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Author:Rev. Ted Gray
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Congregation:First United Reformed Church
 Oak Lawn, Illinois
 www.oaklawnurc.org/
 
Title:Can You Lose Your Salvation?
Text:Hebrews 6:1-12 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Life in Christ
 
Preached:2016
Added:2022-09-07
Updated:2022-09-07
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

All People That on Earth Do Dwell

As Thirsts the Hart for Water Brooks

Teach Me, O Lord, Thy Way of Truth

I Know Whom I Have Believed  

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Ted Gray, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


04/03/2016 – p.m.
Spiritual Maturity – II
“Can a Christian Fall Away?”
Hebrews 6:1-12
 
I have a friend who for many years was terrified that he would lose his salvation. He was an elder in a church that taught that a true Christian can lose their salvation. His church taught him that one day you might be saved, but if you committed a really bad sin tomorrow you could be damned. My friend knew enough about himself to realize that he sinned every day. His fear was that one day, perhaps even unintentionally, he might sin in such a way that he would lose his salvation.
 
I'm thankful that today he believes in the biblical truth that God, who began a good work in you, will carry that work on until the day of Christ Jesus (Phil. 1:6). Today he believes in the perseverance of the saints; he has full assurance that through saving faith in Christ alone, Jesus will hold you secure in his hand so that no one – not even the devil or your own sinful desires – can snatch you away.
 
The passage before us was one of the passages that brought my friend such great uncertainty. And he is not alone. Verses 4 to 6 are difficult verses to understand. But even more than being difficult to understand, these verses, along with a passage we will come to in Hebrews 10:26-31, have caused many Christians to doubt their salvation. Dr. Martyn Lloyd Jones, in his commentary on Romans 8, wrote this regarding the perseverance of the saints (saints are those who by God's grace have saving faith in Christ alone):
 
I can say definitely after some 35 years of pastoral experience that there are no passages in the whole of Scripture which have more frequently troubled and caused (Christians) agony than the passages in Hebrews 6 and Hebrews 10. Large numbers of Christian people are held in bondage by Satan owing to a particular mis-understanding of these statements. I do not say that these are the two most difficult passages in the Bible; I do not regard them as such. But I do assent that they are passages the devil seems to use most frequently in order to distress and to trouble God's children.
 
You see, my friend was not alone in his fear that even though he was a sincere Christian he could lose his faith, he could “fall away.” This passage has been used by Arminians to “prove” that a Christian can lose their salvation. After all, doesn't it describe people –
 
     - who have once been enlightened? (4a)
- who have tasted the heavenly gift? (4b)
- who have shared in the Holy Spirit? (4c)
- who have tasted the goodness of the word of God? (5a)
- who shared in the powers of the coming age? (5b)
 
And after all those descriptions, which certainly seem to describe a sincere Christian person, doesn't the passage warn, “It is impossible...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.”?
  
If these were the only verses that focus on whether a Christian can lose their salvation, I would agree with the church my friend attended. I would agree with their teaching that you can lose your salvation. You might be saved today but tomorrow you might be eternally lost; you might fall away.
 
However, one of the most basic principles for understanding Scripture – especially hard passages of Scripture like this one – is to compare Scripture with Scripture. The Bible is always its own best commentary; and when we compare Scripture with Scripture, we see that these verses are not teaching that a true believer can lose their salvation.
 
Compare, for instance, verses 4 to 6 with John 10:27 to 29 where Jesus says, “My sheep listen to my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand.”
 
Those verses are of great comfort because they teach us that both the Father and the Son hold us in their almighty hands with a tender yet powerful grip so that nothing and no one can snatch us away from our Lord. Those verses give us a promise directly from Jesus that those who trust in him with a true saving faith, cannot lose their salvation.
 
Add to that the promise of Philippians 1:6, which says, “Being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” Or consider 2 Corinthians 1:21-22 “…Now it is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ. He anointed us, set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.” And add to that, the testimony of Paul recorded in 2 Timothy 1:12, “I know whom I have believed, and I am convinced that he is able to guard until that Day what has been entrusted to me.”
 
Since Jesus himself taught that the Scripture cannot be broken – that it does not contradict itself (John 10:35) – then when we compare Scripture with Scripture, we see that these verses cannot mean that true Christians –
 
- 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
- who shared in the powers of the coming age – can fall away and lose their salvation.
 
We learn that by comparing Scripture with Scripture, by allowing the Bible to be its own interpreter, its own perfect commentary.
 
A second biblical principle for understanding a passage such as this one, is to compare biblical examples. In other words, are there examples in the Bible of anyone who tasted the heavenly gift, shared in the Holy Spirit, tasted the word of God, and shared in the powers of the coming age and yet fell away and was eternally lost?
 
