Lecture 7 Exposition of Hebrews 5.11-6.20

Warning #3 “Mature because if you fall away, you will never change your mind again.” (5:11-6:20) [impossible to renew you back to a state of true repentance in the local church?]

  • Problem: “You have become dull of hearing. You still need taught basic doctrines, since you are babes.” (5:11-14)
    • Condemnation: “You are dull of hearing. (5:11).
      • The preacher wants to talk a lot about Melchizedek (“of whom” -v.10).
        • The preacher will not pick up this topic of Melchizedek until 7:1.
      • But it is hard to explain to people who have become dull of hearing.
      • It is not that the material is difficult (though it is solid food) or that it is hard to explain, but it’s because they have become dull of hearing.
      • Evidently, they were not that way at one time (“become”). Compare 5:11-12; 6:1, 12.
    • Proof: “Though you should have been teachers, you still need to be taught” (5:12)
      • They have been saved long enough and had enough opportunities for growth that they should have been teachers (“by this time”).
        • Note: All mature Christians are teachers.
      • They were taught the basics of Christian doctrine, but now they need that teaching again.
    • Illustration: You babies are unskillful in the Word (drink milk), but mature discern good and evil (eat solid food; 5:12-b14)
      • This is an illustration of their spiritual condition.
      • Because they failed to mature, they still needed the basics (milk).
      • Babies are unskilled in the word of righteousness.
        • ?Babies are unable to properly choose righteousness.
      • The mature discern good from evil.
        • The mature eat solid food.
        • Mature have trained to distinguish between good and evil. Perceptions are trained through exercise (“by reason of use”).
        • Implication: either the topic of Melchizedek or argumentation about Christ from the Old Testament is solid food.

Babies (5:13b)

Mature (5:14)

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Need milk, not solid food (5:12)

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Solid food (5:14)

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Unskilled in word of righteous (5:13)

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Trained perceptions distinguish between good and evil (5:14)

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  • Exhortation: Mature! (6:1-3)
    • Based on their stunted growth (“therefore”), he exhorts them to mature (“let us go on to perfection”).
    • Maturing requires that they leave the basic principles, the milk. They shouldn’t start building the house all over again (foundation). They needed to leave basic teachings about…
      • repentance from dead works
      • faith toward God
      • doctrine of baptisms
      • laying on of hands
      • resurrection of the dead
      • eternal judgement.

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Since these are basic principles, we will not go into detail about them here. We want the meat!

  • “I think you can handle some meat. Your maturity is in God’s hands” (6:3). [what is the ‘this?”]

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We will briefly address the facts of the passage before attempting to arrive at certain conclusions.

  • Notice pronoun change (v.1=>v.3=>v.6=>v.9).
    • What does that prove?
  • Warning: If you apostatize, to bring you back for a second repentance is impossible (6:4-6).
    • Main kernel: “To renew them again to repentance is impossible.”
    • “Them”= 5 descriptions in 6:4-6a
      • once enlightened
      • tasted the heavenly gift
      • become partakers of the Holy Spirit
      • tasted the good word of God powers of the age to come
      • falling away
    • 6:6, when they fall away, they “crucify again to themselves the Son of God and put him to an open shame.” Because they do that, it is impossible to renew them to repentance.
      • For their own purposes (‘for themselves’), apostates would crucify Christ again (“Crucify, crucify Him!”) and in their apostasy, they are exposing him to public ridicule.

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Whatever that means, he illustrates in 6:7-8

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  • Illustration: Good soil perseveres and is blessed by God. Bad soil falls away and will eventually be burned (6:7-8).

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Good Soil (6:7)

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Bad Soil (6:8)

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Drinks in the rain

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(Drinks in the rain)

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Produces a useful crop

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Produces thorns and thistles

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Blessing of God

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Cursed and burned

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A correct interpretation of Hebrews 6 must account for:

(1) The purpose of the passage

(2) Pronoun switches and the nature of the “soil” illustration (vv.7-8)

(3) The meaning of “renew them again unto repentance” (6:6)

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(1)What the purpose is not: (1) What is not being said and (2) to whom is it not being said?

This passage is (2) not addressed to people wondering if they are Christians. What is not being said to these people is “Here’s a test to determine if…

  1. You are a Christian
  2. You are saved
  3. You experienced saving faith or however you want to put it.

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So, if we come to the passage asking “am I saved, let me read this passage and find out” you’ve turned to the wrong passage! (try 1 John!)

But if you want a passage to encourage you to be diligent about your spiritual growth, this is a good passage.

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So, the question now is “What makes this passage so encouraging to my spiritual growth?”

