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"...if anyone makes the assistance of grace depend on the humility or obedience of man and does not agree that it is a gift of grace itself that we are obedient and humble, he contradicts the Apostle who says, "What have you that you did not receive?" (1 Cor. 4:7), and, "But by the grace of God I am what I am" (1 Cor. 15:10). (Council of Orange: Canon 6)

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    We are a community of confessing believers who love the gospel of Jesus Christ, affirm the Biblical and Christ-exalting truths of the Reformation such as the five solas, the doctrines of grace, monergistic regeneration, and the redemptive historical approach to interpreting the Scriptures.

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  • « Richard Sibbes - Excerpt from Meet the Puritans | Main | John Macarthur - USA Abandoned by God »

    Irresistible Grace

    "This is what we mean when we use terms like sovereign grace or irresistible grace. We mean that the Holy Spirit is God’s Spirit, and therefore he is omnipotent and sovereign. And therefore, he is irresistible and infallibly effective in his regenerating work. Which doesn’t mean that we don’t resist him. We do. The Bible is plain about that (Acts 7:51). What the sovereignty of grace and the sovereignty of the Spirit mean is that when God chooses, he can overcome the rebellion and resistance of our wills. He can make Christ look so compelling that our resistance is broken and we freely come to him and receive him and believe him." - John Piper

    Posted by John Samson on April 29, 2009 01:56 PM

    Comments

    ..and on your monergism site this very day, you have John Owen's classic on Hebrews 6 and how the christian can apostasise.

    whereas more modestly in another corner you have John Hendryxx's article on Christ replacements which, like Piper, maintains that a christian can never be lost.

    they cannot both be right. personally I go with John Hendryxx over John Owen.

    Owen's view on this is, I fear, not the gospel.

    Richard

    Hi Richard,

    There is nowhere in Owen's essay where he states that a regenerate Christian can apostasize. I would not have posted it if he did. Owen, like me, believes in the perseverance of the saints. You must have misunderstood Owen.

    John, thank you and bless you.

    You are absolutely right about Owen. At speed, I had misread him. We all agree that a true Christian cannot fall away. Phew!

    I do however believe that his use of the word 'apostasy' is very misleading; it should only be used of a true believer falling away - which we all agree does not happen in Christianity.

    And I also believe that Owen still commits a (different) serious error in his reading of Heb 6, even though Calvin would agree with him (and many others today too).

    I attach by immediately following post a longish article which suggests Heb 6 IS in fact about true Christians (not near-Christians); IS about a serious form of 'stumbling'; but DOES NOT entail losing one's salvation (only one's reward)

    What do you make of it?!

    Richard

    Note: This article unashamedly borrows information from many sources and does not claim to be original work.
    -----------------------------------

    I’ve been ruminating on Hebrews Chapter 6:4-6, one of the most hotly contested scriptures in the Bible:

    "For in the case of those who have once been enlightened and have tasted of the heavenly gift and have been partakers of the Holy Spirit, and having tasted of the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, it is impossible to renew them again to repentance, since they again crucify to themselves the Son of God, and put Him to open shame."

    Many take this to mean that believers can lose their salvation; others take it to mean that there must be an unpardonable turning away from God that prevents those who’d once come close from then ever being saved. Neither seems satisfactory in the light of what we know from elsewhere in scripture.

    Even a cursory examination of the Greek, dictionary definitions and alternative translations (thanks to e-sword) exposes some fundamental questions about conventional interpretations of this passage. Furthermore, a search of related articles on the web throws up some useful insights for a more systematic assessment. Herewith, then, is a logical investigation of the text in the light of all these insights. Calvinists will be pleased to note that the conclusion sits comfortably with the Reformed position, while Arminians may be a little irritated that one of their girders has been removed.

    It seems that the answer as to how to interpret this passage hinges on 5 questions:-
    1. Who is this being applied to? Believers or the ‘almost saved’
    2. What is the nature of the “falling away”? Is it apostasy, or something else?
    3. Exactly what is this “repentance” that it is impossible to renew them to? Is it concerning salvation, dead works, sin or something else?
    4. Why can they not be renewed to repentance? Is God not able to call whomever he wills, regardless of their state of rebellion, or is some rebellion just going ‘too far’?
    5. What will happen to these people? Are they lost forever to eternal damnation, or saved but subject to the judgement seat of Christ?

    Let us examine these one by one.

