Let me take a minute to review a little bit about what we are doing here. This is the next entry in a series on the doctrine of the perseverance of saints. The definition we have been using is from Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology: the perseverance of the saints means that all those who are truly born again will be kept by God’s power and will persevere as Christians until the end of their lives, and that only those who persevere until the end have been truly born again.
Recently, we have begun looking at the scriptural passage most commonly appealed to by those who wish to deny this doctrine. That passage is Hebrews 6:4-6:
4 For 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,
5 and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come,
6 and 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.
It is argued that the experiences mentioned in vv4-5 are things that could only be true of a regenerate believer. V6 then would indicate that it is possible for regenerate believers to “fall away,” that is, to lose their salvation. Further, v6 mentions the impossibility of restoring them again to repentance, which would imply that the person had once repented, bolstering the assertion that the person in question was at one time a regenerate believer.
In our quest to understand this passage correctly, thus far we have sought to understand two things regarding the book of Hebrews. First, the recipients of the letter. To whom was this letter written? First of all, the writer is addressing Jewish believers who are being persecuted. To them he gives an exhortation to perseverance (10:32-39). He is also addressing Jews who claim to be believers but who have not put their trust in Christ. To them he gives warnings to search their hearts for unbelief (2:1-3; 6:4-6; 10:26-31; 12:15-17.). He also addresses Jewish unbelievers who have not been convinced of the truth of the gospel of Christ. To them he gives the tight argument of the superiority of Christ over all OT institutions, an argument that stretches through the whole book, but which finds its peak in chs9-10. The message of the book addresses all three groups. (To read more about this, read the last post in this series.)
Second, the context of the passage. What we have found is that this passage falls within one of six warning passages in the book of Hebrews. Last time we finished looking at the other five, which we discovered were intended to prompt those who claim to be believers to consider whether or not they are actually saved. They have been warned against drifting away from the gospel (2:1-4), disbelieving the voice of God (3:7-4:3a), disobeying the knowledge of the truth (10:26-31), failing to obtain the grace of God (12:15-17), and refusing Christ (12:25-29). In each of the warnings, the OT Israelites are used as an example of disbelief, disobedience, and consequent judgment. Never once are they described or portrayed as having believed and then disbelieved. Rather they were shown truth, but they disobeyed it.
That being said, these same warnings serve a function for the other two groups being addressed. For the true believer, such warnings prompt one to look for the fruit that gives assurance of true conversion. For the unbeliever, the warnings exhort one to consider the consequences of continuing in unbelief.
With all of that in mind, we want to continue our look at the context by studying the link between faith and fruit in the book of Hebrews. In the warning found in 3:7-4:3a, the wilderness generation Israelites are held up as examples of unbelief. Even though they received magnificent revelation of the living God, they did not obey. Here unbelief and disobedience are so closely linked they almost seem to be synonymous. Heb 3:12, Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. What is it that leads the people to disobey God? An evil, unbelieving heart.
The accords with what Jesus said in Mark 7:21-22, “For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness.” An unbelieving heart leads to disobedience. A bad heart issues bad fruit.
The writer of Hebrews continues, pointing out that the generation that died in the wilderness were those who sinned, who provoked God for forty years (3:16-17). Those who did not enter the promised land were those who were disobedient (3:18). And then v19 summarizes the point that has been made: So we see that they were unable to enter because of unbelief. In other words, after the writer describes the disobedience of those who died in the wilderness, he identifies the underlying reason for their sin and subsequent punishment – they did not believe.
So we could say then that bad fruit, or disobedience, is the product of unbelief. The issue of fruit is more explicitly addressed in 6:7-12, the verses that follow immediately after the big passage we are addressing in this series.
7 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. What is this blessing? It must be eternal life, referred to in chs3-4 as God’s rest. Those who drink the rain are those who have received the revelation of God, those things described in 6:4-6. The ones who receive that revelation and produce a useful, or good, crop receive eternal life.
8 But if it bears thorns and thistles, it is worthless and near to being cursed, and its end is to be burned. The Israelites of the wilderness drank the rain, so to speak. They enjoyed all the revelation of God and the benefits of being God’s people, yet they produced the fruit of unbelief, disobedience. Their end was judgment. I don’t want to jump the gun here, but that is precisely the point of vv4-6, the verses with which we have concerned ourselves in this long series. Just because you have received all the revelation of God does not mean you are His children. The Israelites received it all and they were burned because in spite of the revelation given them, they did not believe.
9 Though we speak in this way, yet in your case, beloved, we feel sure of better things--things that belong to salvation. What are the things that belong to salvation? V10 tells us.
10 For 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. FRUIT! The things that belong to salvation are the fruit of service, good works, and love for the Savior. The things that belong to salvation are not all the revelation that one has experienced.
11 And we desire each one of you to show the same earnestness to have the full assurance of hope until the end, 12 so that you may not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises. To what is he exhorting them? To bear the good works that provide the assurance that one is saved.
If you are a believer, there should be evidence of it. For many years, preachers, evangelists, and teachers have taught that the assurance of one’s salvation is found in the memory of a prayer prayed, commitment made, or an experience had. However, I am not aware of any such teaching in the New Testament.
To be convinced of our salvation, we need not point back to experiences that we’ve had or steps that we’ve taken. Rather, Scripture repeatedly exhorts us to examine the fruit of our lives to determine if we are truly saved.
In 2 Peter 1:3-4, Peter writes that we have been saved and granted by God’s power all things pertaining to life and godliness, so that we might become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. In other words, through our salvation in Christ we have been granted the ability to live godly lives.
To assure the recipients of their salvation, does Peter then prompt them to look back at a prayer prayed or a commitment made? No, he exhorts them to bear fruit: 5 For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, 6 and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, 7 and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love.
What is Peter’s desire? That by producing fruit they would have assurance that they are redeemed. v10, Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to make your calling and election sure, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall. Again, what is it that will make them sure of their call and election? Practicing “these things.”
What does all this have to do with Hebrews 6:4-6?
Scripture never points us back to experiences to validate our conversion. All of the things in vv4-6 are experiences. Having those experiences are no indication that one has been saved. Like the Israelites, you and I can experience all the revelation that God has ever made available to man and still not be redeemed. How is it then that we can know if we are believers? Scripture exhorts us to look for fruit in keeping with repentance. If someone has truly believed, his or her life will show evidence in the form of fruit.
Next time, we’ll finish our look at the context by considering Hebrews' description of the atonement and what bearing that has on the certainty and irrevocability of our salvation.
Posted by Greg Birdwell
Posted by Greg Birdwell