Not Something We Have Yet

We’ve been tackling the book of Hebrews on Sunday mornings recently, and yesterday we hit the difficult passage in Hebrews 6:4-12. It hits on the topic of “apostasy”: What makes this passage so difficult is that it’s easy to derive from it that an individual can lose their salvation. Our speaker Nate Irwin pointed out, though, that the question, ‘Can you lose your salvation,’ is actually the wrong question to ask.

The word ‘salvation’ is actually used rather infrequently throughout the New Testament, and in nearly every place where it occurs, it indicates a future event, pointing toward something that has not yet occurred. Scripture seems to indicate that salvation itself is not actually granted until a person dies, hence the frequency with which salvation is referred in terms of “hope”:

This actually explains a lot to me in terms of those who call themselves Christians and spend years in productive ministry only to fall away later and renounce their faith. The best explanation I’ve ever been able to provide for such behavior is that these folks weren’t Christians to begin with. Now, I have reason to believe that what really occurs is that perhaps these folks give up the faith, rejecting the gift of salvation, and essentially turning away from their hope. They turn apostate, and as such, they lose the _hope_ of their salvation. This passage is also clear that, short of a miraculous work of God, it is impossible to return these lost sheep to the fold – they have tasted and experienced the revelation of salvation and rejected it. In turning away from it, they harden their hearts to such a degree that it is nearly impossible to turn back again (though nothing is ever final until death). It would seem that it is harder to turn an apostate back to the faith than it is to bring to faith late in life one who has lived in unbelief all his life.

While salvation is only finalized upon death, this still does not mean that there is anything a man can do to _earn_ his salvation. No works will ever achieve a level of righteousness great enough to be declared worthy of Heaven in a man’s own merits. He must still believe and have faith – and it takes oh so little faith – but most importantly, he must hold to this faith and walk in it all his life in order to secure the hope of his salvation. This puts the onus back on the man to ensure that he walks faithfully and lives righteously (to demonstrate his faith). Salvation, then, is not the ‘free pass’ that many American Christians seem to think it is – you pray the prayer, receive the gift, and then go right back to living your life the way you were. That is not what salvation is about. It is about a life-changing, life-altering, regenerative change that makes a man more than he was previously. This does not mean, of course, that a man cannot still fail and fall into sin, but the true believer who holds a true faith will not be happy living in such sin and will, at the Holy Spirit’s urging, turn again from it. He will, in short, exhibit the fruits of the Spirit. And if such fruit is not present, then it is likely that this individual has not been truly regenerated and does not truly hold the faith.

Our speaker in the service yesterday evening reviewed the morning message briefly and said that a better question to ask then ‘Can I lose my salvation?’ is ‘Can I lose my “justification”:’ I’m still looking into that one, since it involves understanding the nature of what justification is and how it is granted. I’ll get back to you on that one.

3 thoughts on “Not Something We Have Yet”

  1. This passage is also clear that, short of a miraculous work of God, it is impossible to return these lost sheep to the fold

    I suppose I know why you put in the phrase “short of a miraculous work of God”. I suppose it is because we find it almost incomprehensibly horrible to actually conclude that it means what it says: “It is impossible to restore again to repentance …” The statement in Hebrews 6 doesn’t allow for a “short of a miraculous work of God.” Now, I’m not suggesting that something is impossible for God. (Some things are, but that’s not the point.) I’m simply pointing out that whatever the author of Hebrews meant here, it wasn’t a hopeful “short of a miraculous work of God.”

    (Note: I personally find a great deal of comfort 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.” Here the author essentially says, “That’s the way it would be if those conditions are met … but I’m quite confident that it will never happen to you.” The suggestion is that the horror of Heb. 6:4-8 is a theoretical horror that cannot happen to those who are truly changed by a living relationship with Christ.)

  2. You pose a good point, Stan. And the reason why I phrased it this way was just because I’m not entirely clear on this point yet. This passage _does_ seem pretty conclusive, but I haven’t had a chance yet to really study it close and break it down hard to make sure that’s what’s really being said in context. Basically, I’m hedging my bets until I’ve had a chance to study more thoroughly. ;-)

    And yes, verse 9 is very comforting, and I think that’s the point of it. The theme of the whole book is, after all, the question of why would anyone ever choose anything other than Jesus.

  3. Allow me a moment to clarify a statement – as I stated above, Scripture seems to indicate that salvation is actually imparted (or not) upon one’s death. Therefore, even for those who believe and have accepted Christ, salvation is not actually something we have received yet (hence this entry’s title). So the question asked here is, ‘How can you lose something you don’t have yet?’

    Our speaker went on to say that the real question is whether or not we can lose our justification, that point where God looks at us and declares us righteous, that moment when we believe and accept Christ’s gift of life and are then covered by His blood. This demands some further research into the nature and the topic of justification.

    To be fair, this passage doesn’t necessarily say that the one who becomes apostate _isn’t_ still ‘saved’ (though I think I’m going to be careful about using that term from now on), just that it is impossible to return them to repentance. It could well be that their name is still in the Lamb’s Book of Life and their place in Heaven is still assured – just that once they fall away into a state of apostasy it is impossible to return them to faith. But the context of thorns and thistles suggests that the apostate will be weeded out from the redeemed just as the standard unbeliever will be.

    Yes, definitely more research and study is needed on some of the more nuanced bits of theology here. I still find the passage to provide a great deal of hope. It just carries with it, in my opinion, a larger amount of responsibility and obligation for the believer than most American Christians seem to realize (or would like to admit).

Have anything to add to the conversation?