I have been told my articles can be too lengthy for people with tighter schedules so I ‘m going to do my best to create shortened versions of my articles so they can read as well. The full version is here: Hebrews 6 – Falling Away.
This is one of the most confusing scriptures in the Bible, but I believe the correct interpretation heavily relies on the context of the entire book. I am not a scholar, and I do not claim to know everything correctly, but I trust in the Holy Spirit to give me wisdom in how I read the scriptures, and I would like to share what I feel like came from him.
Hebrews 6:4-8 “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 if they fall 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.”
I believe this passage is parallel with the story of the Israelites coming into the promise land, which has already been referenced heavily by the author in the previous chapters. The Israelites heard God’s promise of giving them the Land but instead they were afraid of the giants and didn’t believe God. Because they didn’t believe, they missed out on all the blessings God wanted to give them such as having wells they did not dig, vineyards they did not plant, houses they did not build. The author references this land as the “rest” of God. But, that was not God’s true rest. God has provided a final rest for the believer through Christ.
Hebrews 4:8-11 “For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken later about another day. There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; For all who have entered into God’s rest have rested from their labors, just as God did after creating the world. So let us do our best to enter that rest. But if we disobey God, as the people of Israel did, we will fall.”
Jesus’s sacrifice provides us every good thing in his kingdom freely. We are given a justification we did not build, righteousness we did not plant, and an inheritance we did not dig, so to speak. This means we no longer need to be trying to earn merits before God, or perform useless religious deeds in order to obtain God’s favor but are called to “rest from our labors.” Those useless rituals only serve to mock what Jesus did for us. Let’s read a couple verses before this passage.
Hebrews 6:1 “Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God,”
This is the only other place in Hebrews where the word “repentance” is used besides Hebrews 12:17. It is repentance from dead works. The context of dead works and how they are referenced throughout Hebrews indicate that they are not so much referring to sin as we think of it but instead to useless religious deeds such as circumcision, animal sacrifices, cleanings and washings, observing sabbaths, special moons, or any other act which a man may invent to make himself right with God. Instead of trusting these religious deeds, we put our faith in God and what he did in us through Christ and enter his “rest.”
So the purpose of the passage is to direct us away from performing these useless deeds by showing us that they will be worthless in the end and will steal from our experience the rest we are privileged to enjoy. Thus the recipients of this message are falling away (not from salvation) but from God’s rest, and turning to dead works as a means to be right with God. To their loss their deeds only mock what Jesus did and ridicule his death. People who sow in love that comes from receiving the rest of God reap a harvest, but works that are useless to God in the end will be burned. So if you want to perform works that matter and are useful to God, don’t fall into worthless rituals. But God is not unjust and he will not forget to reward the labor of love you give out of genuine faith in God.
Impossible to renew to repentance “as long as”
This idea that it’s impossible to renew them to repentance hinges on the fact that they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace. The International Standard Version emphasizes this.
and who have fallen away, as long as they continue to crucify the Son of God to their own detriment by exposing him to public ridicule (International Standard Version).
Several scholars including the Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges and Robert Dean Luginbill argue this. You can read the long version of this article for their quotes.
What this means is that if at some point they turn away from crucifying Christ afresh they may be restored to repentance. Repentance from what? Useless rituals such as the animal sacrifices. He’s basically saying it’s impossible for them to enter into God’s full rest while continuing these rituals because they don’t understand Jesus’s once and for all sacrifice. This he goes on to explain all through Hebrews how Jesus was not like their other animal sacrifices being offered over and over, but was offered once and for all, so that those old rituals could be completely done away with.
So I might translate this passage as follows:
It is impossible for those who have heard and been invited into God’s promised rest, if they ignore His gift to be brought back to repentance from their useless rituals so long as they suppose the Son of God’s death was ineffective or must be offered over and over like their other animal sacrifices both subjecting him to shame and doing themselves detriment. Works that come from love spurred by faith are useful to God and obtain a blessing. But, the useless deeds and rituals of legalism and doubt are worthless to God. In the end they will be burned.”
Hope this helps! I don’t believe this passage is talking about loosing salvation, but is instead trying to open our eyes to the rest our salvation provides and helping us to see how useless those old rituals have become since Christ has cleansed us once and for all.