Hebrews 6:4-6 seems to make a fairly straightforward declaration:
“It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age, if they fall away, to be brought back to repentance, because to their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting Him to public disgrace.”
But, in fact, this is one of the most difficult and divisive passages in Scripture.
The most obvious exegesis is that the passage refers to Christians who actually lose their salvation. In other words, if you have received the great gift of salvation and, at some later time, decide to completely reject this gift along with the entirety of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and do this in the fullness of your heart, intellect and will, you will lose your salvation and you can never get it back! Or, in the words of the Remonstrant Declaration itself: That they who are united to Christ by faith are thereby furnished with abundant strength and succor sufficient to enable them to triumph over the seductions of Satan, and the allurements of sin; nevertheless they may, by the neglect of these succors, fall from grace, and, dying in such a state, may finally perish. This is the interpretation of Hebrews 6:4-6 accepted by those of Wesleyan/Arminian persuasion.
But this interpretation is completely unacceptable to those who embrace Reformed Theology. The Reformed theologian is constrained by the doctrine of Unconditional Election (Predestination) as set forth in the Westminster Confession of Faith:
“By the decree of God for the manifestation of His glory, some men and angels are predestinated unto everlasting life, and others foreordained to everlasting death.
These men and angels, thus predestinated and foreordained, are particularly and unchangeably designated; and their number is so certain and definite that it cannot be either increased or diminished.
Those of mankind that are predestinated unto life, God, before the foundation of the world was laid, according to His eternal and immutable purpose, and the secret counsel and good pleasure of His will, hath chosen in Christ unto everlasting glory, out of His mere free grace and love, without any foresight of faith and good works, or perseverance in either of them, or any other thing in the creature as conditions or causes moving Him thereto, and all to the praise of His glorious grace.
As God hath appointed the elect unto glory, so hath He, by the eternal and free purpose of His will, foreordained all the means thereunto. Wherefore, they who are elected being fallen in Adam, are redeemed by Christ; are effectually called unto faith in Christ by His Spirit working in due season; are justified, adopted, sanctified and kept by His power through faith unto salvation. Neither are any other redeemed by Christ, effectually called, justified, adopted, sanctified, and saved, but the elect only.
The rest of mankind God was pleased, according to the unsearchable counsel of His own will, whereby He extendeth or withholdeth mercy as He pleaseth, for the glory of His sovereign power over His creatures, to pass by, and to ordain to dishonor and wrath for their sin, to the praise of His glorious justice.”
According to Reformed Theology, not one of the elect can ever be lost. Therefore, Hebrews 6:4-6 must be referring to professing Christians whose subsequent apostasy proves that their faith was not genuine. By this reasoning, phony professing Christians didn’t lose their salvation; they were never saved in the first place! They were never members of that elite set called the elect.
Curiously, Traditional Southern Baptists, who reject Unconditional Election (Predestination), Limited Atonement and Irresistible Grace, nevertheless adhere to a slight twist on the Reformed position encompassing Perseverance of the Saints (Eternal Security). Traditional Southern Baptists reject the concepts of election and eternal security for the elect but they do believe in the eternal security of those who are saved by faith, the grace of God and the substitutionary atonement of Jesus Christ. According to this latter view, after you are regenerated or born again, you can no longer exercise your free will to reject God and thereby lose your salvation.
Given a carefully defined set of axioms, Arminianism offers a logically tight, self-consistent soteriology. The same can be said of Calvinism. But mixing the two doesn’t quite work; contradictions appear. Why would a God, who values free will, squelch your free will to reject Him?
Christians are offered no definitive, consensus resolution for this conundrum of eternal security. However, we do not have a God of trickery and deception. Perhaps a reasonable resolution is to take what is said at face value. If fully initiated Christians turn their backs on Christ, they will so harden themselves that nothing anyone can do will bring them back to repentance; their end result will be eternal damnation.
(See also Sections 3.14, 7.14 and 12.13 of Theology Corner)