The whole Christian theology of salvation is both easy and simple, and yet hard and complex. One of the central things sincere Christians disagree on is the topic of once-saved-always-saved (OSAS). In other words, once you have received God’s salvation, can you lose it?
A foundation already laid for every Christian is the truth that the Bible is God’s Word. He oversaw the authors who wrote the various letters and books, such that what they wrote was divinely inspired to be error-free and only truth. Because of this, every book in the Bible has the same Author: God. This is important to note in the area of searching out whether OSAS is true. We need to look at Scripture, confident that the same God who wrote, through His inspiration, the book of Romans, also wrote James and Hebrews–indeed, every book of the Bible.
God will not contradict Himself. If a passage in Romans says one thing, the same Divine Author is expressing truth by what is contained in Hebrews.
However, we need to do as Paul wrote:
"be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the Word of Truth." (2 Timothy 2:15) NASB
The King James Version says it this way: "…rightly dividing…." While all Scripture is written FOR us, not all Scripture is written TO us. For instance, when God ordered Joshua and the children of Israel to attack a town and kill every living thing in it, we can learn from it that God hates sin and judges it, but that is not an instruction for us today to obey. Here are three good rules of studying the Bible in context: Discern to whom a Scripture is speaking, what subject it is addressing, and what do the surrounding verses say?
Scripture teaches us things about what we were like–what was true about us–before we came to faith in Christ. We were:
– helpless and ungodly (Romans 5:6)
– spiritually dead in our transgressions and sins (Ephesians 2:1; Colossians 2:13)
– separate from Christ, excluded from Israel, strangers to God’s promises, having no hope, and without God (Ephesians 2:12)
– sons of disobedience (Ephesians 5:6)
– in spiritual darkness (Ephesians 5:8; Colossians 1:13)
– cursed by the Law (Galatians 3:13)
– condemned in our works (Galatians 2:16)
– sinners (Romans 3:23)
– deserving of death (Romans 1:29-32)
– straying sheep (1 Peter 2:25)
On and on the list goes.
Then, we came to faith in Christ. Scripture also teaches us things about what we are like–what is true about us–now that we believe. We are now:
+ justified and at peace with God (Romans 6:1)
+ spiritually alive with Christ (Ephesians 2:5)
+ brought near to God (Ephesians 2:13)
+ children of God (Ephesians 5:1; 1 John 3:1-2)
+ children of Light (Ephesians 5:8)
+ saved by grace (Ephesians 2:8-9)
+ freed from the Law (Romans 6:14)
+ forgiven for our sins (Ephesians 1:7)
+ have eternal life (John 3:16; 6:47)
+ His sheep (John 10:27)
This list, too, goes on and on.
We who believe are born-again (John 3:3; 1 Peter 1:22-23); our salvation is protected by the power of God (1 Peter 1:4-5); we will never perish (John 1:27-28); we are joined to the Lord and one spirit with Him (1 Corinthians 6:17); we are temples of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19-20); God abides in us and we abide in Him (1 John 4:15); we are already seated in heavenly places with Christ (Ephesians 2:6).
The evidence that once we believe, we are in an incredible place of eternal blessing, is overwhelming. Jesus said of His sheep (i.e., believers in Him), "…no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand." (John 10:29) Mark it well: He said "no one." That includes you and me.
So, then, it is wise to research passages in Scripture that seem to say you can lose your salvation. I emphasize the word "seem." Remember our three rules of Context? "Discern to whom a Scripture is speaking, what subject it is addressing, and what do the surrounding verses say? When so many other passages paint a picture of glory guaranteed, we will do well to resolve what other seemingly contrary passages are really discussing.
