google-site-verification: google3e8cc4742c5fd8a2.html Highlights in Hebrews 16
Highlights in Hebrews
Highlights in Hebrews
(with Roger Kirby)

Part 16 - Hebrews 6:4-8

The perils of falling away.

It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age and who have fallen away, to be brought back to repentance. To their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace. Land that drinks in the rain often falling on it and that produces a crop useful to those for whom it is farmed receives the blessing of God. But land that produces thorns and thistles is worthless and is in danger of being cursed. In the end it will be burned.

This is a tricky passage. It seems not to agree with what is said elsewhere in scripture. But here it is in front of us and we must heed what it says. To highlight the problem here is one famous type of theology, followed by Reformed churches, which indicates the alternative very forcefully. T.U.L.I.P. is the mnemonic used by some of the more extreme advocates of a Calvinistic theology. These stand for:

  • T - Total depravity. This does not mean everyone is just as bad as they could possibly be but that everyone is naturally so sinful the initiative for their salvation must come from God, even when they think it is their own choice to follow him
  • U - Unconditional election. God chooses us; we do not choose him.
  • L - Limited atonement. Jesus did not die for all men and women, being only made effective for those who he chooses. Rather he only died for those who God knew he would call.
  • I - Irresistible grace. If God decides to call us we are called. There is nothing we can do about it; we cannot refuse his offer.
  • P - Perseverance of the saints. Once chosen, called and saved we cannot turn away from that. We are believers for ever.

There is much to commend in this view of faith. All these points can, and are, easily supported by scripture quotations.

Reading through all these things is a useful reminder that becoming a follower of Jesus is not like joining the Boy Scouts or the local golf club. There we, or our parents, pay the joining fee and we are in. It is all our doing. But when we become followers of Jesus we are not the sole partakers in what happens. God has a part to play. In fact he has the major part to play. In particular we receive from him the gift of the Holy Spirit. Once we have received that gift can we back out of the arrangement? No, of course not says TULIP. But the verses in front of us in Hebrews say something different.

There is no easy way to reconcile the two. The easy, but rather unsatisfactory, way out is to say the one who is falling away was never really a Christian believer in the first place, but was just imitating the activities of those who are. But that doesn’t really fit. Our writer talks about a person being enlightened, tasting the heavenly gift (presumably meaning experiencing the power and joy of heavenly love), sharing in the Holy Spirit, becoming excited by reading the Bible and looking forward to the eventual life in the kingdom. These two things simply do not fit.

How you resolve this tension will depend almost entirely on your background and the sort of church you are in. I will say just this:the TULIP type approach gives us great confidence in the Lord and encouragement on our way; what our writer says is a strong warning against the perils of turning away from faith once embarked on the great journey it offers. Both points of view are found in scripture and we must heed both.

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