Saturday, September 04, 2010

Losing It?

Hebrews 6:4 For it is impossible, in the case of 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 and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt.

4 Ἀδύνατον γὰρ τοὺς ἅπαξ φωτισθέντας, γευσαμένους τε τῆς δωρεᾶς τῆς ἐπουρανίου καὶ μετόχους γενηθέντας πνεύματος ἁγίου 5  καὶ καλὸν γευσαμένους θεοῦ ῥῆμα δυνάμεις τε μέλλοντος αἰῶνος 6  καὶ παραπεσόντας, πάλιν ἀνακαινίζειν εἰς μετάνοιαν, ἀνασταυροῦντας ἑαυτοῖς τὸν υἱὸν τοῦ θεοῦ καὶ παραδειγματίζοντας.

I understand that this is one of the favorite anti-Calvinistic proof-texts.  It seems to clearly show that someone can lose their salvation.  They choose to accept Christ, fall away, and then it is impossible for them to come back to repentance.  Or so it seems to say, right?

Of course, we want to let Scripture interpret Scripture and we particularly want to let the clear passages interpret those that are maybe a little less clear.  I'd put this one in the latter category.  It certainly stands in tension with a promise like Ephesians 1:13-14 where we see that we have been sealed by the Holy Spirit.  It also seems to stand in contrast with 1 John 1:9 which tells us about how God forgives us when we confess our sins (see also James 5:16).  Since we know that Scripture cannot contradict itself there must be another explanation for this passage.

Calvin has some wonderful thoughts on this passage:

The knot of the question is in the word, fall away. Whosoever then understands its meaning, can easily extricate himself from every difficulty. But it must be noticed, that there is a twofold falling away, one particular, and the other general. He who has in anything, or in any ways offended, has fallen away from his state as a Christian; therefore all sins are so many fallings. But the Apostle speaks not here of theft, or perjury, or murder, or drunkenness, or adultery; but he refers to a total defection or falling away from the Gospel, when a sinner offends not God in some one thing, but entirely renounces his grace.

And that this may be better understood, let us suppose a contrast between the gifts of God, which he has mentioned, and this falling away. For he falls away who forsakes the word of God, who extinguishes its light, who deprives himself of the taste of the heavens or gift, who relinquishes the participation of the Spirit. Now this is wholly to renounce God. We now see whom he excluded from the hope of pardon, even the apostates who alienated themselves from the Gospel of Christ, which they had previously embraced, and from the grace of God; and this happens to no one but to him who sins against the Holy Spirit. For he who violates the second table of the Law, or transgresses the first through ignorance, is not guilty of this defection; nor does God surely deprive any of his grace in such a way as to leave them none remaining except the reprobate.

If any one asks why the Apostle makes mention here of such apostasy while he is addressing believers, who were far off from a perfidy so heinous; to this I answer, that the danger was pointed out by him in time, that they might be on their guard. And this ought to be observed; for when we turn aside from the right way, we not only excuse to others our vices, but we also impose on ourselves. Satan stealthily creeps on us, and by degrees allures us by clandestine arts, so that when we go astray we know not that we are going astray. Thus gradually we slide, until at length we rush headlong into ruin. We may observe this daily in many. Therefore the Apostle does not without reason forewarn all the disciples of Christ to beware in time; for a continued torpor commonly ends in lethargy, which is followed by alienation of mind.

So what does this mean?  I take this passage as a good defense of the idea of what is known as "Lordship Salvation," which is to say that the truly converted will demonstrate a changed lifestyle.  It is possible to have a taste of the heavenly things without being truly converted.  Our churches in America are full of such people.  But the truly converted will have changed lives.  They will still fall, as Calvin points out in the first paragraph.  But there will not be a total apostasy.

This is a difficult passage, to be sure.  My point is simply that it is not a slam dunk against the idea of the preservation of the saints.  It is hard to imagine how God would use something as difficult as this passage to contradict the many passages that talk about how God will save those who are His.  Personally, I do not worry about committing the sin described here, though of course it is possible that I am just living a lie.  I don't think so though.

What do you do with this passage?  I can tell you one thing you must do -- read it in context of the rest of the chapter!  It seems clear to me that this is not a warning to all of the believers in the congregation to whom this is addressed.  It also looks like it refers to those who have participated in covenant community and yet are not truly converted.  That's my take anyway.

Note: I've been really busy in the morning the past two days.  I apologize for the lack of updates, but hope to get us back on track tomorrow with Hebrews 8

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