What does the phrase “who were once enlightened” in Hebrew 6:4 mean? By Jack Kettler
“For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost, and have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come, if they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance; seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame.” (Hebrews 6:4-6)
Those of the Semi-Pelagian (early church heresy) or Arminianism (of the post-reformation church) persuasion would say the Hebrew passage is talking about someone who is born again or is truly saved and subsequently can lose their salvation. *
Does this doctrine hold up? Is this Biblical? In seeking to answer this question, one must consult the original language to see if “once enlightened” indicates a genuinely regenerated person.
Consulting the Strong’s Concordance, one finds:
“phótizó: to shine, give light
Original Word: φωτίζω
Part of Speech: Verb
Phonetic Spelling: (fo-tid’-zo)
Definition: to shine, give light
Usage: (a) I light up, illumine, (b) I bring to light, make evident, reveal.” (underlining and bolding emphasis mine)
The definition to “shine, and give light” does not require that this is talking about someone whom the Holy Spirit had enlightened in a salvific sense. It is entirely possible for a non-believer to see the truth of the gospel without being born again. “The devils also believe and tremble” (James 2:19).
Additionally, can someone taste the Word of God and not be regenerated?
Did the people in the following verse taste the Word of God?
“They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us: but they went out, that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us.” (1 John 2:19)
What about these people?
“Also, of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them.” (Acts 20:30)
Are the individuals in Acts 20:30 the same as those in 1 John 2:19?
See the Gospel of John:
“That was the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world.” (John 1:9)
Who would argue that “lighteth every man that cometh into the world” are regenerated?
From the New Testament Commentary on Hebrews by Simon J. Kistemaker:
In chapters 3 and 4 the author of Hebrews discussed the sin of unbelief that resulted in apostasy. Now in one lengthy sentence (6:4–6) he develops that teaching in greater detail. The emphasis in this sentence falls on the main verb to be brought back to repentance (v. 6), which is introduced negatively by the phrase it is impossible.
4. It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, 5. who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age, 6. if they fall away, to be brought back to repentance, because to their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace.
Throughout the epistle the writer has admonished his readers to accept the Word of God in faith and not to fall into the sin of unbelief that results in eternal judgment (2:1–3; 3:12–14; 4:1, 6, 11; 10:25, 27, 31; 12:16–17, 25, 29). In 6:4–6 he does not address the recipients of his letter, but instead he states a truth that emerges from an earlier reference to the Israelites’ perishing in the desert because of their unbelief. This truth also applies to the Hebrews, even though the author omits the personal reference in 6:4–6.
Before we discuss the details of the passage, we need to look at the major points that divide the text. We ask three questions.
a. Who are the people mentioned in 6:4–6? They are those characterized by four participles that in the original Greek display poetic rhythm: enlightened, tasted, shared, tasted. There is no particular connection among these participles, although some commentators like to see a sequence of baptism, Lord’s Supper, ordination, and perhaps even proclamation in this verse.
Those who have once been enlightened. From the second century to the present, writers have associated the verb enlightened with baptism. Added weight is given to this interpretation by the restrictive word once. And in the broader context of the passage, the term baptisms does appear in 6:2. We can point out many similarities between baptism and enlightenment. For example, the early Christian practice of scheduling baptisms at daybreak utilizes the symbolism of the receding night of sin and the rising sun that illumines the baptismal candidate, who enters a new life.
But the verb enlightened also has other meanings. The author uses the word again in 10:32, where the expression seems to be synonymous with “knowledge of the truth” (Heb. 10:26). Besides the two occurrences in Hebrews, the verb appears nine times in the New Testament and has a broader meaning than a reference to baptism (Luke 11:36; John 1:9; 1 Cor. 4:5; Eph. 1:18; 3:9; 2 Tim. 1:10; Rev. 18:1; 21:23; 22:5).
Who have tasted the heavenly gift. Suppose that someone has attended the worship services of the church, has made profession of faith, has been baptized, and has taken part in the active life of the church; he has tasted the broken bread and taken the cup offered to him at the celebration of the Lord’s Supper. Then this new convert has indeed tasted the heavenly gift.
To limit the interpretation of this phrase (“tasted the heavenly gift”) however, is decidedly narrow. The New Testament itself provides a broader explanation. Jesus identifies himself as the “gift of God” when he talks to the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4:10). Peter designates the Holy Spirit the gift of God (Acts 2:38; 8:20; 10:45; 11:17). And in his epistles, Paul mentions “the gift of grace” and “the gift of righteousness.” He associates these gifts with Jesus Christ (Rom. 5:15, 17; 2 Cor. 9:15; Eph. 3:7; 4:7).
