The Impossible Repentance of Hebrews 6

“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, 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. 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. But if it bears thorns and thistles, it is worthless and near to being cursed, and its end is to be burned. Hebrews 6:4-8(ESV)

In Hebrews 5, the writer was trying to describe the priesthood of Jesus when he interrupted himself saying that he could not explain the priesthood in more detail because they would not understand it. The topic was not so complex that they could not understand it but they had not grown in the knowledge of God and could not grasp it though, by now, they should have been spiritually mature. In chapter 6 he told them to leave the elementary principles, the ABCs, and press towards maturity in the knowledge of God’s word. Within this exhortation to maturity is a warning of remaining immature and not growing in knowledge of God’s word.

Some Christians who fail to mature may leave Christ and be unable to return to Him He says it will be “It is impossible for them to repent.” This is a frightening concept: one who is alive but cannot repent of their wickedness and turn to God. Who is this person who cannot repent?

This is not the unbeliever who never knew God nor cares for Him. This is a Christian who left the faith.

  • He was “once enlightened.” This has the idea of spiritual illumination. In John 1:9, Jesus who came to the world to give light to man. Paul, in Ephesians 1:17-18, describes conversion as the eyes of our understanding being enlightened that we may know our hope and our inheritance. Hebrews 10:32 uses “enlightenment” to described the Christian’s conversion. This person has seen through the darkness of sin by the truth of the gospel and knows the hope and glory of the child of God because he obeyed the gospel and became a child of God.
  • “have tasted the heavenly gift” The word “taste” literally means “experience.” We have a taste of the heavenly gift, our salvation, while on earth. We know peace when our sins are cleansed, love of our brethren, and our love towards God. When we read about the love of the brethren in the New Testament towards one another (sharing, selling possessions to take care of needs, daily exhortation) and the selfless, joyful, and heartfelt worship to God we have a taste of that heavenly gift. We may have been to a singing, worship service, or time with our brethren where we have had a taste of what was to come.
  • “have become partakers of the Holy Spirit” We do not understand everything about how the Father, Son, and Spirit dwell within us but must leave that to God. Romans 8:9-11 speaks of the relationship with have with God through the Holy Spirit. We have become partakers of God in that we have put off wickedness and put on holiness.
  • “tasted the word of God” The word “tasted” is the same as used above. Peter tells us to desire the pure milk of the word if we have tasted the Lord’s graciousness, 1 Peter 2:2-3. We have know from God’s words of love and warning what we needed to do to become children of God and submitted to it.
  • “[tasted] the powers of the age to come” A knowledge of the power of God and of His ultimate triumph over Satan and the world of sin and the destruction of the world. This knowledge urges us to be faithful, 2 Peter 3:11.

When this person falls away it is impossible to renew him to repentance. The word “impossible” doesn’t always mean “cannot” but is sometimes used to describe something that is not acceptable or is extremely unlikely. In this case it is impossible for the Christian who forsook Jesus to return to Him because there is nothing that we can tell him or use to appeal to him that he doesn’t already know. He willingly turned his back on all that is good and holy in order to be in this condition. He has crucified the Son of God again and put Him to open shame. We do not physically crucify Jesus, but our rejection of Him is equal to that Jerusalem mob, Hebrews 10:29. His departure from the faith is a cause for people to mock Christ for Jesus must not have meant enough to the person to keep Him.

How can we reach this desperate condition?

We can become callused to sin. Israel was often condemned for their hard hearts and rebellion against God, Hebrews 3:7-13. The Israelites who forsook God could not enter the Promised Land and the Christian who forsakes God cannot enter His eternal kingdom, Hebrews 10:26-39. To become hardened to sin is to become callused. When our skin calluses, it is no longer tender and easily pricked. Guitar player’s fingers become callused by the strings and lose sensitivity. Hard labor with bare hands can cause them to become callused. When our heart becomes A young man walks into the desolate desertcallused, it is no longer easily pricked. When we continue to sin we can eventually numb our conscience and make it less resistant to the pricking message of the truth.It becomes easier to add other sins when we become hardened.