    1. Who is this being applied to? Believers or the ‘almost saved’

    We know these are people who have "once been enlightened". Scholars claim that every other time the word "enlightened" is used, it refers to believers (see also Eph 1:18), and if so it would seem irrational to here use it to describe the ‘nearly saved’. The Greek also is clear and means "once and for all". These people have also "tasted of the heavenly gift” and "tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come." This Greek word for “tasted”, ‘geuomai’, is not like licking an ice cream to see what it tastes like – it means to “eat” (consume) or to “experience” (c.f. Strong’s, Thayer’s). We get a feel for what’s meant by this word translated as “tasted” if we look earlier in the book of Hebrews, where we read that Jesus "tasted death for every man" (Heb 2:9). Since the same word is used, it would be inappropriate to try to give these different depths of meaning. Also they "have been made partakers of the Holy Spirit". This is the same Greek word ‘metochos’ (“partakers”) as is used in Hebrews 3.1 & Heb 3.14, where holy brothers are said to “partake in the heavenly calling” and “partake in Christ”. Also, since the Holy Spirit is a deposit for believers guaranteeing the inheritance that is to come, it is unlikely that anyone other than believers could claim to have thus partaken (see Romans 8:9-11). It is therefore most likely that the first ‘gut’ reading of this is correct - if it sounds like it is talking about believers, it probably is (and in this case, surely, it certainly is).

    2. What is the nature of the “falling away”? Is it apostasy, or something else?

    The Greek word used here and translated as "fallen away" is parapipto which can literally be translated "to stumble or fall along side". It is not apostasia from which we get the idea of apostasy or apostate. We should note that apostasia’s verb form, “aphistemi”, occurs earlier, in Heb 3:12, so the writer deliberately chose a different word with a different meaning. So, if not apostasy, what might they have stumbled into, or fallen alongside? The answer lies in the whole letter to the Hebrews. The writer emphasises that Jesus is better than Moses; He is the new and everlasting High Priest; He brought in a new covenant, with a new tabernacle, that His sacrifice was the new and complete sacrifice for all sin. Why did the writer need to emphasise all this? Look at the letter’s ending remarks, given in Heb 13v9-16:

    “Do not be led away by diverse and strange teachings, for it is good for the heart to be strengthened by grace, not by foods, which have not benefited those devoted to them.
    We have an altar from which those who serve the tent have no right to eat.
    For the bodies of those animals whose blood is brought into the holy places by the high priest as a sacrifice for sin are burned outside the camp.
    So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood. Therefore let us go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured.
    For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come.
    Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name. Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.”

    From the abundance of references above regarding the insufficiency of the Levitical sacrificial system we can only conclude that the Hebrews had been drawn back to it. Why else would the writer go to such lengths not only to tell them all that he did in Chapters 3-10, but then again remind them what kind of sacrifice is pleasing to God, how Christ’s blood sacrifice supersedes the Levitical system and how even the priestly Levites have no right to eat from the new altar that Jesus established?

    So, if this slipping back into the Levitical sacrifices was indeed the nature of their fall, it would explain why their stumbling was felt to be ‘crucifying to themselves the Son of God and putting Him to open shame’. To return to making sacrifices for the forgiveness of their sins after being saved would have shouted to the world that Jesus’ sacrifice was insufficient.

    3. Exactly what is this “repentance” that it is impossible to renew them to? Is it concerning salvation, dead works, sin or something else?

    We must find out what is meant by "impossible to renew them again to repentance". Notice that it does not say it is impossible to renew them again to salvation. The writer has only just talked about repentance, and qualified that as a "repentance from dead works" (see verse 1 of the same chapter). Since we should read scripture in the light of scripture and look to the immediately preceding use(s) of a word or phrase in order to learn the context, it is most probable that the writer was talking again of a repentance “from dead works” since no further qualifier was deemed necessary (and if it was now different, you would expect that he would say so). Note that the verse goes on to talk about “things that accompany salvation” not salvation itself, so it is contextually highly unlikely that the writer meant repentance to salvation given that it is sandwiched in this way.

    4. Why can they not be renewed to repentance? Is God not able to call whomever he wills, regardless of their state of rebellion, or is some rebellion just going ‘too far’?

    “it is impossible to renew them again to repentance, since they again crucify to themselves the Son of God, and put Him to open shame."

    The Greek participle leading to the translation “seeing” in the KJV, “since” in the ESV, and “because” in the NIV is not present in the Greek as a causal relationship. The “crucifying again” is happening along with “tasting the word”, “participating in the holy spirit” and “falling” i.e. it is a matter of concurrency not causality. To illustrate the difference, consider the statement “I cannot be persuaded to do a Sudoku puzzle because my wife is talking to me”. Clearly this should be taken to mean “I cannot be persuaded to do a Sudoku puzzle while my wife is talking to me” not “I cannot be persuaded to do a Sudoku puzzle because my wife has talked to me”, yet this is precisely how many theologians treat this passage!

