The troubling verses against the eternal security of salvation!?
There are several scriptures in the Bible that seem to undermine the promises in Ephesians, John and Hebrews regarding our secure salvation. One of them can be found in the book of Galatians where Paul tells them that they had fallen from grace. Another can be found in Hebrews where it speaks about those who were once enlightened who can’t be renewed to repentance. There’s also John 15 in which Jesus tells us that those who don’t abide in Him are thrown away as dead branches. I find that the most frighting statement of all is found in Matthew 12. The unpardonable sin! We’re going to go through all these passages and conduct the proper hermeneutics in order to find out in what context were these passages written and how it pertains to the security of our salvation.
1It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery 2Mark my words! I, Paul, tell you that if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no value to you at all. 3Again I declare to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obligated to obey the whole law. 4You who are trying to be justified by law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace. 5But by faith we eagerly await through the Spirit the righteousness for which we hope.”
Paul is writing to the people in the Galatian church who had made a profession of faith in Christ Jesus as Lord and Savior. If this were not so they would not have been part of the church in Galatia. Many of these people had a jewish background and had a legalistic view of pleasing God by their self effort and merit. These people who had first responded positively to the gospel of justification by faith alone in Christ alone had a real problem setting aside their legalistic background. They were known as the Judaizers. They claimed that faith in Jesus Christ was important yet not sufficient for complete salvation. They also taught that what Moses began in the old covenant and Christ added in the new covenant had to be finished and perfected by one’s own efforts (having circumcision at the center as a symbol of spiritual merit). Paul responded to this heresy by pointing out 4 of it’s tragic consequences. In Galatians 5 Paul declares that regardless of someone’s association with the church, if he by either life or words rejected the sufficiency of faith in Christ, he forfeits Christ work on his behalf, places himself under obligation to keep the whole Mosaic Law, falls from God’s grace, and excludes himself from God’s righteousness. The Judaizers seemed to acknowledge the concept of salvation by grace through faith, but then fell away from it by emphasizing the Mosaic law as a means to salvation. That’s what it means to have fallen from grace. To attempt to be justified by law is to reject the concept grace. In Galatians 5:4, Paul was not referring to the security of the believer but to the contrasting way of grace and law, faith and works, as means of salvation. He was NOT teaching that a person who has once been justified (saved) can lose his righteous standing before God and become lost again by being legalistic. The Bible teaches and knows nothing about becoming unjustified! Applied to one who is really an unbeliever, the principle of falling from grace speaks of being exposed to the gracious truth of the gospel and then turning one’s back on Christ. Such a person is an apostate!
During the early church’s time, many unbeliever’s (both Jews and Gentiles) – not only heard the gospel but also witnessed the miraculous confirming sings performed by the apostles. They often could not help becoming attracted to Christ and making some profession of faith in Him. Many of these people became involved in the local church and vicariously experienced the blessings of Christian love and fellowship. They were exposed firsthand to every truth and blessing of the gospel of grace, but then turned away. According to the passage we will soon examine, they had “been enlightened”, had “tasted of the heavenly gift,” and had even “been made partakers of the Holy Spirit” by witnessing his divine ministry in the lives of believers (Heb 6:4). The problem is that they refused to trust in Christ alone, so they fell away, losing all prospect of repentance and therefore salvation, since “there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven…by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). They came to the very doorway of grace and then fell away, back into their works oriented religion.
It is possible for people to go to church for years, hear the gospel over and over again, and even be faithful church members, but never commit their lives to Jesus Christ. We meet such people in Hebrews 6. The writer was specifically talking to Jewish people similar to the legalistic Galatians, but the warning applies to everyone. It is encouraging to know what God can do with a repentant heart. But it should make the hairs on your neck stand up knowing what he will do with unrepentant sinners. In particular, those who know the truth of God’s saving grace in Jesus Christ – who perhaps have seen it change the lives of many of their friends and family members, who may even have made some profession of faith in Him – yet who turn around and walk away from full acceptance., are given the severest possible warning. Persistent rejection of Christ will result in such persons passing the point of no return spiritually, of losing forever the opportunity of salvation. That is what happens to an individual who is indecisive. He usually follows his evil heart of unbelief and turns his back forever on the living God. Unlike a knife, truth becomes sharper with use, which for truth comes by acceptance and obedience. A truth that is heard but not accepted and followed becomes dull and meaningless. The more we neglect it, the more immune to it we become. By not accepting the gospel when it was still “news” those addressed in the book of hebrews had begun to grow indifferent to it and had become spiritually sluggish, neglectful, and hard. Because of the disuse of their knowledge of the gospel, they now could not bring themselves to make the right decision about it. They were, in fact, in danger of making a desperately wrong decision, of turning around because of pressure and persecution, and completely going back to Judaism. The individuals addressed here had five great advantages because of their association with the church: They had been enlightened, had tasted Christ’s heavenly gift, had partaken of the Holy Spirit, had tasted the Word of God, and had tasted the miraculous powers of the age to come (see Heb6:4-5). There is no reference at all to salvation. In fact, no term used here is ever used elsewhere in the new testament for salvation, and none should be taken to refer to it in this passage. The enlightenment spoken of here has to do with intellectual perception of spiritual truth. It means to be mentally aware of something, to be instructed or informed. It carried no connotation of response – of acceptance or rejection, belief of disbelief. The tasting or partaking implies something similar: a mere sampling of truth. It was not embraced or lives, only examined. These individuals had been wondrously blessed by God’s enlightenment, by association with His Spirit, and by sampling His heavenly gifts, His Word, and His power. Still they DID NOT believe! Hence comes the fearful warning taht those who have experienced all that, “and then have fallen away, it is impossible to renew them again to repentace, since they again crucify to themselves the Son of God and put Him to open shame” (v6).
Because they believe the warning is addressed to christians, some interpreters think Hebrews 6 teaches that salvation can be lost. If that interpretation were true, however the passage would also teach that, one lost, salvation could never be regained – that the person would be damned forever. There would be no gong back and forth, in and out of grace, as most people who believe you can lose your salvation seem to assume. But Christians are not being addressed, and it is the opportunity for receiving salvation, not salvation itself, that can be lost.
It is unbelievers who are in danger of losing salvation – in the sense of losing the opportunity ever to receive it. Once they see and hear the truth of the gospel, they have only two choices: either going on to full knowledge of God through faith in Christ or turning away from Him and becoming lost forever. The frighting finality of that danger must not be minimized. People who are exposed to the gospel can get just enough to immunize them against the real thing. The longer they continue to resist it, whether graciously or violently, they more they become immune to it. Their spiritual system becomes becomes more and more unresponsive and insensitive. Their only hope is to reject whatever they are holding onto and receive Christ without delay – lest they become so hard, often without knowing it, and their opportunity is forever lost. When people reject Christ at the peak experience of knowledge and conviction, they will not accept Him at a lesser level. So salvation becomes impossible.
John 15 and Matthew 12 are still to come in the next blog post!
This has been from my beloved teacher John MacArthur.