Who have shared in the Holy Spirit. The original Greek indicates the close connection between the preceding clause and this one. In the general context of 6:4, we may see a link between the phrase the laying on of hands (Heb. 6:2) and the sharing in the Holy Spirit, especially if we understand the heavenly gift to be the Holy Spirit.
Sharing in the Holy Spirit implies that this is done in fellowship with other believers. And the Spirit of God manifests himself in various spiritual gifts given to the members of the church (1 Cor. 12:7–11).
Who have tasted the goodness of the word of God. The writer of Hebrews does not specify the extent of the Word, only that the Word is good. When God speaks, man receives a good gift. Once more the writer of Hebrews uses the verb to taste to indicate the enjoyment of receiving this gift. This enjoyment consists in hearing the Scriptures proclaimed and in obtaining spiritual nourishment from that Word.
And the powers of the coming age. The continuation of tasting the Word of God is experiencing the powers of the age to come. First, note that the author uses the plural form powers. That is, they are part of the “signs, wonders and various miracles” that he has mentioned earlier (2:4). These powers belong to the coming age, but already in this age they are evident. The writer does not say what these powers are, although we note that they are directed toward the advancement of the church throughout the world.
The phrase the coming age (with slight variations) occurs only six times in the New Testament: three times in the Gospels (Matt. 12:32; Mark 10:30; Luke 18:30) and three times in the Epistles (Eph. 1:21; 2:7; Heb. 6:5). Because the New Testament writers use this phrase rather infrequently, we ought to exercise prudence in interpreting it. In principle we are able to experience in the present age the powers that belong to the future age. When the coming age dawns, we shall fully realize the supernatural powers we now are allowed to observe.
The author of Hebrews has described a number of experiences some persons have had. In a sense he is deliberatively vague, for he merely lists phenomena but does not clarify who experiences them. He continues, however, and relates what happens to these people.
b. What happens to the people mentioned in 6:4–6? The author adds a participle that many translators preface with the conditional particle if.
If they fall away. I am not sure that the author intends to say that the Hebrews will never be apostate. In the preceding chapters he spoke of apostasy and illustrated this by quoting from Psalm 95. The Israelites who in the desert fell away had put blood on the doorpost in Egypt and eaten the Passover lamb; they had left Egypt, consecrated their first-born males to the Lord, and crossed the Red Sea; they could see the pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night; they had tasted the waters of Marah and Elim and daily ate the manna God provided; they had heard the voice of God from Mount Sinai when God gave them the Ten Commandments (see Exod. 12–20). Yet these same Israelites hardened their hearts in unbelief, and because of their disobedience they fell away from the living God (Heb. 3:12, 18; 4:6, 11). The author of the Epistle to the Hebrews teaches that apostasy that rises from unbelief results in a hardening of the heart and an inability to repent (3:13; 4:2; 6:6; 10:26; 12:15).
On the other hand, the writer speaks encouraging words to the recipients of his epistle. In the extended context he writes: “Even though we speak like this, dear friends, we are confident of better things in your case—things that accompany salvation” (6:9).
What does the passage (6:4–6) mean for the original readers of Hebrews? Does the author merely sound a warning or does he think that the Israelites’ example would be imitated by the people he addresses in his letter? The constant, repetitive, and heartfelt warnings of the author prove conclusively that apostasy can occur (3:12–13; 4:1, 11; 12:15). Repeatedly he places before the readers the responsibility of guarding the spiritual well-being of each other, “so that no one will fall by following their [the Israelites’] example of disobedience” (4:11).
A distinction must be made at this point. The author speaks about falling away, not about falling into sin. For example, Judas fell away from Jesus and never returned to him; Peter fell into sin but soon afterward saw the resurrected Jesus. The two concepts (apostasy and backsliding) may never be confused. In 6:6, the author refers to apostasy; he has in mind the person who deliberately and completely abandons the Christian faith.
Apostasy does not take place suddenly and unexpectedly. Rather it is part of a gradual process, a decline that leads from unbelief to disobedience to apostasy. And when the falling away from the faith happens, it leads to hardening of the heart and the impossibility of repentance. The author, using the example of the Israelites, has shown the process that results in apostasy (3:18; 4:6, 11).
