What does Hebrews 6:4-6 really mean and do believers or unbelievers commit this sin?
“For it is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, a view these verses. Nd have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt.” (Hebrews 6:4–6, ESV)
Before we get into the answer to this question, we have to look at how some scholars and theologians view these verses. Some view these verses as a hypothetical situation presented by the author of Hebrews. They believe it is not possible for this hypothetical situation to be a real believer. They would say if this were happening that it was someone who did not really come to Christ.
But if you look at these verses, the writer of Hebrews is not being hypothetical. He is presenting a real possibility. This falls under the understanding that a Christian, a real, believing Christian who has been converted to Christianity, can fall away from Christ.
There is no conditional sentence or conditional clause that would suggest a hypothetical. He believes what he writes here is possible. With all of that said, I will approach this as the writer of Hebrews does. If we take him at his word, it is possible for a Christian to fall away from Christ.
The description of those who fall away from the faith is one who has
- Once been enlightened
- Tasted the heavenly gift
- Has shared in the Holy Spirit
- Has tasted in the goodness of the Word of God and the powers of the age to come
- Then has fallen away
The writer of Hebrews talks about this person in the past tense. He uses words like “once” and then “then.” This confirms that this person believed in Jesus at one time, and that has chosen to fall away. The word for “fall away” is the word we use for apostasy, linked directly to the Greek term. This refers to losing your salvation and being condemned eternally.
There are other Scriptures besides this one that present the same view, that a believer in Jesus can lose their salvation. The blasphemy of the Holy Spirit is another example of losing your salvation. This is a very serious sin that reverses the grace of God and condemns the former believer for eternity.
This is why some don’t believe a believer can lose their salvation. They believe that the grace of God is irresistible and irrefutable. They believe that once a person is saved, they cannot lose their salvation. But this does not track with what the Bible presents in the New Testament.
To be enlightened as the writer of Hebrews uses it, means to know Jesus and have a relationship with him. Tasting the heavenly gift refers to salvation and all of the benefits it entails. To share in the Holy Spirit is to be sealed with the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 1:13-14).
To taste the goodness of the Word of God is to hear the gospel and respond, to benefit from the whole counsel of the Bible. It is to grow in godliness and relationship with Jesus. To taste the powers of the age to come is to know God in his power.
This is a believer, a person who has received salvation from God and is growing in the faith and in their relationship with Jesus. There is no mincing words by the author and he treats this as something that has happened, that true believers have fallen away from the faith and from Christ.
He then presents what has happened to this believer, that he or she has fallen away from Christ. This believer has lost faith in Christ and their salvation. The seriousness he presents here of the situation, and the way Jesus presents the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit gives the truth that such a person cannot be saved again or receive salvation.
It is serious because knowing Christ so intimately as a believer and then turning on him is not an immediate reaction. It is a gradual process of the heart slowly being hardened by the person. It is the slow step by step of walking away from Christ.
It’s when a believer sins here and there and refuses to acknowledge their sin and repent, confessing what they have done to Christ and receiving his forgiveness. It’s when a believer does not continue to walk the path and grow in Christ.
It’s when we don’t continue to evaluate our walk with God and any sin that is in our life. We don’t maintain our relationship with Christ. Every relationship must have maintenance and evaluation. When we offend others, we must restore their friendship we have offended. And it is no different with Jesus.
So this person after many steps away from Jesus without returning to him has hardened their hard against him. This eventually leads to their decision to walk away from Christ. This decision results in the heart becoming so hard against God that they have no problem trampling on the Son, denying him, and walking away from him for good.
Taking into consideration the writer of Hebrews’ statement, it is impossible for such a person to be restored to repentance after they have crossed this final line. He presents such an action as a betrayal of Christ,
This final sin that breaks relationship eternally with Jesus is like crucifying him all over again, to be numbered among those in the crowd that yelled, “Crucify him, crucify him!” This once believer has turned their back on Jesus.
They treat their intimate relationship with contempt, spitting on God’s grace toward them, all of the good things he did for them. This is why they cannot be returned to his salvation grace. Because they have treated Jesus this way, there is no forgiveness.
Let’s be clear. The hardening of their heart was done by them. The walking away from the faith was done by them. The crucifying Jesus all over again was done by them. I don’t know that it’s that God won’t forgive them for doing this to Jesus, or that they would never accept his forgiveness because they have turned on him so harshly.
Getting into the second part of this question, this is done by a Christian who has hardened his or her heart and turned against Jesus. An unbeliever cannot commit this sin because they didn’t have that relationship with Jesus to begin with. The writer of Hebrews is clear that this is a Christian who had that relationship with Jesus and turned it down for good.
This does not include backsliders who come back to Jesus. I believe Hebrews 6:4-6 is connected with the sin of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. This is a person who knew Jesus and walked with him. And then turned their back on Jesus for good. They would refuse God’s forgiveness, and would never ask for it.
So if you are a Christian who is concerned that you have done with the writer of Hebrews talks about, you probably haven’t done it. This requires a hardened heart and a person who does not want to salvage or rekindle their relationship with Jesus. If you’re concerned about your relationship with him, your heart is not hard. There is still hope to restore your relationship with Jesus.
Confess your sin and ask for forgiveness. The Bible says Jesus is faithful and just to forgive us when we confess (1 John 1:9). He will accept you back.