Hebrews 6:4-9 (revisited)
from a previous blog article:
4 For it is impossible to restore again to repentance those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit,
5 and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come,
6 if they then fall away, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt.
7 For land that has drunk the rain that often falls on it, and produces a crop useful to those for whose sake it is cultivated, receives a blessing from God.
8 But if it bears thorns and thistles, it is worthless and near to being cursed, and its end is to be burned.
9 Though we speak in this way, yet in your case, beloved, we feel sure of better things- things that belong to salvation.
Invalid interpretations of this passage in Hebrews chapter 6 has resulted in much confusion on the issue of the perserverance (or preservation) of the saints. Here are some words on this from Vincent Cheung who was responding to someone who said that they still tended to read passages like this as an Arminian:
Question/Comment: "I have been thinking about Hebrews 6:4-6, and I am still struggling to be more impartial with itâ€¦. I recall that you have talked about these verses, but I am still strugglingâ€¦
Response: Besides my own remarks, there are a number of commentaries that adequately address Hebrews 6. It is good to read and review them. After that, the struggle is not in attaining exegetical precision with the passage, but it is in the part of you that still tends to read it as an Arminian â€” as a self-centered rebel â€” when there is no warrant for it.
Consider the example of John 3:16. It says that whoever believes will not perish but have eternal life, which both Calvinism and Arminianism affirm, but it does not say who will believe or why they will believe. Thus the verse affirms only salvation by faith, and has no relevance to the disagreement between Calvinism and Arminianism until you bring other biblical passages into the discussion. However, many people want to read it as Arminians, and so they think that Arminianism is what it proves. They take the words "whoever believes" to mean something so different as, "Every man has free will, and anyone can by his free will believe in Christ apart from God's foreordination and direct control." I might as well deduce the entire Alice in Wonderland when someone says "Good morning" or "Have a nice day."
Likewise, Hebrews 6 says that whoever satisfies the listed conditions and then withdraws from the faith cannot repent again. Since this is what it says, then this is what it means. Now, we can argue about whether these conditions completely define a believer. We could argue from the example of Judas, who exercised the very powers of the world to come, but Jesus knew from the beginning that he was "a devil." He was never truly converted. However, even this discussion is unnecessary, since it is irrelevant to the main point of the passage. Even if it describes a believer, does a believer actually withdraw? Does it ever happen? The passage does not say. The only mention of this topic points toward the other direction: "Even though we speak like this, dear friends, we are confident of better things in your case â€” things that accompany salvation" (v. 9). The writer was convinced that at least the original readers would not suffer the fate that he describes. What is it then? The passage cannot be used to support Arminianism, since even the relevance is absent.
I could say, "If God dies, then the earth will also disappear," or something to that effect. The statement is certainly true. But will it ever happen? Is it even possible? It would be pure lunacy to infer from the statement, "Therefore, it is possible for God to die." The statement does not address the topic at all. Now, we could argue that the words "if God dies" contain a categorical error, rendering the phrase meaningless, but other than that, the statement makes an important point, that God is the sustainer of all things, and that all things continuously depend on him. This is what it implies, and one cannot read more into it unless he does so by force.
Part of the difficulty in confronting Arminianism, then, is to overcome your own Arminianism â€” whatever of it that remains in your heart."