A friend of mine once said that if you are going to lose your salvation, you’ll lose it in Hebrews 6.
There is no doubt that these 5 verses are the most haunting of all Scripture. When you read them you can’t help but feel uneasy. It is talking about someone who commits the unpardonable sin. There is a bit of finality when it says that once “he falls away it is impossible to restore them to repentance.”
Calvinists, of course, are those who believe in the doctrine of preservation (or perseverance) of the saints. Or, as we sometimes say, “Once saved, always saved.” But how is such a doctrine reconciled with a passage like this that talks about a person who loses his salvation?
I believe it will become clear as we go along. One who listens to the text correctly will have no problem reconciling it with the doctrines of grace.
But that doesn’t lessen or eliminate the gravity of this passage. This passage is talking about someone who commits a real sin—an unpardonable one at that! The one that is described here loses all chances of being saved. And if we are going to do justice to what the Lord says here, we need to begin by approaching it with the care and reverence that such a thought deserves.
The text breaks down easily into two points. It first helps us understand the nature of the apostasy by painting a portrait of the one who has committed this sin. Then, in the latter half, it tells us of his punishment.
I. How is he described [4-6]
Before we dive in, let me give you a little sketch. If I state it succinctly, the unpardonable sin is when someone is given a clear, intellectual understanding of the gospel. But despite this perfect comprehension—and we might even say despite this supernatural comprehension—because it is God who grants him this clarity—despite this unmistakable knowledge, he chooses to reject it rather than accept it.
Now some of you may be wondering how a person who has been given divine light and even experienced the Holy Spirit’s power upon him can reject the gospel. After all, don’t we believe in irresistible grace? Isn’t that one of the main tenets of the Reformed faith?
Well, this is where you have to remember that this person has not been regenerated. The Holy Spirit, as this passage makes clear, has touched his head and not his heart. He knows the right stuff in his mind, but his soul is still dead to God.
Let’s look at the passage. It will become clearer as we examine it. You’ll notice that there are four things said about this person in verses 4-5. Each of the things that are said indicate that this person’s intellect is the only part of him that has been distinctly touched by God.
The first thing that it says is that these people have “once been enlightened.” Now, this is rich, biblical terminology. You may know the passage in Ephesians where Paul prays that the Ephesians would have their “eyes enlightened.” This phrase is a way of describing how God gives someone a depth of understanding.
Man by nature is “darkened in his understanding.” He is mentally challenged, so to speak, because of the influence of sin. Sin clouds our minds and makes us opposed to the truth. So it takes a divine power working upon our minds to overcome this natural opposition or our intentional ignorance to spiritual things. This is what the bible refers to as the “enlightening.”
So someone who has once been enlightened is a person whose mind has been greatly influenced by the Holy Spirit. But that does not mean that their heart has necessarily been affected. He may have been academically enlightened, but his heart is still adverse to God.
The second thing that it says is that this person has “tasted the heavenly gift.” Now again, this is a way of describing someone who has experienced a small, but radical influence of the Holy Spirit. The “heavenly gift” is the gospel. It is a gift in that it is given to us by God through his grace.
To taste the gospel is to existentially experience it in some small way. Remember that a taste is not the same as a gobbling down or a complete devouring of the whole meal. If you’ve tasted a steak, you’ve not eaten the whole thing. You’ve just had enough to find out how good it is.
That’s the imagery that is employed here. This person who has committed the unpardonable sin has tasted the heavenly gift in that he has experienced the gift of God’s grace in a limited way. He has enough of it to know what it is and that it is good, but he has not been allowed to enjoy the whole wonder of it.
This is interesting isn’t it? You’re probably starting to see something of the wonder of this particular sin. But what is said next really shows you the radical nature of this sin.
It goes on to say that this person has also “shared in the Holy Spirit.” All that has been said up to this point has implied the Spirit’s influence, but here it is brought out in the open. You’ll notice though that what this does not say. It does not say that he has been regenerated by the Spirit or converted by the Spirit. It says that he has shared in the Holy Spirit.
Again, this goes back to what he has experienced mentally. There is no doubt that the Holy Spirit has come upon this man. He has been supernaturally touched by the Spirit, but he has not been saved. He can be said to have a shared experience with the believer, but he himself is not a believer.
Think of it like this: Some of my friends invited me to go golfing with them. Now, I’m not a golfter. I think it is fun to a degree, but it isn’t my thing. It doesn’t have enough contact for me. I’m more of a football and basketball guy. I like bumping and physical grit of the games.
When my friends and I got to the 9th hole or so one of the guys asked me, “How are you liking it so far?” I said, “It’s okay. But to tell you the truth I just want to hit something.”
But I went out and I played all 18 holes. Overall, we had a jolly good time. It was fun being out with my friends, if anything else.
Now, you can say I shared in the golfing experience. I still don’t really care for golf. I don’t love it like they do, but we all had a mutual experience. There was a degree of golf that we had in common.
That’s what’s being said here. People can share in the Holy Spirit, but they don’t necessarily have to love Him or have a genuine affection for Him as a result. This person can share the same depth of knowledge that the Holy Spirit gives to a believer, but he has not shared in the same regenerating work.
The last thing that is said about the person who has committed the unpardonable sin is that he has “tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come.”
Perhaps by now you can already see how this is describing the intellectual capacity of the apostate and not his soul. This is a person who has been taught the word of God and he’s found that it is good. He understands it and can assent to its virtue. He knows that it is good. He even knows that it has a saving value to it. But even though he knows how useful it is, it still hasn’t affected his heart.