If the Israelites in the days of Moses deliberately disobeyed the law of God and “received its just punishment” (2:2; and see 10:28), “how much more severely do you think a man deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of God under foot” (10:29)?
Where do the recipients of the epistle fit into this process? The author chides them for being slow to learn (5:11), lazy (6:12), and feeble (12:12). Constantly he exhorts them to strengthen their faith (4:2; 10:22–23; 12:2). If their faith continues to weaken, they will fall prey to unbelief that leads to disobedience and apostasy.
It is impossible … to be brought back to repentance. We notice at least two items in this passage that are purposely vague. First, in the preceding verses (5:11–6:3) and the following verses (6:9–12), the writer uses the first and second person plural pronouns we and you, but in verses 6:4–6 the third person plural pronouns those and they occur. Second, the subject of the verb to be brought back is missing. The writer does not reveal the identity of the implied agent. Is he saying that God does not permit (6:3) a second repentance? Or does he mean that a person who has fallen away from the living God cannot be restored to repentance because of the sinner’s hardened heart? Although the writer does not provide the answer, we assume that both questions could receive an affirmative response.
The use of the pronoun we in the broader context of 6:4–6 demonstrates that God never fails the believer who in faith trusts in him. God makes “the unchanging nature of his purpose very clear to the heirs of what was promised” (6:17), and he does so by swearing an oath. And the heirs of the promise are the author and readers of the Epistle to the Hebrews.
Is the Christian church unable to bring a hardened sinner back to the grace of God? Again the writer does not provide an answer in the context of the passage. In another connection, however, he repeats the general sentiment of 6:4–6 and writes: “If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left” (10:26). The author does not say anything about restoring a hardened sinner; what he refers to is the impossibility of removing sin because the person sins deliberately. The word deliberately received all the emphasis in the original Greek because it stands first in the sentence. If a person who is familiar with “the elementary teaching about Christ” sins deliberately, restoration by way of repentance is an impossibility.
c. Why is this so? The writer of the epistle gives two reasons: “to their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again” and they are “subjecting him to public disgrace.”
Of course the author obviously is using a metaphor; those who have fallen away do not literally crucify the Son of God and put him to open shame. Note that the writer uses not the personal name Jesus or the official name Christ, but rather the appellation Son of God to express on the one hand the divine exaltation of the Son and on the other hand the utter depravity of the sinner who has turned away from, as well as against, the Son of God.
The one who has fallen away declares that Jesus ought to be eliminated. As the Jews wanted Jesus removed from this earth and thus lifted him up from the ground on a cross, so the apostate denies Jesus a place, banishes him from this earth, and metaphorically crucifies the Son of God again. Thus he treats Jesus with continuous contempt and derision and knowingly commits the sin for which, says the author of the epistle, there is no repentance (6:6) and no sacrifice (10:26). The sinner can expect God’s judgment that will come to him as a “raging fire that will consume the enemies of God” (10:27).
Doctrinal Considerations in 6:4–6
The connection between verses 3 and 4 should not be overlooked. The words God permitting must be seen in relation to the phrase it is impossible. Of course, Jesus said in regard to salvation that “with God all things are possible” (Matt. 19:26; Mark 10:27; Luke 18:27). The context here, however, differs. God changes the heart of sinful man to make him receptive to the gospel. But God does not permit willful sin to go unpunished. Thus it is impossible to bring such a person to repentance.
The Old Testament, at various places, speaks about the consequences of sinning willfully against God. For example, in Numbers 15:30–31, God says, “Anyone who sins defiantly, whether native-born or alien, blasphemes the Lord, and that person must be cut off from his people. Because he has despised the Lord’s word and broken his commands, that person must surely be cut off; his guilt remains on him.”
Acquainted with the teachings of the Old Testament on this subject, the writer of Hebrews compares the man who sinned by rejecting the law of Moses with someone “who has trampled the Son of God under foot” and “has insulted the Spirit of grace” (10:29). He poses a rhetorical question: Will not the person who has offended the Son of God and the Holy Spirit receive more severe punishment than the one who rejected the law of Moses? The answer is: Of course.
God does not permit anyone to despise willfully his Son, his Word, and his Spirit. Deliberately sinning against God in full awareness and knowledge of God’s divine revelation constitutes sin against the Holy Spirit (Matt. 12:32; Mark 3:29; Luke 12:10). This sin God does not forgive.