One obvious example would be Judas Iscariot. In many ways he had been enlightened, for he sat at the feet of Jesus and listened to his teaching. He had tasted the heavenly gift, so to speak; he was there taking the sacrament at the Last Supper with the Lord and the other disciples.
 
He “shared in the Holy Spirit” in that he saw the power of the Spirit displayed in the miracles of Jesus Christ. He “had tasted the goodness” of the word of God in that he understood that it was a deep and meaningful word that Jesus taught. And, as one of the disciples, “he shared in the powers of the coming age” in that he had been taught by Jesus himself about the realities of the world yet to be revealed – the new heavens and new earth. Yet Judas Iscariot was not a true believer. He was a professing believer, but not a true believer. And that is why he fell away. He was never saved in the first place, but only professed to be.
 
Another example is the example of Balaam. He is best known as the prophet who was rebuked by his own donkey. But in the pages of Scripture, he is a clear example of someone who professed to be the Lord's prophet, and yet he clearly wasn't. In Numbers 24:2-4 we read: “And Balaam lifted up his eyes and saw Israel camping tribe by tribe. And the Spirit of God came upon him, and he took up his discourse and said, ‘The oracle of Balaam the son of Beor, the oracle of the man whose eye is opened, the oracle of him who hears the words of God, who sees the vision of the Almighty, falling down with his eyes uncovered...’”
 
Balaam had some of the characteristics described in Hebrews 6:4-6. The Spirit of God came upon him in that he understood the truth of God's word. He understood the truth that God would bless Israel. Yet even though he was enlightened in these ways he was never a true child of God.
 
2 Peter 2:15-16 compares false prophets to Balaam. Peter writes: “Forsaking the right way, they have gone astray. They have followed the way of Balaam, the son of Beor, who loved gain from wrongdoing, but was rebuked for his own transgression; a speechless donkey spoke with human voice and restrained the prophet's madness.”
 
In Revelation 2:13-14, the Apostle John also portrays Balaam as a false prophet. In both the Old Testament and in the New Testament we see where Balaam was exposed to the Spirit's power. He understood the word of God, he was enlightened in those ways, and yet he stands as an example of all false prophets. Like Judas Iscariot, he professed to believe, but was not a true believer.
 
A third biblical principle for understanding hard passages in the Bible, is to compare biblical teaching on related subjects. In this case, consider the sin against the Holy Spirit.
 
The sin against the Holy Spirit has caused many Christians with a tender conscience to question whether they are truly forgiven of their sins. Jesus speaks of that sin in Matthew 12:30-31, where he says: “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.”
 
Mark 3:28-29 also contains the warning of Jesus about the sin against the Holy Spirit. And we find that particular, unforgivable sin in 1 John 5:16 as well, where John writes: “If anyone sees his brother committing a sin not leading to death, he shall ask, and God will give him life – to those who commit sins that do not lead to death. There is sin that leads to death; I do not say that one should pray for that. All wrongdoing is sin, but there is sin that does not lead to death.”
 
We have looked before (both in our series on Matthew and our series on John's epistles), at the details of this sin of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. In a nutshell, it attributes the work of Christ and the Holy Spirit to the devil. Theologians debate whether that was a sin only in the first century, or one that is still committed today.
 
But virtually every sound theologian agrees upon this: If you think that you have committed the unforgivable sin, you can be sure that you haven't. The very fact that your conscience is tender enough to have concern shows that you have not committed that sin.
 
It is also pointed out that the only sin that is unforgivable, in the ultimate sense, is the sin of unbelief. If someone hardens their heart and refuses to believe in Christ, then that is the ultimate unforgivable sin. The unbelief of a hard heart leads to eternal damnation.
 
A Necessary Warning
 
When you consider how many Christians have doubted their salvation because of verses like these, you might wonder why the Holy Spirit inspired the author of Hebrews to write these words. But in the context of the passage, it becomes clear that these verses are not intended to cause a true believer to doubt their salvation. But they do serve as a necessary warning not to be spiritually stagnant, not to be complacent, but to instead always strive for spiritual maturity.
 
The author of Hebrews was frustrated by the lack of spiritual maturity in many to whom he wrote. But he was obviously also concerned for their spiritual well-being. The verses are used by the Holy Spirit to impress upon us our need for spiritual growth and to guard us from becoming lethargic and complacent in our relationship with the Lord. As such, they form a crucial warning to us, urging us to build on the foundation of our faith and to constantly grow spiritually.
 
