by Pastor Mark Hudson
Verses 4-8 can be difficult for some people to understand so we will look at these verses to make sense of the author’s point. Since it is God that brings us into salvation, we can never be (un) born again. Once my parents together produce me, they will always be my parents, even if someone else (for whatever reasons) raises me. So we are not forcing our theology on to a text but remembering that Jesus said in John 10:28, “I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.”
Let’s get the main point of this short passage and try to defend this perspective. There are some, according to the author, who have been involved in the church, might have even made a profession of faith but then fell away and those people, after professing and then falling, are impossible to bring to a genuine faith. Not all, but some in that situation, the author says it is impossible for them to experience true, genuine faith.
The confusion comes in because it seems like the person described is a believer. The description in vs 4 and 5 seem to point that way. If we allow for all the possibilities it seems like the author is allowing for three options. 1. a hypothetical situation, 2. believers who fall away, or 3. professing (but not possessing salvation) people in the church. Obviously, we do not think option 2 is an option since a true believer cannot deny or turn away from Christ. Remember, these Jewish Christians were struggling with Christ. It seems that the temptation to return to Judaism was strong. If they did that, they were lost. If you say, “Christ is a savior” that is not a Christian confession. Christ is the only Lord and Savior. He is not one among many.
If a person is so close to the faith, that they have “been enlightened,” “tasted the heavenly gift,” “shared in the Holy Spirit,” “tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come” and then they leave the church or in the case of the book of Hebrews return to Judaism, they may be in the category described in v. 4, “it is impossible” “to restore them again to repentance.” You may be asking, “With those descriptions why would anyone claim that person was NOT a believer?’
For enlightened see Hebrews 10:26. Also notice we can have intellectual knowledge yet express no commitment. People can see the Bible is a very wise, helpful, theoretical as well as a practical book. An unbeliever can have a partial understanding. There is no indication of any response to this enlightenment.
Tasting the heavenly gift could be tasting Christ or tasting forgiveness (Chrysostom’s view). It is difficult to say with certainty what this refers to in v. 4. But they got a taste of something good and, for the time being, precious. But they did not taste it like Christ is described in chapter 2:9 in this manner, “. . . so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.” In John 4:10 and 6:51, we are to drink or take deep gulps of living water (4:10) and eat the bread of life (John 6:51). They were tasting not eating or drinking.
What does share in the Holy Spirit mean in Hebrews 4:4? This word share is also a partnering or associating with. This is what makes this passage so concerning. Some of these people might have seen miracles, eaten the loaves and fishes after Christ multiplied the food or seen other miracles, but in the end they ended that association. How fearful this ought to make us. Some of the people we worship with and study the Bible with may turn away from Christ in the future.
These people have tasted the goodness of the word of God in v. 5. This is the same exact word we find in v. 4. These are people who heard sermons, listened to teaching, maybe even gave money to the church. Seemingly, they liked what they heard. They contemplated heaven and hell and had a basic understanding of the gospel and forgiveness and they came to a point where they said to themselves, “This world is more valuable than the gospel of Jesus Christ. All I see and can touch is of more worth to me than God. And this is the freedom I want.”
He ends these verses by switching to an agricultural metaphor in vs. 7-8. There is some ground that receives the same rain as other ground. The first “produces a crop useful to those who sake it is cultivated, receives a blessing from God. Then other ground receives the same rain and it “bears thorns and thistles, it is worthless and near to being cursed, and its end is to be burned. So it is with the people at the time of Christ, during the ministry of the apostles, or in any church. They all hear the same word, see the same power of the Spirit, and may have seen the lives the gospel has changed. Some respond well, like ground that produces a good crop. Others respond with unbelief. They decide the church is fake, Christ is of less value than the friendships they have, and the gospel is worse than a fairy tale.
Then in v. 9, the author reminds his readers that the hope is for better things – things that belong to salvation. The things above are not salvation. What a terrible loss this is for those who do not believe. This is a deliberate decision to leave Christ. There are people who are showered with good things from God just like the ground is showered with rain. Some of the people respond in faith and obedience (v. 7). Some respond with partial obedience, they go along for a while and then decide the acceptance of friends, the security or camels, cattle, or Mercedes and a pension is better than Christ. They end up being “worthless and near to being cursed, and its (or their) end is to be burned.”
Where will you be in 10 or 20 years? What state will your soul be when you die? Are you the one that will walk away? Are you fighting to stay on fire or are you at ease in Zion? How attractive is the world to you? Or how much excitement do you feel for the gospel?
Dear heavenly Father. Stir up our hearts to fear unbelief. We ought to question how serious we are about following You and Your written word. Pour out Your Holy Spirit so we learn to obey You, place our trust in You, and endure to the end. Be with our fellow believers who are suffering for their faith. May Your church continue to speak and live their faith for Your glory. In the name of the Risen Christ. Amen.