Theological questions about the genuineness of repentance and faith of people who fall away from Christ remain unanswered. The writer refuses to judge people; instead he warns them not to fall into the same error that the Israelites in the desert committed. He encourages his readers to grow spiritually and continue to obey God’s Word.
We face a mystery when we see God leading the chosen nation of Israel out of Egypt and then destroying the people who were twenty years old and more in the desert (Num. 14:29); when we see Jesus spending a night in prayer before he appointed Judas as one of his disciples (Luke 6:12, 16) and later declaring that Judas was “doomed to destruction” (John 17:12); and when we see Paul accepting Demas as a fellow evangelist who years later deserted Paul because Demas “loved this world” (2 Tim. 4:10).
The writer of Hebrews observes that disobedient Israelites died in the desert because of unbelief. By analogy, the possibility that individuals who have professed the name of Christ will fall away is real (Matt. 7:21–23). Is it possible for true believers to turn away from Christ? Constantly the author exhorts the recipients of his epistle to remain faithful, for God is faithful. God does not break his good promises to his people. “God is not unjust” (6:10). Therefore, says the writer, “imitate those who through faith and patience inherit what has been promised” (6:12).
Greek Words, Phrases, and Constructions in 6:4–6
ἀδύνατον—this adjective in the neuter singular appears four times in Hebrews (6:4, 18; 10:4; 11:6). As the first word in a lengthy sentence, it receives great emphasis. Note that ἀδύνατον is far removed from its complement ἀνακαινίζειν in 6:6.
ἅπαξ—the word occurs fourteen times in the New Testament, eight of which are in Hebrews. Its placement in 6:4 is significant: between the definite article (those) and the participle (have been enlightened). The word is contrasted with πάλιν (6:6).
φωτισθέντας—it is noteworthy that the first five participles, excluding μέλλοντος (6:5) in 6:4–6 are in the aorist tense and that the last two participles (6:6) are in the present tense. φωτισθένταςis used twice in Hebrews (6:4; 10:32).
γευσαμένους—closely connected to the preceding participial phrase with the adjunct τε is the clause “who have tasted the heavenly gift.” The aorist middle participle from the verb γεύομαι (I taste) governs the noun gift in the genitive case. In 6:5 the same participle takes the accusative case of the noun word. To maintain that the use of the genitive is partitive and that of the accusative holistic in these two instances is not without difficulty. For example, the accusative case is also used in John 2:9 for “the water that had been turned into wine.” A holistic interpretation in that verse is impossible. Therefore, I suggest that the variation in Hebrews 6:4, 5 is stylistic.
γενηθέντας—the aorist passive participle is deponent and is therefore translated in the active voice.
ῥῆμα—the word is described as καλόν (good). Generally the translation goodness of the word is given to indicate that “the gospel and its promises [are] full of consolation.” See the Septuagint reading of Joshua 21:45; 23:15; Zechariah 1:13.
παραπεσόντας—this compound in the aorist active participial form occurs once in the New Testament; it appears in the Septuagint reading of Ezekiel 14:13; 15:8. It is synonymous with the verb ἀποστῆναι (to fall away) in Hebrews 3:12.
ἀνακαινίζειν—not the aorist tense but the present tense is used in this active infinitive to express the progressive idea of the verb. It is introduced by the adjective ἀδύνατον (6:4) and signifies the impossibility of renewing the fallen sinner. The verb occurs in early Christian literature “in connection with regeneration and baptism.”
ἀνασταυροῦντας—this active participle, as well as the one that follows, is in the present tense. The tense of the participles reflects the reason why repentance is impossible. Consequently the translation of the participles expresses cause. The prefix ἀνά signifies “again.”
παραδειγματίζοντας—the word is a compound from the preposition παρά (beside) and δείκνυμι (I show). It can have a favorable connotation in the sense of “to set forth as an example” and a negative connotation of “to subject to public disgrace.” Like the preceding participle, the word appears only once in the New Testament (with the exception of the variant reading in Matthew 1:19). (1)
Consider Louis Berkhof’s Systematic Theology and his observations about the believer’s perseverance:
General consideration regarding the security of the believer.