The first two verses of Hebrews 6 give us three pairs of subjects. The first pair is in verse 1 which speaks of “the foundation of repentance from acts that lead to death, and of faith in God.” In a nutshell that verse describes conversion, which is comprised of both repentance and faith.
 
The second pair of subjects is in verse 2 which describes “instruction on baptism” (the word for baptism is also used for Old Testament ritual washings) and the “laying on of hands. Both of those subjects describe ceremonies that the Jewish readers of the first century would easily relate to.
 
The third pair of two subjects is in verse 2 which speaks about the “resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment.Both subjects are linked together, and both are foundational truths. As we confess in the Apostles’ Creed, there is both a resurrection of the body and the judgment of the living and the dead.
 
All of those subjects are important. But these verses are written to remind us that in our ongoing relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ we are not only to remember these foundational truths, but we are to build on those truths, striving to grow in our knowledge of him who has saved us from our sin.
 
By growing in our knowledge of the Lord and his word we are equipped to teach others (5:12), not only in a group setting but one on one, to our family, friends, co-workers and neighbors. Spiritual maturity also enables us to grow in knowledge of righteousness (5:13), increase our ability to distinguish good from evil (5:14), and enables us to better understand hard passages of Scripture (6:4-6).
 
Yet these verses go beyond a challenge for spiritual maturity. These verses also warn us that those who know about the Lord, yet don’t take his word seriously, may harden themselves to a point where they can no longer repent.
 
Young people, that is one reason why the Holy Spirit warns is in Ecclesiastes 12:1, “Remember your Creator in the days of your youth, before the days of trouble come and the years approach when you will say, ‘I find no pleasure in them.’” 
 
When people who have been exposed to the gospel harden themselves against it, no matter what age they may be – young or old – they often become mockers of the very gospel that they once professed to believe in.
 
I read an article not long ago because its headline caught my eye. It was entitled something to the effect, of “Why I left the conservative church I grew up in.” It was written by a young woman who had certainly been taught the truth of God's word. In that way she “had been enlightened” and “knew the Spirit’s power,” and yet in very strong language she mocked and denounced everything that she had grown up learning.
 
Only God knows whether she went over the line, whether she hardened herself to the point where she could not repent. God is so extremely gracious. He brought repentance even to the thief on the cross who had been mocking him along with the other thief, before he became repentant.
 
But don't ever presume on God's grace. Always remember the blessing – and the implicit warnings – that Psalm 1 speaks about when it declares:
 
Blessed is the man
    who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked
or stand in the way of sinners
    or sit in the seat of mockers.
 
Later on, in verses 4 to 6, the Psalmist vividly describes what happens to those who walk in the counsel of the wicked, who stand in the way of sinners, and sit in the seat of mockers. He describes them as being “like the chaff that the wind blows away.”  He describes how unless there is repentance and true saving faith, they will not be able to stand before the Lord on the day of judgment; rather, they will face eternal condemnation.
 
In John Bunyan's classic work on the Christian life, The Pilgrim’s Progress, he describes a man who was trapped in an iron cage. The man was trapped in the iron cage because he could not repent. He had hardened himself so much against the Lord and the gospel, that he came to a point where he was unable to repent because of the hardness of his own heart. 
 
He was similar to the outspoken French atheist, Voltaire. When terminally ill, he begged his physician for more time on earth. He said: “I am abandoned by God and man; I will give you half of what I am worth if you will give me six months' life.” When his doctor told him it could not be done, Voltaire said, “Then I shall die and go to hell!”
 
Or consider Sir Thomas Scott, a member of the English Parliament who believed that religion was the source of all trouble. On his deathbed he said, “Until this moment I thought there was neither a God nor a hell. Now I know and feel that there are both, and I am doomed to perdition by the just judgment of the Almighty.”
 
These verses in Hebrews 6, far from teaching that a true Christian can lose their God-given faith, instead stand as a serious warning against resting complacently on the foundation without building the house of faith – without growing in your knowledge and love for Christ and his word.  
 
Rather, there must always be a hunger and thirst, not only for the milk of the word, but the meat of the word. For those who truly rejoice in their salvation, every effort for spiritual maturity will be made as we seek to know more and more about our Savior and our Lord until that glorious day when we meet him face to face.
 
And then, third, to understand the meaning of these hard verses, realize that there is a great difference between backsliding and apostasy. Realize that there is a great difference between a true Christian and someone who only professes to be Christian.
 
