Christ is Superior to Aaron Part 4 “The Warning against Dullness toward God’s Word 3” – Hebrews 6:6b-8
Pastor Mark Hardy July 26, 2015
When I was a young boy I remember taking a trip with one of my grandma’s. As the road traveled through the mountains and along many rocky cliffs she pointed out a yellow sign and then preceded to tell me a story about an Indian brave named “Falling Rocks” who had gotten lost years earlier in these mountains. She went on and on about him and then said that is why there are so many signs that say “Watch out for Falling Rocks,” so that way someone might find him. I was gullible enough to believe her, until she started laughing and said she was just pulling my leg. But I always think of that story every time I see one of those signs!
Every day people choose certain courses of action on the basis of conceivable ideas of action and consequence, not on the basis that the action and consequence are likely to happen. For example, as we daily drive our cars we constantly make decisions that affect our safety. Signs along the highway warn us to watch out for windy curves ahead or slippery bridges or falling rocks. Their purpose or function is not to cause us to doubt our ability to drive by scaring us that we might crash. Rather, warning signs project cautions concerning various road hazards, and these projected cautions appeal to our capability to imagine the consequences of failing to heed the warning. The idea of possible occurrence enters only because highway departments generally post warning signs where road dangers or hazards usually do occur, such as curves or next to a rocky cliff. Were they to post warning signs indiscriminately, who would heed them? But any suggestion of possibility does not bear on our ability to drive but concerns only the likely existence of road hazards, not that it is likely that we will fail to drive safely and crash.
Just as road signs caution against conceivable consequences, not probable consequences, so the warnings in Scripture caution us against conceivable consequences, not probable consequences. Biblical warnings do not state that it is possible or likely for a genuine believer to fall away from Christ and perish eternally. God does not frighten us by threatening us that we may apostatize or that it is likely that we will fail to persevere. This is one of the things we will be looking at this morning. Turn in your Bible to Hebrews 6.
As we continue on in our study of Hebrews 5:11-6:12, we are discussing the third of five warning passages in this letter. Last time we began looking at Hebrews 6:1-8 where we saw the first three of six aspects of an exhortation and warning that is one of the most sobering and disputed passages in the New Testament. The first three aspects are:
1) The call to growth toward maturity
2) The confidence that maturity is attainable
3) The characteristics that reveal genuine salvation
This morning we will see the remaining three aspects. The fourth aspect of this passage is:
IV. The Consequences of Apostasy warned Against
A. Look at v. 6: …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.
1. This is considered to be one of the most sobering and terrifying warnings in all of the New Testament. As we saw last time, this is written to genuine believers who “fall away” or apostatize, which means the complete and final repudiation and forsaking of Jesus Christ.
2. The consequences of such apostasy are that, “…it is impossible to renew them again to repentance.” In other words, they are hopeless; their eternal damnation is sealed.
3. And the reason for this is because “…they again crucify to themselves the Son of God and put Him to open shame.” The present tenses of the words “crucify again” and “putting to open shame” indicates the continuing state of those who apostatize.
4. As far as these apostates are concerned, they are in the settled state of continually “crucifying the Son of God” by standing with those who put Jesus to death on the cross at Calvary. And they keep on “putting Him to open shame” by publicly renouncing Him.
5. The point is this: Since they have completely rejected Jesus Christ, who is God’s only plan of salvation, there is nothing further that can be done for them. Since Jesus died on the cross for sin once for all time, there is no other way of salvation. They forfeit all hope of salvation and will experience eternal destruction.
6. This brings us to the fifth aspect of the passage, which is:
V. An Illustration that Explains the Warning
A. Look at vv. 7-8: 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; but if it yields thorns and thistles, it is worthless and close to being cursed, and it ends up being burned.
1. This two-part illustration from the natural world shows the response to one’s circumstances reflects an underlying heart condition that brings its inevitable consequence. The illustration depicts “ground” or land on which rain frequently falls and brings forth two different kinds of crops.
2. The first part of the illustration describes the watered land as bringing forth useful “vegetation” or produce that is everything the farmer desired. Such productive ground is a “blessing from God” to the farmer.
