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It is impossible (Hebrews 6)

The phrase, “it is impossible” from Hebrews 6:4 has troubled people of tender conscience since it was first written.  John Bunyan wrote about it in his autobiography Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners.  He wrote as though demons were trying to get him to renounce his faith in Christ, and under the torment he said something like, “Let Christ depart if he will.”  He was immediately struck with the most horrific sense of having sold out his Savior whereupon the words “it is impossible” gave him a sense of absolute despair.

Streams of ink (and now electrons) have been spilled over the interpretation of the “falling away” passage in Hebrews 6.  I won’t belabor it much further except to say two things of interest to you.  First, the phrase “if they shall fall away” is hypothetical.  It really doesn’t say that anyone has or even could actually possess eternal life and then lose it.  I believe the writer is simply speaking in what grammarians call the subjunctive mood.  From, the subjunctive means “a mood of verbs used when… the clause is being doubted, supposed, feared true, etc, rather than being asserted.”

The reason the hypothetical phrase is spoken here is that it fits with the argument the writer is advancing.  He’s convincing doubtful Jews that there is no other Savior.  The argument therefore is not primarily about individuals being saved and lost again, but about the fact that there is no other savior to be found, not in the Judaism they were thinking about reverting to, certainly not in the gods of the Greeks or barbarians.  If there is hope of eternal life, Christ alone is that hope.

The second thing I should say about the “falling away” statement is that it’s true at its face value.  If a person did fall away from the faith so as to be actually lost again — unsaved, no longer regenerated, having not the Spirit — then that person could never be saved again.  That is, in fact, what the text says whether it’s in the subjunctive or not.  To my readers whose denominations teach that Christians can fall away and be — what’s the word? — re-lost, then re-salvation is impossible.  And here Greek word for “impossible” means just that.  A person cannot be saved repeatedly.  The inspired writer says it’s it’s not going to happen.  Denominations that teach the possibility of losing salvation should be forthright with their people and teach the rest of the story: Cross this line, and forever there is no returning.  And I would add that they need to be very explicit about that line.  What exactly does it take for a person to be lost again?

As for me, I continue to believe that the gifts and calling of God are without repentance. (Ro 11:29)  What’s given to us is not a status with conditions we have to satisfy on a continual basis.  Rather, God has given us his Son, and eternal life is in his Son. (1 John 5:11)  John Bunyan responded to his apparent demon tormentors, if Christ wants to depart, and he found to his everlasting joy that Christ is good to his word, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”  (He 13:5)

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