Two such passages occur in Hebrews 6 and Hebrews 10. To help clarify these, let’s understand that a common mistake believers make in understanding the Bible is that they confuse how a believer gets saved, with what a believer is to do once they are already saved. None of us, when we first are saved, jump to instant spiritual maturity. By way of illustration, consider the growth stages of a human being. When we are physically born, we at first just lay there and wiggle our toes; then we crawl; then we toddle; then we walk, then we run. Also, physically, we know next to nothing. As we grow, we go through stages of physical, emotional and mental growth. The born-again experience is similar. Someone who is newly saved knows next to nothing, and has to go through stages of spiritual growth. We do this by learning from and feeding upon the Word of God:
"like newborn babies, long for the pure milk of the Word, so that by it you may grow in respect to salvation." (1 Peter 2:2)
When we are first saved, we begin spiritually as little children, even if we are physically 100 years of age!
The Apostle John wrote about three stages of spiritual growth: little children, young men, and fathers.
Spiritually, about all we know when we are first born-again is that our sins are forgiven.
"I am writing to you, little children, because your sins are forgiven." (1 John 2:12)
In our spiritual infancy, we also do know that God is our Father:
"I have written to you, children, because you know the Father." (1 John 2:13c)
As we grow into spiritual teenagers, we learn the Word of God, and are able to use it to battle the devil and his temptations to sin:
"I am writing to you, young men, because you have overcome the evil one." (1 John 2:2:13b)
"I have written to you, young men, because you are strong, and the Word of God abides in you, and you have overcome the evil one." (1 John 2:14b)
As we grow to spiritual adulthood, we get beyond merely knowing thing "about" God, to knowing God Himself:
"I am writing to you, fathers, because you know Him who has been from the beginning." (1 John 2:2:14a)
Sometimes those who think you can lose your salvation, are thinking that people who are sinning "too much" must have lost their salvation, when in reality they are spiritually immature and have not yet grown to be "strong" and haven’t yet learned to "overcome the evil one." (1 John 2:14b)
Sometimes believers get so much grief and trouble for being a Christian that they get tempted to back-off from being demonstrably a Christian. This was the trouble with the Christian Hebrews to whom the writer (we don’t know who the human author was) was sending the letter to the Hebrews. They were suffering so much for being Christians that they were turning away from following Christ to going back to Moses, the Law and the temple sacrifices. This clearly was what Hebrews was written to address.
"For this reason we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away from it." (Hebrews 2:1)
"Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful." (Hebrews 10:23)
"But remember the former days, when, after being enlightened, you endured a great conflict of sufferings, partly by being made a public spectacle through reproaches and tribulations, and partly by becoming sharers with those who were so treated. For you showed sympathy to the prisoners and accepted joyfully the seizure of your property, knowing that you have for yourselves a better possession and a lasting one. Therefore, do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward." (Hebrews 10:32-36)
The letter to Hebrews addresses why the Hebrew Christians should not turn away from Christ, for Christ is superior in every way. To turn back to Moses and the Law would be to abandon the superior for the inferior. Hebrews demonstrates that Christ is superior to angels (Hebrews 1:4-14); superior to Moses (Hebrews 3:1-19); that Christ is our rest from works (Hebrews 4:1-9); and that Christ has a higher order priesthood, a priesthood of the order of Melchizedek.
It is here in reference to Melchizedek that the writer gets down to the business of concern about the spiritual growth of the Christians who were wavering, being tempted to go back to Moses and the Law:
"Concerning him (i.e., Melchizedek) we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing." (Hebrews 5:11)
The Hebrew Christian recipients of the letter apparently were not grasping deeper spiritual truth. He says that they ought to have grown into spiritual maturity; instead of being babies needing to be fed, they ought to have been the ones teaching the spiritual babies. Yet, they were needing spiritual food fit for spiritual babies (i.e., elementary principles=milk) instead of spiritual food fit for spiritual adults (i.e., teachings about Melchizedek = solid food).
"For by this time you ought to be teachers, you have need again for someone to teach you the elementary principles of the oracles of God, and you have come to need milk and not solid food. For everyone who partakes only of milk is not accustomed to the word of righteousness, for he is an infant. But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their sense trained to discern good and evil." (Hebrews 5:11-14)
So, starting Hebrews chapter 6, the writer to the Hebrews urges them to leave behind "baby food" (i.e., elementary teaching) and press on to maturity, and lists several "basic" (i.e., baby) Christian teachings.
