Falling Away

Edward Hendrie

            Another of the favorite passages for Arminians to read out of context is Hebrews 6:4-6. That passage reads:


For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost, And have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come, If they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance; seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame. Hebrews 6:4-6.

            Jim McGuiggan tries to explain Hebrews 6 as meaning that a person who is saved has the power to reject God and lose his salvation.


It’s true that faith is a gracious work of God in us (Philippians 1:29, Romans 10:17, Acts 18:27 and elsewhere) but God doesn’t inject it into us and by its very nature it doesn’t exist unless it has our free and vital ongoing consent and commitment. The graciousness of the gift doesn't render us incapable of despising it and throwing it away from us. . . . [T]this relationship has the free consent of our hearts and minds. We aren’t zombies or automata. We are friends of God in Jesus Christ. And we can turn from him (2 Peter 2:20-22) and refuse to abide in him (John 15:5-6). To do that is to reject God and the relationship is ended. To say that we’re powerless to reject God and the relationship is to ignore the meaning of "reconciliation" and "friendship" with God. Endnote

            The argument by the Arminians is that Hebrews 6:4-6 contemplates one who once was saved but has fallen away from the grace of God by the power of his own free will. Such an interpretation is directly contrary to the expressed promises of Christ. “All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out.” (John 6:37 AV)

            All who are chosen by the Father for salvation will be saved. John chapter 6 precludes the possibility of falling away from salvation, the falling away referred to in Hebrews chapter 6 is the falling away from the church, not salvation. There are those like Judas who appear for a time to be part of the church but in the end they make manifest that they are enemies of the gospel. “They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us: but they went out, that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us.” (1 John 2:19 AV) Judas and others like him went out, not because they were saved and lost their salvation, but rather because from the beginning “they were not of us.” That is they were pretenders to salvation; they were unsaved tares congregating among the saved wheat. Matthew 13:27-43.

            Those who do not believe in Christ are lost because they have not been chosen by God for salvation. Those who are chosen for salvation cannot lose their salvation. John 10:26-30. There is simply no such thing as a person losing his salvation.


But ye believe not, because ye are not of my sheep, as I said unto you. My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand. My Father, which gave them me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of my Father’s hand. I and my Father are one. (John 10:26-30 AV)

            There are only two possibilities in the gospel. First, those who are lost cannot believe because God has not chosen them to believe. The other possibility is the flip side of the first, those who are chosen to believe will in fact believe, and they cannot ever lose their faith, “no man is able to pluck them out of my Father’s hand.” There is no category for persons to be first saved and then for them to overrule God’s choice by the power of their free will and “unsave” themselves. Such an occurrence is an impossibility. The only way to build such a theology is to ignore the clear message of the gospel.

            Furthermore, when we read Hebrews 6:4-6 in context, we can see that it refers to persons who were never saved to begin with. That is evident when one reads the very next passage. That passage refers to the difference between the earth that drinks in the rain and the brings forth fine herbs and the parched earth that only tastes of the rain brings forth thorns and briers. That passage makes a distinction between the saved who drink in he word of God and the unsaved who have only tasted the word of God.


For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost, And have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come, If they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance; seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame. For the earth which drinketh in the rain that cometh oft upon it, and bringeth forth herbs meet for them by whom it is dressed, receiveth blessing from God: But that which beareth thorns and briers is rejected, and is nigh unto cursing; whose end is to be burned. (Hebrews 6:4-8 AV)

            Partaking of the Holy Ghost for the lost soul in Hebrews chapter 6 does not mean a total submersion by the Holy Ghost, which the bible refers to as a baptism of the Holy Ghost. The change in one who is saved goes far beyond the enlightenment attributed to the lost soul in Hebrews chapter 6. The saved person is born again. He becomes a new spiritual creation of God. “Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” (John 3:3 AV) The saved person is born again through the baptism of the Holy Ghost. “Then remembered I the word of the Lord, how that he said, John indeed baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost.” (Acts 11:16 AV)

            The baptism of the Holy Ghost is not merely a taste of the spiritual waters. Indeed, the baptism of the Holy Ghost is the total submergence such that God’s elect are completely cleansed of their sin in God’s sight and are spiritually resurrected with Christ as new creations. “Buried with him in baptism, wherein also ye are risen with him through the faith of the operation of God, who hath raised him from the dead. And you, being dead in your sins and the uncircumcision of your flesh, hath he quickened together with him, having forgiven you all trespasses;” (Colossians 2:12-13 AV)

            The word of God is referred to as that spiritual water that cleanses Christ’s church from sin. One who is saved does not just taste God’s word. He drinks it in; indeed, he immerses himself in God’s word and is washed clean thereby. God’s church is cleansed by his word which is the spiritual water of salvation. “That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, That he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish.” (Ephesians 5:26-27 AV)

            Notice how Jesus in John 15 analogizes himself to a vine, with God the Father being the husbandman. In that passage a saved person does not merely taste of the heavenly gift and the word of God, the elect of God “abides” as a branch in the vine of God. That is the only way that a person can bring forth the spiritual fruit evidencing salvation. All who do not abide in Jesus are cast from the vine and burned. They are as the thorns and briers referred to in Hebrews 6:8 “whose end is to be burned.”