A. The Doctrine of the Perseverance of the Saints in History.
“The doctrine of the perseverance of the saints is to the effect that they whom God has regenerated and effectually called to a state of grace, can neither totally nor finally fall away from that state, but shall certainly persevere therein to the end and be eternally saved. This doctrine was first explicitly taught by Augustine, though he was not as consistent on this point as might have been expected of him as a strict predestinarian. With him the doctrine did not assume the form just stated. He held that the elect could not so fall away as to be finally lost, but at the same time considered it possible that some who were endowed with new life and true faith could fall from grace completely and at last suffer eternal damnation. The Church of Rome with its Semi-Pelagianism, including the doctrine of free will, denied the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints and made their perseverance dependent on the uncertain obedience of man. The Reformers restored this doctrine to its rightful place. The Lutheran Church, however, makes it uncertain again by making it contingent on man’s continued activity of faith, and by assuming that true believers can fall completely from grace. It is only in the Calvinistic Churches that the doctrine is maintained in a form in which it affords absolute assurance. The Canons of Dort, after calling attention to the many weaknesses and failures of the children of God, declare: “But God, who is rich in mercy, according to His unchangeable purpose of election, does not wholly withdraw the Holy Spirit from His own people even in their grievous falls; nor suffers them to proceed so far as to lose the grace of adoption and forfeit the state of justification, or to commit the sin unto death or against the Holy Spirit; nor does He permit them to be totally deserted, and to plunge themselves into everlasting destruction,” (V, Art. 6). The Arminians rejected this view and made the perseverance of believers’ dependent on their will to believe and on their good works. Arminius himself avoided that extreme, but his followers did not hesitate to maintain their synergistic position with all its consequences. The Wesleyan Arminians followed suit as did several of the sects. The Reformed or Calvinistic Churches stand practically alone in giving a negative answer to the question, whether a Christian can completely fall from the state of grace and be finally lost.
B. Statement of the Doctrine of Perseverance.
The doctrine of perseverance requires careful statement, especially in view of the fact that the term “perseverance of the saints” is liable to misunderstanding. It should be noted first of all that the doctrine is not merely to the effect that the elect will certainly be saved in the end, though Augustine has given it that form, but teaches very specifically that they who have once been regenerated and effectually called by God to a state of grace, can never completely fall from that state and thus fail to attain to eternal salvation, though they may sometimes be overcome by evil and fall in sin. It is maintained that the life of regeneration and the habits that develop out of it in the way of sanctification can never entirely disappear. Moreover, we should guard against the possible misunderstanding that this perseverance is regarded as an inherent property of the believer or as a continuous activity of man, by means of which he perseveres in the way of salvation. When Strong speaks of it as “the voluntary continuance, on the part of the Christian, in faith and well-doing,” and as “the human side or aspect of that spiritual process which, as viewed from the divine side, we call sanctification,” — this is certainly liable to create the impression that perseverance depends on man. The Reformed, however, do not consider the perseverance of the saints as being, first of all, a disposition or activity of the believer, though they certainly believe that man cooperates in it just as he does in sanctification. They even stress the fact that the believer would fall away, if he were left to himself. It is, strictly speaking, not man but God who perseveres. Perseverance may be defined as that continuous operation of the Holy Spirit in the believer, by which the work of divine grace that is begun in the heart, is continued and brought to completion. It is because God never forsakes His work that believers continue to stand to the very end.
C. Proof for the Doctrine of Perseverance.
The doctrine of perseverance may be proved by certain statements of Scripture and by inference from other doctrines.
1. Direct Statements of Scripture. There are some important passages of Scripture that come into consideration here. In John 10:27-29 we read: “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me; and I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, and no one shall snatch them out my hand. My Father, who hath given them unto me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand.” Paul says in Romans 11:29: “For the gifts and the calling of God are not repented of.” This means that the grace of God revealed in His calling is never withdrawn, as though He repented of it. This is a general statement, though in the connection in which it is found it refers to the calling of Israel. The apostle comforts the believing Philippians with the words: “Being confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it unto the day of Jesus Christ,” (Phil. 1:6). In 2 Thessalonians 3:3 he says: “But the Lord is faithful, who shall establish you, and guard you from the evil one.” In 2 Timothy 1:12 he sounds a note of rejoicing: “For I know Him whom I have believed, and I am persuaded that He is able to guard that which I have committed unto Him against that day.” And in 4:18 of the same Epistle he glories in the fact that the Lord will deliver him from every evil work and will gave him unto His heavenly kingdom.