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What the purpose is:

Clearly, the passage is an exhortation against laziness and to encourage diligence (5:11-12; 6:1, 11-12). That’s its purpose. Therefore, to ask, “Does this passage address and describe believers or unbelievers?” is not in keeping with the purpose of the passage. A correct question, to keep within the confines of the purpose of the passage, would be, “Would I include myself in any way in the terminology in vv.4-5”? If so, the exhortation is for you. You should not be lazy; you should be diligent. The burden of the preacher is not to distinguish between believers and unbelievers with that terminology, but his burden is to say “Look, if you’re listening to me, you’re included!”

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But what most people ask is “Does this passage address and describe believers or unbelievers?” This can be answered.

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(2) Pronoun switches and the nature of the soil illustration

Right now, people who are persevering, they produce unmistakably good fruit, and God blesses them. People who choose to apostatize produce unmistakably bad fruit, and will be burned.

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So how can we spot apostates? Fruit.

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Now you still have the question, “How can people in v.4 end up in hell?” Because I put myself in that group, too. Ans. “they apostatize.”

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Q: Can regenerate people apostatize?

Based on the context and the purpose of the passage, what’s the answer?” Ans. “It doesn’t tell us.” That’s by design. In what way could that be helpful as it concerns the purpose of the passage? No one who comes to a good church is excluded from v. 4! Everyone who reads this passage must grow spiritually! There will eventually be “those” who “fall away.”

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Reworded Q:“Were apostates ever genuinely saved?”

You have to go elsewhere to answer the question.

We’re talking about people who “fall away” and these people are compared to “soil.” Where else does “fall away” and “soil” occur in the Bible? (Matt. 13; Mk. 4; Lk. 8) Go to Lk. 8 (notice where “soil” and “fall away” occur)

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  1. In order to determine who these people are, we have to ask, “What is the nature of soil?”

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We’re asking, “Can true believers apostatize and end up in hell?”

OR (same question)…

“Were apostates ever genuinely saved?”

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Now, since the preacher compares people to soil, let’s ask that question with reference to soil.

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“Can good soil that has produced good, true fruit end up being bad soil?”

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“Can soil that has borne fruit become bad and produce thorns?”

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Lk. 8. Which soil produces fruit? Only the good soil. Does the bad soil produce fruit? No. The soil is constant, static, it doesn’t change. Either you are good soil or bad soil as it concerns the seed of the gospel.

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Luke 8:13 (KJV) They on the rock are they, which, when they hear, receive the word with joy; and these have no root, which for a while believe (time of temporary faith, not saving kind), and in time of temptation (testing of faith) fall away.

[cf. James 2:14]

(this wasn’t faith that produced works)

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Luke 8:15 (KJV) But that on the good ground are they, which in an honest and good heart, having heard the word, keep it, and bring forth fruit with patience (i.e., perseverance).

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There is no other ground! If you claim to be the good ground of Lk. 8:15 then you will persevere. Good ground doesn’t go bad again. Good ground has trees that produce good fruit. If you fall away, though it seemed that you ‘believed’ for a while, it’s because you were bad soil!

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…back to Heb. 6…

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So, then, in Heb. 6:8, the bad soil gets rained on, produces thorns, get’s cursed/burned. 6:7, rain comes, soil produces fruit, gets blessed.

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The good soil doesn’t turn bad again! You are one or the other! Good soil perseveres; bad soil doesn’t.

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So, if you fall away, what does that prove? That you were bad soil and you were never good soil!” Those people who apostatize never repented in a saving way to begin with and were always bad soil.

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Now, that’s not clear from this passage itself. Knowledge of the nature of biblical soils as an illustration is key (Luke 8).

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Regarding the pronoun switches, there is “distance” between “us” v.1, “we” v. 3, on one side and on the other “those” v.4, and “they” v.6. What does that distance show? It assumes that if you’re reading this and your heart “goes out” to the exhortations to grow spiritually and you’re taking that exhortation seriously, then you are one of “us”, i.e., you are a true believer, you’re in the same camp as the author of the book. People who do not take the exhortation seriously, they are one of “them.” “They” who, right now in their so-called “Christian” life, whose whole attitude is to reject exhortations to grow spiritually, those people “fall away”, v.6.

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(3) The meaning of “renew them again unto repentance” (6:6) is important.

What’s at stake for apostates (those who never savingly believed in the first place and turned away from Christ)? It’s “impossible to renew them again to repentance.” Impossible means impossible (=not possible, man or God? Either of these qualifications is not in this passage).

