Once Saved, Always Saved or Once Saved, Lost Again?

An exposition of Hebrews 6:4-8.



By Spencer D Gear

It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, 5 who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age 6 and who have fallen away, to be brought back to repentance. To their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace. 7 Land that drinks in the rain often falling on it and that produces a crop useful to those for whom it is farmed receives the blessing of God. 8 But land that produces thorns and thistles is worthless and is in danger of being cursed. In the end it will be burned (Heb 6:4-8 NIV)


I. Introduction

Is it possible for a born-again, evangelical, saved Christian to reach a point where he or she can lose salvation? This question has caused some of the greatest theological minds in the history of the church to disagree. In fact, it is one of the most contentious subjects in today’s evangelical church.

I was in Bible College with two fellows who have now fallen away from the church and have committed apostasy, based on my observations and the insights of other students who were in College with me.

One of the fellows was an excellent preacher and Bible teacher and gave all evidence of a genuine encounter with Christ and a promising ministry of teaching in the church. The other fellow was a fiery preacher and evangelist. Again, there was confident evidence of his being a genuine Christian.

However, both of these men are not associated with the church and Christ, but are antagonistic to the faith and very resistant to any kind of Christian association in their lives. They speak against Christ and the church.

It is dangerous arguing from experience.  I consider that it is prudent and biblically wise, never to decide any doctrine on the basis of Christian experience. This applies to eternal security as with any other teaching. Correct interpretation of the Bible is the methodology for all Christians as 2 Timothy 2:15 makes clear: “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth” (ESV, emphasis added). [2]

Teacher of preaching, Bryan Chapell, got to the point when he said:

“When preachers perceive the power the Word holds, confidence in their calling grows even as pride in their performance withers. We need not fear our ineffectiveness when we speak truths God has empowered to perform his purposes” (1994:21).

Second Timothy 4:1-4 provides us with an exhortation and a reminder of the consequences if we disobey. To Timothy and to all preachers and teachers, Paul the apostle, wrote:

“I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching” (vv. 1-2).

All preachers are exhorted to, “preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.” Why was this necessary in the first century and still applicable to us in the 21st century?

“For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths” (vv. 3-4).

Then add the inspired writer’s teaching to the Hebrews in 4:12-13:

“For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.”

Because the Word of God is:

  • living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword,
  • piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow,
  • and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart,

it is to the Word of God that we must turn in our preaching and teaching today. There is too much human opinion, human invention and hypotheses, and entertainment, coming from our pulpits and tickling the ears of the hearers.

When God deals with us today, it must be from and through his Word. How do we know? The Word tells us!

  • “Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching” (2 Tim. 4:2);
  • Be “a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth” (2 Tim. 2:15).


“For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths” (2 Tim. 4:3-4).

I heartily affirm Bryan Chapell’s assessment: “If Scripture does not determine meaning, ultimately Scripture has no meaning” (1994:70).  At a time when people are running hither and thither to hear entertaining preachers and sound doctrine seems to be of little concern, Paul, the apostle, wrote especially for his age AND my generation at the beginning of the 21st century:

6pointblue-small Preach the Word of God;

6pointblue-small Correctly handle the Word of truth.

Why must we base our doctrine on the Word of God – the Bible?  Second Tim. 3:16-17 is very clear,  “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training   in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.”


II. Eternal security & leading Christian teachers of the church: A divided issue

The divided opinion on the teaching of the perseverance of the saints (eternal security) is seen in the divergence of thought by theologians and leading teachers throughout the history of the church. These people (men) loved the Lord and will be in heaven together, but they differed profoundly on their views on the perseverance of the saints.

Before we examine how history and current exegetes interpret the eternal security theology, there are some foundations that need to be examined.

A.  Exegesis Defined

Dare I suggest that this difference of view is sometimes because Bible commentators and theologians are unable to leave aside their Calvinistic or Arminian presuppositions to do a careful and honest exegesis of the text. It is difficult to put aside one’s pet presuppositions, but we must do this if we are to hear what the Scriptures meant to the original readers (not what they mean to us today) through exegesis and biblical interpretation.

“Exegesis” is a term familiar to Bible College and Seminary students, but is mostly unfamiliar to those without such training. “Exegesis” has come into English as a transliteration (character for character from Greek into English) of a Greek noun. The noun form, exegesis, does not appear in the New Testament and only once in the Old Testament Greek translation known at the Septuagint (LXX) at Judges 7:15. The Greek verbal form, exegeomai, means “I expound or interpret, relate or tell” and occurs once in John’s Gospel and 5 times in Luke-Acts at John 1:18 and Luke 24:35; Acts 10:8; 15:12, 14; 21:19 (Brown, 1975, p. 576). For a further explanation of what exegesis means when applied to the Scriptures, and here to Hebrews 6:1-8, see this endnote:[3]

B. The Power of Presuppositions

Examples of the power of presuppositions can be found in both Calvinist and Arminian camps.

1. A “moderate” Calvinist example of presuppositional bias

A “moderate Calvinists such as I am,” Norman L. Geisler (others would call him a one-point Calvinist), states that “there are several problems with taking this [Heb. 6:4-6] to refer to believers who can lose salvation” (1999:117, 125). What are his reasons?

a.    “The passage declares emphatically that ‘it is impossible to renew them again to repentance’ (Heb. 6:6 NASB), and few Arminians believe that once a person has backslidden it is impossible for him to be ‘saved again’” (1999:125).
b.    Geisler struggles with his interpretation because “some of the phrases are very difficult to take any other way than that the person was saved” (1999:126). These passages (all from 1999:126) include:

(1)    They had experienced “repentance” (Heb. 6:6), “which is the condition of the acceptance of salvation (Acts 17:30)”;
(2)    “They were ‘enlightened’ and had ‘tasted the heavenly gift’ (Heb. 6:4)”;
(3)    “They were ‘partakers of the Holy Spirit’ (v. 4 NKJV)”;
(4)    “They had ‘tasted the good word of God’ (v. 5 NKJV)”; and
(5)    “Had tasted the ‘powers of the age to come’ (v. 5 NKJV).”

c.  What does one conclude after giving five strong points that seem to affirm that “the person was saved” (1999:126)? Presuppositions drive Geisler’s agenda:

d.    “If they were believers, then the question arises as to their status after they had ‘fallen away’ (v. 6 NASB)” (1999:126).  Geisler opts for rejecting the five points of affirmation of their being saved, through this kind of reasoning:

e.    “The word for ‘fall away’ (parapesontas) does not indicate a one-way action as would be true of apostasy (Greek: apostasia); rather, it is the word for ‘drift,’ indicating that the status of the individuals is not hopeless” (1999:126).  

f.    “The very fact is that it is ‘impossible’ for them to repent again indicates the once-for-all nature of repentance. In other words, they don’t need to repent again since they did it once, and that is all that is necessary for ‘eternal redemption’ (Heb. 9:12)” (1999:126).

g.    “The text seems to indicate that there is no more need for ‘drifters’ (backsliders) to repent again and get saved all over any more than there is for Christ to die again on the Cross (Heb. 6:6)” (1999:126, emphasis added).

h.    “The writer of Hebrews calls those he is warning ‘beloved’ (Heb. 6:9 NASB), a term hardly appropriate for unbelievers” (1999:126).

i.    “The phrase ‘persuaded of better things’ of them indicates they were believers” (1999:126).

Geisler begins his examination of “verses used by Arminians” (to support believers losing salvation) by referring to verses that are for “those who are truly saved but are only losing their rewards, not their salvation” (p. 124). This is how he concludes his position before he examines the verses. This is a logical fallacy called circular reasoning. He begins with his conclusion. There is little hope that Geisler will arrive at a view that it possible for true believers to lose their salvation because his presupposition, that it cannot happen, drives his agenda.

We know this because:

  • He gives 5 points (above) that are very difficult to take any other way than that these people are saved. But he sets out to disprove this view by showing that:
  • “Falling away” does not mean apostasy;
  • It is impossible for repentance to happen again;
  • It only seems to indicate that these people were “drifters”;
  • The writer calls these people “beloved,” which is hardly a term for unbelievers.  What Geisler doesn’t say at this point is that the Book of Hebrews is written to believers (“beloved”) and that it could be that some in their midst had defected from the faith.
  • “Persuaded of better things” surely refers to the group of “the beloved,” but it is possible to make such a statement even if some had fallen away from the faith.
  • So, these people who “fall away” are losing their rewards, not their salvation, according to Geisler.

For Geisler, the presupposition that genuine Christians can only lose their rewards, not their salvation, is driving his agenda in the interpretation of Heb. 6:4-6. He pursues a similar tack with his comments on Heb. 10:26-29, verses which are “as strong as this sounds” (1999:126), but really appear “not to be a warning about loss of salvation but about loss of rewards” (1999:126). Again, his conclusion is at the beginning of his examination of this passage. That’s circular reasoning and it’s cheating!

2. An Arminian example of presuppositional bias

Although he gives no sustained exposition of Heb. 6:4-6 (neither does Geisler, 1999), Robert Shank (1961) agrees that “the instances of apostasy cited by the writer [in Heb. 6:4-6] are real, rather than imaginary and hypothetical” (1961:177). “That the writer [to the Hebrews] did say of them can be said only of men who have experienced the saving grace of God in Christ” (1961:229). So, Shank readily admits that these were Christian readers.

However, “we need not conclude that the passage teaches that the renewal of apostates to repentance is necessarily impossible,” appealing to Westcott’s exegesis of Heb. 6:6 which states that “the use of the active voice limits the strict application of the words [‘it is impossible to renew them again unto repentance’] to human agency” 1961:317). In spite of the fact that the Scripture says, “It is impossible to restore again to repentance” (Heb. 6:4), Shank states that “the present condition of deliberate, open hostility may conceivably be remedied and the persons renewed to repentance and salvation . . . Restoration is not impossible for apostates, including those depicted in Hebrews 6? (Shank, 1961:318-319).

This statement contradicts Heb. 6:4. Shank’s presuppositions are driving his conclusion. He concludes where he begins, with presuppositions. This is circular reasoning and it is cheating.

Yet Shank has the audacity to write that “we have earlier associated the apostasy depicted in Hebrews 6 and 10 with the sin of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit” (1961, p. 320). What does Matt. 12:31 say about the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit? “Therefore I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven people, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven” (ESV).

Matthew states emphatically that the blasphemy committed against the Spirit will not be forgiven. But Shank concludes that the apostasy of Heb. 6 is equivalent to the sin of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, but “restoration is not impossible for apostates” (1961:319). What is happening here to cause such overtly contradictory statements? Shank’s presuppositions are driving his conclusions about the Heb. 6 passage.

To support his claim that apostasy is not spiritually terminal, Shank (1961) appeals to the example of the apostle Peter denying Jesus Christ three times: “In the hour of trial, he [Peter] denied even the remotest acquaintance with Jesus: ‘I do not know the man’” (1961:328). See John 18:25-27 where Peter clearly denied the Lord three times. While Peter’s severe sin was forgiven and he continued his active ministry with Jesus, there is nothing in the text of the Gospels that states that Peter returned to a state of total unbelief in God (i.e. committing apostasy).

Shank’s presuppositions mould his conclusions and he allegorises the meaning of the parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11ff) to fit his theological agenda: “To every weary prodigal–disillusioned, hungry, heartsick of the far country–the Saviour offers precious encouragement and assurance that the Father longs for his return” (Shank, 1961:329). Yet, the parable concludes with a clear statement on its meaning in Luke 15:32, “It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.” The dead came alive; the lost was found! There could not be anything more succinct with regard to salvation , rather than meaning a renewed backslider.

However, even William Hendriksen (1975), a strong Calvinist, contends that “the general theme” of the prodigal son is “the Father’s yearning love for the lost . . . One of the lessons taught in this chapter [Luke 15 and the three parables about the sheep, coin and son] is surely this, that without conversion there is no salvation” (1975:752, 758).

Shank’s presuppositions powerfully influence his conclusions on Heb. 6:4-6.

C.  Some historical and contemporary supporters of perseverance of the saints

These are samples of a few of the views throughout the history of the church.

You will notice that the theologians come down on opposite sides of the theological divide: (a) Augustinian Calvinists who do not believe that a true Christian can fall away from the faith, and (b) Arminians who claim that the text teaches the definite possibility of some becoming apostate by falling away permanently from the faith. Why this divergence? As suggested above, it relates to exegesis, hermeneutics (i.e. biblical interpretation) and presuppositions.

The churches history has been dogged with widespread divergence in understanding of the perseverance of the saints. The following are but a few examples:

    1.    St. Augustine, Bishop of Hippo (fifth century): “This grace He placed in Him in whom we have obtained a lot, being predestinated according to the purpose of Him who worketh all things.’ And thus as He worketh that we come to Him, so He worketh that we do not depart” (Augustine, A 1887b).

    2.    The Westminster Confession of Faith: “They whom God hath accepted in His Beloved, effectually called and sanctified by His Spirit, can neither totally nor finally fall away from the state of grace; but shall certainly persevere therein to the end, and be eternally saved” (Chapter XVII, Section I, cited in Boettner, 1932:182). 

    3. Jacob Arminius, Dutch Reformed theologian of the 16th century, the followers of whom have been called Arminians, wrote:

“Those persons who have been grafted into Christ by true faith, and have thus been made partakers of his life-giving Spirit, possess sufficient powers [or strength] to fight against Satan, sin, the world and their own flesh, and to gain the victory over these enemies – yet not without the assistance of the grace of the same Holy Spirit . . .
“I never taught that a true believer can either totally or finally fall away from the faith and perish; yet I will not conceal, that there are passages of Scripture which seem to me to wear this aspect; . . . On the other hand, certain passages are produced for the contrary doctrine [of unconditional perseverance] which are worthy of much consideration . . .
“If believers fall away from the faith and become unbelievers, it is impossible for them to do otherwise than decline from salvation, that is, provided they still continue unbelievers” (Arminius, 1977a:254, 282, emphasis in original).

Elsewhere he noted

“That almost all antiquity [i.e. the teaching of the church fathers] is of the opinion, that believers can fall away and perish. . . ‘Elect’ and ‘believers’ are not convertible terms according to the view of the fathers, unless perseverance be added to faith. Nor is it declared, by Christ, in Matt. xxiv,24, that the elect can not depart from Christ, but that they can not be deceived, by which is meant that though the power of deception is great, yet it is not so great as to seduce the elect” (Arminius, 1977c:493, emphasis in original).