3. This illustrates the believer whose fruitfulness is a sign of his perseverance of faith and good condition of his heart. This is similar to the “good soil” in the Parable of the Four Soils in Matthew 13:3-23.
4. The second part of the illustration also describes this watered land but this time bringing forth worthless “thorns and thistles.” Its bad condition shows it as exemplifying the curse God pronounced upon the earth in Genesis 3:17-18.
5. This is similar to Isaiah 5:1-7 where Israel was pictured as God’s properly cultivated vineyard, but instead of producing grapes, it produced only wild grapes (v. 4). And since it is unproductiveness “…it ends up being burned” by the farmer.
6. This illustrates the apostate’s worthless deeds that are a sign of the evil condition of his unbelieving heart. His inevitable end is to be burned in the fire of eternal judgment.
7. Now although Hebrews 6:4-8 is one of the most sobering and terrifying passages in the New Testament, it is also one of the most disputed. Christians stand divided on this warning passage and have a number of different views.
8. This brings us to the sixth aspect of this passage, which is:
VI. A Summary of Views and Application
A. There are five major views on warning passages:
1. First, is the Loss-of-Salvation View.
• This Arminian view sees biblical warnings as addressed to genuine believers who can possibly fail to persevere and apostatize. And as a result, they can lose their salvation and perish forever.
• Although this view teaches that salvation can be lost and regained numerous times, this passage makes it clear that salvation can never be regained. The problem with this view is that it contradicts the biblical promises of eternal security for everyone who believes in Jesus Christ.
2. Second, is the Loss-of-Rewards View.
• This view also sees the warnings as addressed to genuine believers, but since it holds to eternally secure this view says the danger here is not the possibility of believers losing their salvation but only them losing their rewards. It states that if perseverance has to do with salvation then that would make salvation based on works.
• It also explains “falling away” not as apostasy, but as merely backsliding and one being in danger of divine discipline. The problems with this view are that it minimizes the awfulness of apostasy and doesn’t see that salvation is at stake.
3. Third, is the Tests-of-Genuineness View.
• This view is held by most Reformed and Calvinists and insists that biblical warnings are not addressed to genuine believers, for that would entail their loss of salvation and that is impossible. Since true believers are eternally secure, warnings are only for those who have professed faith in Christ but are not truly saved.
• This view sees warnings from a backward looking (retrospective) and introspective orientation. They are “test of faith” to prove whether one is truly saved.
• Although this view correctly preserves the promise of eternal security for every believer and calls people to examine whether their conversion is genuine (Matt. 7:21-23; 2 Cor. 13:5; 1 Jn. 2:19), these biblical truths are not in this passage. This is a case of good theology from the wrong text.
• The problems with this view are that it addresses these people as unbelievers and has a backward looking and introspective orientation where the warnings in Hebrews have a future orientation.
4. Fourth, is the Hypothetical-Loss-of-Salvation View.
• In an attempt to avoid the problems of the other three views, this view sees biblical warnings as addressed to genuine believers, the danger as apostasy that has not yet happened (i.e. future orientation), and preserves the promises of eternal security for every believer.
• However, warnings are seen as hypothetical situations, in that, they focus on correcting “wrong ideas” by making it clear that if a Christian could apostatize, then it would be impossible for that person to become a Christian again. But this can never happen, since one who is already saved cannot apostasy.
• The problem with this view is that if this is not a real warning but only hypothetical, then it is pointless to offer it as an argument.
5. Now there are some biblical truths in each of these four views. But each one has arrived at its position by asking the question, “Are these people saved, and if so, does this prove believers can lose their salvation.”
6. However, this is the wrong question to ask, for wrong questions bias one’s interpretation from the outset. No wonder some say believers can lose our salvation, while other say these people were never saved in the first place.
