Sometimes, assurance of salvation feels elusive. We’re deeply aware of how frequently we fall back into those same sins, of how much we doubt, of just how capable we are of failing to love God and our neighbors. Then we encounter a passage like this one in Hebrews and are filled with fear:
Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, and of instruction about washings, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. And this we will do if God permits. 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, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, 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. (Hebrews 6:1–6)
Doesn’t this passage teach that I can lose my salvation? Just how far can I fall before there is no way back?
A Closer Look at Hebrews 6
Hebrews 6 is using language for Baptism (“those who have once been enlightened”) and the Lord’s Supper (“who have tasted the heavenly gift”). There are two ways to understand what the writer is saying here.
First, he could be writing to a Jewish-Christian audience, warning them about going back to Judaism. That would explain the notion of crucifying Christ afresh. The temple was still in operation, so he’s saying, If you go back to Judaism and the sacrifices there, you’re crucifying Christ all over again. There’s no salvation if you go back to that.
Another interpretation could be that they can’t be restored because they’ve hardened their hearts. They’ve walked away. Verse 7 says, “For land that has drunk the rain that often falls on it produces a crop useful. It receives blessing, but if it bears thorns and thistles, it is worthless and near to being cursed, and its end is to be burned.” He’s saying that there are people in the church—maybe those who grow up in the church—who hear God’s Word, they’ve been baptized, they even participate in the Lord’s Supper. But as the word of God falls, it falls on thorns and thistles.
The key is in verse 9: “Though we speak in this way, yet in your case, beloved, we feel sure of better things—things that belong to salvation.” Whichever interpretation you take, the writer is saying that those who are really saved, who do belong to Jesus Christ, do not hold the gospel in contempt. They’re not crucifying Christ all over again. Rather, people who trust in Christ, who receive the word of God when the rain falls, they cherish it, and it bears fruit. It doesn’t just fall on hard hearts.
Paul writes in Galatians, “Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness, keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted” (Gal. 6:1).
The word “any” is important. Paul is referring to “any type of sin.” The Greek word there emphasizes the sort of indefiniteness of what he’s describing. People who are caught in sin can and should be restored.
This comes on the heels of what Paul said in Galatians 5, where he talked about the fruit of the flesh and the fruit of the Spirit. When you look at the fruit of the flesh, some of the things that Paul lists are quite jarring: sexual sin, orgies, drunkenness, people blowing up in anger, idolatry. These are the types of things he has in mind when he says, Hey look, if anyone is caught in any of these things, if they fall back into that, come alongside them and restore them.
Hebrews 6 has in mind those who have never truly taken hold of Christ by faith. Though they have tasted, they have not truly eaten. But we see in Galatians that anyone who is repentant can be restored to fellowship with the church. If you are struggling with sin and doubt, you don’t need to be worried that you are counted among those who have “fallen away” and cannot be restored. Though there may be sins we think someone can’t come back from, we never ought to assume they’re beyond the grace of God. God is able, and the gospel—the forgiveness of Jesus Christ—is powerful.
What Does the Bible Say?
- Assurance of faith: Ps. 103:11–13; Ps. 136; John 6:35–40; Rom. 8:29–30; Eph. 1:11–12; Phil. 2:12–13;
1 Tim. 1:12–17; Heb. 1:9, 3:14, 10:22, 11:1
- Unpardonable sin: Matt. 12:31; Mark 3:28–29, 9:4; Luke 12:10; 1 John 1:10
- Repentance and restoration: Luke 15; Acts 3:26, 11:18; 2 Cor. 5:17–19; Gal. 6:1; Heb. 4:14–16
- Can I Lose My Salvation? by R. C. Sproul
- Knowing and Growing in Assurance of Faith by Joel R. Beeke
- The Assurance of Our Salvation