    4.  Reformed theologian of the last century, Mr. Loraine Boettner wrote:

“In regard to those who become true Christians, but who, as the Arminians allege, fall away, why does God not take them out of the world while they are in the saved state? Surely no one will say that it is because He can not, or that it is because He does not foresee their future apostasy . . . Certainly a sovereign loving God would not permit His ransomed children to thus fall away and perish . . . The born-again Christian can no more lose his sonship to the heavenly Father than an earthly son can lose his sonship to an earthly father. The idea that a Christian may fall away and perish arises from a wrong conception of the principle of spiritual life which is imparted to the soul in regeneration” (Boettner 1932:183-184). [4]

    5.  Methodist and Arminian theologian John Miley, while acknowledging that there are “alleged proofs of the doctrine [of the final perseverance of the saints], while plausible, are inconclusive. Some texts of Scripture seem, on the face of them, to favor it, but a deeper insight finds them entirely consistent with the conditionality of final perseverance.”

He refers to John 10:27-29, explaining that “such is the assurance from the divine side; but it is entirely consistent with a conditioning fidelity on the human side. The case of Judas is an illustration,” and also to Rom. 9:29, stating that “this is utterly without proof of an absolute final perseverance, except on the assumption of an absolute sovereignty of grace in every instance of a personal salvation.”

“A grouping of a few texts will suffice for the proof of a possibility of final apostasy.” He referred to Ezek. 18:24-26; John 15:4-6; 17:12; 1 Cor. 9:26-27 and 2 Peter 1:10 (Miley, 1893/1989, vol. 2, p. 269).

    6. Reformed theologian John Calvin of the sixteenth century, the one after whom the Calvinistic system of theology is named, promoted the view of eternal security that the Lord’s promise “declares that all by whom he is received in true faith have been given to him by the Father, no one of whom, since he is their guardian and shepherd, will perish [cf. I John 3:16; 6:39].” Of Judas, Calvin claims that “the Lord’s assertion in another passage [John 6:70] that he was chosen by him with the apostles is made only with reference to the ministry. . . That is, he had chosen him for the apostolic office. But when he speaks of election unto salvation, he banishes him far from the number of the elect” [John 13:18] (Calvin, 1960:3.24.7 and 3.24.9, pp. 973, 975).

    7. John Wesley, evangelist, theologian and founder of Methodism, concluded from an examination of Scripture, that “I find no general promise in holy writ, ‘that none who once believes shall finally fall’” (1872/1978c:242). To support his view that Christian believers may “finally fall,” he marshals the following Scriptures: Ezek. 18:24; I Tim. 1:18-19; Rom. 11:17; John 15:1; 2 Pt. 2:20; Heb. 6:4-6; 10:38; Hab. 2:4; Matt. 5:13; 12:43-35; 24:10; Luke 21:34; John 8:31-32; 1 Cor. 9:27; 10:3; 2 Cor. 6:1; Gal. 5:4; 6:9; Heb. 3:14; 2 Pt. 3:17; 2 John 8; Rev. 3:11; Matt. 18:35 (Wesley 1872/1978c:242-254).

    8. The renowned British Baptist preacher and ardent Calvinist of the 19th century, C. H. Spurgeon, had some strong words to say against Arminians: “What is the heresy of Arminianism but the addition of something to the work of the Redeemer?” (Spurgeon 1962:168). Of the doctrine of conditional eternal security, he stated:

“Nor can I comprehend a gospel which lets saints fall away after they are called, and suffers the children of God to be burned in the fires of damnation after having once believed in Jesus. Such a gospel I abhor. . . I will be an infidel at once when I can believe that a saint of God can ever fall finally. . . I do not know how some people, who believe that a Christian can fall from grace, manage to be happy. . . If I did not believe the doctrine of the final perseverance of the saints, I think I should be of all men the most miserable, because I should lack any ground of comfort” (Spurgeon 1962:168-169)

    9. Contemporary Methodist theologian, Thomas C. Oden, is firmly convinced that genuine Christian faith can be lost:

“That faith can be lost is evident from Jesus’ own description of those who ‘believe for a while, but in the time of testing they fall away’ (Luke 8:13 . . .) Timothy was instructed to ‘hold on to faith,’ aware that some had entirely ‘shipwrecked their faith’ (I Tim. 1:19). Paul specifically named two shipwrecks – Hymenaeus and Alexander – and elsewhere we learn of others (Demas, Philetus)” (Oden, 1992:150-151).

    10. Charles Hodge, renowned Calvinistic theologian of the 19th century, spoke of the words of Romans ch. 8:

“The proposition to be established is, that there is ‘no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus.’ That is, they can never perish; they can never be separated from Christ as to come into condemnation. . .
“Perseverance (of the saints), [the Apostle Paul] teaches us, is due to the purpose of God, to the work of Christ, to the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, and to the primal source of all, the infinite, mysterious, and immutable love of God. We do not keep ourselves; we are kept by the power of God, through faith unto salvation (1 Peter i.5)” (Hodge 1975, vol. 3:110, 113).

    11. In commenting on John 6:38-40, contemporary Bible exegete and Calvinist, D. A. Carson, states that the “for” (Greek hoti) at the beginning of v. 38, “introduces the reason why Jesus will perfectly preserve all those whom the Father has given him.” Concerning divine sovereignty in salvation,

“The form of it in these verses, that there exists a group of people who have been given by the Father to the Son, and that this group will inevitably come to the Son and be preserved by him, not only recurs in this chapter (v. 65) and perhaps in 10:29, but is strikingly central to the Lord’s prayer in ch. 17 (vv. 1, 6, 9, 24 . . .) John is not embarrassed by this theme, because unlike many contemporary philosophers and theologians, he does not think that human responsibility is thereby mitigated” (Carson 1991:291).

    12.    Robert Shank believes the Bible teaches that “there is no valid assurance of election and final salvation for any man, apart from deliberate perseverance in faith” (1961:293).

    13.    R. C. Sproul stated “that if you have saving faith you will never lose it, and if you lose it, you never had it. . . We may fall for a season but never fully or finally fall away. . . Only Judas, who was a son of perdition from the beginning, whose profession of faith was spurious, was lost. Those who are truly believers cannot be snatched from God’s hand (John 10:27-30)” (1992:197, 199).

How is it that such acclaimed theologians and Bible teachers of the church throughout its history could have such contrasting views of the eternal condition of those who allegedly fall away from the faith? The contrast covers the range from Augustine who wrote, “He [God] worketh that we do not depart” (Augustine, 1887b) to John Wesley, “I find no general promise in holy writ, ‘that none who once believes shall finally fall’” (1872/1978c:242). Both of these saints were renowned Christians and leaders of the church, yet they came down on opposite sides of the evangelical fence concerning the perseverance of the saints – and both based their views on the Bible.

The theology of the perseverance of the saints has exercised the minds of those who love the Lord but they cannot conclude in unison. Why is it so difficult for agreement in this critical area of the doctrine of salvation?


III. Salvation can be lost. Isn’t it crystal clear?

One of the most pointed and controversial sections of Scripture is Hebrews 6:4-8.  These verses have created extensive debate through the centuries:

“For it is impossible to restore again to repentance those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, if they then fall away, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt. For land that has drunk the rain that often falls on it, and produces a crop useful to those for whose sake it is cultivated, receives a blessing from God. But if it bears thorns and thistles, it is worthless and near to being cursed, and its end is to be burned” (ESV).

Isn’t it clear? Ashby (2002), speaking of Heb. 6:4-6, states that “it is hard to imagine finding any clearer statement that describes believers anywhere in all of Scripture” (p. 175). John Wesley agreed: “It will be clear to all who impartially consider and compare both these passages [Heb. 6 & 10], that the persons spoken of herein are those, and those only, that have been justified” (Wesley 1872/1978b:522).

However, that is not how it has been interpreted by some Bible commentators and theologians. Here’s a brief sample of their views:

F. F. Bruce: “The warning of this passage was a real warning against a real danger, a danger which is still present so long as ‘an evil heart of unbelief’ can result in ‘falling away from the living God’ (Ch. 3:12)” (1964:123).

The Scofield Reference Bible
states that these verses present “the case of Jewish professed believers who halt short of faith in Christ after advancing to the very threshold of salvation, even ‘going along with’ the Holy Spirit in His work of enlightenment and conviction (John 16:8-10). It is not said that they had faith. This supposed person is like the spies at Kadesh-barnea (Deut. 1:19-26) who saw the land and had the very fruit of it in their hands, and yet turned back” (Scofield, 1945:1295, n. 2).

John Wesley: “Must not every unprejudiced person see, the expressions here used are so strong and clear, that they cannot, without gross and palpable wresting, be understood of any but true believers” (Wesley, 1872/1978c, vol. 10:248).

Michael S. Horton: “Covenant theology . . . recognizes a third category besides ‘saved’ and ‘unsaved’: the person who belongs to the covenant community and experiences thereby the work of the Spirit through the means of grace, and yet is not regenerate” (2002:37). From Horton’s perspective, the people addressed in Hebrews 6 had been part of the covenant community, have not experienced salvation, and have fallen away from the community.

Dutch theologian, Abraham Kuyper, believes these people were not Christians: “It is true the apostle declares that the men guilty of this sin ‘were once enlightened,’ and ‘have tasted of the heavenly gift,’ and ‘were made partakers of the Holy Ghost,’ and ‘have tasted the good Word of God and the powers of the age to come;’ but they are never said to have had a broken and a contrite heart.’” (cited in Shank, 1961:228).

Theologian and apologist, Norman Geisler: “There are several problems with taking this to refer to believers who can lose salvation. . . The word for ‘fall away’ (parapesontas) does not indicate a one-way action as would be true of apostasy (Greek: apostasia); rather, it is the word for ‘drift,’ indicating that the status of the individuals is not hopeless” (1999:125-126).


IV.  A closer look at Hebrews 6:1-8

Hebrews 6: 1-8 (NIV) [5]:

“Therefore let us leave the elementary teachings about Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again the foundation of repentance from acts that lead to death, and of faith in God, instruction about baptisms, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. And God permitting, we will do so.
“It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age, if they fall away, to be brought back to repentance, because to their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace.
“Land that drinks in the rain often falling on it and that produces a crop useful to those for whom it is farmed receives the blessing of God. But land that produces thorns and thistles is worthless and is in danger of being cursed. In the end it will be burned.”

Surely it is crystal clear that these people were once Christians – they were saved believers? Not so, according to many theologians, exegetes, commentators and Bible teachers. What are the reasons for not wanting to call these people truly Christian and having them return to their previously lost condition.

A.  Some issues from this passage

   1. Who are the people addressed in the letter to the Hebrews?

The title of this epistle, “To the Hebrews,” was not found in the earliest manuscripts of this book of the Bible. However, “it must belong to a very early tradition for it is found in the MSS Vaticanus and Sinaiticus and in the Chester Beatty papyrus” (Hewitt, 1960, p. 32).

The internal evidence in the Book reveals the following:

a.    It was not written to a general audience of Hebrew people, but to a group of people who had endured persecution, had their property plundered, but they had not been martyred (see 10:32-34; 12:3-4).
b.    They had exercised a ministry of good works to the imprisoned (6:9ff; 10:32-34);
c.    Based on Heb. 5:11-6:3, the readers were babies in Christ, but they should have been teachers. The exhortation urges “the readers to move away from spiritual infancy and to go forward to spiritual maturity” (Hewitt, 1960, p. 103). They are urged to “leave the elementary doctrine of Christ” [lit. “leaving behind the word of the beginning of Christ”] and to “go on to maturity” (6:1). This compares with Heb. 5:12, “the basic principles of the oracles of God” (ESV). So, to gain spiritual maturity, they must break away from Judaism. This “foundation” on which their faith is built, consists of:

  • Repentance from dead works (6:1) – possibly referring to the Levitical sacrificial system, but 9:14 suggests that it might mean sinful or guilty actions or works (Hewitt, 1960, p. 104). It is Lenski’s view that

“All of these genitives refer to basic Christian and not to the old Jewish teachings; yet they refer to what the readers as former Jews learned when they were brought to Christ. If this letter were intended for former Gentiles, some at least of these genitives would be different” (1966, p. 176).

These two matters, repentance and faith, are basic to Christianity and the Jews previously lived in the dead works of outward conformity to the Law. See also Matt. 7:16-20; 25:44-45.

  • Faith toward God (6:1). Foundational Christianity combines repentance with faith. Why does the writer not refer to “faith in Christ” but “faith based on (Gk. epi) God”? Since these readers are former Jews, he is probably referring

“To faith that is based on God who spoke concerning Christ in the Old Testament. The Jews did not need another god, they needed faith in the God whom they knew, genuine trust in him and in the revelation of his Word” (Lenski 1966:177).

  • Instruction about washings (6:2);
  • The laying on of hands (6:2);
  • Resurrection of the dead (6:2), and
  • Eternal judgment (6:2).

d.    They were called upon to imitate the faith of some of the leaders (13:7), which seems to indicate the church could have been in existence for a time.

e.    Throughout the epistle, the writer appeals to the Old Testament with language of the old covenant, Melchizedek, types and shadows. There is an assumption that the readers were familiar with the references he was making.

f.    In the immediate context of Heb. 6, we have a call for the readers and the writer to “let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and faith toward God . . .” (vv. 1-2). These were immature Christians who needed to grow up.

g.    Hebrews 6:9-12 (ESV) is revealing as a context for interpretation of the immediately preceding verses. In addressing these people, the writer is speaking of “things that belong to salvation” (v. 9) and that these people were “serving the saints” (v. 10). The writer’s desire was that this good work to the saints would continue and that they would “have the full assurance of hope until the end” (v. 11) and that they would continue to be “imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises” (v. 12).

h.    Therefore, we can have confidence in concluding that the book was not written to Christians in general, or to Gentile Christians, but to Hebrew Christians who knew the Old Testament Scriptures well. They were immature Christians, but the internal evidence of the book confirms that the audience is Christian.

i.    Hewitt, on fairly solid grounds, concludes “that the readers were Jewish Christians, probably resident in Rome” (1960, p. 34). Lenski (1966) agrees: “This body of purely Jewish Christians lived in Rome. The salutation of ‘those from Italy’ in 13:24 points almost directly to Rome” (1966:15, emphasis in original).

