For it is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance … Though we speak in this way, yet in your case, beloved, we feel sure of better things—things that belong to salvation (Hebrews 6:4-6, 9).
In Hebrews 6, we come to what is the most controversial warning passage in Hebrews and perhaps in all of Scripture. There is no shortage of different ways expositors and commentators have handled the text of Hebrews 6:4-6. It is evident how this text might seem in conflict with passages that teach the eternal security and assurance of believers’ salvation, such as John 6:39-40, 44, Romans 5, 8:29-30, 1 Peter 1:3-5, and many others. We will seek to understand how these apparently contradictory ideas relate.
Recall how in the first three verses of Hebrews 6, the author warns against the spiritual sluggish and immature condition of his readers. He calls them to move on to maturity. Verse 4 begins with the word, “for,” providing the explanation why it is necessary for them to grow to maturity. To remain spiritual babies puts them in a perilous position, provoking the author to admonish them severely. It is evident that he is deeply concerned about the eternal condition of the souls of those to whom he writes. This is now his third warning concerning their falling away (see 2:1-4, 3:7-4:13), a subject that has occupied more than one-third of the verses of the epistle thus far. Those who are spiritually idle are in danger of falling away. While not suggesting that his readers were already apostate, his warning serves to remind them, and us, the dangerous end to which spiritual sluggishness could lead. The warning passages then become a “wake-up call” to stimulate and provoke believers to heed the admonition and not fall away.
Verses 4-8 and 9-12 present the two sides of the exhortation – a stern warning against the danger of apostasy and an encouraging hope of an eternal promise. While the warning disturbs, the promise gives comfort, but both serve the same end – that God’s people would persevere in the faith unto the end. The author is certain that those with “ears to hear” will heed the warning and be saved on the last day.