I am the true vine, and my Father is the husbandman. Every branch in me that beareth not fruit he taketh away: and every branch that beareth fruit, he purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit. Now ye are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me. I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing. If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned. If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you. Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit; so shall ye be my disciples.” (John 15:1-8 AV)

            The Armininan might say “ah, but you still have not presented proof that the decision to abide in the vine of God is not a decision born of the free will of man.” In fact, we read in the beginning of this chapter how Jim McGuiggan cited John 15:5-6 to support his argument that man has the power of his own free will to throw away his salvation. When the entire passage in John chapter 15 is read in context, the sovereign grace of God in the election and preservation of the saints becomes clear. In John 15:16-18 Jesus explains the meaning of the metaphor of the vine and branches. Those who are saved are chosen by him. Jesus explicitly states that one does not choose him, rather Jesus does the choosing. He has chosen his elect branches out of the world and ordained them to bear spiritual fruit.


Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you, that ye should go and bring forth fruit, and that your fruit should remain: that whatsoever ye shall ask of the Father in my name, he may give it you. These things I command you, that ye love one another. If the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you. If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you. (John 15:16-19 AV)

            In John 15:4-5, Jesus also states that the branches chosen by him can do nothing aside from him. He chooses the branches and they bear fruit because he has purposed that they continue to abide in him. “for without me ye can do nothing.” (John 15:5 AV) That statement alone impeaches the false notion that man is a free agent in deciding and keeping his salvation. It is not the branches through their free will that support the root, it is the root that supports the branches, and that root is Christ. “Boast not against the branches. But if thou boast, thou bearest not the root, but the root thee.” (Romans 11:18 AV) Jesus chooses and nourishes the branches, and without him they can do nothing, period.

            Notice what God says in 1st Peter. “Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever. For all flesh is as grass, and all the glory of man as the flower of grass. The grass withereth, and the flower thereof falleth away:” (1 Peter 1:23-24 AV) We see God using a simile of the earth and the plants springing from the earth. A saved Christian is born again from the incorruptible seed of the Holy Spirit. All flesh, however, is as grass. Those who have not been reborn and made new spiritual creations remain in the flesh and are like the grass that withers and falls away. The unsaved grass in 1 Peter chapter 1, as the unsaved briers and thorns in Hebrews chapter 6, are good only to be burned.

            Read also what Jesus says Matthew chapter 13 about the unsaved tares that were sown among the wheat. The tares are the “children of the wicked one” who were sown by the devil. At the end of the world the angels will gather the tares and burn them in the fires of hell, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth for eternity. Matthew 13:36-43. The wheat are the children of the kingdom who are born of the good seed of Jesus; they will shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of God.


            At the end of the parable of the wheat and the tares in Matthew 13, Jesus repeats “who hath ears to hear, let him hear.” Matthew 13:43. Jesus is indicating that the truths he is revealing can only be understood and accepted by those to whom he has given spiritual ears with which to understand.

            Those in Hebrews chapter 6 who only taste the word of God are like the tares in Matthew chapter 13, they are left dry and bring forth spiritual thorns and briers. The thorns and briers are symbolic of their spiritual condition. They are the spiritual weeds in God’s kingdom, to be pulled up and burned in the fires of hell. When we read the passages that immediately follow the metaphor of the dry ground that brings forth briers and thorns in Hebrews chapter 6, we read that the good soil that drinks in the rain and brings forth abundant fruit are those who “inherit the promises.”


But, beloved, we are persuaded better things of you, and things that accompany salvation, though we thus speak. For God is not unrighteous to forget your work and labour of love, which ye have shewed toward his name, in that ye have ministered to the saints, and do minister. And we desire that every one of you do shew the same diligence to the full assurance of hope unto the end: That ye be not slothful, but followers of them who through faith and patience inherit the promises. For when God made promise to Abraham, because he could swear by no greater, he sware by himself. (Hebrews 6:9-13 AV)

            In Hebrews chapter 6, God explains that the referenced promises are the promises made by God to Abraham. Hebrews 6:13. The promises were according to the sovereign election of God. That is the whole point of the gospel. It all comes back to the election of God according to his sovereign grace.


That is, They which are the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God: but the children of the promise are counted for the seed. For this is the word of promise, At this time will I come, and Sara shall have a son. And not only this; but when Rebecca also had conceived by one, even by our father Isaac; (For the children being not yet born, neither having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works, but of him that calleth;) (Romans 9:8-11 AV)

            Romans 9 clearly states that God’s spiritual seed are the object of God’s promise and are chosen by God. It is not the children of the flesh that are the children of God (whether by fleshly heredity or fleshly will). Indeed all flesh is as grass to be burned. God’s election is according to his sovereign will and purpose, wherein his elect brings forth the fruit of salvation. The heirs of the promise made to Abraham are chosen by God, not by man. The promise was made by God, and it is God who fulfills that promise in Christ. “And if ye be Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.” (Galatians 3:29 AV)

            Once saved, a believer is sealed for eternity by the Holy Spirit. “In whom ye also trusted, after that ye heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation: in whom also after that ye believed, ye were sealed with that holy Spirit of promise,” (Ephesians 1:13 AV) No one is able to break God’s seal.

For more information on this topic, go to www.antigospel.com or contact Edward Hendrie at edwardhendrie [at] gmail [dot] com.