Don’t Crucify Christ
For in the case of those who have once been enlightened and have tasted of the heavenly gift and have been made partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, 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.
Yikes! That’s a scary passage, isn’t it! Or is it? Truth is, folks can’t agree on whether it’s a message of doom or hope. It certainly sounds scary, what with all the crucifying Christ again and impossibility of repenting again. So I want to look at this passage closer. Does it teach that a Christian can lose his salvation? Or is there comfort that we can find here?
First, let’s set our context. As a rule of thumb, the epistles of the New Testament were written to believers — or at least the writers assumed that their recipients were believers. They were written to specific assemblies (e.g. Corinth, Rome, etc.) or a category of people (e.g. dispersed Jews, James 1:1). The writers can’t know if every single person within those groups are saved, but they give them the benefit of the doubt. We see this same dynamic when our pastors preach on Sunday morning. He assumes, for the most part, that his congregation is Christian but he also knows that, odds are, there are unbelievers in the congregation. There are those who confess to be Christians but, in reality, are not. Knowing this, warnings are often sprinkled into a sermon, or in an epistle to those who might be of the hypocritical variety.
The book of Hebrews is no exception. The writer assumes, for the most part, that his readers are Christians, but gives stern warnings. This passage in chapter 6 is actually clearer who is being addressed. Which brings me to my first observation:
Notice the contrast among “us” (v1), “those” (v4), and “you” (vv 9-10).
“Us” is the author speaking congregationally. It’s a charitable way to include the author with his readers. The implication is that the readers, for the most part, have not left the “elementary teachings” even though the author himself has. It’s an exhortation for everyone to mature. But it’s the “those” and “you” that really give us our context. “Those” describes the people in vv4-8, the people who have been enlightened, tasted the Spirit, yet fallen away. It is these people that cannot be renewed to repentance. But this is contrast to the people described in vv9-10. It says, “But, beloved, we are convinced of better things concerning you, and things that accompany salvation…” The author, again, is being charitable in hoping that his readers are not characterized by the same things that the folks in vv4-8 are characterized by. Which leads me to observation #2:
The things in vv4-6 are not things that guarantee salvation.
The author says in v9 that he is sure of “better things,” which are “things that accompany salvation.” Now, typically one looks at those “things” in vv4-6 — enlightened, tasted of the heavenly gift, partaker of the Holy Spirit, tasted the word of God and the powers to come — and says, “Well, this person must be saved.” My point here is not to linger on how these descriptions don’t necessarily describe a saved person (maybe another day), but that v9 explicitly says that the inspired author doesn’t view these things as necessarily accompanying salvation. That is, it’s possible to be enlightened, tasted of the word, etc. and not be saved. Whatever definitions you wrap around these terms to describe the “how” is beside the point; the point is that it is possible, and the author explicitly says so. The person who believes this passage describes a saved person losing his salvation needs to deal with that fact.
So, given that these things don’t necessarily accompany salvation, why can’t these folks be renewed to repentance once they have fallen away? Why can’t they be saved? (Notice I didn’t say saved “again” — because they weren’t saved in the first place.) That’s point #3:
These people who have fallen away crucify Christ.
James White, in his exposition of this passage, shed some light on what this term probably would have meant to the readers. Bear in mind that these Hebrew Christians were constantly being tempted to go back to the Levitical system of worship — the sacrifices, the priests, the tabernacle, etc. The writer has already exhorted them not to be like the Jews who heard the gospel and witnessed God’s miracles, yet perished in the wilderness because of their unbelief (Heb 3:16-4:2). It’s the same warning here. Don’t be the guy who hears the gospel, sees the miracles, and tastes the goodness of God, but ultimately rejects him. When you do this, you crucify Christ.
This would have been especially poignant to these readers because, White says, it was the Jews who yelled out to Pontius Pilate in the first place, “Crucify him!” When you crucify the Son of God to yourself, you reject his sacrifice. You are looking to be satisfied with the old sacrifices, the Levitical system. You reject the grace of God. John Piper says essentially the same thing:
When a person chooses against Christ and turns back to the way of the world and the sovereignty of his own will and the fleeting pleasures of earth, he says in effect that these are worth more than Christ is worth. They are worth more than the love of Christ and the wisdom of Christ and the power of Christ and all that God promises to be for us in Christ. And when a person says that, it is the same as saying: I agree with the crucifiers of Jesus. Because what could shame Christ more today than to have someone taste his goodness and wisdom and power and then say: No, there is something better and more to be desired. That puts him to a public shame.
The writer is drawing a line in the sand. Are you going to be the person who comes oh-so-close to salvation by hearing the word and witnessing God’s grace, or are you going to be the person who takes hold of the Word, embraces it, and grows in it? Are you going to be the person who crucifies the Son of God, or are you going to be the person who rises with him?
It may be a fine line because you can’t be a Christian without hearing and tasting — but if you go up to that line and don’t step over into belief, you are lingering in dangerous territory. It’s a plea to commit to Christ, to push on. Imagine being on an island infested with disease and that you’ve been told about a bridge that will lead you safely off the island. The bridge is old, narrow, and passes over troubled waters, but it is firm and secure. You search and you find the bridge, but the sight of the crashing water underneath freaks you out. So do you cross the bridge in spite of your fear and save your life, or do you go back to what’s familiar — and to the death that awaits you on the island?
Count the cost. Don’t go back. Don’t crucify the Christ.