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Eternal Security and Hebrews
By Gary F. Zeolla
Can someone who has truly trusted in Christ for salvation ever loose this salvation? People who answer "yes" to this question often point to passages in the Book of Hebrews for support of their position. But do these passages really teach what "Arminians" say they do? And, are there any "Calvinist" passages in the book?
Note: "Arminianism" is named after James Arminius (1560-1609). It emphasizes the role of human "free-will" in salvation and teaches genuinely saved people can lose their salvation. It is generally contrasted with "Calvinism." This theological system is named after John Calvin (1509-1564) and emphasizes the sovereignty of God in salvation and the eternal security of the true believer (Criswell, pp.1883f).
Baby Christians or Hypocrites?
Before looking at the verses themselves, a word needs to be said about the recipients of the Book of Hebrews. Were they Christians or non-Christians?
It is probable the inspired author was not actually sure of the answer to this question. The writer knows the readers are considering returning to the Judaism they came out of. So in his epistle he demonstrates the superiority of the New Covenant over the Old (8:1-13). But still, he is not sure what is causing the problem.
At times he seems to think the recipients are "baby" Christians - people who have made a genuine profession of Christ some time in the past but have not grown spiritually since then (5:12-14).
However, at other times, the writer seems to believe they are "hypocrites" -those who professed Christ outwardly but it was not a genuine, heart-felt commitment. And, of course, there was possibly a mixture of the two groups among the recipients. So throughout the book, the author makes statements applicable to each possibility.
God probably left the writer in this state of ignorance since it is a dilemma many Christians have been in. We see people come forward and "accept Christ" but there is no noticeable difference in their lives thereafter. Or they initially leave their former lifestyles but later return to them. Were they ever converted or not?
With this background, pertinent verses from Hebrews will now be investigated.
Therefore, we must give the more earnest heed to the things we have heard, lest we drift away. For if the word spoken through angels proved steadfast, and every transgression and disobedience received a just reward, how shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation, which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed to us by those who heard...?
The key word here is "neglect." The Greek word is ameleo and it means, "to not think about, and thus not respond appropriately to - 'to neglect, to disregard, to pay no attention to'" (Louw, p.356).
So in this passage, the writer is addressing those who have "heard" the Gospel but have not responded appropriately to the message. The warning is for possible hypocrites in the Christian community.
And Moses indeed was faithful in all His house as a servant for a testimony for those things which would be spoken afterward, but Christ as a Son over His own house, whose house we are if we hold fast the confidence and the rejoicing of the hope firm to the end. For we have become partakers of Christ if we hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast to the end.
The word Arminians point to in these verses is "if." They interpret the verses as teaching that people become members of the House of Christ and partakers of Him and then only remain in this state IF they "hold fast" (Duty, p.119).
But is this a correct interpretation of these verses? Is the writer teaching what a person must do to remain in the House and in Christ; or is he declaring what the mark of a genuine believer is? Reread the verses slowly and carefully.
Following the latter interpretation, if the recipients return to Judaism as they are considering, it will demonstrate they were never really in the House and in Christ to begin with. So a mark of one who has been genuinely saved is perseverance to the end (cp. 1John 2:19).
Let us therefore be diligent to enter that rest, lest anyone fall according to the same example of disobedience.
Does this verse mean a saved person must work hard to stay saved? To answer this question requires a look at the wider context.
The "example of disobedience" referred to here is the Israelites' lack of belief that prevented them from entering the Promised Land (3:16-19). And the writer is taking "that rest" God promised the Israelites in the form of the Promised Land as a prefigurement of the greater rest of salvation (4:8f).
Repeatedly in the previous verses, the writer has been warning, "Do not harden your hearts" (3:7,15; 4:7). The Israelites hearts became hardened each time they did not trust God during the trip to the Promised Land. This repeated exposure to the miracles of God without belief hardened their hearts to the point where they became unable to trust God to enter into His rest.
