CAN CHRISTIANS LOSE THEIR SALVATION? (HEBREWS 6) by Dennis E. Johnson for Core Christianity
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.
The Gravity of Apostasy
“Impossible” arrests our attention, abruptly opening a Greek sentence that runs for three verses. The author then builds suspense by withholding the detail of what, precisely, is “impossible” until the middle of verse 6: it is impossible, he finally says, “to restore . . . again to repentance” those who “have fallen away.” But before pronouncing a sober sentence on the spiritual treason from which there is no return, the author lists a series of God’s gracious gifts that compound the gravity of such apostasy. He switches from first- and second-person pronouns of interpersonal conversation (“we” and “you”; 5:11, 12; 6:1, 3) to descriptive third-person pronouns (“those who,” “they”) because he is not accusing his hearers of having passed the spiritual point of no return into curse and condemnation (6:8). Yet the privileges once enjoyed by apostates, the horrific evil of their fall away from trust in the Son of God, and their irremediable ruin are not irrelevant to the original audience in their immaturity, nor to anyone who needs stimulus to persevere to the end.
Four Greek participles —“having once been enlightened” (hapax phōtisthentas), “having tasted” (geusamenous), “having become” (genēthentas), and again “having tasted” (geusamenous) — introduce the spiritual privileges enjoyed by those who are members of the visible church. They were “once . . . enlightened” (6:4) when they heard God’s voice speaking good news (3:7; 4:2) of salvation through the apostles (2:3–4). In the work of Justin Martyr and later Fathers, “enlightenment” became a metaphor for baptism; but none of the uses of phōtizō in the NT refer explicitly 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). Rather, those who are “enlightened” seem to be those who are exposed to God’s saving light through hearing the gospel proclaimed.