“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.”
No wonder we’re told to “work out our salvation with fear and trembling” (Phil. 2:12b).
Down through the centuries this has been one of the most hotly debated and misunderstood passages in the entire Bible. Some say it clearly speaks about “apostasy,” which comes from the Greek word “apostasia” and basically means “abandonment of one’s religious faith, political party, one’s principle or a cause.” Others, who support the “security of the believer” or “once saved, always saved” say “This person wasn’t saved to begin with—for ‘the faith that fizzles before the finish was faulty from the first’.”
So, which is it?
We’d do well to simply try and interpret the writer’s words in the context in which they were written and allow the Holy Spirit to guide us accordingly.
First, there seems to be no doubt the ones he’s talking about were professing believers: “They were once enlightened (Grk. ‘photizo’—‘to shed rays, to brighten up, to shine, illuminate, make to see, etc.’). . .have tasted of the Heavenly Gift (firsthand, experiential knowledge of salvation). . . were made partakers (Grk. ‘metochos’—‘a participant in, sharer, partner to, associate, etc.’) of the Holy Ghost. . .and have tasted the good Word of God and the powers of the world to come.”
Thus, there’s no doubt they were open, professing followers of Christ. And, by the strong active words used to describe them, they were definitely not “closet Christians.”
Second, it seems the recipients of the “Epistle to the Hebrews” were Jewish-Christians undergoing severe persecution. Apparently, some of them were being tempted to recant their faith, i.e., turn their back on Christ and His Church for sake of survival. And, dear Pilgrim, the same danger exists today—just in more subtle ways (for now).
That’s why the author gives such a stern warning here: “For it’s impossible to renew (Grk. ‘anakainizo’—‘to restore, to bring to freshness again, etc.’) them again unto repentance.” This doesn’t say it’s impossible for them to repent; but, there’s nothing we can do to bring this about.
Only the Lord Himself can do that.
And, it’s very likely the one who knowingly/willingly “falls away” will find it hard to come back because he/she is “crucifying to themselves the Son of God afresh (by their actions and words) and putting Him to an open shame.” Simply put, the One they once professed. . .talked, taught and sang about. . .is being trodden underfoot. . .mocked and scorned by such faithless cowardice. . .causing them to appear more like Judas than Peter—both of whom were betrayers—but one came back (Peter) and the other didn’t (Judas). May the Holy Spirit help us today to be firm in our faith—for a strong “time of testing” is coming.
By Tom Smith Morning Manna Dated February 2, 2011