The Meaning of Falling Away: Hebrews 6:4-8
“4) 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, 5) and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, 6) and then have fallen away, 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. 7) For 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; 8) but if it yields thorns and thistles, it is worthless and close to being cursed, and it ends up being burned.” ‭‭Hebrews‬ ‭6:4-8‬ ‭
We now come to some verses that are difficult to understand. A casual reading leads to the assumption that a Christian can loose their salvation if they fall away. But there are several problems in the text with that view. Let’s look at a few.
First, because of this text, some mock what they call a “once saved always saved” view of salvation. The problem is that verse 6 actually puts forth what could be called a “once lost always lost” view of falling away from Christ.
If “falling away” is understood as sin or backsliding, we are left with a new array of problems. Are we to understand that if a Christian falls away from Christ it is impossible to renew them again to repentance? They are thereafter eternally lost. One must explain what constitutes “falling away?” Where is the line?
Second, verses 7-8 point out the difference between good vegetation and thorns and thistles. Though they grow on the same ground and get the same rain, they are genetically different. Thorns and thistles will never produce a good harvest. Why? Because they are weeds. No matter how much you fertilize or prune them, they will never produce good fruit. Why? Because they are the wrong plants. Jesus said, “you will know them by their fruit.” (Read Matthew 7:15-23)
So how is this text to be understood. Let me present another possible meaning. Keep in mind, the name of this book is “Hebrews.” It was written to the Jewish people who witnessed the birth, public ministry, miracles and preaching and teaching of Jesus Christ. Many were in Jerusalem for the Passover. They heard of the death, burial and resurrection of Christ. Some were eye witnesses.
Many were also in Jerusalem at Pentecost when the Holy Spirit was poured out. They were the first generation to be partakes of the Holy Spirit. They heard the preaching of Peter and many other early Christians accompanied by signs and wonders. (Review Hebrews 2:1-4)
Yet many of these Jewish people “turned away” from Jesus and the gospel and instead embraced traditional Judaism. They continued under the Law and kept the Jewish calendar and sacrificial system. Keep in mind, the whole temple system was still in full swing. They refused to accept that Jesus Christ fulfilled the Law and inaugurated a new system.
In doing so, they trampled under foot the Son of God, and put Him to an open shame. But after the sacrifice of the Son of God for human redemption, the blood of bulls and goats was no longer a means of repentance. The whole book of Hebrews makes the case that Jesus fulfilled the old system and replaced it with the gospel.
So what happened to those who saw and heard everything unfold before their very eyes and still turned away from Jesus to embrace traditional Judaism? It was impossible to renew them to repentance in that system because it was replaced by Jesus Christ and the gospel.
This scenario is what I believe the writer of the book of Hebrews was addressing in Hebrews 6:1-8. For that matter, the whole book of Hebrews deals with the transition from Old Testament Judaism to New Testament salvation through faith in Jesus Christ and the gospel. It was and still is a hard transition for many Jewish people to make.
Daily Bible Commentary By Terry Baxter: Cofounder of GoServ Global