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August 21, 2021 12:01 am
Many of us know people who once professed to believe in Christ but later renounced their faith. Can a true Christian lose his salvation? Today, R.C. Sproul explains a challenging passage in the book of Hebrews.
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Hebrews chapter 6 shows that it's impossible to restore someone to repentance, who has fallen away of the difficulty of this text is with this question of what kind of person is the author of Hebrews speaking here is he speaking of a Christian who commits apostasy or is he speaking of someone who made a false profession of faith or those who pointed Hebrews 6 as exhibit a in the argument that true believers can lose their salvation others. It refers only to people who falsely claimed to be Christian those who profess faith in Christ.
But don't possess it to them Renewing Your Mind. RC scroll clears up the confusion of this challenging passage as we continue our study of the hard sayings of the Bible. Remember that when we looked at some of the hard sayings of Jesus that one of those sayings that has provoked so much consternation among Christians was Jesus teaching concerning the unpardonable sin for the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit and so in that brief discussion we looked at that particular problem in some detail, and the problem I want to address today is one that is often related to that, but it is not identical with it. It's a problem that we find in the book of Hebrews in the sixth chapter 5 always said that if I were locked up in prison and can only have one book of the Bible with me in prison I would wanted to be the book of Hebrews.
That's how highly I regard that book and how much I love that book and part of the reason I would want to have that book with me is because it gives such a wonderful recapitulation of the essence of the Old Testament as well as all of the glorious teaching of the New Testament. All can join together in that book. And yet one of the remarkable points of church history was that in the early church when the church was engaged with the discussion of seeking to discover and recognize which of the individual writings that had survived the apostolic age were genuinely apostolic and which were apocryphal or fraudulent because in the second century there was a plethora of literature that was produced by a heretical group known as gnostics who tried to pass off their literature as being apostolic, and so the church had to study this matter and to debate what were the books that were clearly apostolic.
Now don't get alarmed by that.
If you're not aware of that process in church history. Keep in mind of the overwhelming majority of the books in the New Testament never had a question about them at all but one of the books that was debated was the book of Hebrews and the main reason it was debated was because of what Hebrews teaches in the sixth chapter of Hebrews, which will be looking at today and so what I'm saying is that the controversy that attends the six chapter of Hebrews is no small matter. That was one that the early church itself had to struggle with in one of the ironies of that historical. Is that the thing that made it decisive that Hebrews be included in the New Testament canon was the church's conviction that had been written by the apostle Paul. And yet in today's environment in modern New Testament scholarship. I don't know, a handful of people anywhere in the New Testament world who still would argue that Paul wrote Hebrews. People were not saying that Hebrews isn't apostolic most of the scholars were certainly affirm that it's apostolic but they think was written by someone other than Paul.
Perhaps Apollo's or lucre friend of Luke's or something of that sort, and everybody recognizes the magnificent literary achievement that it is, and so on.
But as I say that almost no one in the world remaining who still believes that Paul wrote Hebrews.
In fact, the only person I know who still believes that Paul wrote Hebrews is talking to you right now this one of those little quirks and idiosyncrasies made.
I don't have time to tell you why, but I still think he did. I think Paul wrote Hebrews and not because I am probably this is and is the minority report this. This is even make it in the committee has reported all it so obscure in this day and age, but we will see in a few moments, that the question of authorship is very important to understanding this problematic text, but let's look at the text that has caused so much controversy. Looking at chapter 6 of Hebrews and I'll begin at verse four and just jump right into the hard saying, for it is impossible for those who were once enlightened and have tasted the heavenly gift, and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, if they fall away to renew them again to repentance, since they crucified again for themselves the son of God and put him to an open shame. Already we can feel the weight of this heart say this hard saying deals with the problem of apostasy. Apostasy is not the same thing as paganism and apostate is distinguished from a pagan. In this regard, the pagan has never made any profession of faith or any pretense of being a believer, but in apostate is somebody who has in fact made a profession of faith has joined the church and then later repudiates that faith.
Now there are many Christians who believe that a person who is truly born of the spirit of God and is truly converted and truly justified and in the state of grace that those people can and do fall away that it is possible. In other words, for a Christian to commit apostasy there others in the church who believe that once a person is in a state of grace and has been reborn of the spirit that that person will never fall away. And that is sometimes called eternal security or others call it the perseverance of the saints. I hold that view myself. Namely, I don't believe that a Christian can never fully and finally fall away. I believe the Christians can sin and can sin radically can fall and can fall radically but not fully and finally I hold the view that if you have it you never lose it, and if you lose it you never had it. Like John says in the New Testament. Those who went out from us or never really monographs now.