So what does the writer mean here by "be diligent." The Greek word is spoudazo and can mean, "to hasten to, to hurry to, to do quickly" (Louw, p.664). So a possible translation of the first part of the verse would be, "Let us therefore hasten to enter that rest."
The writer is urging the hypocrites among the recipients of this epistle to "hasten" to truly trust Christ. The longer they stay in their hypocritical state, the harder it will be for them to ever genuinely believe. Eventually, their hearts will become so hard they will be unable to respond to the Gospel and enter God's rest of salvation - just as the Israelites hearts were hardened to the point where they were not able to enter the rest promised to them.
For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted the heavenly gift, and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, if they fall away, to renew them again to repentance, since they have crucified again for themselves the Son of God, and put Him to open shame.
This is the most important passage generally cited by Arminians. It has often been cited to this writer in personal correspondence with Arminians. To them, it "obviously" describes people who are truly saved but who are in danger of losing their salvation. But is this interpretation really so obvious? The spiritual experiences of people in the Bible will be studied to answer this question.
Judas: In Mark 3:13-19, Jesus chooses his twelve disciples. One of these was Judas Iscariot. Mark 3:14,15 states Jesus would "send them out to preach and to have power to heal sicknesses and to cast out demons."
Mark 6:7-13 records the twelve's first mission. Mark 6:12,13 reads, "So they went out and preached that people should repent. And they cast out demons, and anointed with oil many who were sick, and healed them."
There is no indication in this text or others that could be cited that Judas was not preaching, healing and casting out demons like the other disciples. And his ability to cast out demons cannot be attributed to Satan. Jesus demonstrates the illogic of this kind of position in Mark 3:20-27.
Further, if there had been something "different" about Judas, the others would surely have noticed. But when Jesus predicted he was to be betrayed by one of the twelve, no one suspected Judas (John 13:21-30).
So Judas is preaching the Gospel, performing miracles and casting out demons by the power of God. And he spent three and a half years as one of Jesus' disciples. So could it be said Judas was "enlightened?" Has he "tasted the heavenly gift" and "become a partaker of the Holy Spirit?" Did he taste "the good word of God and the powers of the age to come?" If not, then how would you describe his spiritual experience?
Now for the most important question, "Was Judas ever saved?" If he was, at what point did he lose his salvation? Also, why did Jesus refer to him as "a devil" and "the son of perdition?" (John 6:70f; 17:12). If Judas was never saved, could he be an possible example of a hypocrite who fits the description of Hebrews 6:4-6?
Simon the Sorcerer: Acts 8:4-25 records the first preaching of the Gospel in Samaria. Among the people living in the city was a man named Simon who "practiced sorcery" (v.9). Upon the preaching of Philip, the people in the city believed the Gospel (v.12). Then Luke writes, "Then Simon himself also believed; and when he was baptized he continued with Philip, and was amazed, seeing the miracles and signs which were done" (v.13).
Luke next records the arrival of the apostles Peter and John to Samaria. They lay their hands on those who believed and "they received the Holy Spirit" (v.17).
Was Simon among those who "received the Holy Spirit?" Further, has Simon been "enlightened?" Has he "tasted of the heavenly gift?" Is he among those who "have become partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come?" Your answers here are vital.
Simon proceeds to attempt to buy the ability to lay hands on people so they may receive the Holy Spirit (vv.18f). Peter rebukes Simon for this request (v.20).
Then Peter says to Simon, "You have neither part nor portion in this matter, for your heart is not right in the sight of God" (v.21). Someone whose "heart is not right in the sight of God" cannot possibly be saved. So at this point there is no doubt Simon is not saved.
But what about previously? Did Simon genuinely believe in verse 13? If he did, then he lost his salvation rather quickly - in the space of 9 verses!
If Simon was never saved, then again, it must be asked, does Hebrews 6:4-6 describe his spiritual experience? If it does, then here is another example of a person who fits the description but who was never truly saved.