2. What do these aspects of the passage mean?

Five things are stated about these people:

  • There were once-for-all enlightened.
  • They tasted the heavenly gift.
  • They became sharers of the Holy Spirit.
  • They tasted the good Word of God and the powerful deeds of the age to come.
  • They fell away (Ashby, 2002:175).

Speaking of this passage, John Wesley wrote: “Must not every unprejudiced person see, the expressions here used are so strong and clear, that they cannot, without gross and palpable wresting, be understood of any but true believers?” (1872/1978c:248).

Here the writer of Hebrews gives us five aorist tense participles (i.e. they happened at a point-action time as fact), as translated by Ashby: once-for-all enlightened, tasted, became sharers, tasted, and fell away. We know that the author is writing to current believers because he writes about “us” (6:1), we” (6:3) but transitions to “those, they and their” (6:4-6), but returns to “we, your and beloved”(6:9).

Please understand that the conditional “if” they fall away (as in NIV and ESV) does not appear in the Greek text. The Greek is literally, “and falling away ” (aorist participle), i.e. these Christians fell away.  It is not a hypothetical possibility that might happen but hasn’t eventuated yet. It happened!

                a.    It is impossible to restore these people again (v. 4)

This sounds fairly straightforward. Adunaton (from adunatos) is an adjective which, with or without the verb “to be,” has the meaning of “it is impossible” (Arndt & Gingrich, 1957, p. 18). [8] What is impossible? It is impossible to anakainizein. This is the Greek present, active infinitive from the verb, anakainizo, meaning in Heb. 6:6, “to renew or restore” (BAG, 1957:55).

It is impossible to restore or renew these people to their former condition. What was their former state from which they have fallen? What follows is a series of four Greek participles that define their previous condition: have been enlightened, have tasted (twice) and have shared. For this passage to declare its content, we must understand these participles.

                b.    The meaning of “have once been enlightened” (v. 4)

This is the first of “four participles, all aorists of fact, [that] have one article and thus describe the same persons; the accusative makes them the object of the verb ‘to renew again unto repentance’” (Lenski 1966:181).

“Once” being enlightened is in contrast with the “again” (or second time) of v. 6 (Lenski 1966:181). The meaning of “have been enlightened” (photisthentas from photizo) is “to enlighten spiritually, imbue with saving knowledge” and in Heb. 6:4 and Heb. 10:32 “of those who have been made Christians” (Thayer 1962:663).

Grudem (1994) disagrees, stating that “this enlightening simply means that they came to understand the truths of the gospel, not that they responded to those truths with genuine saving faith.” He claims that photizo

“Refers to learning in general not necessarily a learning that results in salvation – it is used in John 1:9 of ‘enlightening’ every man that comes into the world, in 1 Cor. 4:5 of the enlightening that comes at the final judgment, and in Eph. 1:18 of the enlightening that accompanies growth in the Christian life. The word is not a ‘technical term’ that means that people in question were saved” (Grudem 1994:796).

While it is acknowledged that photizo (I enlighten) has a different nuance in other settings of Scripture, the context of Hebrews 6:4-6 and lexical considerations run counter to Grudem’s understanding. He, taking “a traditional Reformed position” that “those who are truly born again will never lose their salvation” (1994:16), is a strong Calvinist. He seems to be defending this passage in support of his presuppositions.

F. F. Bruce, himself an Augustinian/Calvinist, exegetes “they were enlightened” to mean “enlightenment here is something which has taken place once for all…. The light of the Gospel has broken in upon these people’s darkness, and life can never be the same again; to give up the gospel would be to sin against the light, the one sin which by its very nature is incurable” (1964:120).

Based on lexical considerations, these people were once Christian believers. But there is still more to confirm their former spiritual condition.

c. The meaning of “have tasted the heavenly gift” (v. 4)

“Have tasted” is the Greek aorist participle, geusamenous, from the verb, geuomai. The verb can be used of a literal tasting, meaning to “taste, partake of, enjoy, experience” (Brown 1976:269) as in Matt. 27:34; John 2:9; Acts 10:10 and Col. 2:21.

In a figurative sense it is used in I Peter 2:3, “if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good.” This refers back to Ps. 34:8, “Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good!” This may also be reflected in Heb. 6:4 where “it is not clear whether the author is thinking specifically of the forgiveness of sins, the gift of salvation, the Holy Spirit, or Christ himself,” but it is “most probable that salvation is in mind” and that “the emphasis in tasting is not that of taking a sip, as Calvin thought.” (Brown:270). We have a clear example of the figurative use of “tasting” in Hebrews 2:9, where

“Christ tasted death in the sense that he experienced its bitter taste to the full. The amount consumed is not the point, but the fact of experiencing what is eaten. The Christians to whom this is addressed have already experienced something of the future age, the world that is to come” (Brown 1976:270)

“Tasting,” meaning experiencing (the heavenly gift) in Heb. 6:4, is confirmed by Kittel: It

“Describes vividly the reality of personal experiences of salvation enjoyed by Christians at conversion. . . They have had a taste of the heavenly gift . . . of the forgiveness of sins accomplished for them by the heavenly High-priest Christ (Heb. 5:1ff; 9:24ff), of the good Word of God” (1964, vol. 1:676-677).

However, the Calvinist, Wayne Grudem, claims that “inherent in the idea of tasting is the fact that the tasting is temporary and one might or might not decide to accept the thing that is tasted” (1994:797). He appeals to Matt. 27:34 where geuomai is used “to say that those crucifying Jesus ‘offered him wine to drink, mingled with gall; but when he tasted it, he would not drink’” (1994:797).

Kittel, in seeking an understanding of tasted, links the Heb. 6:4 passage with Heb. 2:9 where tasting death meant, “to experience death as what it is” (1964 vol. 1:677).

BAG agrees, stating that geuomai, in Heb. 6:4, means to “obtain a gift” and other figurative uses mean to “come to know something” as in Mt. 16:28, Mark 9:1; Luke 9:27, John 8:52, and Heb. 2:9 (1957:156). Vincent refers geusamenous (tasted) back to 2:9, “tasted death.” He concludes that the meaning of “tasted” is to “have consciously partaken of” and that this “heavenly gift is the Holy Spirit. It is true that this is distinctly specified in the next clause, but the two clauses belong together” (1887/1946:445).

Therefore, for lexical reasons, we conclude that to “have tasted the heavenly gift” is to have obtained and experienced the heavenly gift, which “gift” could refer to the forgiveness of sins, the gift of salvation, the gift of the Holy Spirit at salvation or Christ himself. Whichever way we look at these readers of the book of Hebrews, they were definite Christian believers, even if we were to base our decision on this phrase alone. But the spiritual condition of these people is further reinforced in:

                d.    The meaning of “have shared in the Holy Spirit” (v. 4)

Literally, these people have “become sharers/partakers in [the] Holy Spirit.” How are we to understand “sharers/partakers”?

“‘Partakers’ places them among the rest, of whom the same thing can be said. They belonged to this heavenly company. . . To be partakers or sharers of the Holy Spirit does not mean to divide the Spirit. He is a person, and those are partakers of him who with others receive him in their hearts with all that this saving, sanctifying presence means” (Lenski 1966:183).

In opposition to Lenski’s view, Grudem (1994) questions

“The exact meaning of the word metochos, which is here translated ‘partaker.’ It is not always clear to English-speaking readers that this term has a range of meaning and may imply very close participation and attachment, or may only imply a loose association with the other person or persons named. For example, the context shows that in Hebrews 3:14 to become a ‘partaker’ of Christ means to have a very close participation with him in a saving relationship. On the other hand, metochos can also be used in a much looser sense, simply to refer to associates or companions. We read that when the disciples took in a great catch of fish so that their nets were breaking, ‘they beckoned to their partners in the other boat to come and help them’ (Luke 5:7). Here it simply refers to those who were companions or partners with Peter and the other disciples in their fishing work. . .
“By analogy, Hebrews 6:4-6 speaks of people who have been ‘associated with‘ the Holy Spirit, and thereby had their lives influenced by him, but it need not imply that they had a redeeming work of the Holy Spirit in their lives, or that they were regenerated. . . The very word metochos allows for a range of influence from fairly weak to fairly strong, for it only means ‘one who participates with or shares with or accompanies in some activity.’ This was apparently what had happened to these people spoken of in Hebrews 6? 1994:797-798).

It must be remembered that this noun, “sharers/partakers” is closely linked with the aorist participle, genethentas (became — point action), from ginomai.

What is the lexical support?

The word for “sharers/partakers” is metochous (accusative, plural) from metochos, which BAG translates as “sharing or participating in” when used with the genitive of the person or thing, as here (1957:516; also Thayer 1962:407). Also see its similar use in Heb. 3:1.

“The metochoi Christou (those who ‘share in Christ’, Heb. 3:14; cf. 6:4) are called upon to patient endurance in persecution and holding fast to the true faith, so that they may not lose their share in future glory. To be metochoi paideias (participants in chastisement, [Heb.] 12:8) is in fact a sign of being a true child, for the Lord disciplines those whom he loves ([Heb.] 12:6; cf. Prov. 3:12)” (Brown 1975:639).

Colin Brown here clearly demonstrates that “partakers” of chastisement were genuine Christian believers. While there is Calvinistic objection to “partakers” being true believers, the limited lexical information available seems to favour this as “a partaking of the Spirit of Christ ([Heb.] 6:4), the preliminary eschatological gift according to the early Christian view” (Kittel 1962, vol. 2:832).

F. F. Bruce concludes:

“Whether it is possible for one who has been in any real sense a partaker of the Holy Spirit to commit apostasy has been questioned, but our author has no doubt that it is possible in this way to do ‘despite unto the Spirit of grace’ (Ch. 10:29)” (1964:121).

Bruce refers to the biblical example of Simon Magus who believed the gospel, was baptised, “attached himself to the evangelist whose preaching had convinced him, and presumably received the Spirit when apostolic hands were laid on him,” but he “was pronounced by Peter to be still ‘in the gall of bitterness and in the bond of iniquity’ (Acts 8:9ff., 18ff.), and showed himself in the following decades to be the most determined opponent of apostolic Christianity” (1964:121-122).

Heb. 6:4-6 affirms what is elsewhere stated in Scripture that a believer can become an unbeliever – the saved can be lost.

e.    The meaning of “have tasted the goodness of the word of God” and “have tasted  . . . the powers of the age to come” (v. 5)

The spiritual state of these people is here confirmed. As explained above, “tasted” means that they experienced it (although it is used with the accusative case here rather than with the genitive case in v. 4).

“In Hellenistic Greek the verb ‘to taste’ may govern either the genitive as it does in v. 4 or the accusative as it does in v. 5 without a difference in meaning; the classics use only the genitive. The writer intends to make no difference, nor should we seek one” (Lenski  1966:185).

What was experienced? The “goodness of the word of God” (the fact that God spoke through his rhema) and “the powers of the age to come” were their real experience. “The powers of the age to come” were indicated by the mighty works and signs that Simon Magus also experienced (see Acts 8:13, “and seeing signs and great miracles performed, he was amazed.”)

These people were clearly believers; but then comes a staggering statement in v. 6:

f.    “If they then fall away” (v. 6, ESV). Is it possible to become apostate or is this a hypothetical question that can never eventuate?

Why is it impossible to renew these people to repentance (6:6)? It happened to

the ones who had fallen away. The Greek text does not include the conditional “if” as translated in the ESV (and the NIV). They “fell away” from genuine Christian faith, as reasoned above.

Did they commit apostasy?

I find Calvin’s argument somewhat manipulative. Since Calvin believed that “the perseverance of the elect rests upon the sovereign power of God . . . exercised by Christ on their behalf” (1960 vol. 2, 3.22.7: 941, n. 13), one would expect him to consider Heb. 6:4-6 as referring to unbelievers since it presents such a strong case on the destiny of those who commit apostasy. I was not disappointed. Calvin precedes his comments about Heb. 6:4-6 by this introduction:

“If you pay close attention, you will understand that the apostle (he was previously referring to 1 Tim. 1:13) is speaking not concerning one particular lapse or another, but concerning the universal rebellion by which the reprobate forsake salvation. No wonder, then, God is implacable toward those of whom John, in his canonical letter, asserts that they were not of the elect, from whom they went out [I John 2:19]! For he is directing his discourse against those who imagine that they can return to the Christian religion even though they had once departed from it. Calling them away from this false and pernicious opinion, he says something very true, that a return to the communion of Christ is not open to those who knowingly and willingly have rejected it. But those who reject it are not those who with dissolute and uncontrolled life simply transgress the Word of the Lord, but those who deliberately reject its entire teaching. Therefore the fallacy lies in the words ‘lapsing’ and ‘sinning’ [Heb. 6:6; 10:26]. . . It is not any particular failing that is here expressed, but complete turning away from God and, so to speak, apostasy of the whole man. When, therefore, he speaks of those who have lapsed after they have once been illumined, have tasted the heavenly gift, have been made sharers in the Holy Spirit, and also have tasted God’s good Word and the powers of the age to come [Heb. 6:4-5], it must be understood that they who choke the light of the Spirit with deliberate impiety, and spew out the taste of the heavenly gift, will cut themselves off from the sanctification of the Spirit, and trample upon God’s Word and the powers of the age to come. And the better to express an impiety deliberately intended in another passage he afterward expressly adds the word ‘willfully.’”(Calvin 1960, vol. 1, 3.3.23:618-619).

Calvin here was referring to Heb. 10:26, and concluded that “no other sacrifice remains when His has been rejected. Moreover, it is rejected when the truth of the gospel is expressly denied” (1960 vol. 1, 3.3.23:619).  He explains further:

“To some it seems too hard and alien to the mercy of God that any who flee for refuge in calling upon the Lord’s mercy are wholly deprived of forgiveness. This is easily answered. For the author of Hebrews does not say that pardon is refused if they turn to the Lord, but he utterly denies that they can rise to repentance, because they have been stricken by God’s just judgment with eternal blindness on account of their ungratefulness” (1960, vol. 1, 3.3.24:620).

