Therefore, leaving the elementary message about the Messiah, let us go on to maturity, not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works, faith in God, teaching about ritual washings, laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. And we will do this if God permits.
For it is impossible to renew to repentance those who were once enlightened, who tasted the heavenly gift, became companions with the Holy Spirit, tasted God’s good word and the powers of the coming age, and who have fallen away, because, to their own harm, they are recrucifying the Son of God and holding Him up to contempt. For ground that has drunk the rain that has often fallen on it and that produces vegetation useful to those it is cultivated for receives a blessing from God. But if it produces thorns and thistles, it is worthless and about to be cursed, and will be burned at the end.
Even though we are speaking this way, dear friends, in your case we are confident of the better things connected with salvation. For God is not unjust; He will not forget your work and the love you showed for His name when you served the saints—and you continue to serve them. Now we want each of you to demonstrate the same diligence for the final realization of your hope, so that you won’t become lazy but will be imitators of those who inherit the promises through faith and perseverance. – Hebrews 3:7-19 (HCSB)
Our author begins this section with a list of elementary principles that he expects his readers to understand. As we look at these principles we should recognize that the majority of Christians in today’s world do not understand them. Our author here assumes a level of biblical and theological literacy that simply does not exist in our context, to our shame. For that reason, we need to recognize that the following passage is probably more applicable to our fellow Christians than we might want to believe.
This is another one of the so-called apostasy passages, however this one takes a decidedly different turn than the previous one discussed. It does not suffice to say that the people in view here are persons who are nominal (in name only) Christians. We see in vs 4-5 that these are people who were “once enlightened” and who have “tasted the heavenly gift” and who “became companions with the Holy Spirit.” Our author here has in view persons who in some real way have been united to the Church. No, it will not do to posit that this is some group of persons in the midst of the Church who are not actually a part of the Church. Rather, this refers to those who have come under the administration of the Covenant of Grace by baptism but have rejected the substance of the Covenant of Grace (which is Christ himself).
We see this clearly when we reach vs 6. These individuals have been exposed to God’s word, and instead of responding in faith, show contempt for Christ. Vs 7 explains the distinction with an analogy.
There are those for who are like ground which eagerly receives rainfall and produces crops. There are also those who receive rainfall and instead produce thorns and thistles. The key here is that both types of ground receive the rain. This analogy is a modification of Christ’s Parable of the Sower (Also called the Parable of the Seed. This parable is found in Mark 4:1-20, Matthew 13:1-23, and Luke 8:1-15). Like Christ’s parable, the rain is the preached word of God, sown indiscriminately among the people. For some it is received and the fruit of the Spirit is produced. For others it is received and only hostility and contempt is produced. For those who produce contempt, there is no salvation.
However, our author closes by expressing confidence in his audience’s salvation. This is not because, as some have argued, the stubborn ground is entirely hypothetical. Rather, it is because he has seen the evidence of their proper reception of God’s word. In vs 10ff he explains that God is just and has seen their good works. This again is one of the many passages in the New Testament that associate good works with salvation in something more than just a demonstrative fashion. While we must be careful never to ground our salvation in good works, as though good works somehow merit or obtain salvation for us. Justification happens by God’s grace alone, through Holy Spirit granted faith alone, in union with Christ alone. However we must also recognize that somehow in the mystery of God our good works play some kind of role in God’s validation of our salvation. Because of this passage, and others like it, we must say that good works are necessary for salvation. If they were not our author here, under divine inspiration, would not have exhorted his readers to diligence “for the final realization of your hope.” Nor would he have said that there were those who “inherit the promises through faith and perseverance.”
- While there is disagreement in the Christian world as to whom the title “Christian” is applicable. Some would say that the word Christian applies only to regenerate, saved, individuals. Others, myself included, would say that this term applies to all persons under the administration of the Covenant of Grace. While the distinction between the administration and substance of the covenant is another discussion entirely, and would require some space to justify, I am assuming the distinction here. Christian, thus, applies to all persons baptized in the Triune Name, as well as their children (both natural and adopted). Passages like this, in fact, are part of what drives me to this conclusion as I am unsure exactly how to understand this passage apart from the administration/substance distinction.
- It is important to note here that it is not that contempt for the Gospel is an unforgivable sin in and of itself. Like the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit, the reason this is unforgivable is because it results in one rejecting Christ’s command to repent and believe, and thus rejecting salvation.