“For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted the heavenly gift, and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, if they fall away, to renew them again to repentance, since they crucify again for themselves the Son of God, and put Him to an open shame.”
When Jesus was in the wilderness he faced three severe temptations from the devil. Through His experience we learn a lot about how the devil seeks to trip up the Christian. One of his most effective tools is to twist the Scriptures into saying something they do not mean. This passage in Hebrews carries a very strong warning to all, concerning the danger of falling away from the Lord. But the devil has used it to fill numerous Christians with fear over their past failures, or current struggles. Let’s take a minute or two to examine its content.
First, notice the text is clearly describing a believer. The person being warned is one who has been enlightened, has tasted the heavenly gift, and been a partake of the Holy Spirit. The words enlighten and partake are used elsewhere in Hebrews referring to believers. To “fall away” is an idiom used to speak of returning to the sins from which we have been delivered. Earlier in the chapter, we were told one of the elementary principles of Christianity is repentance, or turning from our sins to follow Christ. The person described here, has turned from Christ and gone back into sin. Finally, notice the word “impossible”. It is a compound word, meaning able, with a negative prefix. It means there is no way for something to be accomplished. it does not mean that it is unlikely, or difficult, but that a person who goes back to sin, cannot return again to the Lord.
As I mentioned, this is both a strong warning, as well as a text that the devil has used to beat down the struggling believer. On many occasions, I have been approached by believers who had once walked with the Lord, only to backslide for long periods of time. They have now come back to the Lord, but come across this verse and begin to doubt their salvation. I think the key to this text is the word “impossible”. It is employed because of the gripping nature of sin, and the deceitfulness of the human heart. Falling away is not something that happens suddenly; but something that is the result of neglecting the Word, prayer, fellowship, and service. It is something caused by sowing little seeds of sin over a long period of time. When we first begin the downward slide, the Spirit of God speaks to us, warning us, and convicting us. It is only when we ignore the warnings and harden ourselves against conviction, that we can continue to sin. The problem with hardening our hearts, is that our hearts become hard. Soon, we cannot hear the voice of God, or sense the conviction of the Spirit. We have seared our conscience with an iron, and the voice of God is lost to us. At that point, even when confronted directly by others, we are so hardened, we keep going on in sin, unwilling to listen or repent. For that person, renewal is impossible. Before fear strikes you, keep in mind, it is not the only thing that is impossible.
Jesus said it is impossible for the rich to be saved because they trust in riches, yet many wealthy men and women have laid down their riches to trust in Christ alone. Salvation itself is impossible. There is no way sinful man could ever be restored to fellowship with a holy God. But Jesus reminded us that,
“The things which are impossible with men are possible with God.” Luke 18:27
While it is true, sin will harden our hearts; we are capable of becoming so hardened we will not listen to the conviction of the Spirit, the warnings of the Word, or the pleas of others. It is also true, the Bible is filled with stories of those who have fallen into sin and returned. One of the most well-known of all the parables Jesus told, is the story of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-24). It is the story of falling away and returning. It is so well-known because it strikes a chord in all of us. We might go so far as to say, the whole Bible is the story of falling away and returning.
If we are to properly apply this text, we must take serious the warning against sin. We must examine ourselves to see if we have been hardening ourselves against the warnings of God, and we must repent. If we have returned to the Lord, we must accept the grace of God and not think we are destined to live as second class Christians, unable to ever truly experience His grace or be used by God.