Apostasy (5): What?
Reformed Free Publishing Association
The following is Part Five in the Apostasy series. Read the last section, Part Four, here.
“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).
In the first three blog posts of this series, we examined Hebrews 10:26-29, one of the apostasy passages of the epistle to the Hebrews. Perhaps even better known is Hebrews 6:4-6, the subject of this series of blog posts. It, too, describes apostasy. If Hebrews 10:26-29 describes fearful apostasy, Hebrews 6:4-6 emphasizes that such fearful apostasy is irreversible. The apostate, warns the writer to the Hebrews, cannot be recovered from his sin. That, too, makes apostasy a uniquely fearful sin.
“If they shall fall away.” That is the essence of apostasy: a falling away from one’s profession. The apostasy here is the final, complete, and total rejection of the Christian faith and the embracing of the world, false religion, or the false church. The apostate professed to enjoy certain spiritual privileges (he tasted certain supernatural realities; he came very close to salvation itself), but he rejected them all.
The word “if” might leave the impression that apostasy is hypothetical. But the writer to the Hebrews is not writing about a hypothetical, theoretical, possible apostasy. He is warning his readers about real, actual apostasy. There really is a hell and there are really people who once professed Christianity who perish forever under God’s wrath. The warning is serious. We could translate the passage this way: “impossible the ones once enlightened having tasted, having become partakers, having tasted and they falling away to renew them again to repentance, they crucifying…”
The fall in verse 6 is not a slight stumbling, but final, irreversible plunge into ruin. This is a deliberate, willful, and wicked departure from the truth, from Christ, and from Christ’s church. The apostate has tasted something of the goodness of Christianity but he rejected Christianity because (for whatever reason) he prefers the world to Christ; the false church to the true church; and false religion to Christianity. Having been in the church, baptized, confessed faith, partaken of the Supper, and lived seemingly as a Christian for a time, he finally shows that he never believed, never repented and never belonged to Christ. He had always been a hypocrite and now in his apostasy he reveals his true character.
The horror of the apostate’s sin is seen in his attitude and behavior toward Christ. There are ex-Christians who have left the church who claim still to admire Christ. You cannot leave the true church where Christ is preached; where Christ is tasted and known; where Christ rules through the officebearers and still claim to love Christ. That was certainly the case in the days of the apostles. As far as apostolic Christianity is concerned, to leave the church was to leave Christ who is in the church. The apostate who leaves and despises the church despises Christ himself: “They went out from us, but they were not of us: for if they had been of us, they would not doubt have continued with us: but they went out, that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us” (I John 2:19). We do not speak of leaving one faithful church or denomination for another faithful church or denomination (such a person is still a brother, although we might have some differences with him), but of leaving the true church for the false church, for false religion, or for the world.
An apostate insults Christ as greatly and even worse than the crowd who gathered together in Pilate’s courtyard to condemn him; as greatly and even worse than the Sanhedrin who buffeted him and spat in his face. The text says apostates “crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh and put him to an open shame” (v. 6). To crucify the Son of God is to declare to the world: “I tasted Jesus; but I hate him; I renounce him; I spit Him out as a disgusting piece of gum!” Can you imagine a greater transgression than that? Do not think a person can get away with such wickedness. The text says “They crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh,” that is, they crucify him to their eternal condemnation.
The conscientious Christian will be tempted to think: have I fallen like this; could I fall like this? And the devil will use a text like this to destroy our assurance. Therefore we must be very clear that apostasy is something uniquely terrible. This is not the sin of stumbling or even falling into a terrible sin. There have been believers who have fallen but did not perish as apostates. The Lord preserves his elect, believing people from the sin of final apostasy. This is not a sin which we commit when we fall into sin; this is not a sin which a man can commit again and again but is one, final, decisive renunciation of Christ. Besides that, if you believe, beloved believing reader, that you have committed this sin, and if you are afraid that there might be no hope for you, I can tell you emphatically that you have not committed it. You could not possibly have committed it. The apostate who commits this sin is so hardened in sin and unbelief that he does not care, is not troubled by his conscience which has been seared as with a hot iron. It is never the apostate who calls the pastor afraid he has apostatized. Are you sorry for your sins, even if they are gross, public and (you might imagine) unforgivable? Then do not fear: you have not sinned the sin of apostasy. There is forgiveness for every sinner who repents trusting in the blood of Christ.
Martyn McGeown is a pastor in the Protestant Reformed Churches. He is also the editor of the RFPA blog and the author of multiple RFPA publications.