What an interesting trick! John Calvin links 1 Tim. 1:13 and 1 John 2:19 with Heb. 6:4-6 and Heb. 10:26. First Tim. 1:13 and 1 John 2:19 obviously refer to unbelievers in “universal rebellion” who are the “reprobate” and who “were not of the elect,” to use Calvin’s language. They were unbelievers and I agree.

However, there is no exegesis here by Calvin to show that the two passages in Hebrews refer to those who are the reprobate who have never ever been saved. What could be driving Calvin’s interpretation of the Hebrews’ passages? It is his presuppositions concerning the perseverance of the saints:

“I know that to attribute faith to the reprobate seems hard to some, when Paul declares it the result of election [cf. I Thess. 1:4-5]. Yet this difficulty is easily solved. For though only those predestined to salvation receive the light of faith and truly feel the power of the gospel, yet experience shows that the reprobate are sometimes affected by almost the same feeling as the elect, so that even in their own judgment they do not in any way differ from the elect [cf. Acts 13:48]. Therefore it is not at all absurd that the apostle should attribute to them a taste of the heavenly gifts [Heb. 6:4-6]–and Christ, faith for a time [Luke 8:13]; not because they firmly grasp the force of spiritual grace and the sure light of faith, but because the Lord, to render them more convicted and inexcusable, steals into their minds to the extent that his goodness may be tasted without the Spirit of adoption. . . Although there is a great likeness and affinity between God’s elect and those who are given a transitory faith, yet only in the elect does that confidence flourish which Paul extols, that they loudly proclaim Abba, Father [Gal. 4:6; cf. Rom. 8:15] (Calvin 1960  vol. 1, 3.2.11:555).

Calvin’s presupposition is “that the reprobate are sometimes affected by almost the same feeling as the elect” and the reprobate see themselves as “not in any way differ[ing] from the elect.” These reprobate of Heb. 6:4-6 are likened by Calvin to those whom Jesus said had “faith for a time” (Luke 8:13).

What does the Lord do with these reprobates according to Calvin? He “steals into their minds to the extent that his goodness may be tasted without the Spirit of adoption.” God, who does not deceive or lie, here “steals into their mind” and they “taste” God’s goodness but cannot experience “the Spirit of adoption.” This sounds more like the plot of a contemporary movie where God plays mind games with people so that they taste his goodness but never can embrace his ultimate salvation. Can such be substantiated from Hebrews 6 or elsewhere?

F. F. Bruce, “an impenitent Augustinian and Calvinist” (Forster & Marston 1973, foreword:vii) considers that in Heb. 6:1-8,

“The warning of this passage was a real warning against a real danger, a danger which is still present so long as ‘an evil heart of unbelief’ can result in ‘falling away
‘ (Ch. 3:12). . . The writer to the Hebrews himself distinguishes (as did the Old Testament law) between inadvertent sin and wilful sin, and the context here shows plainly that the wilful sin, which he has in mind, is deliberate apostasy. People who commit this sin, he says, cannot be brought back to repentance; by renouncing Christ they put themselves in the position of those who, deliberately refusing His claim to be the Son of God, had Him crucified and exposed to public shame. Those who repudiate the salvation procured by Christ will find none anywhere else” (Bruce 1964:123-124).

Let’s get serious with the text of Heb. 6:4-6.  The nature of this apostasy (v. 6) is clarified by an examination of the exegetical considerations of the original language. It is the Greek, parapesontas, aorist participle of parapipto, which BAG gives the meaning as “fall away, commit apostasy” (1957:626). This is affirmed by Thayer: “to fall away (from the true faith)” (1962:485). Henry Alford states that it is used in 6:6 in a similar sense to “sinning deliberately” in Heb. 10:26, or “falling away (committing apostasy) from the living God” (Heb. 3:12). See also Heb. 10:29 and 2:1, “as pointing out the sin of apostasy from Christ” (Alford, 1875/1976:110).

While the other word for apostasy/unbelief (apostasia, apistia, aphistemi) is not used here, as it is in Heb. 3:12 (apistia), the lexical understanding of parapipto is that of committing apostasy and the aorist participle indicates an action in the past that happened as fact. Some born-again Christians fell away from the faith and thus committed apostasy.

F. F. Bruce affirms the lexical conclusions:

“People who commit this sin, he [the writer of Hebrews] says, cannot be brought back to repentance; by renouncing Christ they put themselves in the position of those who, deliberately refusing His claim to be the Son of God, had Him crucified and exposed to public shame. Those who repudiate the salvation procured by Christ will find none anywhere else” (1964:124).

We must be careful to note that this falling away is extremely tragic because these believers are not

“Falling into some sin or error which is dangerous but not deadly; no denial like that of a Peter in a panic of fear, like that of weak Christians. . . ‘And fell away’ (literally ‘to the side,’ para) means to fall away utterly. They fell to such an extent that ‘it is impossible again to renew them unto repentance,’ i.e., again to produce repentance. . . It is the state into which they have fallen which makes renewal to repentance impossible” (Lenski 1966:185-186).

This is seen in two phrases in v. 6 that use present tense, continuous action participles. The apostate is:

  • “Crucifying once again the Son of God” and
  • “Holding him up to contempt”

“Since they are recrucifying for themselves the Son of God and exposing him to public ignominy” as a causal action,

“As the tenses show, there is no cessation in this double act. The enormity of these acts is expressed by making ‘the Son of God’ the object of them. They are repeating the awful act of the Jewish Sanhedrin, who crucified Jesus because he said he was the Son of God (Matt. 26:63-66). They are doing this ‘for themselves’” (Lenski 1966:186).

The second durative action participle, “holding up to contempt” is from the verb deigmatizo, meaning “to expose, make an example of” something or someone (BAG 1957:171). Thayer endorses this definition, adding “to expose one to disgrace” (1962:126). The verb is a rare word that Kittel contends means “‘to exhibit,’ ‘to make public,’ ‘to bring to public notice,’ [especially] that which seeks concealment, so that it almost has the sense of ‘to expose’” (1964, vol. 2:32). In the New Testament it is only found in Matt. 1:19 and Heb. 6:6. In the Matt. 1:19 passage,

“Joseph did not wish to cite Mary publicly and thus to expose her. There is no evident distinction from paradeigmatizein. . . In the apostasy of the baptised [Heb. 6:6] Christ is crucified through them and thus publicly shamed. They expose Christ to public obloquy by their apostasy” (Kittel 1964, vol. 2:31-32).

What could this mean? The exposing of Jesus to public contempt is similar to what the members of the Sanhedrin did in Matt. 26:67-68 when they spat in the face of Jesus, and struck and slapped him. Lenski has so powerfully explained what this means for those who were once Christians and who commit apostasy. Those who fall away from faith in the Son of God openly revile him before the world by being a friend who has turned to traitor,

“Who viciously uses all that his former intimacy provides him, but do it so that men shall see what they as one-time converts of Jesus have now as disillusioned converts come to think of him. Outsiders may vilify the Son of God; they have never been personally in touch with him. What does that amount to? It is a different matter when his own converts eventually expose him to public shame. The word blasphemy is not used here as it is in the passages in the Gospels that speak about the sin against the Holy Ghost; but ‘exposing to public ignominy’ is a full equivalent” (Lenski  1966:186-187).

g.    How do vv. 7-8 help the interpretation?

This agricultural imagery demonstrates that land that has drunk the rain produces a useful crop and those who cultivate the crop receive the blessing of God as the land keeps producing. The tenses of the participles need to be noted. The rain keeps falling (present continuous) on the land. The land has drunk (aorist, factual action) the rain and the land continues to produce (present continuous) a crop.

However, land could be treated just as well and yet produce “thorns and thistles.” This makes the land “worthless” and is cursed by burning. The application to verse 6 is very clear – the same word of God proclaimed can produce saints or saints who can later choose to fall away permanently.

B. Summary of the meaning of Hebrews 6:1-8

The above exposition refutes Geisler’s view that this Heb. 6 passage “refers to those who are truly saved but are only losing their rewards, not their salvation” (1999:124).

Hebrews 6:4-8 is a specific application of John Wesley’s view: “I find no general promise in holy writ, ‘that none who once believes shall finally fall’” (1872/1978c:242).

The affirmation is that Christians who have been enlightened spiritually with saving faith, have experienced the gift of salvation, have received (become partakers of) the Holy Spirit, enabling them to experience the goodness of God’s word and the powers of the mighty works of God’s kingdom among us and in the ages to come, can commit apostasy (fall away completely from the faith). For such people, tragically there is no possible way to repent again. This does not mean that Christians who have sin in their lives at death are doomed to damnation. However, there is one and only one means of being damned after being a Christian.

Oden summarises the issues well (with one proviso):

“Insofar as a particular believer is concerned, is it possible, once having received pardon, to cast it back, forget it, or negate it? No and yes. Never in the sense of undoing God’s act. Those who live in Christ are promised sufficient grace to carry them to completion of God’s intention (Phil. 3:12-14). But yes in the sense that if they forsake trusting and once again choose death and throw themselves back into self-justifying syndromes of sin and despair under the law, they then live as if the pardon were forfeited, negating its benefits. The parable of the unmerciful servant tells this story exactly of one who having received pardon forfeited it (Matt. 18) . . .
“Systemic sins against faith occur either by heresy or by apostasy. In heresy one who is baptized holds to the name Christian yet denies the apostolic faith. . . In apostasy one who is baptized falls away from the faith totally, so as to ‘turn away from God altogether. . .
“Weak faith and strong faith share in all that Christ is, and hence equally justify. . . In justifying faith, all effectiveness is derived from that which calls faith forth, namely, grace.
“There are indeed degrees of faith, yet justification is a no-holds-barred declaratory act of God that offers new birth. . . The strength of faith does not increase the merit of Christ. The weakness of faith does not diminish the merit of Christ (Luke 23:43; 17:5; 2 Cor. 10:15; 2 Thess. 1:3)” (Oden 1992:151-152).

My one proviso concerns Oden’s statement that true faith is associated with “one who is baptized.” I find no biblical support for baptismal regeneration.  The thief who died beside Jesus on the cross had this confirmation from Jesus, “Today you will be with me in Paradise” (Luke 23:43).  The saved and crucified thief had no opportunity for baptism,yet inherited eternal life in Paradise with Jesus.

Based on Heb. 6:4-6, there is only one way for a Christian believer to lose his or her salvation. That is by a “decisive act of apostasy – departing from the living God through unbelief (Heb. 3:12)” and for this loss of salvation there is no remedy (Ashby 2002:182-183).

C.  What about sinning and loss of salvation?

“It is not by quitting sinning that one becomes justified before God. It is, instead, by faith in Christ. Neither does committing sin after one is saved cause one to become unjustified before God” (Ashby 2002:187). What does cause one to become an unjustified unbeliever? Based on Heb. 6:4-6, “the singular act of apostasy is irreversible” (Ashby 2002:187).

Arminius also maintained such a view: “If believers fall away from the faith and become unbelievers, it is impossible for them to do otherwise than decline from salvation, that is, provided they still continue unbelievers” (1977a:282). Put another way, it is “impossible for believers, as long as they remain believers to decline from salvation” (Arminius 1977a:281, emphasis in original). Elsewhere he stated: “Some will say, from Heb. 6 and 10, that one, who wholly falls away from the true faith, can not be restored to repentance” (1977c:494).

A “Wesleyan Arminian view” is:

“Involuntary transgressions (i.e., sins we commit without the awareness that we have done so) are not held against us by God, unless we discover them and do nothing about them. Voluntary sins–deliberate violations of known laws of God–do, however, become mortal if we do not repent of them. The subject of eternal security rests (in both categories of sin) on the matter of ongoing repentance” (Harper 2002:240)

Harper (2002:240) appealed to John Wesley’s sermon, “On Sin in Believers,” to support his proposition of voluntary sins that violate God’s known laws to lead to loss of salvation (i.e., to become mortal). In this sermon, Wesley asks:

“Is there then sin in him that is in Christ? Does sin remain in one that believes in him? Is there any sin in them that are born of God, or are they wholly delivered from it? Let no one imagine this to be a question of mere curiosity; or that it is of little importance whether it is determined one way or the other. Rather it is a point of the utmost moment to every serious Christian; the resolving of which very nearly concerns both his present and eternal happiness” (Wesley 1872/1978a:144, emphasis in original).

The implication from this teaching is that if a believer continues to practise known sin, that person forfeits salvation. However, Wesley wanted to make allowance for new Christians and their sinning:

“‘But how can unbelief be in a believer?’ That word has two meanings. It means either no faith, or little faith: either the absence of faith or the weakness of it. In the former sense, unbelief is not in a believer; in the latter, it is in all babes. Their faith is commonly mixed with doubt or fear; that is, in the latter sense, with unbelief. ‘Why are ye fearful,’ says our Lord, ‘O ye of little faith?’ [9] Again: ‘O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt?’ [10] You see here was unbelief in believers; little faith and much unbelief”(1872/1978a:155, emphasis in original).

The verses here quoted by Wesley are from Matt. 8:26 and 14:31. The contexts do not relate to unbelief and eternal salvation. This is out-of-context proof texting. Matt. 8:26 deals with the disciples in a boat on the sea in the midst of a severe storm and appealing to Jesus to save them from a potential life-threatening disaster. In Matt. 14:31, the situation is related to Jesus’ walking on the water and calling Peter to come to him on the water.

One must ask, at what point does a Christian move from being a “babe” in Christ and committing sin that does not lead to eternal death, to a more mature believer where sinning leads to loss of salvation? Isn’t this an arbitrary ruling? Wesley explains:

“A man may be in God’s favour though he feel sin; but not if he yields to it. Having sin does not forfeit he favour of God; giving way to sin does. Though the flesh in you ‘lust against the Spirit,’ you may still be a child of God; but if you ‘walk after the flesh,’ you are a child of the devil. Now this doctrine does not encourage to obey sin, but to resist it with all our might” (1872/1978a:155, emphasis in original).

Wesley was asked,

“Does sin precede or follow the loss of faith? Does a child of God first commit sin, and thereby lose his faith? Or does he lose his faith, before he can commit sin?’ His response was: “Some sin of omission, at least, must necessarily precede the loss of faith; some inward sin: But the loss of faith must precede the committing outward sin” (1872/1978a:232).

This seems to be without biblical precedent. Wesley emphasised again that inward sin may lead to shipwreck of one’s faith:

“Even he who now standeth fast in the grace of God, in the faith that overcometh the world, may nevertheless fall into inward sin, and thereby ‘make shipwreck of his faith.’ And how easily then will outward sin regain its dominion over him!” (1872/1978a:233).