"Therefore leaving behind the elementary teaching about the Christ, let us press on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, of instruction about washings and laying on of hands, and the resurrection of the dead and eternal judgment." (Hebrews 6:1-2)
Now, since the writer urged them to press on to maturity (verse 1), he brings up a possible problem.
"And this we will do, if God permits." (Hebrews 6:3)
"If God permits." What on earth can he mean? Is there a situation where God would NOT permit someone to "press on to maturity," and if so, what could that situation be? The writer then gives a list of certain conditions to explain what he means by "if God permits."
"For in the case of those who have once been enlightened and have tasted of the heavenly gift and have been made partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come." (Hebrews 6:4-5)
Notice the above steps demonstrate a progression of spiritual growth. First, they demonstrate that the person was "enlightened." This means they came to saving faith, that is, became a believer.
"I pray that the eye of your heart may be enlightened." (Ephesians 1:18a) Paul wrote that to believers, meaning, saved people.
Then the writer to the Hebrews says "have tasted of the heavenly gift." We are told over and again that eternal life is a gift of God.
"…the gift of God is eternal life." (Romans 6:23b)
The next step mentioned is "have been made partakers of the Holy Spirit." This is a Christian-only experience. Only saved people have the Holy Spirit–unbelievers do not.
"…if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him." (Romans 8:9b)
Up to this point, all these conditions apply to baby Christians. Next, some spiritual maturity gets added to the list: "have tasted the good word of God." Remember the "young men" (i.e., spiritual teenagers) that John wrote about?
"I have written to you, young men, because you are strong, and the word of God abides in you…" (1 John 2:14b)
The writer adds yet another element of spiritual maturity: "and the powers of the age to come."
This condition corresponds to John’s "young men" teaching about overcoming the evil one:
"I am writing to you, young men, because you have overcome the evil one." (1 John 2:13b)
So, the situation where God would NOT permit someone to "press on to maturity" involved someone who is not only born again, but has gone on in spiritual growth toward maturity, either John’s "young men" (i.e., teenagers) or "fathers" (i.e., adults) stage. The expression "(tasted) the powers of the age to come" indicates this is no beginner in the faith, no spiritual just-got-saved "newbie."
What, then, does the Hebrews writer say about this person?
"and then have fallen away." (Hebrews 6:6a)
The Greek word for "fallen away" is "parapipto." As far as I can tell from my study tools, it is found nowhere else in the New Testament. It carries the idea of "to fall around" or "fall aside," meaning in the area of, such as to the side of where a person should have been standing. This is supported by the warning Hebrews gives earlier:
"For this reason we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away from it." (Hebrews 2:1)
So, "parapipto" is where someone has chosen, or allowed themselves, to "drift away from it."
In the context of the letter to these particular Hebrew Christians, "parapipto" is supposing that someone became a believer, grew into maturity, and then chose to abandon faith in Christ for another religion, in this case, was going back to Moses and the Law. So, if this person does this, what happens next?
"…it is impossible to renew them again to repentance, since they again crucify to themselves the Son of God and put Him to open shame." (Hebrews 6:6b)
What does it say is impossible? "To renew them again to repentance." This does NOT say they lose their salvation, as salvation is not in view here. What is in view, is somebody who is saved whom God will not permit to "press on to maturity." Repentance simply means to change your mind. In Hebrews 6:1b, "repentance from dead works and of faith toward God" means to change your mind about depending on your works (which are dead) to save you, and instead to change your mind to depend on Christ to save you.
Context is everything. When someone deliberately turns away from Christ, they will not be allowed to change their mind back to faith in Christ. That is what it means when it says "it is impossible to renew them again to repentance," and why (in verse 3) it says "if God permits" (meaning there is a situation where God will NOT permit it).
So, why won’t God permit it?
