Heb. 6:4-8 and “Once Saved, Always Saved”
by Jack Cottrell (Notes) on Saturday, November 7, 2009 at 10:03am
A RECENT QUERY: “We are doing a study in Hebrews and this week chapter 6 rears its ugly head regarding eternal security. I know that I have at least 2 with a strong calvinistic background in my class, and we will be addressing the ‘once saved, always saved’ problem. Any thoughts?”
MY REPLY: In my book, “The Faith Once for All,” I have a whole chapter on the subject of assurance of salvation (ch. 21). In this chapter I give a strong refutation of the “once saved, always saved” doctrine. Included therein is the following analysis of Heb. 6:4-6 (pp. 379-380):
An even clearer teaching on the reality of falling from grace is Heb 6:4-8. Actually the entire letter to the Hebrews is based on the fact that such a fall is possible. The letter is apparently being written to Jews (i.e., Hebrews) who had become Christians, but who are now thinking they had made a mistake and are seriously considering abandoning their Christian faith and reconverting to Judaism. The theme of the entire letter is the danger and the foolishness of such a decision. If this decision is not possible, then the whole book of Hebrews is a sham. It is filled with warnings against turning away from Jesus Christ, the only source of salvation (2:1-3; 3:12-14; 4:1, 11; 10:26-39; 12:25).
The clearest such warning is Heb 6:4-8. On the one hand, here the writer is without doubt speaking of those who are truly saved, since they possess five characteristics of the saved state. 1) They are “enlightened,” i.e., they possess true knowledge and understanding of the gospel. 2) They “have tasted of the heavenly gift,” the gift of salvation in general (Eph 2:8-9). 3) They “have been made partakers of the Holy Spirit,” having drunk the living water (John 7:37-39; 1 Cor 12:13). [“Partaking” refers to the real possession of something; see Heb. 2:14; 3:1, 14.] 4) They “have tasted the good word of God,” having believed and received its promises. 5) They have tasted “the powers of the age to come,” referring to the already-experienced resurrection from spiritual death (Eph 2:5; Col 2:12-13), in anticipation of the future redemptive resurrection of the body.
The use of the word “taste” (geuomai) in these verses does not imply a tentative, aborted sampling of salvation in contrast with actual eating or consuming. (See Heb 2:9, where the same word is used for Christ’s tasting death on the cross.) It is used rather to contrast the real but incomplete salvation experienced in this life with the fullness of salvation to be received in glory, in the same sense that the present gift of the indwelling Holy Spirit is but a pledge or down payment of the full inheritance that is to come (2 Cor 1:22; Eph 1:13-14).
The fact that those to whom this passage speaks are true Christians is also shown in the statement that, if they fall away, “it is impossible to renew them again to repentance” (v. 6). To speak of REnewing them AGAIN to repentance indicates that they were once in a state of repentance, indicative of salvation.
On the other hand, it is also clear that this passage warns against the reality of becoming truly lost, as opposed to simply losing one’s rewards. Verse 6 warns against becoming “fallen away,” a state devoid of repentance and hostile to Christ. The fallen one’s life yields “thorns and thistles”; it is “worthless [adokimos] and close to being cursed, and it ends up being burned” (v. 8; see John 15:6).
Passages such as these are completely contrary to the “once saved, always saved” idea. They cannot be explained away as referring only to people who were never saved in the first place, nor can they be reduced to the loss of rewards rather than of salvation of such. Nor can we say that they are merely hypothetical warnings, by which God motivates us to remain faithful by threatening us with a scenario that in actuality could never occur. [I had a Calvinist professor at Westminster Seminary who explained Hebrews this way.] Such a ploy would be deceitful and cruel, and is unworthy of our gracious and loving Savior.