Impossible Repentance?

By Tom Wacaster 
(Hebrews 6:4-6)

The passage now before us describes a state of apostasy from the faith so severe that it is said to be “impossible” to bring a person again to repentance. The writer is about to enter into a description of a class of once faithful Christians who had rejected Christ as High Priest, and had instead returned to their previous state under the old Mosaic Law. In these few verses we get a glimpse of their past, present, and future. It is this future spiritual state wherein the author says, “it is impossible to renew them again unto repentance,” that poses the difficulty. Consider the following.

Their Past

The advocates of the false doctrine of the impossibility of apostasy would have us to believe that the author of Hebrews was presenting a mere hypothetical case that could not and would not happen to a real Christian. Listen again to the description of those of whom the inspired writer is speaking: “For as touching those who were once enlightened, and tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Spirit, and tasted of the age to come” (Heb. 6:4-5). If the author is not describing a faithful child of God then I am at a loss as to the meaning of words. Space does not allow me to elaborate upon each of the phrases used by the author, but whether taken separately or collectively, they simply cannot be referring to anyone other than a faithful child of God. Such was their past.

Their Present

With four words the author moves from their past to their present: “and then fell away.” Attempts to soften the message of the inspired writer are totally inadmissible. Our English translates the Greek ‘parapipto,’ meaning “to fall beside...In the Scriptures to fall away (from the true faith)...Heb. 6:6” (Thayer). This passage is a real warning against a real danger. To deny this is to make void the purpose of this inspired letter. In short the entire book of Hebrews becomes an exercise in futility and can be likened to a man in a dark cellar with no light looking for a black cat that isn’t there. Why would God spend the time in solemnly warning the people to beware lest they be lost if, in fact, it is impossible that they can be lost?

Their Future

Focus on the word “impossible.” In an attempt to deal with the difficulty, some have softened the language so as to make the passage mean, “it is difficult.” But the Greek word here translated “impossible” is ‘adunaton.’ It occurs ten times in the New Testament, including three other passages in Hebrews (6:18; 10:4; and 11:6). In all other places the word plainly means nothing less than “absolutely impossible,” and that must be its meaning in 6:6 also. The apostle is warning of a state of apostasy so severe and so final as to make it absolutely impossible to bring that lost soul back to a saved relationship with God. In light of other passages that teach that God can, and will forgive virtually any sin we might commit so long as we have obeyed the gospel and continue to walk in the light, how might we harmonize what is said here with such promises of hope?

First, if these Christians abandoned the system of Christianity and went back under the old system of things, it would be impossible for them to be brought to repentance and salvation under that system.  This interpretation is certainly in keeping with the context of this letter.

Second, there is the danger of harboring a hardened heart. The scriptures plainly teach that it is possible for one to live in sin for so long a time that he finally hardens his heart beyond the point of recovery. Consequently his heart can no longer be touched by the sweet message from God (cf. 2 Pet. 2:14; 1 Tim. 4:1-4). While it is hard to imagine such a state of depravity and hardness of heart, it is nonetheless true that one can become so overwhelmed by sin that the gospel can no longer reach his heart. Such a state of impossibility is due to the unwillingness of men, not the inability of God! 

These Hebrew brethren were in danger of placing themselves in a situation wherein it is impossible to be restored. While it is true that God will forgive any sin we confess (1 John 1:8-9), these brethren had evidently reached a spiritual state where they could no longer be stirred to repentance, “seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh.” So long as they remained in this state of rejection and rebellion, it was impossible to renew them to repentance.

Some years ago I came across the following poem. It has appeared a number of times in various brotherhood publications, but the author has never been named:

There is a time, I know not when,
A place, I know not where,
Which marks the destiny of men
To Glory or Despair.

There is a line by us not seen,
Which crosses every path;
The hidden boundary between
God’s patience and His wrath.

Oh, Where is that mysterious boundary
By which each path is crossed
Beyond which God himself hath sworn
That he who goes is lost?

How long may men go on in sin
How long will God forbear?
Where does hope end and where begin
The confines of despair?

