Is it possible for a Christian to lose his or her salvation? The most quoted passage in the Bible to argue for conditional security instead of eternal security is Hebrews 6:4-6: “For it is impossible to restore again to repentance 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, if they then fall away, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt.” These apostates who left the Christian faith and returned to Judaism are described as those who once: 1. repented; 2. had been enlightened; 3. tasted the heavenly gift; 4. shared in the Holy Spirit; 5. tasted the goodness of the word of God; and 6. tasted the powers of the age to come. I will argue in this article that these individuals were never true Christians who were part of the bride of Christ.
That these apostates were never regenerate and justified believers is evident from the distinction the author of Hebrews draws between them and the bride of Christ who does persevere to the end in verses 9-11: “Though we speak in this way, yet in your case, beloved, we feel sure of better things – things that belong to salvation. For God is not so unjust as to overlook your work and the love that you showed for his sake in serving the saints, as you still do. And we desire each one of you to show the same earnestness to have the full assurance of hope until the end.” The author of Hebrews is sure that those who are among the beloved will not fall away. These are the members of the bride of Christ, the elect for whom he died (2 Cor 7:1; Eph 5:1-2). It is a term of endearment to describe Christians as those who are loved by God with the unique love that Christ has for his church. That means these apostates were never among the beloved since it is certain that the bride of Christ will endure to the end. And the proof that a person is among the beloved is his good works which are the fruit which prove he is not among those who are lost (Matt 7:17-19; 13:21; Heb 6:8).
The problem with those who use this passage to argue against eternal security is that they don’t actually believe in what the text says. Verse four says, “It is impossible to restore again to repentance those who have once been enlightened.” But those who believe this passage teaches that a true Christian can lose his salvation also believe that salvation can be regained after it is lost. A literal reading of the text is not consistent with conditional security, especially in its Roman Catholic form which teaches that salvation can be restored through the sacrament of penance. The reason why repentance is impossible for them is because they have committed the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit (Mark 3:28-30). To blaspheme the Holy Spirit is to say that the power by which Christ performed miracles is that of Satan rather than the Holy Spirit. In order to be accepted back into the Jewish community, these apostates would have to agree with the opinions of the Jewish leaders about Jesus which included believing that his miracles were performed by the power of Satan instead of God (Matt 12:24, 32). Such a person will never be saved because the Spirit will never grant him regeneration.
Those who had fallen away had at one time repented because they had been baptized which is an act of repentance (Mark 1:4-5). But the act of baptism does not save. In order to be readmitted into the Christian community, they would have to be baptized again since Christ commands all disciples to be baptized as disciples regardless if they have been baptized before (Matt 28:19; Acts 19:1-6). Every true Christian must be baptized upon profession of his faith because the only valid baptism is the baptism of disciples or true Christians. If a person was not a Christian when he was baptized, he was never truly baptized and needs to be baptized because Christian baptism is a baptism of disciples alone. But since those who commit the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit will never desire to join the church, it is impossible to restore them again to this repentance which is required for all professing believers. But not all who partake of this repentance are saved because not everyone who professes faith in Christ and is baptized is saved (Acts 8:13, 20-23).
They had also been enlightened because they had heard about and believed in the truths of the Christian faith. The term describes the initial conversion experience into the Christian religion as their minds are illuminated concerning that which is true. But James 2 reminds us that mere intellectual assent to the truth does not save. A person is not saved by believing certain truths about Christ, joining a church, or being baptized. Rather, a person is saved by the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit in the gospel message that results in true saving faith which is trusting in Christ alone for salvation and submitting to him as Lord. It is not merely accepting truths about Jesus which saves, but actually trusting in the true gospel and Jesus of the Bible which is demonstrated by being willing to follow Christ no matter the cost.
They had tasted the heavenly gift who is the Holy Spirit sent from heaven (Luke 11:13). But their experience of the Spirit was but a taste, not a permanent indwelling. They may have cast out demons (Matt 7:22), experienced miracles, and witnessed the work of the Holy Spirit in the church (Acts 8:18), but these things do not save. Balaam, Saul, and Caiaphas experienced the prophetic work of the Spirit, yet the Bible gives no indication that they were ever saved (Num 24:15-17; 1 Sam 10:11; John 11:49-52). They temporarily shared in the Spirit because they participated in some of the benefits that the Holy Spirit gives to the local church. As a member of the church, they tasted the Word of God in the preaching of the Word and may have themselves preached the Word or done evangelism. They at one time believed the truths concerning the gospel, but there was no inner renewal of the Holy Spirit. They witnessed miracles or the powers of the age to come which prove the truthfulness of Christianity (Heb 2:4). But for all of this, they turned away and eventually concluded that these miracles were done by the power of Satan instead of the power of God.
Rather than proving that a regenerate and justified believer can lose his salvation, Hebrews 6:4-6 shows how close a person can come to salvation and yet remain lost. Judas was a man who fit all the descriptions listed here, yet he was never saved to begin with (John 6:64-65, 70-71; 13:11). Judas had experienced the repentance of baptism, had his mind enlightened to the truth, witnessed the miracles of Jesus and the power of the Holy Spirit, was part of the visible church in which the Holy Spirit dwells, preached the gospel, and casted out demons (Matt 7:21-23). But because these people did not endure to the end, this demonstrates that they had never come to share in Christ (Heb 3:14). If those who are in the new covenant could ever be lost, that would overturn the perfection of the new covenant (Heb 8:6-12; 9:15; 12:24). Christ would be unable to save those he died for and intercedes on behalf of just as the priests of the old covenant could not save those they mediated for (Heb 10:1-18). For a more detailed study of Hebrews 6, I recommend Wayne Grudem’s article on the passage.