    It is clear we should replace the (inappropriately coined) and dangerous “because” with the more likely alternative translation of “while” or “as long as” (often indicated in the footnotes as an alternative) since this renders the verse a) much more aligned with the concurrency indicated in the Greek and b) more consistent with scripture. Repentance would thus be a matter determined by (or rather prevented by) continuation in the dead works, rather than something declared impossible in final judgment on a man.

    5. What will happen to these people? Are they lost forever to eternal damnation, or saved but subject to the judgement seat of Christ?

    Since we have argued that it is not repentance unto salvation that is at stake here, there is no question of this applying to eternal damnation. In verse 9, the writer mentions that he is "convinced of better things of you, and things that accompany salvation." Things that accompany salvation are of course the works built up in heaven - the believer's fruit. We know that at the final judgment seat of Christ we will all be judged and our works burned in the refiner’s fire. That same imagery is used here where the field itself is not destroyed, just the thorns and thistles (dead works).

    All of these arguments proffered above can be derived from a close examination of the Greek and by reference to the articles contained at the links below (which in many cases provide far more eloquent and detailed rationales for the short answers above). In summary, the most likely interpretation given the Greek words actually used, the context they are used in, and their variety of translation options open to us means Heb 6:4-6 should more clearly be written…

    "For in the case of those [brothers] who have once been enlightened and have tasted of the heavenly gift and have been partakers of the Holy Spirit, and having tasted of the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen into [dead works of the ceremonial law, including sin offerings], it is impossible to renew them again to repentance [from these dead works] while they [continue to] again crucify to themselves the Son of God, and put Him to open shame."

    [but they can be brought back to repentance by God if they grasp the depth of what Jesus has done, grow in Him, and cease to put Him to shame in this way]

    -----------------


    Hebrews 6 - Some supporting web links to help you make up your own mind.


    A) Some short articles
    What’s good about them? They offer short summaries of the majority of the issues and offer helpful additional explanations in support of many of the answers formed above.

    What’s weak? Don’t necessarily examine parapipto and/or make the connection to the Levitical sacrifices (works-salvation). The last of the three (comereason.org) is most guilty of this oversight, but is supportive of other points made above.

    Here are the 3 links (comments in brackets afterwards)
    http://www.middletree.net/hebrews6.asp (a balanced article, doesn’t look into parapipto, but correctly identifies the error as works-salvation)
    http://erusan.googlepages.com/hebrews6.html (recognises parapipto is not apostasy, but then assumes it was general “sinning”)
    http://www.comereason.org/bibl_cntr/con060.asp (blindly assumes apostasy - i.e. does not look at parapipto at all)

    B) A summary of options with respect to who is being addressed
    What’s good? Looks at all the options open to us with respect to who is addressed by this passage. Also examines the Greek – picking up on parapipto, and also that a more attentive translation would render that repentance is impossible “while” in sin not “because” of sin.

    What’s weak? Summary only. Doesn’t look at issue of levitical practices.
    http://pvsmallgroup.com/wp-content/uploads/2008/09/hebrews-lesson-8.pdf

    C) Parapipto – a detailed analysis (HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!)
    What’s good? A thorough and detailed analysis of “parapipto”, analysing both the Septuagint and extra-biblical Greek sources to ascertain the most likely meaning of the word. Challenges those who would try to translate this as “fall away (from faith)” or “apostasise”.

    What’s weak? Nothing. If you only read one article, read this one!
    http://reclaimingthemind.org/papers/ets/2004/Harless2004/Harless2004.pdf

    D) Parapipto - a short analysis
    A brief look at the word often translated as “fallen away”
    http://godwardpassion.blogspot.com/2007_04_01_archive.html

    E) A detailed exposition of main issues surrounding Hebrews.
    What’s good? By the professor in Hebrew and Greek Studies at Jordan Evangelical Theological Seminary. A good exposition of the main issues, namely that the Hebrews had been sliding back into Levitical practices, that this verse describes the saved (albeit “babes” in Christ), and that the result is not eternal damnation – rather the judgement of believers’ works.

    What’s weak? Makes assumption there is a falling away which prevents repentance (does not relate this to the very Levitical practices already identified, and is not as thorough an analysis of “parapipto” as reclaiming the mind article above).
    http://www.faithalone.org/journal/2001i/tanner.html


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