7. The right question to ask is, “What is the function of the warning?” Thomas Schreiner and Ardel Caneday bring this out clearly in their book The Race Set Before Us—A Biblical Theology of Perseverance & Assurance. They say, “None of the advocates of the four popular views arrive at their interpretations of biblical warnings on the basis of the warning passages themselves. Rather, they read the passage in view of their prior assumptions concerning the possibility of falling away and perishing under God’s wrath. Because they all seek to protect their prior conclusions concerning falling away, whether consciously or not, all four views fail to ask the right question concerning biblical warnings. We believe the right question concerns the function of biblical warnings in relation to biblical promises.” (p. 39)
8. What is the function of biblical warnings in relation to biblical promises? How we explain this relationship has profound implications for us as believers.
9. This brings us to the fifth view, which is not new but Schreiner and Caneday have more fully developed and describe as:
VII. God’s Means-of-Salvation View
A. This is the view I believe handles the Scriptures the best and which I hold to. To help you understand this view I want to organize it under six truths (and I encourage you to get the book if you want a more detailed explanation): The first truth is: The warnings of Hebrews are addressed to genuine believers.
1. As we saw last time, vv. 4-6 clearly reveal characteristics of genuine salvation. Therefore, these warnings cannot be relegated to those who are not truly saved and to do so is to read one’s theological bias into the text.
2. Therefore, since this applies to us as believers we must take seriously the warnings against apostasy and eternal destruction.
B. The second truth is: We must allow biblical warnings and promises to have their respective functions within their contexts.
1. To do this, we must refuse to impose God’s warnings on His promises or His promises on His warnings, as the other four views do. We must let God’s warnings have their full force without qualifying them with God’s promises.
2. Now the function of God’s warnings is to elicit or bring out faith that perseveres in faithfulness to Christ to the end, instead of “falling away” or failing to persevere. And the function of God’s promises is to ground our faith in God Himself, who faithfully keeps all of His promises to His children.
C. The third truth is: God’s warnings are road signs that caution us against conceivable consequences, not probable consequences
1. Biblical warnings do not state that it is possible or likely for a genuine believer to fall away from Christ and perish eternally. God does not frighten us by threatening us that we may apostatize or that it is likely that we will fail to persevere.
2. Warnings appeal to our minds to conceive or imagine the eternal consequences of failing to heed the warning and persevere in faithfulness to Christ. They do not say that we may perish, rather they caution us lest we perish.
3. The truthfulness of a warning does not depend on whether or not the thing supposed may come to pass. Biblical warnings function by supposing a certain course of action that has a conceivable consequence.
D. The fourth truth is: God’s warnings are future oriented and are intended to motivate Christians to persevere in belief.
1. The sin of apostasy and its consequence of eternal destruction that the author of Hebrews warns against have not yet happened. It is future oriented or forward looking (prospective) and is intended to motivate us as believers to persevere to the end in order that we may lay hold of final salvation.
2. This truth requires that we first understand the biblical balance and tension between the “already, but not yet” aspects of salvation. Salvation is not merely a point in time but a continuum that includes a beginning, a process and a consummation.
3. The Bible says that we have been saved in the past, we are being saved in the present, and we will be saved in the future when Christ returns. Our salvation is “already” a past and present possession that guarantees a future reality that has “not yet” been completed or consummated.
4. It is this future and final salvation that all of the warnings in Hebrews refer to. Therefore, perseverance is required.
5. Perseverance in faithfulness to Christ to the end is essential for salvation, because it is the necessary evidence that faith is genuine (Eph. 2:10). Genuine saving faith is the root that yields its fruit of obedient faith that persists and perseveres.
6. This is why biblical writers frequently warn believers that if they fall away from Christ they will not be saved. But this does not mean that it is possible for believers to apostatize and lose their salvation!
7. For example, even Jesus said in Matthew 10:22, “…it is the one who has endured to the end who will be saved.” His words have nothing to do with “works-salvation” or losing our salvation.
8. Notice how Jesus focuses on the end of our faith’s race (i.e. future salvation), not on the beginning, when He says, “the one who has endured to the end . . . will be saved.”
9. Schreiner and Caneday accurately state, “Warnings function to extend the initial call of the gospel on throughout our lives, relentlessly calling us to be faithful to Christ and as road signs always pointing out the narrow pathway to salvation but also clearly marking the wide road to destruction.” (p. 206)
10. GET THIS: God’s purposes always include the end as well as the means to the end. And God’s warnings are one of the crucial means that He uses to secure the end of final salvation that He has promised us as believers.