The sequence as seen by Wesley was:

Christian believer blue-arrow-small inward sinblue-arrow-small loss of faith blue-arrow-smalloutward sin blue-arrow-smalldominion of sinblue-arrow-small damnation.

How is it possible to avoid such loss of salvation? Wesley’s view was:

“Thou, therefore, O man of God! Watch always; that thou mayest always hear the voice of God! Watch, that thou mayest pray without ceasing, at all times, and in all places, pouring out thy heart before him! So shalt thou always believe, and always love, and never commit sin. . . The more any believer examines his own heart, the more will he be convinced of this: That faith working by love excludes both inward and outward sin from a soul watching unto prayer” (1872/1978a:233, 232).

Contrary to this Wesleyan position, as demonstrated by the exposition of Heb. 6:4-8 above, it is not by voluntary, inward sin leading to outward sin, that causes a Christian to lose salvation. Even though Harper (2002) claims that his view is a Wesleyan Arminian position, it is not the classical Arminian view of Jacob Arminius, as Arminius stated himself:

“Those persons who have been grafted into Christ by true faith, and have thus been made partakers of his life-giving Spirit, possess sufficient powers [or strength] to fight against Satan, sin, the world and their own flesh, and to gain the victory over these enemies – yet not without the assistance of the grace of the same Holy Spirit. Jesus Christ also by his Spirit assists them in all their temptations, and affords them the ready aid of his hand; and, provided they stand prepared for the battle, implore his help, and be not wanting to themselves, Christ preserves them from falling. So that it is not possible for them, by any of the cunning craftiness or power of Satan, to be seduced or dragged out of the hands of Christ” (Arminius 1977a:254).

The only means of declining from the faith and making shipwreck of salvation is through deliberate apostasy. William Lane agrees: “The sin of apostasy entails irreversible consequences” (cited in Ashby 2002:177).


V.  Do other Scriptures teach the possible loss of salvation?

        A. Jesus believed in loss of salvation.

    1.    Faith can be lost according to Jesus. In Luke 8:13, Jesus, when interpreting the parable of the sower, stated that “the ones on the rock are those who, when they hear the word, receive it with joy. But these have no root; they believe for a while, and in time of testing fall away.”

    2.    Using horticultural and other images, Jesus “assumes the vulnerability of faith” through leaven losing its efficacy (Matt. 16:6) salt losing its taste (Matt. 5:13), the barren tree (Luke 13:6-9), the dead branch of the vine (John 15:6) and the fruitless tree (Matt. 3:10) (Oden 1992:151).

  3. What about Judas Iscariot? In John 17:12, Jesus said, “While I was with them, I kept them in your name, which you have given me. I have guarded them, and not one of them has been lost except the son of destruction, that the Scripture might be fulfilled.” Yet, Judas was chosen as one of the 12 disciples of Jesus. John 6:70-71 states: “Jesus answered them, ‘Did I not choose you, the Twelve? And yet one of you is a devil.’ He spoke of Judas the son of Simon Iscariot, for he, one of the Twelve, was going to betray him.”

Good arguments have been given for both sides of this argument that Judas was a true believer and that Judas was an imposter of the faith from the beginning.

Norman Geisler advocates the imposter position:

“Judas was only a professing believer, a sheep in wolf’s clothing. Jesus called him a ‘devil’ (John 6:70), who was eventually indwelt by Satan himself (13:27).” He gives his reasons: The word used of his so-called ‘sorry’ after he betrayed Christ reveals that he was not a true believer. The Greek word used is metamelomai, which denotes regret, not repentance (Gr., metanoeo). Indeed, in his great high priestly prayer, Jesus excluded Judas from those who were truly his own (John 17:12)” (2002:88).

The other view which I will be advocating is that Judas Iscariot was a true apostle and believer who committed apostasy.

The biblical material points to an understanding of the Judas situation in two areas:

First, Jesus clearly states that he was a “chosen” disciple (John 6:70), one of the Twelve original disciples. Jesus knew that he would betray Jesus, but he was clearly a chosen disciple who, under the influence of Satan, committed apostasy because he left the faith and his destiny as Christ’s true disciple.

Second, in Acts 1:25 it states that “Judas turned aside to go to his own place.” The “turned aside” (ESV) is the Greek, parebe (aorist indicative) of parabaino (a rare word in the New Testament), which, according to Thayer, means “to go by the side of . . . of one who abandons his trust . . .and ‘fell away’ (RV)” (1962:478). Colin Brown affirms a similar meaning: “Judas’ sin consisted in his abandoning the topos, the place or position of service and apostleship. . . Judas has abandoned his discipleship” (1978:584). Kittel & Friedrich state that “literally, of course, it simply states the fact that Judas has withdrawn from his apostolic office” (1967:738). Hervey confirms the meaning of parabaino in an intransitive sense as meaning “to transgress, fall away from, turn aside from,” a meaning that is common in the Septuagint in verses such as Ex. 32:8; Deut. 9:12; 17:20, etc. (Hervey n d:6).

That Judas “fell away” (also Vincent, 1887/1946:447) provides a pointer to the preferred interpretation, as stated by Shank:

“The statement that Judas ‘fell away’ . . . from his ministry and apostleship is an assertion that, by a specific action, he disqualified himself. The necessary corollary is that he previously was qualified. The case of Judas, then, was one of apostasy, rather than original hypocrisy” (1961:179).

However, the aorist tense indicative indicates that there was a point in time when that happened as an action of falling away in the past (Dana & Mantey, 1927/1955:193). [11] Should the preferred meaning of parabaino be “transgressed,” the interpretation changes significantly – Judas sinned and fell away from his apostleship, but did not necessarily commit apostasy. I think that Shank (1961:179) protesteth too much!

Whether one accepts that Judas fell away or that he transgressed, Judas was chosen by Jesus as one of the Twelve disciples and became a “devil,” to use Jesus’ own words (John 6:70; 13:27). Therefore, Judas is an example of one who lost his apostleship and salvation by becoming “a devil” and one who was indwelt by Satan (John 6:70; 13:2, 27).

Those who support eternal security often appeal to John 6:64 where Jesus stated,

“‘But there are some of you who do not believe.’ (For Jesus knew from the beginning who those were who did not believe, and who it was who would betray him.)” Robertson’s analysis is accurate:

“John does not say here that Jesus knew that Judas would betray him when he chose him as one of the twelve, least of all that he chose him for that purpose. What he does say is that Jesus was not taken by surprise and soon saw signs of treason in Judas. . . Judas had gifts and was given his opportunity. He did not have to betray Jesus” (Robertson 1932:114).

     4.  John 15:1-6
In this metaphor of the true vine, the gardener and the branches, Jesus stated, “Every branch of mine that does not bear fruit he takes away” (v. 2) and that the branches are to “abide in me, and I in you” (v. 4). “If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned” (v. 6)

This passage provides a wonderful picture of the believers union with Christ. We need to note the Greek tenses for the use of “abide” (ESV, Gk. meno) and the immediate context in this passage. These are:

  • “Abide in me” (v.4) – a constative aorist imperative, which “may regard the action [to abide] in its entirety” (Dana & Mantey, 1927/1955:194; Robertson 1932:258).
  • “Unless it abides in the vine” (v. 4). Present tense, continuous action, i.e. continues to abide.
  • “Unless you abide in me” (v. 4). Present tense, continuous action.
  • “Whoever abides in me and I in him” (v. 5). Present tense, continuous action.
  • “If anyone does not abide in me” (v. 6), Present tense, continuous action.

The interpretation is straightforward. We, in union with Christ, are commanded to abide (remain) in union with Christ and that will continue as long as we continue to abide in Him. This is not speaking of a Christian who is commanded to abide in Christ as an instant action and that guarantees one’s eternal state. The eternal salvation state is guaranteed only as long as the believer continues to abide/remain in union with Christ.

“John thus uses the verb ‘abide’ [remain] to express the need for disciples to continue in their personal commitment to Jesus; the abiding of Jesus in them is not an automatic process which is independent of their attitude of Him, but is the reverse side of their abiding in Him. Just as men are summoned to believe in Jesus, so they are summoned to abide in Jesus, i.e. to continue believing” (I. Howard Marshall, cited in Ashby 2002:180).

By use of this vine and gardener metaphor, John 15:6 makes it clear that the believer who does not continue to abide in Christ, is thrown away like a branch, gathered up and cast into the fire to burn. What clearer analogy to damnation, after salvation, could be made? “Jesus as the vine will fulfil his part of the relation as long as the branches keep in vital union with him” (Robertson 1932:258). Remaining “in me [Jesus]” (v. 6), “shows that his primary thought was of apostate Christians. . . An unfaithful Christian suffers the fate of an unfruitful branch” (C. K. Barrett, cited in Ashby 2002:180).

    5.    John 3:15-16, 36; 5:24; 6:35, 40, 64; 10:27-28
Almost all of these verses demonstrate the conditional nature of salvation by use of the present tense in Greek, stating that continuing to believe is the condition required for eternal life to be experienced.

In John 3:15 it states “that whoever believes [present participle, is believing] in him may have eternal life.” For John 3:16, the emphasis is similar, “That whoever believes [present participle, is believing] in him should not perish but have eternal life.” John 5:24: “Whoever hears [present participle, is hearing] my word and believes [present participle, is believing] him who sent me has eternal life.” The same emphasis is found in John 6:35, “Whoever believes [present participle, is believing] in me shall never thirst,” and John 6:40, “Everyone who looks [present participle, continues to look] on the Son and believes [present participle, continues to believe] in him should have eternal life.” John 6:64, speaks of “some of you who do not believe [present participle, are believing]. (For Jesus knew from the beginning who those were who did not believe[present participle with the negative, are not believing], and who it was who would betray [future participle, will betray] him.)

The theme continues in John 10:27-28: “My sheep hear [present tense, continue hearing] my voice, and I know [present tense, continue knowing] them, and they follow [present tense, continue following] me. I give [present tense, continue to give] them eternal life, and they will never perish [aorist, perish as a fact of action], and no one will snatch [future tense, snatch in the future] them out of my hand. So, here the need for a continuation of belief is necessary to prevent a future snatching of believers from the Father’s hand.

Geisler avoids consideration of the conditional aspects of salvation (continual hearing, knowing and following Christ) that are precursors for no one snatching them out of the Father’s hand. He writes: “What makes our salvation sure is not only God’s infinite love, but also His omnipotence. ‘No one,’ not even ourselves, can pry us out of His hand” (1999:118).

It is Geisler’s view of these verses that “‘No one,’ not even ourselves, can pry us out of his hand. Further, Jesus said his sheep (the saved) will ‘never perish.’ Very plainly, then, if any believer loses his or her salvation, then Jesus is wrong!” (2002:72).

Ashby hits the mark: “It is not a small thing to change the scriptural emphasis from believing as a process, which is yielding eternal life, to belief as a momentary act, which one may walk away from one moment after believing with no adverse consequences” (2002:165).

These verses underline the consistent biblical theme that a believer who continues to believe shall not perish. Or as Arminius put it, it is “impossible for believers, as long as they remain believers to decline from salvation” (Arminius 1977a:281, emphasis in original).

    6.  John 17:12
The verse states: “While I was with them, I kept them in your name, which you have given me. I have guarded them, and not one of them has been lost except the son of destruction, that the Scripture might be fulfilled.”

Verses like this one and Eph. 1:13-14; 1 Peter 1:5 and 1 John 5:13 clearly indicate from context that believers are being addressed. I can enthusiastically endorse what Jesus says about believers receiving eternal life, but I cannot endorse “saved unbelievers” (Ashby 2002:166) receiving eternal life, as some Calvinists want to maintain.

These verses support the view that those who continue to believe in and trust in Christ alone for salvation will be saved. Comprehensive biblical support is that “God will not turn away a single believer. Of those who are believers, not one will be lost – for they are ‘kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation’ (1 Peter 1:5)” (Ashby 2002:166-167).

    7.  Matthew 12:31-32

Jesus stated:

“Therefore I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven people, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. And whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come” (emphasis added).

Geisler believes that “nothing in [this passage] supports the Arminian position” and that “there is no indication here that believers can commit this sin. The context shows that the passage is referring to hard-hearted unbelievers, who attributed the work of the Holy Spirit through Christ to the devil (see Mark 3:30)” (2002:95).

First, Geisler is wrong in stating that the Arminian position does not support the view of an unpardonable sin for which there is no forgiveness. William Lane states that “the sin of apostasy entails irreversible consequences” (cited in Ashby 2002:177).

Arminius himself stated, “If believers fall away from the faith and become unbelievers, it is impossible for them to do otherwise than decline from salvation, that is, provided they still continue unbelievers”(1977a:282). Ashby, a Reformed Arminian, also supports apostasy without the possibility of further repentance:

“The New Testament affirms one species of loss of salvation: apostasy through defection from faith. . . If one becomes an unbeliever, which is not probable but yet is possible since he or she is a personal being, then God removes that individual from the true vine, Christ Jesus (John 15:2, 6). Hence, the singular act of apostasy is irreversible (Heb. 6:4-6)” (Ashby 2002:187).

Thomas Oden says that the “falling away” of Heb. 6:4-6 “refers to an untimely falling away near death, so that no further opportunity is offered for repentance (cf. Matt. 13:24-30, 41-42; 1 Cor. 9:27; Phil. 2:12)” (1992:325). While the Hebrews 6 passage does not refer to a falling away “near death,” Oden, a Methodist Arminian, here affirms a falling away for which no repentance is available.

In referring to Heb. 6:4-6, John Wesley concluded that it means, “in plain English, ‘It is impossible to renew again unto repentance those who were once enlightened’ and have fallen away; therefore they must perish everlastingly” (1872/1978c:295).

Geisler has a stereotypical view of Arminianism that falls wide of the mark, the above being examples that confound Geisler’s view.

Second, Geisler states that “the context shows that the passage is referring to hard-hearted unbelievers, who attributed the work of the Holy Spirit through Christ to the devil (see Mark 3:30)” (2002:95). However, he nowhere states the evidence from the context that these people were unbelievers. This is committing the logical fallacy of argument from silence.

