Hebrews 6:4-6 and the Unpardonable Sin
Forgiveness is one of the most sublime concepts in the Bible. To think that our Creator loves us in spite of grievous sins that we have committed is thrilling. And to know that the blood of Jesus can forgive us when we repent and obey is nothing short of amazing (see Lyons and Butt, 2015). One of the most terrifying ideas, however, is the thought that maybe we have done things that are so wicked and sinful that we are beyond God’s forgiveness. Some believe this due to an incorrect understanding of two concepts in the Bible—the unpardonable sin and a statement in Hebrews 6:4-6.
The idea of an unpardonable sin scares some people, because they believe they may have committed it, even though most of them do not have a proper understanding of what the sin actually is. We read about the unpardonable sin in Matthew 12:31-32, Mark 3:28-30, and Luke 12:10. The sin is the very specific sin of blasphemy of the Holy Spirit. That means the act of speaking evil of the Holy Spirit. It was committed by those who actually saw Jesus perform miracles and attributed His power to Satan. Because no one today can see Jesus perform such miracles, then the sin apparently cannot even be committed today. Some have suggested that the sin is any sin that is unrepented of, or murder, or adultery, or various other behaviors. The text is plain that those sins cannot be the unpardonable sin. It was specifically blasphemy that was the result of seeing Jesus’ miracles (see Butt, 2003).
With the idea of an unpardonable sin in mind, many people then go to Hebrews 6:4-6 and are convinced that they have fallen away from God and that it is now impossible for them to be saved. A closer look at Hebrews 6:4-6 will show the problem with this thinking. The text reads:
For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted the heavenly gift, and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, if they fall away, to renew them again to repentance, since they crucify again for themselves the Son of God, and put Him to an open shame (Hebrews 6:4-6).
Notice what the text does not say. It does not say it is impossible to forgive a person who has fallen away. This is in contrast to the unpardonable sin. The gospel writers describe that sin as an “eternal” sin, for which there was never any forgiveness. The text in Hebrews says that if people fall away it is impossible to “renew them again to repentance.” The difference between forgiveness and repentance is profound. The message in Hebrews 6 is not that those who fall away have committed sins that God will not forgive, it is that their hearts have become so hard that they will not repent. Thus, if a person is willing to repent, he or she cannot be one of those who have fallen away according to Hebrews 6:4-6. A similar idea is found in 1 Timothy 4:2, where we read about those who have “their own conscience seared with a hot iron.” Again, it is not that God will not forgive these people, it is that they will not repent and come back to God.
An excellent example of the difference between forgiveness and repentance is seen in the lives of Judas and Peter. In a very real sense, both of these apostles betrayed their Lord. Judas sold Him to the Jewish leaders, and Peter denied three times even knowing Him. Their actions after their sins, however, show that Peter was willing to repent and come back to his Savior, but Judas’ heart was so calloused he would not repent. Peter was forgiven and Judas was lost, not because Judas’ sin was so much more grievous than Peter’s, but because Judas had allowed his heart and conscience to be so seared that he would not repent.
In summary, any person who reads Hebrews 6:4-6 and wonders if he or she is a person who is without hope and has fallen away from God can easily answer that question. If that person is willing to repent of sins and obey God, that passage cannot apply to him or her.
Butt, Kyle (2003), “Blasphemy Against the Holy Spirit—The ‘Unpardonable Sin,’” Apologetics Press, http://apologeticspress.org/apcontent.aspx?category=11&article=1218.
Lyons, Eric and Kyle Butt (2015), “Receiving the Gift of Salvation,” Apologetics Press, http://apologeticspress.org/pdfs/e-books_pdf/Receiving%20the%20Gift%20of%20Salvation.pdf.