For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places. ---Ephesians 6:12

"The age of casual Catholicism is over; the age of heroic Catholicism has begun. We can no longer be Catholics by accident, but instead must be Catholics by CONVICTION." ---Fr. Terrence Henry TOR, Franciscan University of Steubenville

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Hebrews 6:4-6 Explained

Author's note:  I have noticed in recent months that this early post of mine, which I wrote awhile ago when I was still nondenominational protestant, still garners a lot of visitors.  It is important that I point out that this was born out of a subjective opinion of mine as I was trying to make sense of a biblical passage that deeply troubled me.  It is NOT necessarily the opinion of the Catholic Church.  I am currently searching the Catechism to find our Church's opinion on this issue.

As a child you were taken to church on occasion, but lost interest during your teenage years. You never read much of the Bible, but instead focused on styles, trends, dating, and school. While keeping God at a distance, you even questioned His existence from time to time.

But in your early 30’s you begin to take a renewed interest and return to church. You even join a Bible study in which you learn about different passages and their meanings. But one evening while perusing the Book of Hebrews you come across a chapter that sends chills up your spine: Hebrews 6:4-6, which your pastor or priest and your Bible study group appear to avoid like the Plague. You read it and wonder to yourself, “is the Apostle Paul referring to me?”

(4) 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, (5) and have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of of the world to come, (6) if they should 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.

Your apprehension at this point is more common than you realize. But since you think you’re alone, there is a danger that you’ll keep your concerns to yourself, and simply show up less frequently at church until no more. Thinking that you “fell away” in your youth, you are convinced you won’t be spending eternity with the Savior, but instead will be thrown into the Lake of Fire.

My own situation was even worse. I was angry at God for years after my best friend, Dean, who was saved at age 16 and working on turning me to Christ, got cancer at age 19 and later died a very cruel death in 1983, only two months after turning 21. I spent much time with him that summer while he battled the disease, and drove him to and from hospitals in Rockford, IL. But a month after I left for college, he sought help at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN where he was told he should’ve come much sooner. When the cancer entered his brain he was sent to the psych ward, where he could be heard screaming that he was the Devil. After being told his last days were near, he came home the Monday before Thanksgiving to spend his remaining days with his family. But when I came back into town on Tuesday night from college, I was told he couldn’t recognize his old friends, that he was too tired for visitors, and that I should try again tomorrow. When I called the next morning, I was informed that he died during the night.

For years I was in denial about the effect that Dean’s fate had on me, and in anger I turned my attention away from God and toward secular distractions. During that time I pushed everyone I could out of my life through alienation and volatile displays of anger. I lost some good friends (recently retrieved two of them, two and counting), lots of acquaintances, and promising careers first in radio and then finance. When asked my religion I would during this time often refer to myself as an agnostic or even an atheist (when I was really angry), in spite of intermittently seeking God’s intervention in times of crisis.

Years later, when I got over most of the anger and turned my attention back toward God, I read Hebrews 6:4-6, and asked myself the same question that many struggle with: “Have I ‘fallen away’ to the point of no return?”

Although I didn’t feel like I had, I wondered if I’d crossed some invisible line and was fooling myself into thinking I could come back. After all, how does one ignore such a passage in the Bible? One doesn’t. Instead, one examines the context under which such a passage is presented. For that one must read the verses previous to this one once more. Let’s back up a bit to Hebrews 5:12-14 and 6:1-3.

(12) For when for the time ye ought to be teachers, ye have need that one teach you again which be the first principles of the oracles of God; and are become such as have need of milk, and not of strong meat. (13) For every one that useth milk is unskillful in the word of righteousness: for he is a babe. (14) But strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.

This passage presents us with two types of Christians, spiritual infants and spiritual adults, or those who are new to their salvation and those who have matured spiritually. Let’s read on:

6 (1) Therefore leaving the principles of the doctrine of Christ, let us go on unto perfection; not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works, and faith toward God, (2) of the doctrine of baptisms, and of laying on hands, and of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment. (3) And this we will do, if God permit.

Whether or not one moves from infancy to perfection (or maturity) appears to depend upon the permission of God. Reading further into verses 4-6 we find that it is in part based upon whether or not one has fallen away.

With that in mind, let’s look at John 12:39,40.

(39) Therefore they could not believe, because that Esaias said again, (40) He hath blinded their eyes and hardened their heart; that they should not see with their eyes, nor understand with their heart, and be converted, and I should heal them.

After making the choice not to believe, the hearts of those people were hardened by God to make their choices permanent. Therefore it would appear when taking these verses into account, that if God has not chosen to harden your heart permanently, then you may not have fallen away. And you most certainly have not fallen away if you are then able to move on into spiritual maturity.

Now how do you know when or if you've reached spiritual maturity? According to the Life Application Study Bible KJV, TuTone (x), one way to evaluate spiritual maturity is by looking at the choices we make. Are we teaching others rather than just being taught? Are we developing depth of understanding rather than struggling with the basics? Do we desire spiritual challenges or simply entertainment? Several others are listed but you get the point.

What happens if those who already have spiritual maturity lose their faith? If one can fathom such an occurrence, then one must consider the following: Infants are usually allowed to misbehave to a certain extent. We don’t punish them harshly because they don’t know any better. Adults, on the other hand, know better and are held to a much higher level of personal responsibility. It is therefore the same with spiritual infants and spiritual adults. A spiritual infant may not fully appreciate the ramifications of behaviors and decisions that a spiritual adult may. I’ve been a spiritual infant most of my adult life and have only recently moved to spiritual adulthood. Had I been spiritually mature and then declare myself an atheist, there would’ve been hell to pay, literally.

Besides, God knows far better than we do what’s inside our own hearts. Hebrews 4:12 says:

For the word of God is quick and powerful,…and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.

But does a person always know when his/her own heart is hardened? It seems like it would be obvious since a person with a hardened heart wouldn’t be on his/her knees praying to God. But in fact some do. And we can see this in people who claim to follow Christ but do not live according to His Word. I’m not talking about perfection here, for we all fall short in the eyes of God. But how a person talks or reacts to the world around him/her could be an indicator of whether or not they are true believers, or pretenders, or even liars unto themselves.

John 15:15 If ye love me, keep my commandments.

Matthew 7:17,20 Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit… Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.

If you are still worried then consider Ezekiel 36:26, 27

(26) A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh.

Now if you are still worried then perhaps you should read The Confessions of St. Augustine: Books I-X, in which he describes his long spiritual journey through sorcery, eastern religions, promiscuity, and other sinful transgressions, before returning to the religion his family had tried to instill in him: Christianity. Now he's a saint. Go figure. God works in mysterious ways...

Now don’t you feel better?