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What do the words “renew” and “again” indicate about an apostate’s “repentance?” Clearly, the word “again” indicates that those in the passage who did “fall away” (apostatized) were previously in a state of “repentance.” How else could “again” refer to repentance? “again…to repentance” implies they previously repented.

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We seem to have an issue: How can apostates who were never saved in the first place be said to have “repented”? Ans: In the same way that those who “believed for a while” never savingly believed.

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Renew: “to bring back” So, it is impossible to “bring them back” to repentance again.

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Key: “Repent” does not have inherent in it the idea of “salvation.” It merely means to “change one’s mind.”

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Perhaps a story would help. Those described in vv.4-5 were Jews, who “repented of” (changed their mind about) Judaism. This means that they left the requirements of the Old Covenant and came to experience all the happenings of the New Covenant.

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That’s how they ‘repented’ the first time. They ‘changed their minds in an unsaving way, left the Old Covenant and came into the church scene.’ They ‘repented for a while’ (to keep in the spirit of Luke 8 and the clear nature of soils.)

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But now they changed their minds yet again and went back to Judaism. The author is saying in v.6, “It’s impossible to bring them back again into their previous state, to get them back into a church context in an unsaving way.” Because clearly they were unsaved based on the soil discussion.

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In other words, unless they get saved, they will not change their mind again and come back to church services. It’s impossible. Why would you want to come back to church if you’ve already turned from Christ? It’s impossible to renew them again to an unsaving kind of “repentance.” [not uses of ‘repent’ in NT; uses of repent might not lend itself to this understanding; however, when we understand that faith and repentance are two sides of the same coin, this interpretation isn’t limited to usages of ‘repent.’]

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This discussion is important for those of us who believe that those who “fall away” were never saved in the first place. We must explain the impossibility of renewing apostates to repentance [not that others are exempt]. You must keep in mind Matthew 12:32, “And whosoever speaketh a word against the Son of man, it shall be forgiven him.” (ans: it’s impossible only for never-savingly-believed apostates to repent again unsavingly [implication to bring them back into the church]. Look, they put Christ to an open shame and wanted to yell “Crucify him!”)

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Those who teach that you can lose your salvation, they have an explanation for “impossible to renew again to repentance” (someone who apostatizes can’t savingly repent again).

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So, can someone who apostatizes be saved?

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Yes, by savingly repenting because they unsavingly repented in the first place (just like in Lk. 8 one can unsavingly believe; cf. James 2 the ‘not working’ faith doesn’t save).

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Why this is the best interpretation

  1. It accounts for the purpose of the passage. Maturing will prevent apostasy. If a genuine believer produces fruit, he will never apostatize.
  2. It keeps the “teeth” in the warning. This passage does not lighten the full weight of the descriptions in verses 4-5 (as if to say “this isn’t talking about believers” -that wouldn’t be in keeping with the purpose of the passage: grow!). Damnation is clearly the end of every unbeliever or apostate (‘burned’). And his “speaking in this manner” is clearly the opposite of “salvation.”
  3. It properly accounts for the unchanging nature of soils, as clearly described in the Gospels.
  4. It accounts for the nature of the audience: a preacher naturally does not know who is and is not saved.

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  • Reassurance: “We’re confident about your salvation and desire your perseverance” (6:9-12).
    • For genuine believers, [or the distance from the you?] the “we” are confident of their salvation
      • Reassurance stated (v.9): Pronoun shift indicates shift from talking about ‘they’ who eventually apostatize to ‘you’ ‘beloved’ whom ‘we’ can have confidence concerning salvation
      • Reassurance proven (v.10): these genuine believers demonstrated love to God by ministering to the saints. God will not forget that. It is because of this, that the preacher can reassure them of their salvation. Clearly, their “fruit” demonstrates that they are saved.
      • But they desire “each one of you” to have the same testimony. Evidently, some did not show the same diligence as others. Some clearly laboured in their ministry to the saints, thereby demonstrating their love for God. While others clearly need to be exhorted to show the “same diligence to the full assurance of hope until the end.” If they imitate the ones who are labouring for God by ministering to the saints, then they would be showing the same diligence. If they don’t, they would become sluggish and so endanger themselves of apostasy.

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  • Argumentation: “You can be encouraged to persevere because God’s purpose of fulfilling His promises to those who persevere will not change” (6:13-20).

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Introduction

The preacher transitions to this section from the last statement of chapter 6, which concerned “faith and patience” and “inheriting the promises.” Hook word=promises.

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This paragraph also serves as a transition back to the topic of Melchizedek (6:20). Remember he left the topic of Melchizedek in 5:10. He returns to the topic beginning with the very last phrase of chapter 6.

