“For it is impossible to renew to repentance those who were once enlightened, who tasted the heavenly gift, became companions with the Holy Spirit, tasted God’s good word and the powers of the coming age, and who have fallen away, because, to their own harm, they are recrucifying the Son of God and holding Him up to contempt” (Heb. 6:4-6, HCSB).

We discussed this verse today at church.  This warning is often unsettling because it makes our standing with God seem less secure.  As we explored the meaning of this verse, it occurred to me that we project a great deal onto the words “fallen away.”  Being fallen, flawed creatures, we start to wonder which failure or sin will be the last straw.  How many times can we blow it before we fall away and are no longer able to repent?

But then I thought, What did the writer of Hebrews mean by “fallen away?”  After a quick mental tour through the book, I concluded that much of what we project onto those words is just imagination.  Chapter by chapter, this is what I think the writer of Hebrews meant by “fallen away.”

Chapter 1

“Fallen away” means:

  • paying more attention to prophets and prophecies than the word God has spoken in His Son (Heb. 1:1).
  • thinking that purification from sin is something we have to complete rather than something Jesus finished (Heb. 1:3).
  • seeking God through the agency of angels instead of Christ (Heb. 1:3-4, 13-14).

Chapter 2

“Fallen away” means:

  • drifting away from the message of Christ who alone is our great salvation (Heb. 2:1-3).

Chapters 3 & 4

“Fallen away” means:

  • relating to God through the law instead of our hope in Christ (Heb. 3:1-6).  Paul calls this “fallen from grace” (Gal. 5:4).
  • not entering into Christ, the inheritance God promised.  God prepared Canaan for Israel and promised them that land.  Israel failed to enter the land, not because of their screw-ups, but because they didn’t believe God’s promise (Heb. 3:18-19).  Nothing can stop us from entering into Christ, our inheritance, except thinking it’s too good to be true.
  • working for God instead of entering into Christ, God’s rest.  God finished creating and rested.  Man was meant to rest with God in His finished creation.  God finished His new creation in Christ.  We are called to rest with God in Christ, our Sabbath (Heb. 4:3, 10-11).

Chapters 5 & 6

“Fallen away” means:

  • not continuing to believe the utter sufficiency and stability of what Jesus achieved through His death and resurrection.  As High Priest, Jesus entered God’s presence by His own blood on our behalf.  We do not approach God based on our own worth or achievements.  Christ, our High Priest, is our approach to God.  He is like an anchor that has immovably moored us to God.  The writer of Hebrews sees this as so secure, so unchangeable, that there is no reason to doubt it.