11. Biblical warnings motivate us out of holy fear to persistent belief and are often the very means God uses to keep us from falling away from Him. They do this in three ways:
• First, by causing us to examine our motives and behaviors as to how they match with what God’s Word requires of all who believe (1 Jn. 2:3-6). They shake us up to get serious about our relationship with Jesus Christ.
• Second, by causing us to strive for holiness of life. We do all we can to give ourselves to God’s “means of grace,” such as Bible study, prayer, regular church attendance, giving, Christian service, witnessing, etc., so that we can grow to become more like Christ in His holy love.
• Third, by driving us to dependence on the grace of God, which alone enables us to persevere. We realize if we are going to persevere in faithfulness to Christ, then only God can empower us so we depend on Him and His grace.
D. The fifth truth is: All those who fail to persevere prove to be unbelievers.
1. Although this is not what this passage says, the Bible teaches elsewhere that those who fall away were never truly saved in the first place (Lk. 8:11-15; 1 Jn. 2:18-19).
2. God’s warnings in Hebrews are addressed to genuine believers. However, the Holy Spirit knows that Christ’s church is a “mixed audience” of true believers and false believers.
3. Therefore, the Spirit applies the warnings of Scripture to everyone’s heart like a sawed-off shotgun whereby He hits everyone dead-on exactly where they are in their relationship with Christ. And those “professing believers” who are not truly saved can be brought to true salvation as they examine themselves in light of these warnings.
E. The sixth truth is: God’s warnings function to strengthen our assurance of salvation.
1. Although God’s warnings are genuine and address true believers, we as believers can presently possess God’s promise of confidence and assurance of salvation. Warnings are meant to encourage us and motivate us not cause us to doubt our salvation and fill us with worry and fear.
2. God’s warnings against apostasy and its consequences and His promises of eternal security to all who believe in Christ are harmonious and compatible with each other, not contradictory.
3. God’s promises can never be used to nullify His warnings. And we must heed God’s warnings in order to attain to His promises.
4. This is the relationship between God’s warnings and His promises. As believers who are being warned to persevere in faithfulness to Christ to the end we also have absolute certainty that we will be saved.
5. Repeatedly in Scripture God has promised that all those who believe in Jesus Christ as their personal Savior and Lord are eternally secure. He has promised to complete the work He has begun in our lives, to secure us from apostasy and to preserve us to the end for final salvation by His powerful grace (Jn. 6:37, 39; 10:27-29; Rom. 8:38-39; Eph. 1:13-14; 4:30; Phil. 1:6; 2 Tim. 1:12; 1 Pet. 1:3-5; 1 Jn. 5:13; Jude 24).
6. Therefore, as believers we need never be afraid that we will lose our salvation. We cannot, for every believer given to the Son by the Father will be preserved until the end!
7. What security and assurance of salvation! And paying heed to God’s warnings does not threaten His promises, but is the pathway by which God’s promises are strengthened in our lives.
8. What does this look like practically in our lives? When we take God’s warnings seriously that if we apostatize, we will perish eternally, we will be gripped by the seriousness of sin and tremble at such a prospect.
9. God’s warnings remind us that we must persevere in faithfulness to Christ to the end to be saved. So each one of us prays, “Lord, I need You! Give me the desire and strength to remain faithful to You, for without You I cannot do it.”
10. God’s warnings snap us out of our lukewarmness and apathy, and they motivate us afresh to passionately and devotedly love and serve the Lord. And as a result, our confidence and assurance in our future inheritance is strengthened as we see our right response to the warning and “the Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God” (Rom. 8:16).
All of the warnings in Hebrews are an urgent pastoral appeal by the author to persevere in faithfulness to Christ. In light of where our society is today, this is as practical for us today as it was for those believers then. May each one of us take this warning seriously and heed its admonition, so that we individually and corporately as a church might be a bright light for Jesus Christ to a lost world that is darken by sin.