Matthew 7:21-23: This passage states that, "many" will cry out to Jesus at the final judgment, "Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?" (v.22).
Please note, the miracles are done in the name of Christ. Jesus does not deny their miracle working abilities or the Source. However, he does declare to them, "I NEVER knew you; depart from Me" (v.23). Again, does Hebrews 6:4-6 describe the spiritual experiences of these people who NEVER knew Christ?
Conclusion: So the spiritual experiences of Judas, Simon the Sorcerer and others could very possibly be described by Hebrews 6:4-6. So the passage does not obviously describe genuinely saved individuals who are in danger of losing their salvation.
The writer's warning in 6:4-6 is similar to that of 4:11. The hypocrites among the recipients have heard the truth repeatedly without an appropriate response. If they proceed in their plans to return to Judaism, it will be "impossible" for them to genuinely repent since their hearts will have become hardened.
Furthermore, Arminians often teach people can be saved, lose their salvation, and then repent and be saved again (Quanabush, p.40). However, the word "impossible" in this passage precludes this possibility.
Finally, 6:9 says, "But, beloved, we are confident of better things concerning you, yes, things that accompany salvation, though we speak in this manner." One of the "things that accompany salvation" is perseverance, as already discussed.
For if we sin willfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a certain expectation of judgment, and fiery indignation which will devour the adversaries.
The language of this paragraph is powerful (it continues through verse 31). But remember, this epistle is being written to people who have been involved in a Christian community but who are now thinking about returning to Judaism.
During this time, they would have heard and made a profession of faith in the Christian Gospel. This could qualify as having "receiving a knowledge of the truth." But the important question is, "Was this a genuine profession?" The author is sternly warning them of the disastrous results if it was not (cp. Rom 10:9f; 2Cor 13:5).
Now the just shall live by faith; but if anyone draws back, My soul shall have no pleasure in him. But we are not of those who draw back to perdition, but of those who believe to the saving of the soul.
If someone has not believed "to the saving of the soul" they have never really believed. These are the ones who "draw back." But those who have truly believed do not.
So none of the passages generally cited by Arminians necessarily teach the truly saved can lose their salvation. But are there any passages in the book of Hebrews which uphold the eternal security of the believer? Consider the following statements about Jesus Christ:
But He, because He continues forever, has an unchangeable priesthood. Therefore He is also able TO SAVE TO THE UTTERMOST [completely or forever] those who come to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them....
For by one offering He has PERFECTED FOREVER those who are being sanctified....
For He Himself has said, "I WILL NEVER LEAVE YOU NOR FORSAKE YOU." So we may boldly say: "The LORD is my helper I will not fear. What can man do to me?" (7:25; 10:14; 13:5f).
"I do not know how some people, who believe that a Christian can fall from grace, manage to be happy. It must be a very commendable thing in them to get through a day without despair. 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 would lack any ground of comfort" (C.H. Spurgeon).
(From a sermon by Spurgeon titled "A Defense of Calvinism" as found in the book Charles H. Spurgeon: The Best from All His Works. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1988, p.265.)
Follow-ups to the above article begin at E.S. & Hebrews - Response & Reply.
Books and eBooks by Gary F. Zeolla, the Director of Darkness to Light
Bibliography: All Scripture references from: The
New King James Version. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1982.
Criswell, W.A. The Believer's Study Bible: NKJV. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1991.
Duty, Guy. If Ye Continue: A Study of Conditional Salvation. Minneapolis: Bethany Fellowship, 1966.
Louw, Johaness and Eugene Nida, eds. Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament. New York: UBS, 1988.
Quanabush, E.T. "Can a Soul Once Saved Ever be Eternally Lost?" The Evangelist. (Nov 1986): 39-42.
Eternal Security and Hebrews. Copyright © 1999 by Gary F. Zeolla of Darkness to Light ministry (www.dtl.org).
The above article originally appeared in Darkness to Light
newsletter in 1993.
It was posted on this Web site in July 1996.
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