        B.  Paul made it clear that some could “shipwreck” their faith.

    1. Paul urged Timothy to be “holding faith and a good conscience,” because Paul was aware that “some have made shipwreck of their faith” (1 Tim. 1:19) and he names two who have “made shipwreck” of the faith – “Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan that they may learn not to blaspheme” (1 Tim. 1:20).

We learn of others who have apparently abandoned the faith. According to 2 Tim. 4:10, “Demas, in love with this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica.”

    2.  In 2 Tim. 2:16-18, Paul makes this appeal:

“But avoid irreverent babble, for it will lead people into more and more ungodliness, and their talk will spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus, who have swerved from the truth, saying that the resurrection has already happened. They are upsetting the faith of some” (emphasis added).

    3. Again in 2 Tim. 2:11-13, Paul raises the spectre of loss of salvation:

“The saying is trustworthy, for: If we have died with him, we will also live with him; if we endure, we will also reign with him; if we deny him, he also will deny us; if we are faithless, he remains faithful–for he cannot deny himself.”

This is quite clear. Because God is the truly faithful one, “If we deny him, he also will deny us.” F. Leroy Forlines states it well: “If we become faithless, Christ will remain faithful to His character and will deny us” (cited by Ashby 2002:162).

Second Tim. 2:12 needs no further explanation: “If we endure, we will also reign with him; if we deny him, he also will deny us.” In this context, we can’t deny someone with whom we had no relationship. Concerning our salvation, God will remain faithful if we remain faithful.

    4. Paul warned the Corinthians: “Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall” (1 Cor. 10:12). There are ample examples of warning in Paul’s writings of the danger of departing from Christian salvation, denying the faith, and God’s denying salvation to the former believer. This is one of them.

    5. Ephesians 1:13-14 clearly refers to believers as is indicated by Paul’s including himself with the saints of Ephesus (1:1) and “we who were the first to hope in Christ” (1:12, emphasis added). Of all present and continuing believers addressed in Eph. 1:13-14, it can be said, with a hallelujah of praise:

“In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.”

We need to note three aorist tenses in v. 13:

a. “You heard,” or more literally, “having heard” (active, participle);
b. “(You) believed,” or more literally, “having believed” (active, participle);
c. “(You) were sealed” (passive, indicative).

This reads like the definitive verse in support of eternal security: These believers had heard as an action, believed at a point of time, and in the past were sealed by the Spirit for salvation at a point in time. These are the emphases of the aorist tenses of these verbals. [17] 

As exegeted elsewhere in this paper, the emphasis has been on the continuous action of believing to receive the guarantee of eternal life.  How can the act of hearing, followed by the act of believing, lead to the act of being sealed by the Holy Spirit, without any indicator of the continuation of believing to guarantee entrance into the eternal kingdom?    Eph. 1:13 sounds like signed, sealed and delivered for the eternal security proponents.  But it doesn’t harmonise with the Scriptures that emphasise the need to continue to believe to retain salvation, as expounded in this article.

The meaning of “sealed”

Before we look at this string of aorist tenses, we need to ask, “What does it mean to be ‘sealed’?”  What is the meaning of esphragisthete (you, plural, were sealed), from the old verb, sphragizo?  It means “to set a seal on one as a mark or stamp, sometimes the marks of ownership or of worship of deities like stigmata (Gal. 6:17).  Marked and authenticated as God’s heritage as in 4:30? (Robertson 1931:519).  Thayer gives a similar meaning as applied to Eph. 1:13 in a metaphorical sense.  It means, “in order to mark a person or thing; hence to set a mark upon by the impress of a seal, to stamp” (1962: 609), a view also endorsed by BAG: “Mark (with a seal)  as a means of identification. . .  This forms a basis for understanding the symbolic [expression] which speaks of those who enter the Christian fellowship as being sealed with or by the Holy Spirit Eph 1:13; cf. 4:30? (1957:804).

This lexical base supports F. F. Bruce’s interpretation of “sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise”:

“An owner seals his property with his signet to mark it as his; if at a later time he comes to claim it and his right to it is questioned, his seal is sufficient evidence and puts an end to such questioning.  So, the fact that believers are endowed with the Spirit is the token that they belong in a special sense to God” (1961:36).

When did this happen?  According to Acts. 19:1-7, it may have happened on “the day when they received the Spirit after being baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus and having Paul’s hands laid upon them.”  For others, they might

“Think of the day when the Spirit came upon them, although to many of them this had happened as soon as they believed, before they entered the baptismal water as the outward and visible sign of the inward and spiritual grace which they had received [cf. Acts 10:44-48]. . . Other seals, literal or figurative (like circumcision, the seal of the covenant with Abraham), were affixed externally; the seal of the new covenant is imprinted in the believing heart” (Bruce 1961:36).

Therefore, this “seal” was an inner guarantee that the believer was owned by God and that the believer’s ownership was authentic.  Could this seal ever be “unsealed” (broken) and the believer lose his or her being “sealed” or owned by God?

The effect of the aorist tense

Here it is needful to be somewhat technical with understanding the Greek use of the aorist tense. Esphragisthete (you were sealed) is aorist, passive indicative (see above).  We must remember that

“The Greek aorist [indicative], as can be readily seen, is not the exact equivalent of any tense in any other language.  It has nuances all its own, many of them difficult or well-nigh impossible to reproduce in English.  Here, as everywhere, one needs to keep a sharp line between the Greek idiom and its translation into English.  We merely do the best that we can in English to translate in one way or another the total result of word (Aktionsart), context and tense.  Certainly one cannot say that the English translations have been successful with the Greek aorist. . .  The English past [tense] will translate the Greek aorist in many cases where we prefer ‘have.’  Burton puts it clearly thus: ‘The Greek employs the aorist, leaving the context to suggest the order; the English usually suggests the order by the use of the pluperfect [e.g. had been sealed]. . .  The aorist in Greek is so rich in meaning that the English labours and groans to express it.  As a matter of fact the Greek aorist is translatable into almost every English tense except the imperfect, but that fact indicates no confusion in the Greek” (Robertson 1934:847-848).

Since the indicative mood with the aorist tense, as here with esphragisthete, indicates a time in the past, we still must not ignore the fact that “the fundamental significance of the aorist is to denote action simply as occurring, without reference to its progress” (Dana & Mantey 1955:193).  The aorist indicates that something happened (“you were sealed”), but no reference is made as to whether or not it has been going on further.

Therefore, there is no need to conclude that the aorist tense indicates an action that is “sealed” now and cannot be terminated at some later stage.  While the analogy takes a different hue in Rom. 11: 17-24, there is an indicator in this Romans’ passage that that which was previously engrafted can be cut off.  We read:

“But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, although a wild olive shoot, were grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing root of the olive tree,  [18] do not be arrogant toward the branches. If you are, remember it is not you who support the root, but the root that supports you.  [19] Then you will say, “Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in.”  [20] That is true. They were broken off because of their unbelief, but you stand fast through faith. So do not become proud, but stand in awe.  [21] For if God did not spare the natural branches, neither will he spare you.  [22] Note then the kindness and the severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but God’s kindness to you, provided you continue in his kindness. Otherwise you too will be cut off.  [23] And even they, if they do not continue in their unbelief, will be grafted in, for God has the power to graft them in again.  [24] For if you were cut from what is by nature a wild olive tree, and grafted, contrary to nature, into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these, the natural branches, be grafted back into their own olive tree” (ESV).

Note especially vv. 20-23.  The Jews were “broken off” (exeklasthesav, aorist, indicative, passive) because of their unbelief (v. 20).  These Gentile Roman Christians were shown kindness by God “provided you continue in his kindness.”  Otherwise, these Gentile Christians “will be cut off” (v. 22).  Even the Jews, “if they do not continue in their unbelief, will be grafted in, for God has the power to graft them in again (v. 23).

Robert Shank has exegetical and hermeneutical support to draw these conclusions about Rom. 11: 20-22:

“While the faithfulness of many in Israel did not nullify the faithfulness of God in keeping His promises, neither did the faithfulness of God prevent the faithlessness of many of His covenant people (Rom. 3:3-8).  The faithfulness of God toward Israel did not prevent ‘some of the branches’ from becoming severed from Him: “Because of unbelief, they were broken off (Rom. 11:20).  Paul warns the Gentile believers not to be presumptuous, but to recognize that the same tragedy could befall them, for they only stand by faith (vv. 20-22).  To assume that Christians cannot become lost because of the faithfulness of God is to ignore an essential part of the truth.  The faithfulness of God cannot avail for men who become unfaithful.  ‘Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering: for he is faithful who promised’ (Heb. 10:23)” (Shank 1961:109-110).

    6.    Romans 8:16
“The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God.” Geisler’s view is that this verse “is a present witness of our ultimate state. We know now that we are God’s children. . . Believers can have present assurance of their ultimate salvation” (2002:78-79).

This verse is not speaking about unconditional eternal security and the “ultimate state” of eternal salvation forever and ever. In context in Rom. 8, it speaks of the Christians benefits, possessed by those who are in Christ: no condemnation (8:1), setting their minds on things of the Spirit (8:5), the witness of the Spirit (8:16), heirs of God (8:17). “These are not abstract entities that I possess. They result from my union with Christ. If that union is broken by unbelief, then the benefits are gone” (Ashby 2002:167).

Geisler has appealed to a verse that does not teach what he claims.

    7.    Phil. 1:6; 2:15-16; 2 Thess 3:3; 2 Tim. 1:12; 4:18
These verses confirm that God is committed to continuing the work of salvation that he has begun and that there are ultimate, confirmed benefits for those believers who continue in salvation. These verses also express our thanksgiving for God’s salvation and confidence that he will remain faithful to his side of the deal. He is the faithful one; we are the ones who can become unfaithful.

    8.    Col. 1:21-23
Here Paul makes it clear that ultimate salvation is for those who continue in the faith. He is speaking to those “who once were alienated and hostile in mind [toward God] . . .” and are “now reconciled” to him. The aim is for these believers to be presented “holy and blameless and above reproach before him.”

How will this goal be attained? It will happen “if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard” (v. 23)

We do not lose salvation by sinning and failing to confess sin. Verse 23 confirms that having faith in Christ and continuing that faith in Christ is what brings the “in Christ” salvation. Our union with Christ does not cease when we sin. It ceases when faith ceases. Therefore, “continue in the faith” is central to guarantee eternal salvation.

I Tim. 1:18-20 continues this theme. In v. 19, it is Timothy “having (present participle, continuing to have) faith and a good conscience” who has salvation. Then Paul gives the examples of those who “have made shipwreck of their faith” (v. 19), naming Hymenaeus and Alexander (v. 20). What is the guard against a shipwrecked faith of apostasy? Continuing faith!

        C. The author of the Hebrews gives further warning.

Is Ashby’s view too strong? “When considering apostasy or perseverance, Hebrews should be the primary focus of one’s attention, since it is in Hebrews that this subject takes center stage” (Ashby 2002:170). Dale Moody takes a similar line, believing that an understanding of the warnings in Hebrews clarifies the meaning of other New Testament passages of warning:

“It is when one tries to twist Hebrews to fit traditional systems based on false philosophy and dogma that difficulties arise. Few passages in the New Testament have been twisted with more violence than the five warnings on apostasy in Hebrews” (cited in Ashby 2002:).

After examining the five warning passages in Hebrews, Dale Moody reached three conclusions:

“(1) It is possible to press on to maturity and full assurance (6:1, 11; 10:22);
“(2) It is possible for believers who do not press on to commit apostasy; and
“(3) There is no remedy for the sin of apostasy” (cited in Ashby 2002:171, n. 64).

        1. Hebrews 3:6b, 12-14
Hebrews 3:6b states that “we are his house if indeed we hold fast our confidence and our boasting in our hope.” Some MSS add “firm to the end.” It is better attested in 3:14 than 3:6b.

Robertson provides a succinct, but technical, explanation of this portion of the verse:

If we hold fast (ean kataschomen) [is a] condition of third class with ean and second aorist (effective) active subjunctive of katecho. This note of contingency and doubt runs all through the Epistle. We are God’s house if we do not play the traitor and desert. . . The author makes no effort to reconcile this warning with God’s elective purpose. He is not exhorting God, but these wavering Christians” (1932:355).

A third class conditional clause in Greek syntax implies doubt or indefiniteness of a hypothetical condition.[12] Here there is doubt about the continuation of being one of God’s house, unless one holds fast the confidence. “Hold fast” is aorist subjunctive (kataschomen) from katecho (“keep firm,” BAG 1957:424; “to hold fast, keep secure, keep firm possession of,” Thayer 1962:340). This exact word, including tense and mood, is found in 3:14 also.

F. F. Bruce, although a Calvinist, knows what this means in Heb. 3:6b:

“Nowhere in the New Testament more than here [in the Book of Hebrews] do we find such repeated insistence on the fact that continuance in the Christian life is the test of reality. The doctrine of the final perseverance of the saints has as its corollary the salutary teaching that the saints are the people who persevere to the end” (1964:59).

In vv. 12-14, we need to heed these warnings:

  • Beware of an evil, unbelieving heart,
  • This may lead these believers “to fall away from the living God”,
  • Exhort (present tense, keep on exhorting) one another every day, Why?
  • That none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin,
  • We share in Christ when we “hold firm” our confidence “to the end.”

The conditions are clear that “we are his house” if we hold fast our confidence. We “share in Christ” if “we hold our original confidence firm to the end.” Philip E. Hughes states the point well:

“Admonitions such as our author gives here serve to emphasize the seriousness of the Christian’s calling and are thoroughly in line with God’s covenant relationship with his people in former times (cf., for example, Dt. 30). God is not beholden to any person or nation: obedience to the terms of the covenant brings blessings; unfaithfulness and apostasy lead to judgment” (cited in Ashby 2002:173-174).

This “unbelieving heart” may be developed by “brothers” (3:12) of which the writer is one (see his use of “we” in 3:6, 14). He warns against this and the only sure antidote is to “hold our original confidence firm to the end” (v. 14). If these Hebrew Christians failed here, they would “fall away from the living God.”

        2. Hebrews 10:26-31 reads:

“For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries. Anyone who has set aside the law of Moses dies without mercy on the evidence of two or three witnesses. How much worse punishment, do you think, will be deserved by the one who has spurned the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has outraged the Spirit of grace? For we know him who said, “Vengeance is mine; I will repay.” And again, “The Lord will judge his people.” It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.”