In Matthew 26:73-27:5 we read of two great tragedies. The first is the denial of Peter, where he called down curses saying that he never knew the Lord Jesus Christ. Although that was a terrible sin which Peter later would deeply grieve, it was also an instance of backsliding. It was not an example of the true character of Peter; it wasn't indicative of his relationship to Jesus Christ. Rather, it is a striking example of how a true Christian can be a backslider.
 
And that applies not just to Peter. Or to David who slid into adultery with Bathsheba. Or to any number of others, but it applies to all of us. But to everyone who turns to the Lord Jesus Christ in sincere repentance and true saving faith there is forgiveness for all the backsliding that has been done. There is restoration, just as Jesus restored Peter and told him, “Feed my sheep.” Likewise, David authored many of the Psalms after his backsliding. The grace of God is evident in his forgiveness of sinners, how he justifies us and sanctifies us and uses us for his glory, despite our sins and shortcomings.
 
But the other example in those two tragedies recorded in Matthew 26 and 27, is the example of Judas Iscariot. After betraying Jesus with a kiss, he went out and hanged himself. Judas was not a backslider as Peter was.  Instead, Judas had never believed in the Lord Jesus Christ with a saving faith. He professed to have faith, he professed to be a disciple of Jesus, but he never truly was a genuine believer in the Lord Jesus Christ.
 
He was like those described by the apostle John in 1 John 2:19, where he writes this about those who have left the true church: “They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us.”
 
In virtually every group of Christians – even among ministers, seminary professors, and church leaders of whom you would not expect it – there are those who profess to believe in Christ but do not have true saving faith in him. Often their apostasy becomes apparent, and when it does, we understand that unless they repent, the profession on their lips was never in their heart. They did not lose their salvation because they never had salvation in the first place to lose; they only professed to have it.
 
I like the way John Owen puts it. He writes of those who in the words of verse 4 “have tasted the heavenly gift,” and he points out, “They taste it, but they don't swallow it.” He is speaking of those who apostatize, who “deconstruct” their faith. They seem to be saved, but later show that they never were saved.
 
They taste the heavenly gift of the gospel, but it never becomes a part of their life. They hear the gospel with their ears and they profess with their mouth, but they never swallow it, so to speak; it never permeates into their entire being; it never settles into the deep recesses of their heart. Like the rich young ruler, they show an interest in the gospel, but turn away sad because they cannot part with material blessings. Like Demas, they become enamored by the world and reject the truths of God’s word they once proclaimed. Like seed planted on rocky soil, they seem vibrant until the troubles of life and treasures of the world cause them to wither away.
 
But those who are true believers, even though they might backslide terribly, are yet brought to repentance by God's convicting Spirit and forgiving grace.
____
 
I’m so glad that my friend came to know his faith in Christ is secure, not because of anything in my friend’s power, but the power of God who holds believers in the palm of his hand so that no one can snatch them away. 
 
I pray that you also have that blessed assurance through saving faith in Christ alone. May you have the blessed assurance of the Apostle Paul and so many others who have gone before. After describing the hardships and struggles of our pilgrimage through life, the Apostle wrote to young Timothy, “I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him for that day” (2 Tim. 1:12). By God’s grace and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, may that be the testimony of your life and mine, this day and always! Amen.
 
 
sermon outline:
 
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.
                                                                                                         Hebrews 6:4-6
 
                                     “Spiritual Maturity – II”
                                 “Can a Christian Fall Away?”
                                             Hebrews 6:1-12
 
I. This passage contains some hard verses to understand (4-6). The verses
    have been used by Arminians to “prove” that a Christian can lose their salvation.
 
 
II. Principles for understanding hard passages:
     1) Compare Scripture with other Scriptures: (Compare verses 4-6 with
          John 10:28-29; Philippians 1:6; 2 Corinthians 1:21-22; 2 Tim 1:12)
 
 
      2) Compare Biblical examples, in this case Balaam: (Compare verses
           4-6 with Numbers 24:2; 2 Peter 2:15; Revelation 2:14)
 
 
      3) Compare Biblical teaching on related subjects, in this case the sin
           against the Holy Spirit: (Compare verses 4-6 with Matthew 12:24-32;
           Mark 3:28-29; 1 John 5:16)
 
 
III. Applications:
      1) These verses are not intended to cause a believer to doubt (9), but
           serve as a necessary warning not to be spiritually stagnant (1-3)
 
 
       2) Those who know about the Lord, yet mock Him, may harden
            themselves to a point where they can no longer repent (4-6)
 
 
       3) There is a great difference between backsliding and apostasy,
            between a true Christian and someone who only professes to be
            Christian (7-8; Matthew 26:73-27:5; 1 John 2:19)
 

 




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Ted Gray, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2016, Rev. Ted Gray

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