2. Inferential Proofs. The doctrine of perseverance may also be proved in an inferential way.
a. From the doctrine of election. Election does not merely mean that some will be favored with certain external privileges and may be saved, if they do their duty, but that they who belong to the number of the elect shall finally be saved and can never fall short of perfect salvation. It is an election unto an end, that is, unto salvation. In working it out God endows believers with such influences of the Holy Spirit as to lead them, not only to accept Christ but to persevere unto the end and to be saved unto the uttermost.
b. From the doctrine of the covenant of redemption. In the covenant of redemption God gave His people to His Son as the reward for the latter’s obedience and suffering. This reward was fixed from eternity and was not left contingent on any uncertain faithfulness of man. God does not go back on His promise, and therefore it is impossible that they who are reckoned as being in Christ, and as forming a part of His reward, can be separated from Him (Rom. 8:38-39), and that they who have entered the covenant as a communion of life should fall out.
c. From the efficacy of the merits and intercession of Christ. In His atoning work Christ paid the price to purchase the sinner’s pardon and acceptance. His righteousness constitutes the perfect ground for the justification of the sinner, and it is impossible that one who is justified by the payment of such a perfect and efficacious price should again fall under condemnation. Moreover, Christ makes constant intercession for those who are given Him of the Father, and His intercessory prayer for His people is always efficacious, (John 11:42; Heb. 7:25).
d. From the mystical union with Christ. They who are united to Christ by faith become partakers of His Spirit, and thus become one body with Him, pulsating with the life of the Spirit. They share in the life of Christ, and because He lives they live also. It is impossible that they should again be removed from the body, thus frustrating the divine ideal. The union is permanent, since it originates in a permanent and unchangeable cause, the free and eternal love of God.
e. From the work of the Holy Spirit in the heart. Dabney correctly says: “It is a low and unworthy estimate of the wisdom of the Holy Spirit and of His work in the heart, to suppose that He will begin the work now, and presently desert it; that the vital spark of heavenly birth is an ignis fatuus, burning for a short season, and then expiring in utter darkness; that the spiritual life communicated in the new birth, is a sort of spasmodic or galvanic vitality, giving the outward appearance of life in the dead soul, and then dying,” (Syst. and Polem. Theol., p. 692). According to Scripture the believer is already in this life in possession of salvation and eternal life, (John 3:36; 5:24; 6:54). Can we proceed on the assumption that eternal life will not be everlasting?
f. From the assurance of salvation. It is quite evident from Scripture that believers can in this life attain to the assurance of salvation, (Heb. 3:14; 6:11; 10:22; 2 Pet. 1:10). This would seem to be entirely out of the question, if it were possible for believers to fall from grace at any moment. It can be enjoyed only by those who stand in the firm conviction that God will perfect the work which He has begun.
D. Objections to the Doctrine of Perseverance.
1. It is Inconsistent with Human Freedom. It is said that the doctrine of perseverance is inconsistent with human freedom. But this objection proceeds on the false assumption that real freedom consists in the liberty of indifference, or the power of contrary choice in moral and spiritual matters. This is erroneous, however. True liberty consists exactly in self-determination in the direction of holiness. Man is never more free than when he moves consciously in the direction of God. And the Christian stands in that liberty through the grace of God.
2. It Leads to Indolence and Immorality. It is confidently asserted that the doctrine of perseverance leads to indolence, license, and even immorality. A false security is said to result from it. This is a mistaken notion, however, for, although the Bible tells us that we are kept by the grace of God, it does not encourage the idea that God keeps us without constant watchfulness, diligence, and prayer on our part. It is hard to see how a doctrine which assures the believer of a perseverance in holiness can be an incentive for sin. It would seem that the certainty of success in the active striving for sanctification would be the best possible stimulus to ever greater exertion.
3. It is Contrary to Scripture. The doctrine is frequently declared to be contrary to Scripture. The passages adduced to prove this contention can be reduced to three classes.
a. There are warnings against apostasy which would seem to be quite uncalled for, if the believer could not fall away, (Matt. 24:12; Col. 1:23; Heb. 2:1; 3:14; 6:11; I John 2:6). But these warnings regard the whole matter from the side of man and are seriously meant. They prompt self-examination, and are instrumental in keeping believers in the way of perseverance. They do not prove that any of those addressed will apostatize, but simply that the use of means is necessary to prevent them from committing this sin. Compare Acts 27:22-25 with verse 31 for an illustration of this principle.
b. There are also exhortations, urging believers to continue in the way of sanctification, which would appear to be unnecessary if there is no doubt about it that they will continue to the end. But these are usually found in connection with such warnings as those referred to under (a), and serve exactly the same purpose. They do not prove that any of the believers exhorted will not persevere, but only that God uses moral means for the accomplishment of moral ends.