How can loss of salvation for apostasy (Heb. 6:4-6) harmonise with Heb.10:26-27? In these latter verses it is stated that people who “go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth” (v. 26) receive the fury of the fire of God’s judgment. Is this not pointing to deliberate sin as a reason for losing salvation (a la many Wesleyan Arminians), in addition to the finality of apostasy?
This was John Wesley’s view, stating that the meaning of Heb. 10:26-29 was “undeniably plain.” He taught,

“(1) That the person mentioned here was once sanctified by the blood of the covenant.
“(2) That he afterwards, by known, wilful sin, trod under foot the Son of God.
“(3) That he hereby incurred a sorer punishment than death, namely, death everlasting.
Therefore, those who are sanctified by the blood of the covenant may yet so fall as to perish everlastingly”  (Wesley,1872/1978c:297).

In Heb. 10:26-29, the writer is speaking to the Christian who “was sanctified” These were clearly believers. In context, something very serious was involved, that was far more severe than “anyone [who] is caught in any transgression” (Gal. 6:1). The New Testament teaching is that Christians have a high priest who helps those who are tempted to sin, who sympathises with our weaknesses, and deals gently with the ignorant and wayward (see Heb. 2:17ff; 4:15ff; 5:2; suggested by Bruce 1964:258).
Here, Heb. 10 is dealing with something more serious, akin to those who “fall away from the living God” (3:12). This is parallel to the serious warning of 6:4-8. If one “receives the knowledge of the truth” (10:26) and then rejects this only way of ultimate salvation through Christ, “there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins” (v. 26), but fearful judgment of God’s wrath against God’s adversaries, including former Christians (v. 27). Bruce states “that outright apostasy is intended here seems plain from the language of verse 29? (1964:259): “The one who has spurned the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has outraged the Spirit of grace” (ESV).
Bruce gives this powerful assessment:

“Our author is not given to wild exaggeration, and when he uses language like this, he chooses his words with his customary care. To spurn the Son of God, to trample Him underfoot (as the word literally means), ‘denotes contempt of the most flagrant kind’; to treat the covenant-blood of Christ, by which alone His people are sanctified, cleansed and brought to God, as no better than the most common death, is to repudiate decisively both His sacrifice and all the blessings which flow from it; to outrage the Spirit of grace is, in the words of Jesus, to be ‘guilty of an eternal sin’ (Mark 3:29)” (Bruce 1964:259-260).

This passage is not teaching that any ordinary transgression leads to apostasy and ultimate damnation, after knowing the truth. Taken as a block of teaching about falling away from the faith, the meaning of Heb. 10:26-29 is a further confirmation of Heb. 6:4-6 where apostasy leads to a falling away from salvation for which there is no further remedy unto eternal life.  In this Heb. 10 passage, the process begins with those who “go on sinning [present tense participle] deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth” (v. 26).  The teaching is similar to that of
(see below).

3. Heb. 10:23, 35-39

It is Geisler’s view that the “great reward” (v. 35) “is not speaking of salvation” but about “believers coming before the judgment seat of Christ (2 Cor. 5:10)” (1999, p. 127).
This view is difficult to justify when “my righteous one shall live by faith” is in contrast with the one who “shrinks back” (v. 38) and those who do that “are destroyed” (v. 39).

Ashby (2002:178) shows this contrast from the passage:

The just
Those who shrink back
Live by faith (v. 38)
Encouraged to hold fast to their confession of hope (v. 23)
They are those who believe (v. 39)
Belief results in salvation (v. 39)
Throw away their confidence (v. 35)
God has no pleasure in them (v. 35)
(Conversely implied) They do not continue to believe (v. 39)
Their end is destruction (v. 39)

D. Peter’s writings

1.    I Peter 1:5

This is a precious promise that assures true believers of their ultimate salvation. They are those “who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.” God by his power is guarding this ultimate, eschatological salvation for believers “through faith.” This is not talking about saved unbelievers (Ashby 2002:166) but a guarding of salvation for those who continue as believers in accordance with verses such as Matt. 10:22 and 24:13, “But the one who endures to the end will be saved.”

2.  Second Peter 2:20-22

Who were Peter’s readers? They are those who “have escaped the defilements of the world” (v. 20). How did they manage such an escape? Peter says that it was “through the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (v. 20).

To this saved group of people, Peter warns them of the consequences of turning back from the commandments of God to the vile defilements of the world:

  • “The last state has become worse for them than the first”;The first state was what they were like as unbelievers, under the wrath of God and alienated from God. What could be worse than this? Verse 21 says that,
  • “It would have been better for them never to have known the way of righteousness than after knowing it to turn back from the holy commandment delivered to them.”

This warning from Peter is among the worst in Scripture (along with the warnings of Hebrews), telling us of a situation that is worse than being an unbelieving pagan heading for hell. This is a situation that belongs to those who once knew the Lord and have chosen to be like the dog who returns to its own vomit (v. 22). They are those who were once saved, have become lost again, and now have no possible hope of salvation. They are worse off than before they heard the gospel because their situation is final with no hope of ever attaining eternal life.

This is a similar outcome to Heb. 6:4-6; and 10:26, 39.

E. Other Scriptures

            1. First John 5:13

“I write these things to you who believe (present participle, continue believing) in the name of the Son of God that you may know (perfect tense, have known and presently know) [14] that you have (present tense, continue having) eternal life.

Plummer highlights this: “We have St. John’s favourite pisteuein eis, expressing the very strongest belief; motion to and repose upon the object of belief” (1950:141).

This verse has a strong parallel with John 1:12, “But to all who did receive him, who believed (present participle, continue believing) in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.”

Believers, as long as they are believers, continue to believe in Christ and continue to have eternal life. They may know this as a present reality, based on a knowledge that took place in the past, which infers a time of conversion to Christ in the past.

            2. Jude 24-25

    These verses show again the need for perseverance of believers and that God is ever faithful in doing his part.

            3. Revelation 3:5

This is a warning to the Church in Sardis, Christians who “have the reputation of being alive, but you are dead” (3:1).  In verse 5, of the Christian who conquers, God says, “I will never blot his name out of the book of life.” To be threatened with removal of one’s name from the book of life, one must have already had his or her name in the book of life.  This is an empty threat if it is not possible to have one’s name removed from God’s book of life.  I am left with no other conclusion: Damnation is possible after one has experienced salvation!

Other verses in the Book of Revelation contain the same kind of warning.  See Rev. 13:8; 17:8; 20:12, 15; and 21:27.

4. James 1:14-15

These verses read, “But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire.  [15] Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.”

James is addressing believers, as the context from James ch. 1 makes clear: “brother” (1:2, 9), “the crown of life” is expected (1:12); “my beloved brothers” (1:16, 19); and “of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creation” (1:18).  These “twelve tribes in the Dispersion” (1:1) are beloved believers who expect the crown of life when they “remain steadfast under trial” (1:12).

Here we have teaching on a process of how apostasy, ultimate falling away from the Christian faith,  may take place for those who were once genuine Christians – but I’m jumping ahead of myself (that’s my conclusion, based on the following teaching).  These are exegetical points to note:

a. This Christian “is tempted” (perazetai, v. 14).  This is the present, passive, indicative of peirazo, meaning “enticement to sin, tempt” (BAG, 1957:646); “to solicit to sin, to tempt” (Thayer 1962: 498).  Therefore, a reasonable translation of the first clause would be, “But each one is continuing to be tempted.”

b. How does this happen?  Note two present tense, passive participles in v. 14:

  • Exelkoumenos, from exelko, means, “to lure forth” and James 1:14, “where the metaphor is taken from hunting and fishing: as game is lured from its covert, so man by lust is allured from the safety of self-restraint to sin” (Thayer 1962:222).
  • Deleazomenos, from deleazo, means to “entice” (BAG 1957:173).  It is from an old verb, with the idea “to catch fish by bait or to hunt with snares,” but used here figuratively as “allured by definite bait” (Robertson 1933:18).

Bringing these two participles together, thus far we can say that verse 14 means: “But each one is continuing to be tempted when he is continuing to be lured forth and continuing to be enticed. . .”  By what?

c. Verse 14 states that the bait is ” by his own desire.”  It is by his own epithumias (plural of epithumia), which is an old word “for craving (from epithumeo, to have a desire for) either good (Phil. 1:23) or evil (Rom. 7:7) as here [Jas. 1:14].  Like a fish drawn out from his retreat” (Robertson 1933:18).

If we pull this exegetical material together, James 1:14 has the meaning: ” But each one is continuing to be tempted when he is continuing to be lured forth and continuing to be enticed by his own [evil] desires or cravings.”  But it doesn’t end there.  Verse 15 powerfully shows how this continuous temptation, with continuous luring and enticing from one’s own evil desires, leads to the next step, with a devastating impact.

Note these further exegetical points:

d.   The Christian “has conceived” (an aorist participle, sullabousa, from sullambano, meaning to “conceive in the womb,” symbolically – BAG 1957:784).  Being aorist tense, it indicates it occurred as a point of action, rather than the continuous action of the tempting, luring and enticing of v. 14.  We can state that a Christian’s life of continuously being tempted and being lured forth and enticed by one’s inner desires/lusts, leads to the act of metaphorical conception.  This then leads on further:

e.   It “gives birth” (present, indicative active, tiktei, from tikto, meaning, “bring forth” [as from a mother or from a seed, physically or metaphorically] (BAG 1957:824; Thayer, 1962:623).  The result of this conception is that it continues to give birth to sin.  Robertson rightly states that “sin is the union of the will with lust” (1933:18).  When this beginning (birth analogy) of sin continues, it leads to more serious consequences.

f.   What does it mean to state that what is birthed “is fully grown” [apotelestheisa, aorist participle from apoteleo].  There’s a little disagreement among the scholars.  Robertson (1933:18) disagreed with the ESV translation of “fully grown” (even though he wrote 70 years before this translation), stating: “It does not mean ‘full-grown’ like teleioo, but rather completeness of parts or functions as opposed to rudimentary state (Hort) like the winged insect in contrast with the chrysalis or grub (Plato).”  Thayer considers that it means “to perfect; to bring quite to an end . . . having come to maturity” (1962:69).  BAG agrees, stating that when used figuratively and passively, it means to “come to completion, be fully formed . . . of being completed in action” (1957:100).  Ropes endorsed the translation of the lexicons rather than Robertson’s when he stated that apotelestheisa means

“When it has become complete, fully developed, ‘has come to maturity.’  The word (on which see Hort) is drawn from the figure of the successive generations, and it is not necessary to determine wherein in fact the complete maturity of sin consists; sin is ‘complete’ when it is able to bring forth inevitable baneful fruit, death.  The ‘perfect work’ (cf. v. 5) of sin is death” (Ropes 1973:157-158).

When that which is birthed becomes mature or fully grown (point action of aorist tense),

g.   It “brings forth”  (apokuei, present active indicative of apokueo, meaning “give birth to, bear . . . sin brings forth death” (BAG 1957:93).  Taking the tense into consideration, sin continues to give birth to death.

Based on James 1:14-15, this is the sequence for believers that may lead  to death.  It would be pointless to say that this refers to physical death as all human being die physically (except for those who remain when Jesus Christ returns).  These are the steps that a believer takes to experience eternal death – becoming lost again:

Personal inner lusts/cravings with luring & enticement blue-arrow-smallconception blue-arrow-small give birth to sin blue-arrow-small sin when fully matureblue-arrow-smallbrings forth eternal death

“Once the sin is born, it comes to completeness.  This does not mean that, like a babe, it gradually grows to the adult stage.  James is speaking of a Christian who loses his faith and spiritual life in some temptation.  Unbelievers are in spiritual death from the start.  When sin is born of the fleshly lust that is still lingering in the believer, the question still remains whether his faith, which is crushed down for the moment, will not again assert itself and rid itself of the deadly hold of sin by true repentance.  Peter repented.  Ananias and Sapphira carried their sin through to completion.  David repented.  Sin is brought to completion when repentance is blocked” (Lenski 1966:543).

Tragically, here is further evidence that the source of temptation within every born-again believer can travel through the process of the passion of inner cravings, leading to continuous sin, which ultimately leads to eternal death.  The inference is that such sin leads to a state where no further repentance is possible.  This is akin to committing apostasy.  My interpretation of Heb. 10:26-27 (above) harmonises with this understanding of James 1:14-15.

James 1:14-15 answers James 1:13, “Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am being tempted by God,’ for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one.”   Christians are tempted by the inner desires that can ultimately lead to eternal death if the believer allows sin to mature and apostasy is committed.


VI.    Other eternal security Scriptures raised by advocates

There are some passages that seem to indicate that there is eternal security for those who have faith in Christ for salvation. This will be a brief examination of such passages as the main thrust of this paper has been an exposition of Heb. 4:4-8.

A. John 6:37-40

It reads:

“All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. . . And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. [40] For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”

Geisler uses John 6:37 and its emphasis on “whoever comes to me I will never drive away” (NIV) to prove that “not only is everyone who comes saved, but also everyone who is saved is saved permanently! It is a forever salvation” (2002:71).

“I will never cast out,” with its “strong double negation,” demonstrates that this is a “definite promise of Jesus to welcome the one who comes” (Robertson 1932:108).

The idea that everyone who comes is saved and saved permanently (as with Geisler) contradicts the plain teaching of Jesus elsewhere (e.g. John 15:1-6). As discussed above, in Jesus’ intercessory prayer just before he was betrayed, He confounds the “saved permanently” view: “While I was with them, I kept them in your name, which you have given me. I have guarded them, and not one of them has been lost except the son of destruction, that the Scripture might be fulfilled” (John 17:12). This passage in John 17 confirms John 6:39 that “this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me.” It is not the Father’s will that anybody should be lost but that all should come to the truth and be saved. This is confirmed in 2 Peter 3:9 and I Tim. 2:4.

Second Peter 3:9 states: “The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.”

First Tim. 2:3-4, “This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.”

As explained above, John 6:40 teaches the continuing necessity to be looking (present participle) to the Son and the ongoing believing (present tense) to guarantee eternal life.

