In Hebrews 6:4, it says “[it is impossible to restore those who have become] partakers of the Holy Spirit” Does this mean that someone receiving the Holy Spirit (getting saved), if they fall away they cannot be recovered?
This is certainly a passage that troubles many. However, a careful reading of the passage and comparing it to other passages on salvation should clear up the confusion and settle a person in the secure salvation provided by the grace of God. Let’s first look closely at the passage in Hebrews and then conclude with some general passages on salvation.
The ESV version of Hebrews 6:4–6 gives a good rendering of the relevant verses:
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 world to come, and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt.
The first thing to notice is the tentative nature of the wording. Those being described have “tasted” and have “shared”. These are words that emphasize the difference between “eating” and “receiving” what has been offered. One can readily taste something and decide it is unpalatable and finally refuse it. Similarly, one can share an experience that has no lasting effect on the person themselves.
So, what can it mean to “share in the Holy Spirit”? In the days of the apostles (and the day in which Hebrews was written), the activity of the Holy Spirit was evident in the many miracles that were done by the apostles and others. A person could have been easily a beneficiary of the work of the Holy Spirit and thus “shared” in the work without being spiritually changed in any deep way. We can recall the incident when the Lord Jesus healed an invalid by the pool of Bethesda (Jn. 5:2-14). In v. 14, he told the man to “sin no more, that nothing worse may happen to you.” So, he had enjoyed being a “partaker” of the power of the Holy Spirit in being healed, but this had no deep, personal, lasting effect on his soul. It is interesting to consider the contrast between this man and the one born blind in John chapter 9.
If we continue by looking at Hebrews 6:7–8 following the passage quoted above, we find further perspective on this passage.
For land that has drunk the rain that often falls on it, and produces a crop useful to those for whose sake it is cultivated, receives a blessing from God. But if it bears thorns and thistles, it is worthless and near to being cursed, and its end is to be burned. Though we speak in this way, yet in your case, beloved, we feel sure of better things—things that belong to salvation.
Here we see that fruit is the evidence of salvation. The apostle contrasts poor ground with good ground reminiscent of the parable of the sower in Matthew 13. Then, he concludes, “in your case…we feel sure of better things—things that belong to salvation.” So, the contrast all the way through the passage is between those that merely profess salvation with those who “belong to salvation.” At the time and place of the book of Hebrews false profession were prevalent.
Lastly, I want to conclude by noticing that Scripture gives ample support for the certainty of our salvation and at the same time provides warning to those who might be simply attaching themselves to a Christian profession. In a day when the gospel is not preached clearly with power, this condition is sadly more the rule than the exception.
Many of the familiar verses come from John’s gospel. John 5:23 reads, “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.” This is often referred to as a three-fold cord of salvation (Eccl. 4:12). John 10:27–30 reads, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.”
The verses in John’s gospel and elsewhere that assure us of the security of our salvation are known to most believers. We probably took hold of some of them at the very beginning when we first believed. So when we later encounter verses like the ones in Hebrews that put us to the test, we need to realize that they cannot contradict what we already know. We need to look deeper to find the lesson. In most cases, these “test” verses are written to search out the consciences of those who may have not truly come to Christ and need to test their faith or lack of faith in the work of Christ for them.