c. Again, it is said that Scripture records several cases of actual apostasy, (1 Tim. 1:19-20; 2 Tim. 2:17-18; 4:10; 2 Peter 2:1,2; cf. also Heb. 6:4-6). But these instances do not prove the contention that real believers, in possession of true saving faith, can fall from grace, unless it be shown first that the persons indicated in these passages had true faith in Christ, and not a mere temporal faith, which is not rooted in regeneration. The Bible teaches us that there are persons who profess the true faith, and yet are not of the faith, (Rom. 9-6; 1 John 2:19; Rev. 3:1). John says of some of them, “They went out from us,” and adds by way of explanation, “but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us,” (1 John 2:19).
E. The Denial of this Doctrine Makes Salvation Dependent on Man’s Will.
The denial of the doctrine of perseverance virtually makes the salvation of man dependent on the human will rather than on the grace of God. This consideration will, of course, have no effect on those who share the Pelagian conception of salvation as autosoteric—and their numbers are great—but certainly ought to cause those to pause who glory in being saved by grace. The idea is that, after man is brought to a state of grace by the operation of the Holy Spirit alone, or by the joint operation of the Holy Spirit and the will of man, it rests solely with man to continue in faith or to forsake the faith, just as he sees fit. This renders the cause of man very precarious and makes it impossible for him to attain to the blessed assurance of faith. Consequently, it is of the utmost importance to maintain the doctrine of perseverance. In the words of Hovey, “It may be a source of great comfort and power, —an incentive to gratitude, a motive to self-sacrifice, and a pillar of fire in the hour of danger.”
Questions for Further Study: What is the real question concerning perseverance: is it whether the elect, or whether the regenerate persevere? Do Augustine and the Lutherans also teach that the elect may finally be lost? How does the analogy of the natural life favor the doctrine of perseverance? Do not such passages as Hebrews 6:4.6; 10:29; 2 Peter 2:1 prove the possibility of falling away? How about John 15:1-6? Is the grace of perseverance something innate, necessarily given with the new nature, or is it the fruit of a special, gracious, and preserving activity of God? Does the doctrine imply that one may be living in habitual and intentional sin, and yet be in a justified state? Does it preclude the idea of lapses into sin?” (2)
From the Westminster Confession of Faith on Perseverance:
Section 1.) They, whom God hath accepted in His Beloved, effectually called and sanctified by His Spirit, can neither totally nor finally fall away from the state of grace; but shall certainly persevere therein to the end, and be eternally saved. (1)
(1) Php 1:6; 2Pe 1:10; Jn 10:28,29; 1Jn 3:9; 1Pe 1:5,9.
Section 2.) This perseverance of the saints depends not upon their own free will, but upon the immutability of the decree of election, flowing from the free and unchangeable love of God the Father;(1) upon the efficacy of the merit and intercession of Jesus Christ;(2) the abiding of the Spirit, and of the seed of God within them;(3) and the nature of the covenant of grace:(4) from all which ariseth also the certainty and infallibility thereof.(5)
(1) 2Ti 2:18,19; Jer 31:3. (2) Heb 10:10,14; Heb 13:20,21; Heb 9:12-15; Ro 8:33-39; Jn 17:11,24; Lk 22:32; Heb 7:25. (3) Jn 14:16,17; 1Jn 2:27; 1Jn 3:9. (4) Jer 32:40. (5) Jn 10:28; 2Th 3:3; 1Jn 2:19.
Section 3.) Nevertheless, they may, through the temptations of Satan and of the world, the prevalency of corruption remaining in them, and the neglect of the means of their preservation, fall into grievous sins;(1) and, for a time, continue therein:(2) whereby they incur God’s displeasure,(3) and grieve His Holy Spirit,(4) come to be deprived of some measure of their graces and comforts;(5) have their hearts hardened,(6) and their consciences wounded;(7) hurt and scandalize others,(8) and bring temporal judgments upon themselves.(9)
(1) Mt 26:70,72,74. (2) Ps 51:(title), 14. (3) Isa 64:5,7,9; 2Sa 11:27. (4) Eph 4:30. (5) Ps 51:8,10.12; Rev 2:4; SS 5:2,3,4,6. (6) Isa 63:17; Mk 6:52; Mk 16:14. (7) Ps 32:3,4; Ps 51:8. (8) 2Sa 12:14. (9) Ps 89:31,32; 1Co 11:32.