"…since they crucify to themselves the Son of God and put him to open shame." (Hebrews 6:6b)
Let’s illustrate this with an example. Suppose a famous Christian who is the president of a famous Christian Bible school suddenly announces he doesn’t believe the blood of Christ and His crucifixion solved mankind’s problem of sin, but that Buddha had a better way, and forsakes Christ for Buddhism. Think of the shock waves that would send through the students, the faculty, and Christian communities around the world. Think of how it would affect the students and how it could damage their faith. After all, some students might reason, "If so-and-so, who is such a learned Christian, doesn’t think Christianity is true, why should I study it?" Think of how the unbelievers in the media and the world at large who learned of it would mock and ridicule Christians, casting shame on the name of Christ saying, even one of their own has recanted. How they would laugh Christians–and Christ–to scorn!
Then suppose that former school president announces, "You know what, I guess I was wrong–Christ’s death on the cross really did count for me after all." He is crucifying Jesus to himself all over again. First time he believed in the crucifixion, now after going away from the cross, he’s trusting again in the crucifixion. How do you think the students would react, or for that matter, how the unbelievers would react? They would not, could not, trust him again. The unbelievers would certainly jeer, saying, "Oh, so NOW you believe?" The name of Jesus Christ would be put to open shame. This what the verse is saying by "since they again crucify to themselves the Son of God and put Him to open shame."
This, God will not permit. For someone advanced in Christian maturity and knowledge of the Bible, to do a "parapipto" involves such an injury against the faith they once held so strongly, that there’s no coming back. Christ’s blood still saves them, but with such a regression into complete unbelief, they will never again have more than "baby" stage faith–if that. God will not permit them to "press on to maturity."
Yet, they are still saved. Being saved isn’t just a mindset. Being saved means being born-again. When that happens, the Holy Spirit literally indwells a believer, and a new life force, a spiritual one, now exists inside the believer where that life did not formerly exist. Nothing in the Bible makes a case for where that spiritual life force gets "un-born again" or "taken back" by God.
Quite the contrary, Scripture says that the believer is sealed with the presence of the Holy Spirit who is given as a pledge that we will have an inheritance in heaven:
"In Him, you also, after listening to the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation–having also believed–, you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is given as a pledge of our inheritance, with a view to the redemption of God’s own possession, to the praise of His glory." (Ephesians 1:13-14)
We all start out spiritually dead. (Ephesians 2:1) Those who believe in Christ become spiritually alive (i.e., born-again) (1 Peter 1:23) and are protected by the power of God to make sure they get to heaven. (1 Peter 1:4-5)
A farming illustration follows in Hebrews 6 in verses 7-8.
"For the ground that drinks the rain which often falls on it and brings forth vegetation useful to those for whose sake it is also tilled, receives a blessing from God; but if it yields thorns and thistles, it is worthless and close to being cursed, and it ends up being burned." (Hebrews 6:7-8)
The writer says that ground that drinks up rain produces useful vegetation. This represents a believer who stays the course, which is the very thing the writer to the Hebrews is urging the letter’s recipients to do. For someone who fits the description of the exception case of verses 4-6, there is no fruit coming out of their life, but only thorns and thistles. Both of these latter are injurious to the hand of the one who touches them. They are "worthless."
The one who falls away (i.e., "parapipto") not only has no more fruit for God, but their unbelief is also spiritually injurious to those his unbelief touches. What is coming out of his life is worthless and harmful, and "fruit" of that sort is fit only to be gathered and burned up to protect people. That’s why God won’t permit them to "press on to maturity." They had some maturity before, and threw it away. Later in Hebrews, the writer urges again those Hebrew Christians suffering terrible things because of their faith, not to throw their faith away (i.e., don’t give in and return to Moses and the Law):
"Therefore, do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward." (Hebrews 10:35)
A "parapipto" person does "throw away" their confidence (i.e., faith) in Christ, and their life gets no blessing from God anymore. But, because such a person was redeemed by faith in Christ and became born again and was joined one spirit with Christ (1 Corinthians 6:17), he still possesses eternal life. God will not curse one of His children, for He has redeemed us from the curse of the Law (Galatians 3:13), but sadly that is as much as that person will get from God in this life, as Scripture says, the "parapipto" person will "come close to being cursed." (verse 8).