They were among them. They had made professions of faith. They pretended to be Christians but then they later repudiated the faith. But let's leave that question aside for now whether I Christian can or cannot lose their salvation. What is immediately addressed by this text is the impossibility of and apostates being restored. It's impossible to renew them again to repentance. If after they have been enlightened. Tasted of the heavenly gift, and participated in the Holy Spirit, and so on that if they commit apostasy. It's impossible to renew them again to repentance.
Well, the difficulty of this text. First of all is with this question of what kind of person is the author of Hebrews, he said, said Paul person is the author of Hebrews speaking here is he speaking of a Christian who commits apostasy or is he speaking of someone who made a false profession of faith. Again, let me remind you, I'm going to go to my little blackboard here and those of you that are listening, who were not present will have to imagine this blackboard in their minds, I'm going to drop big circles on the blackboard and that circle represents the church the visible church now everything outside that visible church refers to those who are unchurched. Obviously, and for purposes of our discussion here. I'm going to refer to those outside the circle as unbelievers or pagans if you will now please, I don't have time to qualify everything here.
I agree with Augustine that there is a remote possibility that their true believers who for one reason the other are outside the pale of the church, but that the believers exist substantially and fundamentally within the church, and I don't want to get into that debate now but just for the purposes of this illustration we think of those people unbelievers or outside the church. Then I'm going to draw a line in the middle of that circle, dissecting and I'm an essay and one side of the line are the believers within the church.
What Christ calls the wheat then you have any other side of the line. The unbelievers who are the tears we remember that Jesus described his church as being a mixed body what St. Augustine described as a corpus per mix them with the church. The visible church is always made up of true believers and false professors.
That is, people who make a false profession of faith is. Jesus said it was possible to do this people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Paul labors the point in Romans that not everybody who was in Israel was off Israel that not all the Jews in the Old Testament were believers. Some were some were not. Even though they were all within the Commonwealth of Israel, and all within the covenant community. Now the question is, of which of these three groups is the apostle speaking when he says it is impossible for those who were once enlightened and have tasted the heavenly gift, and it become partakers of the Holy Spirit and have tasted the good word of God and the powers in the age to come, if they fall away to renew them again to repentance. The first of all, let's note what the apostle does not say here. He does not say it is impossible for a believer if that believer commits apostasy to be restored. He doesn't say that vortices say it is impossible for those who have been converted to Christ if they should commit apostasy to be restored again what he does this he gives us a string of descriptive clauses by which this group for whom it is impossible to be restored again the repentance is being described.
And again I redo that description.
These people are said to be people who were once enlightened, they have tasted the heavenly gift.
They have become partakers of the Holy Spirit and they have tasted the good word of God, but that certainly sounds on the surface like the apostle is describing Christians here is an because who else has been enlightened tasted of the heavenly gift become partakers of the Holy Ghost and tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come. Who else but Christians well there is somebody else, of whom it could be said that they've been enlightened, they have tasted of the heavenly gift. They have been participants in the Holy Spirit, and so on. And that would be these unbelievers in the church because the unbeliever in the church sits under the preaching of the gospel and has access and exposure to the light of the gospel and so it could be said in a certain sense of them that they are enlightened by the word of God will tasted of the heavenly gift well they participate in the sacrament.
They taste the bread and the wine they taste the word of God with their ears, if you will get a taste of the truth get a taste of it, figuratively and literally in terms of the sacrament and the word doesn't necessarily mean that there converted partakers in the Holy Spirit. Now that's a little bit more difficult but again the church is called the Hagy way the holy ones who have been consecrated or set apart by the Holy Spirit. The church is the primary focal point of the sanctifying activity of the Holy Ghost, so that anybody who is present in the assembly in worship and in the life of the church is participating in some way in the present work of the Holy Spirit in my be bouncing off of them, and so on, but they are partaking as non-involved a noncommitted participants and of course they've also could be said that they've tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come. Now frankly, when I first started the struggle with this passage many years ago I came to the conclusion that that is what is being described here.
The unbeliever who was present within the church and that those people certainly are capable of apostasy, and certainly are capable of renouncing Christ whom they once professed and so I took the position at one time that that's probably what was meant here. I've since changed my mind.
That's a dangerous thing is I'm still not absolutely sure about this text, but I've now come the conclusion that the author is describing Christians which makes this an excruciatingly difficult passage for one who believes that Christians will persevere and will not fall away. And once you have it, you can't lose and so on of a person doesn't believe in the perseverance of the saints of a Christian doesn't believe in eternal security.
He doesn't have to struggle with this text away. I have to struggle with it, but I still hold firmly to the idea that a Christian cannot lose their salvation.