One answer from these skies is sent,
Ye who from God depart,
While it is called today - repent
And harden not your heart

Another warning from the inspired author can serve as a fitting close to this week’s article: “Take heed, brethren, lest haply there shall be in any one of you an evil heart of unbelief in falling away from the living God” (Heb. 3:12).

The Impact of Paul On The World

by Tom Wacaster

Few men have ever lived who made the kind of impact upon humanity and history, as did Paul the apostle. Converted in early adulthood, this former enemy of the cross became the most ardent supporter and defender of Christianity. One of the best, if not the best uninspired work on Paul the Apostle was written by Conybeare and Howson, entitled The Life And Epistles of Saint Paul. If you have never had the opportunity to read this classic work on Paul, you owe it to yourself to obtain a copy and study its contents. You will not regret having done so.

With the exception of Christ, Paul did more to advance the cause of Christ than any other human being. One astonishing feature of Paul’s life is what he accomplished in the amount of time allotted him as apostle and preacher. The public ministry of Paul, from the third year after his conversion to his martyrdom, spanned only a quarter of a century. In those 25 years Paul made three great missionary campaigns with a number of minor expeditions, five visits to Jerusalem, and at least four years of captivity in Caesarea and Rome. Even if we allow the date of Paul’s death to be as late as 68 A.D., that is still less than three decades to accomplish what few men accomplish in a life time. 

Following his conversion he returned to Damascus where he began in earnest the task of saving souls. His love for the lost and his devotion to the Lord took him to the far reaches of the Roman Empire, and eventually even to Rome. He suffered mercilessly at the hands of the Jews who remained loyal to the tradition of their fathers. Yet he never lost his love for his kinsmen in the flesh. His heart ached for their conversion as a people, but he knew that would never happen. His love for both Jew and Gentile motivated him to turn his back on the things of the world, and march ever onward toward that “city which hath foundation whose builder and maker is God”  (Heb. 11:10). His love for Jesus Christ took him to distant lands, into hostile environment, and brought upon him some of the most severe trials imaginable. After his third missionary journey he returned to Jerusalem for the fifth and final time, where he would be rescued from an angry mob and arrested by dutiful soldiers of the Roman army. The next five years would find Paul appealing to Caesar for a fair trial, a long and treacherous journey to Rome, and an opportunity to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ in the single most influential metropolis in the Empire - Rome. His work took him into the household of Caesar, where the apostle was instrumental in converting even some of the family members of the ruler of the known world. He would be released for a short period of time, and then arrested a second time only to be martyred because of his faith, thus ending his earthly sojourn.

Volumes have been written on the life and work of Paul the apostle. His life has convinced untold millions of the authenticity of Christ and Christianity. His words, revealed and recorded by divine inspiration, still speak to men today. His works are some of the earliest Christian documents that we have. Thirteen of the twenty-seven books of the New Testament were written by him, and he is the prominent character in the Book of Acts.

And though he is dead, he still speaks! Phillip Schaff offered this notable tribute to Paul. I’ll close this week’s article with his words:

It was the heroic career of a spiritual conqueror of immortal souls for Christ, converting them from the service of sin and Satan to the service of the living God, from the bondage of the law to the freedom of the gospel, and leading them to the fountain of life eternal. He labored more abundantly than all the other apostles; and yet, in sincere humility, he considered himself “the least of the apostles,” and “not meet to be called an apostle,” because he persecuted the church of God; a few years later he confessed: “I am less than the least of all saints,” and shortly before his death: “I am the chief of sinners.” His humility grew as he experienced God’s mercy and ripened for heaven. Paul passed a stranger and pilgrim through this world, hardly observed by the mighty and the wise of his age. And yet how infinitely more noble, beneficial, and enduring was his life and work than the dazzling march of military conquerors, who, prompted by ambitions absorbed millions of treasure and myriads of lives, only to die at last in a drunken fit at Babylon, or of a broken heart on the rocks of St. Helena! Their empires have long since crumbled into dust, but St. Paul still remains one of the foremost benefactors of the human race, and the pulses of his mighty heart are beating with stronger force than ever throughout the Christian world  (Phillip Schaff, History of the Christian Church).