Such is the fate the writer to the Hebrews is warning the Hebrew Christians about, since they seem to be stuck in spiritual "baby" mode. He writes that they ought to have been teachers by now, but weren’t. (Hebrews 5:12) He is warning them against "parapipto."
However, the writer then reassures them. While such a condition as described in Hebrews 6:4-8 is possible, he is confident that these believers are not ones in that condition described.
"But, beloved, we are convinced of better things concerning you, and things that accompany salvation, though we are speaking to you in this way." (Hebrews 6:9)
Still, verses 4-8 warn of what COULD happen if these Hebrew Christians (and us, for that matter) abandon Christ for something else. For the early Christians, it was Moses and the law. For us today, it could be anything else that would replace our faith in Christ, such as science, philosophy, a cult, devotion to a political cause, etc.
As we have just seen, Hebrews 6 is not describing losing one’s salvation. While some Christians believe Hebrews 6 and 10 teach that you can lose your salvation, ironically, the letter to the Hebrews actually demonstrates OSAS! Look at the following two verses:
1) "By this will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all" (Hebrews 10:10)
2) "For by one offering He has perfected for all time those who are sanctified." (Hebrews 10:14)
We who believed "have been" (i.e., happened in the past) "sanctified…once for all." Focus on that. The offering of Jesus’s body is "once for all." Again, in that second verse, we are told (concerning the offering of Jesus’s body) that "He has perfected (us) for all time."
Once for all… For all time…
When we believed, Jesus perfected us "for all time." That’s once-saved-always-saved. How much clearer does it have to be?
Eternal life is a gift from God (Romans 6:23), and we receive it and the Holy Spirit the moment we put our faith in Jesus Christ. (John 6:47; Ephesians 1:13) Keeping in mind that eternal life is a gift from God, let us look at what Scripture says about gifts from God:
"For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable." (Romans 11:29)
The gift of eternal life, therefore, will NEVER be revoked! Once saved, always saved. We cannot lose salvation by our sins, for Christ has paid for all of them (Colossians 2:13; 1 John 1:2; John 10:28). We cannot even lose it if we falter in our faith, such as the situation described in Hebrews 6. (2 Timothy 2:13)
The ONLY way we can be denied eternal life and a home in Heaven with God for all eternity, is if we never take that first step to place our faith in Christ. Yes, if someone denies Jesus Christ by refusing to place faith in Him, then he will be denied by Jesus on the Day of Judgment. That person will hear the terrible words of Jesus Christ:
"And then I will declare to them, `I never knew you; depart from me, you who practice lawlessness.’" (Matthew 7:23)
"Depart from me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels." (Matthew 25:41)
Think of those words: "I never knew you." They do not say, "I knew you once, but then I didn’t know you anymore," as would be the case if Hebrews 6 taught you could lose your salvation. The words say, "I NEVER knew you."
For the one who has believed in Christ, the very opposite is true. "My sheep hear my voice, and I know them…" (John 10:27a). Jesus KNOWS those who placed their trust in Him, yes, even those who failed later by "falling away" (i.e., "parapipto").
Only persons Jesus has never known go to hell. A believer, He has known, and He grants unto him eternal life, which cannot be revoked. A believer is a sheep that was lost, but now is found, and shall never perish. (John 10:27-29)
Think of the words of the beloved Christian hymn, "Amazing Grace":
"Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost, but now am found, was blind but now I see."
In conclusion, when a lot of verses/passages say you are saved eternally, and one other verse/passage seems to say you can lose that salvation, you can sure you are missing the context somehow on the one. God can’t contradict Himself.
Once saved, always saved. It’s by grace through faith. (Ephesians 2:8-9). It’s eternal life, not until-the-next-time-you-blow-it-life. It’s "they shall NEVER perish." (John 10:28) It’s being given an inheritance with the Holy Spirit as a down-payment. (Ephesians 1:13-14)
Believers, hear this loud and clear! God went to too much trouble to purchase your freedom! It cost Him the life of His Son. He’s not giving you up for anything in this universe or beyond!
"For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord." (Romans 8:37-38)