So how in the world can I come to the conclusion that the apostle is describing the Christian while the thing that is pivotal for me is his statement that it is impossible to renew them again to repentance not to renew somebody again to repentance presupposes that they've at least once previously repented, all hedge my bed a little bit because the Bible speaks of two different kinds of repentance. There is the repentance of godliness. That is, I believe the fruit of the work of the Holy Spirit within a person in conversion, but there's also with the same author speaks of those in the repentance of Esau, who, though he repented in tears is not restored because his repentance was the repentance that we call the repentance of attrition, rather than concentration contribution is repentance motivated by a broken and contrite heart electrician is that repentance that is motivated by fear of punishment more somebody repentance in order to get a ticket out of hell.
It's like your little child when you catch them with their hands in the cookie jar and they say oh I'm so sorry sorry sorry there, sorry to get caught in a going to have to face the consequences. Not that the really sorry that they have done something wrong. So I'm in all hedge my bed.
At that point, but there's no reason for me really to assume here in this text that the authors speaking about anything else than authentic repentance. And if they are speaking about authentic repentance than I think he must be speaking about Christians so will I do with it. Well, first let me say this that I sure wish I knew who wrote this book and I wish I knew for sure to whom it was written, but even more importantly, I wish I knew what the issue was that the author was addressing because there are several possibilities of this not the least of which was the threat and the so-called Lapsley controversy where there were those Christians who gave their lives as martyrs out of loyalty to Christ became human torches in the gardens of Nero and in animal meats in the arena, and so on. But not everybody was faithful there were those who recanted there were those who denied Christ annulling today deny Christ, but they betrayed their fellow Christians, and then after the heat settle down one of the big problems that the early church had to deal with was what we do with these people who have betrayed others who now want to come back in the church can they be restored. That was a major issue with the church had to face in the early years. Maybe that's what the issue is here you have the author says you have not yet resisted them to blood, and so on. The other possibility or add another possibility is that the same issue that plagued the Galatians and the plague almost every church that was founded in the early church was the issue here, namely the Judaizing heresy, but call people back to Old Testament ceremonial Judaism back to being bound to carry out all of those rituals of the Old Testament as a matter of faith, where Paul put his curse on that heresy in the Galatians epistle because it fundamentally was a denial of the finished work of Christ, not one of the things that Paul does.
And certainly the other parcels as well do is argue in ad hominem fashion, that is. Let's take the position of our opponent and take that argument to its logical conclusion, I suppose the author of Hebrews is addressing people who have been played with by the Judaizers to embrace the Judaizing heresy.
I can conceive of the author saying think about this if now after you've been enlightened tasted the heavenly gift that is after you're in Christ you now go back to Judaism. If you repudiate the cross and that salvation what other salvation is left no possibility of finding salvation by going back there going back to Egypt here finished and perhaps that's what we have here in this text. Now with the few seconds I have left. Let me say what gives me the ultimate relief here is that what the author says beginning in verse nine but, beloved, we are confident of better things concerning you. Yes, things that accompany salvation, though we speak. In this manner.
Hope I breathe a sigh of relief can trigger high here the authors acknowledging that he speaking in a certain manner and not the normal manner.
Obviously then what he's saying is also but I persuaded of better things.
The new rules you mean you really think these people are going to do this but I persuaded of better things to do things that accompany salvation. In other words, he says if you did repudiate Christ and be no hope for you, but I'm not worried that you will really repudiate Dreiser really commit apostasy. Why because I persuaded you really are Christians and I'm persuaded that you will do better things than this. It's comforting to hear that is in it. These verses in the book of Hebrews certainly do qualifies.
Hard sayings and that's the series were featuring each Saturday here on Renewing Your Mind a hard sayings of the apostles Dr. RC Sproul answers these puzzling questions with the wisdom that he gained from many years of studying and teaching the whole counsel of God and will be happy to provide you a digital download of all five messages from the series. When you give a donation of any amount you can reach us by phone at 800-435-4343 or you can give your gift online at Renewing Your Mind.Ward. The message of the gospel is accessible even to a child but there are some statements in the Bible that require more study and that's why we would like for you to have Dr. scroll teaching on these difficult passages so again request the hard sayings of the apostles when you call us at 800-435-4343. When you go online to Renewing Your Mind.Ward, and let me express my deep thanks for your generosity to look at her ministries before we go today. Here's RC with a final thought for us though this passage in Hebrews 6 may instill terror in our soul. I commend to you that you take the time this day to read this chapter and not just read this particular passage that is so troublesome but read the entire chapter because the last part of chapter 6 of Hebrews is one of the most assuring passages that we find anywhere in Scripture of the promise of God to keep his promise of covenant and of his faithfulness to his people and so if there's any text that gives us comfort and rest in our souls and gives us the confidence that we will not become apostates in the final analysis, it's the sixth chapter of Hebrews read it carefully today and we hope you'll join us again next Saturday is Dr. scroll focuses on an interesting directive. We find in Paul's writings, should women cover their hair learn about that next week here on Renewing Your Mind.
Thank you for being with us today