We can think that judgment is far away. Jesus told a parable of a servant who behaved wickedly but was surprised by a judgment that came quickly, Matthew 24:45-51. Peter wrote of people who would scoff mistaking God’s longsuffering for postponed judgment, 2 Peter 3:1-9. Instead, Peter wrote that the Christian must always be ready for judgment, 2 Peter 3:10-13. How often do we really think that judgment could be imminent?

Listen to false promises and false teaching. Paul warned Timothy of false teachers whose conscience was seared and numb like one whose skin has been seared by a hot iron and can feel nothing, 1 Timothy 4:1-3.

Some believe God would not condemn a person who claimed to be a Christian at one time. They think that once they were saved they would always be saved even if they didn’t follow Jesus later in life. Hebrews 10:26-39 plainly teaches that God has no pleasure in those who draw back from Him to return to sin. Paul warned the Thessalonian Christians, in 2 Thessalonians 1:4-10, to remain worthy of the calling and escape God’s wrath. Peter warns, in 2 Peter 2:18-22, that it is  better not to have known Jesus than to turn away from being a follower. If one is “once saved always saved” then this statement would be meaningless.

How Can We Remain Faithful?

  • Growing in the knowledge of God and obedience
    • Hebrews 6:7-8 – Being useful in God’s service and not ensnared with worldly things.
    • Hebrews 6:9-12 – Diligent service, not becoming sluggish.
  • Remaining tenderhearted, not resisting the loving rebuke of our brethren.

Be serious about your walk with God and diligent to grow in the knowledge of God and His word and draw closer to Him. Failing to do this, you could drift so far from God that it would be impossible for others to draw you back.

The Mind of Christ in Action

After we transform our minds, our actions must change.  Jesus taught that a man’s heart dictates his actions.  If our heart is right, right actions will follow.  A godly life is the natural result of a mind cleansed by God and consecrated to Him.

When we set our minds on things above our actions will change.  Colossians 3:5-17 describes this transformation:

Put to death/put off
Put on
Fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, conveteousness, anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy language, lying
Holiness, tender mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering, bearing with one another, forgiving, love
This is the old man, made in the image of the world.
This is the new man, made in the image of the Creator.

As Paul illustrates, the new man acts differently towards his fellow man.  He seeks to build other people up, not destroy them.  He speaks good, not evil.  He is longsuffering, not impatient.  Our actions towards other people change because our attitude towards them has changed. God commands us to serve others as part of our service to Him.  We must transform from a self-seeking, self-centered being into a selfless servant, like Jesus, seeking to serve rather than be served.

Beware What Entertains You!

Although we may not realize it, the things that entertain us can greatly influence us. Their influence is more subtle, like the gradual erosion of a rock by rain, wind, and heat. Yet, gradually the entertainment industry can shape our minds. Many women have poor self-esteem because they cannot look like television stars or models. However, the stars and models do not look perfect either! We see the final product, filtered by editing rooms and touch up artists. There are no perfect looking people and, as the Bible teaches, these transitory features must not be our focus anyway, Proverbs 31:30.

The media culture will try to convince us that we do not have enough.  It teaches that unless we have certain labels on our clothes, certain jobs, elite neighborhoods, and the like, that we will be miserable.  Therefore, we must continue to shop and continue to buy.  Proverbs 27:20 warns us: “Hell and Destruction are never full; So the eyes of man are never satisfied.”  We must be content, 1 Timothy 6:6.

The entertainment industry often teaches values that are not in harmony with the Scriptures.  The popular culture approves of many things contrary to sound doctrine (Romans 1:18-32; Galatians 5:19-21).  We can desensitize ourselves to the abhorrent nature of these sins by exposing ourselves to it a little at a time.  The gradual assault on our minds can erode our good morals and godly principles.  Sadly, we have opened the door for these influences, sat them down in our houses, and parents have even placed them before their children.