It is a repeated theme in the New Testament that people have been given to Christ (as in John 6:37; also John 17:2, 6, 9). It must not be assumed that this is an arbitrary act by which God chose to give some to Jesus and not to give the rest of humanity. Thiessen’s view has merit: “In the light of God’s revealed character, it is more probable that He did this because of what He foresaw they would do, than merely to exercise sovereign authority” (1949:348). First Peter 1:1-2 confirms this view as this letter is addressed “to those who are elect exiles . . . according to the foreknowledge of God.” This is God’s election of individuals to salvation, based on God’s forknowledge of the person’s response to the proclamation of salvation.

    B. I John 3:9

The ESV makes this verse clear with its translation of the verbs: “No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God.”  No further explanation is needed.

    C. Romans 8:35-39

This passage is often used to support the view that a Christian cannot be lost again by quoting that “nothing can separate us from the love of Christ” to demonstrate that “true believers are eternally secure” (Geisler 1999:143). This passage does not teach that salvation can be lost, but assures the person who is a child of God that her or she cannot be separated from God’s love.

“What comfort and encouragement in the day of battle! Consider the force of Paul’s argument (Rom. 8:31ff.): God is for us; who then can prevail against us? God justifies; who can condemn? Christ died, rose, and intercedes for us; who can separate us from His love? ‘I am persuaded,’ writes Paul, ‘that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth nor any other created thing shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ our Lord’ (vv. 38, 39). No power in all the universe can separate from Christ the one who is trusting in Him” (Shank 1961:207-206).

We have to guard against making texts say what we want them to say. This series of verses is not addressed to teaching on the perseverance of the saints, thus making it invalid to appeal to such for support.


VII. Some other issues

A. Born again a second time does not make sense.

James Arminius, in replying to William Perkins’ objections wrote:

“It is not absolutely necessary that he, who falls away, should be again engrafted; indeed some will say, from Hebrews 6 and 10, that one, who wholly falls away from the true faith, can not be restored by repentance. . . There is no absurdity in saying that they may be engrafted a second time, because in Romans 11:23, it is said of branches, which had been cut or broken off, that ‘God is able to graft them in again’” (1977c:494).

B.  Logical arguments to support eternal security

For a more detailed, but not comprehensive, response, see Ashby, 2002, pp. 167ff.  The arguments are “often based on analogy with human experience rather than scriptural teaching” (Ashby 2002:167).  Briefly stated they are:

    1.    “If one could be removed from the body of Christ, Christ’s body would be maimed.”  This is not the teaching of the Bible.  Col. 2:10 says that we “have come to fullness in him” (NRSV) or “filled in him” (ESV). [15]

    2.    “If one is a child of God, then no matter what happens one cannot cease to be a child of God.”  The angle is: Since my father was, Roy Gear and I am his son, Spencer Gear, I can never cease to be Roy Gear’s son, even though he now lives in the presence of the Lord (following his death as a Christian).  The problem is with the analogy of a physical relationship with a spiritual relationship.  Ashby explains:

“If it is true that a spiritual relationship cannot be broken when applied to a ‘child of God,’ then logical consistency would demand that ‘children of the devil,’ must always remain children of the devil.  Thus, no one could ever become a child of God.  ‘Once a child, always a child” [in spiritual relationship with God or the devil] is simply an invalid argument” (2002:168).

3.    “One who is born again can never become unborn.”  The truth is that one does not become unborn if one becomes apostate.  He or she dies!  Compare Eph. 2:1 with John 3:36.

4.    “The believer is said to have eternal life as a present possession; it would not be eternal if you could lose it.”  Texts used in favour of this argument include John 3:15-16; 3:36; 5:24; 6:54; 10:28.  As explained above, these texts come with verbs for “believing” that are present tense verbs and mean progressive, continuous, durative action.  Is eternal life a quantity of life by which we can live forever?   Unbelievers, including unbelievers again, will exist forever in hell, but not with the gift of eternal life in the Son.  Verses such as the following emphasise that there is life in Him (God/Jesus): John 1:4; 5:26; 5:39-40; 10:10; 12:50; 1 John 5:11-13.

“Faith in Christ is what places one in Christ.  Eternal life is not merely perpetual existence; it is the very life of God.  I participate in that life because I am forensically in Christ.  No one who is outside of Christ has eternal life  The life of God was eternal before I got it, and it will continue to be eternal, even if I were to forfeit it by rejecting Jesus Christ” (Ashby 2002:169)


C.    The logical case for conditional salvation

    Again, I am indebted to Stephen M. Ashby (2002) for a sustained biblical exposition of conditional salvation.  The God who gave us free will [16] does not remove it at the point of salvation:

“If divine grace is resistible prior to conversion, it is also resistible after conversion.  God does not take away our free will at the moment of conversion (bear in mind that Reformed Arminians hold free will to be ‘freedom from deterministic necessity’)” (Ashby 2002:170).

F. Leroy Forlines agrees with this biblical emphasis, but expresses a personal perspective:

“While I do not think that the likelihood is high that a person who is saved will become an unbeliever again, I do believe that because we are persons, the possibility remains open. . .  the real issue is whether a Christian is a genuine, personal being.  Does he think, feel, and make choices (both good and bad)?” (in Ashby 2002:170).

Ashby’s logical case for conditional perseverance of the saints, includes the following points:

1.    “Numerous warning passages throughout the book of Hebrews” warn of the danger of falling away from salvation if one ceases to believe in Christ.  “When considering apostasy or perseverance, Hebrews should
be the primary focus of one’s attention” (Ashby 2002:171).  We have considered these warnings in depth
in the above exposition.

2.    “Texts that indicate one’s final salvation is conditioned on continuance in faith.”  See Col. 1:21-23 as an example of those “who once were alienated and hostile in mind” are “now reconciled . . . if indeed you continue in the faith.”  See other passages also discussed above, such as I Peter 1:5 and Heb. 3:14.

3.    “Passages that name individuals who have renounced faith in Christ and are endangering others.”  These include Hymenaeus and Alexander (1 Tim. 1:18-20) and Philetus (2 Tim. 2:16-18).  Such shipwreck of the faith seems to mean that
they committed apostasy.

4.    “Texts in which Paul expresses concern that his labor among believers might be in vain.”  These passages include Gal. 4:9-11;  Phil. 2:15-16; 1 Thess. 3:5.  These believers were experiencing trials and tribulation (1 Thess. 3:3-3) and were exposed to false teaching (Gal. 3:1-3). 

5.    “Texts that speak of the possibility of a person’s name being blotted out of the book of life.”  See Rev. 3:5; 22:18-19.

To have one’s name removed from the book of life means that it was there in the first place.


VIII. Conclusions

See the article, “Calvinism Critiqued by a Former Calvinist.”

For as long as Christians continue as believers, it is impossible for them to lose their salvation. The just shall live by faith (Hab. 2:4; Rom. 1:17; Gal. 3:11; Heb. 10:38).

Since it is by faith in Christ that one becomes justified by God and not by means of stopping sinning, therefore committing sin after salvation does not make one unjustified before God. Salvation is not lost if “anyone is caught in any transgression” (Gal. 6:1).

What does cause one to become an unjustified unbeliever after being a justified believer? Hebrews 6:4-8 teaches that there is only one way for a Christian to lose his or her salvation. That is by a decisive act of apostasy – departing from the living God through unbelief. For this loss of salvation there is no remedy.

St. Augustine wrote: “He that made us without ourselves, will not save us without ourselves” (cited in Wesley, 1872/1978b:281). [13] Thomas Oden gives a clear summary of the Bible’s teaching in his paraphrase of the views of early church fathers, John Chrysostom and Augustine of Hippo:

“God who made you without you and atoned for you without you is determined to save you only with your free consent (Eph. 2:8-10)” (Oden 1992:92).

Can a person be “once saved” and “lost again”? From my examination of many relevant Scriptures in this exposition, the answer is, “Yes,” if that person commits apostasy.


IX. Endnotes

1. I am a retired Australian general and family counsellor,  counselling manager, doctoral student in New Testament, and an active Christian apologist. To contact me, I refer you to the Contact Form on this homepage. I live in Brisbane, Australia.

2. The ESV refers to The English Standard Version. Unless otherwise indicated, all Bible quotations are from the ESV.

3. In this examination of Hebrews 6:1-8, exegesis will be used

“In a consciously limited sense to refer to the historical investigation into the meaning of the biblical text. Exegesis, therefore, answers the question, What did the biblical author mean? It has to do both with what he said (the content itself) and why he said it at any given point (the literary context). Furthermore, exegesis is primarily concerned with intentionality: What did the author intend his original readers to understand . . ?
“The key to good exegesis is the ability to ask the right questions of the text in order to get at the author’s intended meaning. Good exegetical questions fall into two basic categories: questions of content (what is said) and of context (why it is said).

“The contextual questions are of two kinds: historical and literary. Historical context has to do both with the general historical setting of a document (e.g., the city of Corinth, its geography, people, religions, economy, etc.) and with the specific occasion of the document (i.e. why it was written). Literary context has to do with why a given thing was said at a given point in the argument or narrative.

“The questions of content are basically of four kinds: textual criticism (the determination of the actual wording of the author), lexical data (the meaning of words), grammatical data (the relationship of words to one another), and historical-cultural background (the relationship of words and ideas to the background and culture of the author and his readers).

“Good exegesis, therefore, is the happy combination–or careful integration–of all these data into a readable presentation. . .

“The ultimate aim of the biblical student is to apply one’s exegetical understand of the text to the contemporary church and world” (Fee, 1983, pp. 27-28).

4. In another edition of Loraine Boettner’s book, he stated: “There is scarcely an error more absurd than that which supposes that a sovereign God would permit His children to defeat His love and fall away” (p. 183, 1932, Wm. B. Eerdmans Co., Grand Rapids, Michigan, cited in Thiessen, 1949, p. 387).

5. NIV refers to the New International Version of the Bible.

6. The NIV footnote for 6:1, “Or from useless rituals.”

7. The NIV footnote for 6:6, “Or repentance while.”

8. Hereafter, Arndt & Gingrich will be documented by the abbreviation BAG (for Bauer, Arndt & Gingrich).

9. Matthew 8:26.

10. Matthew 14:31.

11. “The fundamental significance of the aorist is to denote action simply as occurring, without reference to its progress, . . its time relations being found only in the indicative, where it is used as past and hence augmented. . . The aorist signifies nothing as to completeness, but simply presents the action as attained. It states the fact of the action or event without regard to its duration” (Dana & Mantey, 1927/1955, p. 193, emphasis in original).

12. Dana & Mantey (1927/1955, p. 288) explain: “The third-class condition begins with ei+an or eav, or sometimes av. . . It implies doubt or indefiniteness. Its very presence in a sentence indicates lack of certainty on the part of the one using it. It warns us not to take at full face value what the other words may imply.” They emphasise that we need to “remember that this word [eav] which implies uncertainty is used with the moods for uncertainty.” In this case, eav is used with the subjunctive mood, thus indicating a “degree of uncertainty.” For “a greater degree of uncertainty” one would use the optative mood (Dana & Mantey, 1927/1955, p. 288, 287).

13. This quote by Augustine is from John Wesley’s Sermon LXIII, “The General Spread of the Gospel”(in Wesley, 1872/1978b, p. 277ff). However, Wesley did not footnote his bibliographical details for Augustine and Augustine’s quote was repeated in Harper, 2002, p. 251, also without bibliographical information. I have not been able to locate Augustine’s exact quote in his works on the World Wide Web. However, we can note Augustine’s struggle with human free will and divine sovereignty in the following teaching from, “A Treatise on Grace and Free Will” (Augustine, 1887a):

“Lest, however, it should be thought that men themselves in this matter do nothing by free will, it is said in the Psalm, ‘Harden not your hearts;’ [Ps. 95:5] and in Ezekiel himself, ‘Cast away from you all your transgressions’ [Ezek. 18:31] . . . We should remember that He says, ‘Make you a new heart and a new spirit,’ who also promises, ‘I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit will I put within you.’[Ezek. 36:26] How is it, then, that He who says, ‘Make you,’ also says, ‘I will give you’? Why does He command, if He is to give? Why does He give if man is to make, except it be that He gives what He commands when He helps him to obey whom He commands? . . .” [Ch. 31 (XV)]
“It is certain that it is we that will when we will, but it is He who makes us will what is good, of whom it is said (as he has just now expressed it), ‘The will is prepared by the Lord.’ [Prov. 8:35] Of the same Lord it is said, ‘The steps of a man are ordered by the Lord, and his way doth He will.’ [Ps. 37:23] Of the same Lord again it is said, ‘It is God who worketh in you, even to will!’ [Phil. 2:13] It is certain that it is we that act when we act; but it is He who makes us act, by applying efficacious powers to our will, who has said, ‘I will make you to walk in my statutes, and to observe my judgments, and to do them’ [Ezek. 36:27] . . .” [Ch. 32 (XVI), emphasis in original].
“Forasmuch as in beginning He works in us that we may have the will, and in perfecting works with us when we have the will . . . On which account the apostle says, “I am confident of this very thing, that He which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ.” [Phil. 1:6] He operates, therefore, without us, in order that we may will; but when we will, and so will that we may act, He co-operates with us. We can, however, ourselves do nothing to effect good works of piety without Him either working that we may will, or co-working when we will”[Ch. 33 [XVII]).

Here, Augustine struggles, as many of us do as Christians, to find the explanation for the God who “operates without us, in order that we may will [to do something]; but when we will, and so will that we may act, He co-operates with us.” It is the paradox of the integration of the Lord who commands free will decisions from human beings (e.g., “Make you” and yet the Lord says, “I will give you.”) and the sovereignty of God who steps in and acts on human beings. It will remain a paradox (some would use the term, “mystery”).

14. The perfect tense is “the tense of complete action. Its basal significance is the progress of an act or state to a point of culmination and the existence of its finished results. . . The point of completion is always antecedent to the time implied or stated in connection with the use of the perfect” (Dana & Mantey, 1927/1955:200).

15.  NRSV refers to the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible.

16.  By “free will,” I mean “freedom from deterministic necessity.”  This view is that “God is sovereign, but he has chosen that his foreknowledge will be conditioned on the actual and contingent actions of his free creatures” (Ashby 2002:148).

17.  See note 11, above, for support of the view that the aorist indicative has a time indictor of action in the past.


X. References

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Colossians 1:21-23 (ESV): And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him, if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister.


Copyright (c) 2012 Spencer D. Gear.  This document last updated at Date: 16 October 2016.