Hebrews 5:10–6:20. A Digression On Being Sluggish.

Key Notes: Elementary teaching. Can salvation be lost? Three views. Playing the edges?

The writer wants to teach a lesson on Melchizedek, but he is concerned that his readers will not be able to understand. We will see the difficulty when we come to chapter 7. So chapter 6 takes time out to work with the basic spiritual needs of his hearers.

5:11 He describes their condition: dull of hearing, children needing milk (5:13), sluggish (6:12). He would prefer them to be teachers (5:12), skilled in righteousness (5:13), mature and ready for solid food with faculties trained to distinguish good and evil. 5:14

6:1 He wants them to go beyond six elementary Christian doctrines, which can be divided into three categories.

repentance from dead works relation to God
faith toward God relation to God
instructions about baptisms
relation to the church
laying on of hands relation to the church
resurrection from the dead relation to the future
eternal judgment relation to the future

These teachings are compatible with either Christian or Jewish beliefs. He says "faith toward God" instead of "faith in Christ". He says "baptisms" (?John's vs. Christian baptism) whereas we think of one baptism. Is he hinting at how easy it is to slip back into Jewish ways of thinking?

6:4–5 He describes a person who has
     *been once enlightened
     *tasted the heavenly gift
     *become a partaker of the Holy Spirit
     *tasted the goodness of the Word of God
     *tasted the powers of the age to come.
He says if such a person turns away from Christ, he / she crucifies Him again and brings Him to disgrace. Like uncultivated soil that produces only thorns and thistles, it is fit to be burned.

6:9–20 But he gives them reassurances that they will not defect.
     *his personal confidence.
     *God's attention to their work, love, and service.
     *God's promise to Abraham, sealed with an oath upon Himself.
     *Abraham's endurance, obtaining the promise after 24 years.
     *Jesus going ahead of us, a forerunner on our behalf.

The hard saying of the passage is 6:4–8, with the appalling suggestion that one can lose salvation. There are three interpretations of the passage, which has been labored over for centuries.
•The first is that the word "tasted" which is used three times describes a person who only came to the threshold of becoming a Christian and was not truly converted. But "enlightened" and a "partaker of the Holy Spirit" makes that explanation harder to accept.
•The second possibility is that such a case is theoretically possible, but the "IF" (6:6,8) never really happens. But then the author can be accused of setting up a bogeyman to frighten his hearers into making spiritual progress.
•The third possibility is that the threat is real. Most commentators and theologians take this position. This is against our understanding that salvation is permanent. We believe that God preserves the believers and that they will persevere. (Preservation and Perseverance.)

Assurances of salvation are generously sprinkled in Scripture:
"He who hears My word and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life; he does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life." (Jn.5:24)
"All that the Father gives Me will come to Me; and him who comes to Me I will not cast out". (Jn.6:37)
"I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish, and no one shall snatch them out of My hand". (Jn.10:28–30) .
"There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus...." (Rom. 8:1)
"The gifts and call of God are irrevocable." (Rom. 11:29)
"He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ." (Phil.1:6)
“…an inheritance which is imperishable, undefiled and unfading, kept in heaven for you who by God’s power are guarded through faith….”. (IPet.1:4–5)
"We know that anyone born of God does not sin, but He who was born of God keeps him and the evil one does not touch him." (I Jn.5:18)

But warnings against losing salvation are also plentiful:
“Take care, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God.” (Heb.3:12)
"You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the Law; you have fallen from grace.” (Gal.5:4)
"Many will fall away, and betray one another, and hate one another. And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. ...But he who endures to the end will be saved". (Matt. 24:10–13)
"Whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin." (Mk.3:29)
"No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the Kingdom of God." (Lk.9:62)
"If we sin deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there remains no longer a sacrifice for sins...." (Heb. 10:26)
"Let anyone who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall." (I Cor.10:12)
"They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us."
(I Jn.2:19)

There are also “if” texts.
“If you continue in My word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” (Jn.8:31)
“…He has now reconciled {you} by His death in order to present you holy and blameless and irreproachable before Him, provided that you continue in the faith….” (Col.1:22–23)
“If a man does not abide in Me, he is cast forth as a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire and burned.” (Jn.15:6)
"If we sin deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there remains no longer a sacrifice for sins...." (Heb. 10:26)

And there are also false believers who cannot be identified.
“…false brethren secretly brought in….” (Gal.2:4)
“…false apostles, deceitful workmen, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ.” (IICor.11:13)
“Not everyone who says to me ‘Lord,Lord’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” (Matt.7:21)

Judas is our best example of a false follower. He went with the other disciples on their preaching and healing mission. They were given authority over evil spirits, to heal every sickness and infirmity (Matt.10:1–2). “Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons.” (Matt.10:8) He saw Jesus’ miracles. He gave out bread at the feeding of 5000. Jesus washed his feet. Jesus said he was a devil (Jn.6:70), but the disciples did not see him as different from themselves.

What solution can we find? Are the Calvinists right? "Once saved, always saved." A cliché is a cliché. Doctrine is more difficult. Or are the Arminians right after all, claiming that one can lose salvation? They are wrong on at least one point, because they say that salvation can be regained, although Hebrews says it is impossible to regain salvation once lost. Heb.6:4

Finally, the author speaks of the mature as having "faculties trained by practice" 5:14). The Greek word for "trained" (Gr. "gymnos" ) suggests the gymnasium where one can develop muscle and skill for the game or the fight. Christians know about spiritual disciplines, but may not realize they are necessary to build themselves up for the challenges and crises of life, and to decrease the risk of going astray.

“…work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for God is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.” (Phil.2:12–13)

Two things are clear:
1. God is faithful to us in salvation. He has made a promise to us that He will not and cannot break. (6:17).
2. We must be faithful too, with His help. We have an anchor within the Veil (6:18–19). We must hang onto it.

This is part of the Great Puzzle: God’s part and ours. How much is God’s part and how much is ours? God gives us every assurance of His grace, but we must not gamble with grace. We have our fire insurance but we must not play with matches. We are safe on the high land; let us not see how close to the cliff we can come without falling on the rocks.

We hold; we are held.