometimes reshape them. In this case, their belief in eternal security, prevents MacArthur and Piper from accepting the warning of Hebrews 6:4–6 as being applicable to Christians. To hold to their theology of eternal security, they must reinterpret the passage and make this incredible claim that these people who have been enlightened, tasted the heavenly gift and shared in the Holy Spirit are not Christians. We all have our preconceived ideas when we come to the Scriptures, so this is a question of authority. Do I have the authority to make Scripture say what I need it to say to support my beliefs? Or does the Word have authority over me and the power to challenge my beliefs and even reshape them? MacArthur and Piper’s teaching on eternal security stands in the way of hearing the clear warning of Hebrews 6:4–6, but just as I make this claim, I read the conclusion of Piper's sermon on this passage and he blows me away! John MacArthur may claim that no true believer (including John Piper) could lose their salvation, but John Piper has convinced me all the more that the Hebrews warning could apply to himself and to any other Christian who walks away.
If in the coming years I commit apostasy and fall away from Christ, it will not be because I have not tasted of the word of God and the Spirit of God and the miracles of God. I have drunk of his word. The Spirit has touched me. I have seen his miracles and I have been his instrument for a few.
But if, over the next ten or twenty years, John Piper begins to cool off spiritually and lose interest in spiritual things and become more fascinated with making money and writing Christless books; and I buy the lie that a new wife would be exhilarating and that the children can fend for themselves and that the church of Christ is a drag and that the incarnation is a myth and that there is one life to live so let us eat drink and be merry — if that happens, then know that the truth is this: John Piper was mightily deceived in the first fifty years of his life. His faith was an alien vestige of his father’s joy. His fidelity to his wife was a temporary passion and compliance with social pressure; his fatherhood the outworking of natural instincts. His preaching was driven by the love of words and crowds. His writing was a love affair with fame. And his praying was the deepest delusion of all — an attempt to get God to supply the resources of his vanity.
If this possibility does not make me serious and vigilant in the pursuit of everlasting joy, what will?
Amen! Let us all be warned about the danger of falling away and be diligent “in order to make our hope sure” (Heb 6:11).