Recently, I was doing some studying in the book of Hebrews. The book has always interested me because it is often used by people to say that a believer can lose his eternal salvation. Others say the book focuses on the fact if you are “really” saved you would never commit really bad sins. The main reason people teach either one of these views is because Hebrews has some very strong passages that warn the readers about sinning.
In the next few blogs I don’t want to go into the warning passages themselves. Instead, I would just like to look at the flavor of the book in general. To me it seems very clear that when we simply glance at the book we find that the author is not talking about a person losing their salvation. Neither is he talking about people who aren’t “really” saved because of the way they live their lives.
First of all, the author knows that his readers are believers. He calls them “holy brethren” in 3:1. He tells them that they should remember the “former days” after they had been enlightened (10:32). After they had received this “enlightenment” they had faithfully served the Lord. They had even suffered because of their Christian faith. They ministered to their fellow Christians who were imprisoned for their faith. They did these things because they knew they would receive “great rewards” in the coming Kingdom of God (10:34-35). In this context, being “enlightened” is certainly best understood as seeing the truth of the Gospel and believing in Jesus Christ. Coming to faith in Christ can certainly be described as going from darkness to the light of the truth (Col 1:13; 2 Cor 4:4-7). These readers were believers.
The author encourages his readers to let brotherly love continue (13:1). In other words, the readers had exhibited love towards other Christians in the past and he wants them to keep on doing that. Unbelievers cannot continue in brotherly love because other Christians were not their “brothers” to begin with.
But the author of Hebrews also knew that a believer could never lose his salvation. In Hebrews 10:10 he says that through the sacrifice of Christ “we” have been made holy once for all. He includes himself in that statement. He aligns himself with the readers. In 10:14, he repeats this statement and says that the believer is not only holy, but has been made perfect forever. In the context of chapter 10, being made perfect means that one’s sins are taken care of forever, God remembers those sins no more (10:17). This means that the believer can boldly come into God’s presence through Jesus Christ their High Priest.
The author tells them to do just that in 10:19, and once again calls them “brethren.” Their status as holy and forgiven children of God is permanent. It is interesting that the author makes these statements in chapter 10 immediately before he gives the strongest warning in the book (10:26-32).
In Hebrews 1:14-2:3, the author shows that Christians can experience a drifting away in their spiritual lives. He says that they can “slip” away from what they have heard (2:1). If they do, they will be justly punished for such transgression (2:2). The author includes himself in this possibility (2:3).
But all of this involves a salvation that is in the future (1:14). When a person becomes a believer he receives eternal life/salvation at that moment. Whatever the author is talking about involves something that will occur in the future. There is also a future salvation (deliverance) that the believer can experience, but only if he is faithful to the Lord and holds fast to what he has heard. Free grace theology recognizes that there is more than one type of salvation in the New Testament. The book of Hebrews speaks of rewards in the future that the faithful believer will receive. A Christian can either lose or obtain those rewards when Christ returns.
In the next few blogs I would like to look at a few of the other verses in the book that shows the author is talking to believers. The point I want to make is that when we come to the book of Hebrews, if we say that the author does not know if the readers are spiritually saved or not, or if we say he is warning his readers that they might lose their salvation, we are reading our theology into the book.
The book of Hebrews is a great book to teach us an important lesson about studying the Bible. As hard as it is, we must let the text determine what the text is saying. In the book of Hebrews, we must accept that God can give stern warnings to His children. That is the case even though their status as the children of God can never be lost. We must also accept the fact that Christians are capable of even the most serious of sins. This will involve great loss, but never the loss of eternal salvation.