It also says that he tasted the powers of the age to come. Now this kind of blows my mind. What are “the powers of the age to come?” It has to be contrasted with the present age, doesn’t it? The age to come refers to the time when Jesus comes back. It is that time when God’s plan of redemption comes to its climax and we enter into the new heavens and new earth.
Here you see some of the absolute perversity of this man’s sin. This guy has full comprehension of the saving work of God. He has mentally recognized that Christ will come back and there will be a redemption of His people. But despite being perfectly cognizant of these things, he completely rejects it.
Today we frequently hear of a group of people known as “Holocaust Deniers.” We cannot fathom what would possess a person to be a holocaust denier. Deep down they have to know the reality of it. Nobody is that dumb. But despite their mental wherewithal, they completely reject it.
Really, that’s what we have here in the unpardonable sin. Someone has entered into fellowship with God’s people. They’ve become a part of the covenant community. They may have even stayed around for some time. What’s more, the Holy Spirit has entered their lives in an amazing way and given them a depth of divine understanding that—so much that it parallel’s a true believer’s experience. But despite their mental wherewithal, they end up completely rejecting it.
Now that you’ve seen how this guy is described—and how serious his sin really is, perhaps you’ll understand how he is doomed.
II. How he is doomed [6-8]
His doom is laid out for us in verses 6-8, and there are three things that are said here that help us understand what his punishment is. The first thing we read is that he is doomed to a life of unbelief.
A. Doomed to a life of unbelief
Verse 6 says “It is impossible to restore them again to repentance.” Understand what this is saying. Remember the kind of repentance that they had before. It was not a true repentance. It was not repentance from the heart. It was a fake repentance that was only in word, and not in spirit. It was a repentance that came from the knowledge the Spirit had supernaturally given, but it was not a Spirit provoked repentance.
When it says that it is impossible to restore them again to repentance, it’s saying that the Spirit will not grant him that degree of understanding again. It’s not because He can’t. He just won’t. Due to the nature of the sin, God will not allow him the ability to do it.
So part of this person’s punishment is his inability to repent and believe. He’s doomed to a life of unbelief, and it goes on to explain why. It says that he is “crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt.”
Now this is figurative language. He isn’t nailing Jesus to the cross again. But in a figurative way he’s joining with the unbelievers who crucified him the first time. By his turning from the gospel he cries out, “Crucify Him!”, which is the motto of every unbeliever.
So he is doomed to live a life of unbelief. And if that wasn’t serious enough, he’s also doomed to a life of barrenness.
B. Doomed to a life of barrenness
Look at verses 7-8. He uses the imagery from the world of farming. He says, “Land that has drunk the rain that often falls on it, and produces a crop useful to those for whose sake it is cultivate, receives a blessing from God.” What is the blessing? It is the crop. They get to eat what the land & rain produced.
This represents a person who is a believer. The Holy Spirit has fallen on him and affected his heart. As a result, his life is productive. Righteousness is produced and a crop of good works grow forth from him. Since he is living in obedience to God, he experiences other blessings from God—such as joy, peace, contentment, and harmony in most all of his relationships. This is a fruitful life.
In contrast to this verse 8 goes on to talk about the guy who commits the unpardonable sin. It says, “But if it bears thorns and thistles, it is worthless and near being cursed.” In the case of the apostate, the Spirit has come down upon him, but it has not affected his heart. As a result, his life produces only thorns and thistles. It is a picture of a life that is completely barren of anything that is good in any ultimate sense. Sure they may get a blade of grass here and there. But his life is not a fruitful one. It is mainly a life of misery; it’s a life that is characterized by wickedness. Moreover, it is a life that is void of joy, peace, and serenity.
But not only is he doomed to a life of unbelief and a life of barrenness, but he is doomed to a life in hell.
C. Doomed to a life in hell
Look at the very end of verse 8. It says that “Its end is to be burned.”
Burning fire is the Bible’s supreme metaphor for the final and permanent punishment of God. It is descriptive of the pain that one experiences as the red hot anger of God seizes him once he leaves this life. The agony is so intense that it can only be described by the penetrating forcefulness of fire. And the one who commits the unpardonable sin is doomed to it.
One can’t help but say that this person has fallen as far as one can fall. At one point in his life he had tasted the powers of the age to come. There is a sense in which he soared into the highest heavens and sung with angels. But now he finds himself damned. His life ends in the deepest pits of perdition.
Now that we’ve examined what has been said here regarding the unpardonable sin, it is probably important that I mention that no one knows who might have committed is sin. There have been some scholars that have said that it is a real sin, but it probably a rare sin. That may be true, but it still should sober us up and serve to remind us of how we are called to remain faithful to Christ.
In his classic work, “A Christmas Carol” Charles Dickens gave us Ebenezer Scrooge. Scrooge was a rotten old man who despised Christmas. But Scrooge was given several visions in the night. In each vision he was visited by a different messenger: the ghost of Christmas past, the ghost of Christmas present, and the ghost of Christmas future. There is a sense in which Scrooge was given a vision of his doom. His life had been a barren one, lacking love & grace. His failure to believe in Christmas made his life miserable. Then in his last vision he was given a picture of the fiery doom to which he was condemned.
Then he woke up. It had all been a dream. But even though it was a dream, it provoked him to a new life. The visions were stern warnings that elicited Scrooge’s faith in Christmas.
There is a sense in which this passage about the unpardonable sin parallels old Scrooge. You can say, “Is this passage really describing any of us?” Maybe not. But the truths found in it should still haunt us to a degree. It should still rouse our faith and provoke our genuine commitment to Christ.
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Matt is blessed to be a husband, father, and pastor in Ashland, Ohio.