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On its own, the section focuses on the hope that is set before us. The primary purpose of this section is to argue for perseverance. We should persevere by imitating those who through faith and patience (perseverance) inherit the promises (6:12) because we have confidence in God’s promises that those who patiently endure inherit them.

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  • Example: Abraham inherited God’s self-sworn promises by persevering (6:13-16)
    • God promised to multiply Abraham’s descendants and self-swore it (6:13-14)
      • Read Gen. 22:16-18.
      • God swore by himself (Ge. 22:16) and promised to multiply Abraham’s descendants.
      • God made the promise and he swore that he would bring it to pass. He was appealing to his own infallible integrity.
    • Abraham appropriated the benefits of (“obtained”) that promise through perseverance (6:15)
      • God promised Abraham many descendants in Gen. 12. Abraham here hears the promise.
      • Abraham ‘believed’ the promise and was justified (Ge. 15:6).
      • God tested Abraham’s faith in this promise through the “offering” of Isaac (Gen. 22).
      • After the test, God not only promised it again, but he also ratified it with an oath. He used an oath to “reintroduce the promise and make it certain.” See 6:17.
      • It’s after this test, through perseverance when his faith is tested, that Abraham ‘obtained‘ the promise. He ‘attained to‘ it.
      • But when he dies, he still as yet had not ‘received‘ the promise (Heb. 11:13)
      • Rom 11:7: Israel received the promises, but did not obtain them because of their hardness of heart. Only the elect obtain it.
      • Thus, “to obtain” God’s promise refers, in this context, to Abraham “effectively appropriating the benefits of God’s promise.”
      • Abraham “effectively appropriated the benefits of”(obtained) the initial step of God’s promise to multiply his descendants. This happened when Isaac was not slain.
      • Therefore, Abraham obtained the promise that it would be through Isaac that the promise would be fulfilled.
    • Human oath swearing is now explained to emphasize God’s oath.
      • Men make an oath by invoking (calling upon, or citing as authoritative) the power of someone greater.
      • God is usually invoked, as Abraham himself did (Genesis 14:22; 21:23-24; 24:3).
      • When there is an issue under dispute, an oath is legally valid and binding.
      • Canadian Oath of Allegiance: I, [name], do swear that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Second, Queen of Canada, Her Heirs and Successors. So help me God.

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  • Comparison: God clearly demonstrated His unchangeable purpose when he swore by oath (6:17)
    • “In the same way” (thus) as man swears by an oath so that all know it is legally binding, God as well wanted to make himself clear. He wanted the heirs of promise to know that His purpose is unchangeable. He did this when he swore with an oath.
    • We are included as the heirs of promise, as all those who perseveringly believe are, since those who believe are the “children of Abraham” (Gal. 3:7).
  • Purpose: God ratified His promises by an oath to encourage perseverance (6:18).
    • God “confirmed [his promises] by an oath,” (made them certain) verse 17, so that the heirs of promise (us, “those who have found refuge in him”) may also be encouraged to hold fast, persevere, in the hope/confidence that is set before us (the fulfillment of the promises).
    • The fact that God made the promise and that secondly he ratified it with an oath shows us that it is impossible for God to lie. It is through these two unchangeable things,
      • that he made the promise and
      • that he ratified it with an oath,
    • that we may find encouragement to persevere. God will not lie!
  • Result (transition): The sure Abrahamic promise, Jesus, brings us to God (6:19-20)
    • this hope/confidence that we have is Jesus/salvation/fulfillment of God’s promises to Abraham. Recall Hebrews 6:9-11.
    • this salvation in Christ is described as an anchor. An anchor is sure and steadfast.
    • In this case, it reaches inside behind the curtain. We who have the confident expectation of eternal salvation, we enter into the presence of God. This is described in the Old Testament terminology “the holy of holies” in the Temple. Jesus has entered there first for us. He is a “forerunner” on our behalf.
    • We now have the greatest possible security of eternal salvation: not only has God made the promise, ratified it with an oath, but now, Jesus himself has entered into the holy of holies on our behalf as a forerunner. This strongly teaches that we also will come in after him (he’s running before), as those who have inherited the promises.
    • With the phrase “which reaches inside behind the curtain” the preacher begins to transition back into his discussion of Jesus as the high priest according to the order of Melchizedek.
    • Jesus is our forerunner since he became a priest forever. Thus Jesus has entered the true holy of holies.
    • Thus ironically, we have the strongest warning at the beginning of chapter 6 but at the end of chapter 6 we have the strongest of assurances.

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