Warning about Apostasy – Hebrews 6

Read the Passage: Hebrews 6

Listen to the Redeemed Mind Podcast: Hebrews 6

Author’s Admonition (6:1–8)

In Heb. 6:1 the author declared his desire to move beyond “the discussion of elementary principles of Christ,” which is largely what he had been covering in the first five chapters of this letter. The author notes his intent is to build upon these first principles of the faith, which will lead to a type of “perfection” (Heb. 6:1) in spiritual maturity. Toward this end, the author lists six of “the first principles of the oracles of God” (Heb. 5:12) in Heb. 6:1–2. Note that these principles are listed in the chronological order in which they are experienced in the Christian life. These basic principles are: (1) repentance of dead works, (2) faith toward God, (3) the doctrine of baptisms, (4) the laying on of hands, (5) resurrection from the dead, (6) and eternal judgment. Note that, in a Christian context, the “laying on of hands” (Heb. 6:2) most likely refers to a form of blessing for ministerial service (cf. Matt. 19:13; Acts 6:6; 13:3; 28:8; 2 Tim. 1:6).

One reason why Heb. 6:4–6 is so challenging to many is that, if read in isolation, this passage may be erroneously understood to allow for the loss of salvation. Of course, the loss of salvation is taught against elsewhere in Scripture (cf. John 10:28; Phil. 1:6). Note the following three observations about this passage: First, in these verses the author changes from the first and second person (e.g., “we,” “you,” “us”) to the third person (e.g., “those,” “they”). Second, those in view in this passage are not called elect, spirit-indwelt, justified, forgiven, or accepted. Likewise, their faith, love, and obedience are not mentioned. Third, note that when he gets to Heb. 6:9 the author is clear to refocus his discussion on the true church, as he conveys his confidence in his readers’ salvation. Taken all together, these observations lead to the conclusion that those in view in Heb. 6:4–6 are not real believers. These verses, then, are a warning to true believers to check their faith and to make sure their profession is authentic.

Church’s Example (6:9–12)

In Heb. 6:9–12 the author assured his readers that “we are confident of better things concerning you, yes, things that accompany salvation” (Heb. 6:9). The author was confident, then, that his readers’ spiritual condition was not the result of false teaching or apostasy, but of immaturity (cf. Heb. 5:12). The author writes in Heb. 6:10 that the basis for his judgment about the salvation of his readers was their actions—that is, their good works, their labor of love, and their ministry to the saints. Scripture teaches that while one can engage in good works without faith (cf. Matt. 7:15–23), true faith is always accompanied by good works (cf. Jas. 2:14–17). Observe, then, that while new believers may not know advanced nuances about doctrine, their conduct will necessarily be impacted by their relationship with Christ. Good works don’t lead to salvation; rather, they flow from it.

God’s Promise (6:13–20)

In Heb. 6:13–17 the author encourages his readers regarding spiritual blessings by appealing to God’s interaction with Abraham. In quoting Gen. 22:17, the author notes that just as God had promised to bless Abraham (cf. Gen. 12:1–3), so God has promised to bless His followers today. In Abraham’s case, the author notes, “After he had patiently endured, he obtained the promise” (Heb. 6:15). This is an interesting conclusion in light of the author’s later admission in Heb. 11:13a that Abraham died “not having received the promises.” Yet, as the author explains in Heb. 11:13b, Abraham did see “them afar off . . . [and was] assured of them” (cf. John 8:56). So, believers who do not yet see the promises of God presently being fulfilled in their lives need to patiently endure, being confident that they will eventually come to pass, whether in this life or in the next.

In Heb. 6:18–20, as a means of giving His readers a reason for hope, the author notes that God promised to give His followers hope, even taking an oath “by Himself” (Heb. 6:13). Therefore, there are “two immutable” (Heb. 6:18) reasons why God’s followers should have hope in Christ—that is, because God has made a promise to bless the heirs of the covenant, and because God has taken an oath to this effect (cf. Heb. 6:13, 17). The author then cites two illustrations in Heb. 6:19 to support His point: an anchor and the High Priest. In both cases men cannot see the work being done that results in their security and the preservation of the lives. To elaborate, an anchor is hidden on the sea floor, while the High Priest is hidden in the Holy of Holies behind the Temple veil. Just as sailors trust that an anchor will hold, so Christians must trust in Jesus’ sacrifice for sins, as well as in God’s hidden, providential plan for the world.

Application Questions:

  1. Why does the author of Hebrews give so many warnings in this letter concerning the spiritual state of his readers?
  2. What is the significance of laying on of hands? Is there anything mystical about this practice? Is this elementary principle practiced in many churches today?
  3. What are the “better things . . . that accompany salvation” (Heb. 6:9) that the writer refers to in this passage? How do you know that you are a Christian?
  4. Have you ever doubted that God will fulfill His promises to you? How has God proven His faithfulness to you?
  5. Just as God took an oath (cf. Heb. 6:17), can Christians take oaths; or is this forbidden (cf. Matt. 5:33; Jas. 5:12)?