Positive entertainment, when shared by godly friends, can draw people closer together.  We can do many activities as Christians.  Our joy is enhanced when we can do those activities with our fellow brethren and families.  There are some movies and TV shows, though rare, that provide positive lessons and exemplify good principles.  Some songs extol the marriage relationship, the parent-child relationship, and doing the right thing.  We can properly use what is good but must shun evil.

Choosing God Over The World

Paul stressed to the Romans, in Romans 13:11-14, the importance of casting off the works of darkness and walking in the light.  We have spent enough of our life sinning and now we are closer to our salvation than when we first believed.  Since there is much to do and little time in which to do it, we must be diligent to put away the works of darkness and put on the armor of light and get to work for the Lord.

Some Christians are ineffective in the service of God because they are not totally dedicated themselves to God.  They are keeping some things of the world with them: lust, evil speaking, covetousness, worldliness, etc. These things are weighing them down and they cannot grow properly in the Lord and are useless in his service.  The Hebrew writer urges us to “lay aside every weight and the sin which so easily ensnares us” so we can run with endurance, unencumbered by the world, Hebrews 12:1.

We must either grasp God completely or the world completely.  We will fail if we try to serve both, Matthew 6:24; 1 Kings 18:21.  We can deceive ourselves into thinking that we are serving God while our hearts are devoted to the world.  We must examine our thoughts and our actions to see if we are bearing fruit to the world or to the Lord.

Joshua urged the people to decide whom they would serve, Joshua 24:14-25.  They needed to make a decision that day and stick with it.  When they answered that they would serve the Lord, Joshua rebuked them telling them that they could not serve the Lord because they were too fickle. A brief study of history would confirm Joshua’s assessment.  They frequently declared their dedication to God only to murmur against Him and His chosen leaders soon afterward.  Like that audience, we must choose today whom we will serve and then follow wholeheartedly.

Genuine Love vs. Affection

1 John 3:16-18:  “By this we know love, because He laid down His life for us. And we also ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. But whoever has this world’s goods, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in him? My little children, let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth.”

True love between brethren is expressed in actions.  Our love is not to be in what we say but what we do.  Love only expressed in word is of little value.  How can we love in word only?  Is our only interaction with fellow Christians at the worship service?  Perhaps we say we love others because we know that we are supposed to but, if our hearts were truly examined, would we only find affection, not true love?  Love that is in word requires no sacrifice of self, time, or money, demands no action, has no risk of being hurt, and needs no deep involvement with others.

Love that is in deed and truth, true love for our brethren, is on a higher level.  It requires action on our part, a show of love.  Christ showed His love, not by shouting His love from heaven, but by dying on the cross.  We show our love by our willingness to die for our brethren.  We may say that we have this love but we must demonstrate it.  Consider John’s example:  If you say that you would lay your life down for your brethren but you will not give of your possessions to help your needy brother, how does the love of God abide in you?  What a profound question!  When we think we love our brethren as Christ loved us, we must immediately ask how the love of God abides in us.  We must prove it.

John pictures a brother in need and a fellow Christian locking up his possessions by first locking up his heart.  If his heart is not with his brother, the resources he has to fill his needs will not be given.  Let us not be narrow regarding the needs of the brother.  Perhaps the brother has emotional needs; do we lock up friendship, a word of comfort, or a sympathetic ear?  If our brother has spiritual needs, do we lock up a gentle rebuke, exhortation from Gods’ word, or a prayer?  Maybe the brother does need our worldly goods: a car ride to church or to the doctor, a meal in a time of sickness or bereavement, or financial help.  We must unlock our possessions, time, and even our selves and help our brethren.  According to Paul, that is why we work: “Let him who stole steal no longer, but rather let him labor, working with his hands what is good, that he may have something to give him who has need,” Ephesians 4:28 (emphasis mine-rfd).