Recently I was engaged in a discussion on SermonIndex.net regarding Hebrews 6:4-6. In this discussion, I decided to carefully walk through this passage of Scripture, and show what I believe to be the proper interpretation of this passage. After that, I also gave a quick run down of the rest of the chapter, to provide a slightly larger context in which we can understand the passage. After you read over these brief notes, I would invite your feedback. Let me know if you agree or disagree.
Hebrews 6:4 For in the case of those who have once been enlightened and have tasted of the heavenly gift and have been made partakers of the Holy Spirit
“In the case of…”
The author of Hebrews, when writing this passage, has in mind actual real people who fit the criteria of the scenario he is talking about. These people are not theoretical individuals. He has in mind a case study involving real people, real faces, real names, and real souls.
“those who have once been enlightened”
In other words, the author of Hebrews has in mind people who were once blind, but began to see.
“AND have tasted of the heavenly gift”
Prior to their tasting of the heavenly gift, these people would have been without the experiential knowledge that is conveyed to one who tastes.
“AND have been made partakers of the Holy Spirit”
These people have also been made partakers (partners) with the Holy Spirit.
Hebrews 6:5 and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come,
“AND have tasted the good word of God”
These people have also come to have an experiential knowledge of God’s word.
“AND the powers of the age to come”
These people have also come to know something of the new heavens and earth in the here and now. The experience has been nothing less than powerful.
Hebrews 6:6 and then have fallen away, it is impossible to renew them again to repentance, since they crucify to themselves the Son of God and put Him to open shame.
“AND then have fallen away”
Though these people have experienced everything as outlined in verses 5-6, that is, having been saved, these people have also fallen away. The word for “fallen away” conveys the idea of turning away from the right path. That is, these individuals were on the right path, but at some point, they deliberately turned away.
“it is impossible to renew them again to repentance”
These people are now entirely without any hope whatsoever. Hope is impossible for them. A hope to what? To get them back on the narrow path that leads to life. They can no longer “renew” themselves. There is no “again” for their faith. Having deliberately turned away from the right path, they can no longer turn to the right path. Thus, they cannot “again” experience “repentance.” Repentance being that “change” of heart and mind that always accompanies saving faith. Here we have a picture of a man who had experienced all the things of verses 5-6, but has deliberately now, turned his back on Christ.
“since they again crucify to themselves the Son of God and put Him to open shame.”
This is the reason why there is no possibility of them finding repentance again, and getting back on the right path of faith. To attempt to do so is like trying to crucify the Son of God all over again. And God simply will not have that.
Then the author of Hebrews in verses 7 & 8 goes on to give an analogy of this entire thought: If the ground drinks rain from heaven, and yields fruit, it is blessed. But if the same ground drinks rain from heaven, and produces thorns and thistles, it is cursed and, “ends up being burned.” Far from using this analogy as many do to somehow soften the exegesis of verses 4-6, this illustration is only used to reinforce the terror of these verses.
Which is why in verses 9-12, the author of Hebrews has to become very pastoral and say he is believing the Lord for better things regarding these people. For he had undoubtedly scared them to death in his manner of speaking. So much so that even some of you have been terrified after reading a passage like this. Indeed, some people have been so terrified over the meaning of this passage, that they have resorted to changing its meaning altogether to avoid its dreadful implications.
And, instead of leaving them feeling as if they were hanging on the edge of a cliff, with the dreadful fear of falling away and becoming apostate (as some people actually had done in the past), the author of Hebrews exhorts these believers to become imitators of those who didn’t fall away, but instead, persevered with endurance, and finally, inherited the promises of God. And indeed, these believers need not fear this thing for themselves, for though it could happen, why should they find any reason to turn from God? Just look how at how awesome He is! For when we keep our hope in Him, that hope becomes an anchor to the soul, and will keep us from going anywhere but where we are. (vv. 13-20)