God is able to keep us from falling and more than able to present believers before the presence of His glory. Our eternal salvation rests upon God’s power, not ours! If anyone still maintains that God will respect our so-called free will and allow us to depart from Christ. Hopefully, the following thoughts in the next paragraph will be of value.
When a person chooses Christ, one must ask, why did the person do this? Was it his decision, his own, apart from God’s action? Alternatively, does man act or choose Christ because God changed his heart with the power of the Holy Spirit? The Scripture declares that unbelievers are dead (not just sick) and have hearts of stone.
Christ, through the work of the Holy Spirit, changes our heart of stone to a heart of flesh. As said, unbelievers are dead spiritually, and Christ quickens or makes us alive. We have risen from the dead when Christ regenerates us. Regeneration happens before we can exercise faith.
Therefore, Christ gets the credit for our decision to believe in Him. Unbelievers do not choose Christ because they, in their fallen state, hate him and are spiritually dead. Furthermore, it should be noted that fallen man’s nature is corrupt and fallen man freely chooses to reject Christ in harmony with his fallen nature. So, when fallen man is regenerated and exercises faith in the Lord Jesus Christ’s atoning work at Calvary, what credit does God get for this decision? “All” is the only possible correct answer.
Remember, we were the servants or slaves of sin. We yielded ourselves to sin because this was the inclination of our fallen nature. We are now the servants of righteousness and no longer the slaves of sin. Our sinful natures have been changed. As the apostle Peter tells us that “ye might be partakers of the divine nature…” (2 Peter 1:4). The believer now has a new nature. We still make choices or decisions. However, since we have a new nature, our desires have been changed through the inward work of the Holy Spirit. Believers are now slaves of righteousness (not perfectly) by His grace.
In conclusion, both the non-believer and the believer make choices, but they are determined by either a corrupt nature or a changed, redeemed nature. The will can be said to be free if it is understood that this freedom is always in accord with the desires of man’s nature. It can be said that the will is bound yet free. The believer is now a new creation in Christ. We follow Christ because we love Him and want to please Him. The Holy Spirit lives in the believer and guides us and convicts us to do what is right according to the Scriptures.
One of the characteristics of a fallen man is to hide his sin, like Adam in the garden in Genesis 3:7. The Pharisees were prime examples of very outwardly religious men. What did Christ say about them? However, when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees come to his baptism, he said unto them:
“O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come?” (Matthew 3:7)
People can act religiously outwardly for nefarious motives and be dead in their sins.
“Not everyone that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father, which is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? And in thy name have cast out devils? And in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity” (Matthew 7:21, 22-23).
Here we have individuals mentioned who did things in Christ’s name, and yet Jesus says, “I never knew you.” Outward religious works may be done in order to hide one’s rebellion against God in an attempt to remain respectable in the community. If one has a Protestant view of Justification and the Imputation of Christ’s righteousness, the semi-Pelagian or Arminian view cannot be maintained.
In fact, the semi-Pelagian or Arminian view of Hebrews 6:4-6 does violence to the text; it embraces false doctrine in regards to Justification and Imputation.
The Westminster Confession on Justification WC Chapter 11:3:
“iii. Christ, by his obedience and death, did fully discharge the debt of all those that are thus justified, and did make a proper, real, and full satisfaction to his Father’s justice in their behalf. Yet, inasmuch as he was given by the Father for them; and his obedience and satisfaction accepted in their stead; and both, freely, not for anything in them; their justification is only of free grace; that both the exact justice and rich grace might be glorified in the justification of sinners.”
“Imputed righteousness is the Protestant Christian doctrine that a sinner is declared righteous by God purely by God’s grace through faith in Christ, and thus all depends on Christ’s merit and worthiness, rather than on one’s own merit and worthiness.” – Wikipedia
Therefore, the interpretation of Hebrews 6:4-6 in this study by postulating the case of false believers does not do violence to the text, and the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints stands unrefuted.
“Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” (2 Timothy 2:15)
1. Simon J. Kistemaker, New Testament Commentary, Hebrews, (Grand Rapids, MI, Baker), pp. 157-164.
2. Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology, (Grand Rapids, MI, Eerdmans), pp. 545-547.
Mr. Kettler has previously published articles in the Chalcedon Report and Contra Mundum. He and his wife Marea attend the Westminster, CO, RPCNA Church. Mr. Kettler is the author of books defending the Reformed Faith. Books can be ordered online at www. Jack Kettler .com