When People Stomp Away from Jesus
4For it is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, 5and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, 6and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt. 7For 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. 8But if it bears thorns and thistles, it is worthless and near to being cursed, and its end is to be burned.
9Though we speak in this way, yet in your case, beloved, we feel sure of better things—things that belong to salvation. 10For God is not unjust so as to overlook your work and the love that you have shown for his name in serving the saints, as you still do. 11And we desire each one of you to show the same earnestness to have the full assurance of hope until the end, 12so that you may not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises.
In his preface to his translation of Hebrews, Martin Luther describes the teaching 6:4-6 as “a hard knot”. And that is most certainly an apt description. Reading the words “For it is impossible . . . to restore them again” causes a shudder to roll though our spirit. We all know people who have declared God to be a fraud and stomped away. It’s painful to watch and probably terribly painful to experience. But we have also seen people return to the Lord after a time of wandering, and so these words in Hebrews cause confusion. It’s a “hard knot.”
The writer makes is clear that he doesn’t believe his readers / hearers have done this terrible thing. He calls them “beloved” because they remain in the faith and he is certain that is where they will remain. But the warning must be spoken, nonetheless. But that leaves us with this text to parse out and let me just say, this passage has been debated and batted about for centuries. I will in no way clear up the theology this morning. But it’s part of the reading, so we forge ahead as best we can.
We are all sinners and continue on that despicable path from birth to death. But, there is a difference between the sin we live with daily and the conscience decision to leave God behind. When we do that, we are telling the Holy Spirit to leave us alone. This is what is called the “unforgivable sin” by Jesus Himself.
And everyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but the one who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven.
The construction of verse 4 does not mean that apostate people are incapable of repentance but that it is impossible to renew their spiritual state while they reject Christ. They have denied the Holy Spirit access to their lives. So, what might be our response?
First, it may assert that it is impossible for any human minister to restore an apostate disciple by the minister’s own power or even by God’s power. Second, it more likely asserts that it is not possible for God to do so, not because he lacks the power but because that would be inconsistent with his character and contrary to what he has accomplished by the sin offering of his Son. There is no second Baptism. Apart from Christ and union with him in Baptism there is no new way of renewal, no other basis for repentance. There is no new way apart from that way of life. Those believers who reject him reject their salvation. the teacher does not refer to disciples who sin morally after Baptism but to those who renounce their faith deliberately by cursing Jesus or worshiping another god, whether it be for advancement or to escape persecution.
Kleinig, J. W. ©2017. Hebrews. (C. P. Giese, Ed.) (p. 292-294). Saint Louis, MO: CPH.
We must guard our own hearts through partaking in the Sacraments (Baptism and Holy Communion), daily study of God’s Word, an active prayer life, and deep commitment to a community of believers to whom we remain accountable. It sounds like a lot – but it’s not. It’s just everyday life for the believer.