Hebrews 6:4-8 — Repentance — Is it Futile?

Question from a Site Viewer
Hebrews 6:4-8 troubles me. If a person knows the truth about Jesus but sins for years, or walks away from the faith to live a life of sin–can they not be renewed to repentance?

Luke 9:62 seems to say something similar. Jesus says that whoever puts his hand to the plow and looks back (like Lot’s wife) can’t ever be fit for Heaven. It all sounds rather final to me. Can’t they come back to the Lord if they truly repent?

Tim’s Answer
Thank you for your question. There are many interpretations of the Hebrews 6:4-8 passage. I personally think it is wrong to try to seek a meaning for that passage without first coming to grips with Hebrews 6:1-3, and the “repentance” that is in the view of the author. I provide my interpretation of that passage and my answer to your question in this article. I think Scripture is clear that if we sin, heaven’s greatest joy is when we come back to God.

Jesus Himself gives us three parables in Luke 15 to drive this point home: the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the lost son. In each situation, the lost object belonged to the owner, was thereafter lost, and then was found. There is greater joy in heaven over the one who went astray and returned than over the ones who never strayed. God longs for us to walk with Him, and such longing causes Him to rejoice greatly when a sinner returns to Him. His delight is to have His own come home. He also delights in having His own abide in Him and not go astray. But we do not rightly understand the heart of God if we do not understand the great joy of seeing straying sinners return to His home.

Thus, given Jesus’ teaching on this subject, I do not support an interpretation of Hebrews 6 that would conclude that the sheep who have wandered away cannot come back. If such was true, then we must somehow read Galatians 6:1 and James 5:19-20 to say something other than what they plainly say. And, we would really struggle with Paul calling the Corinthians “saints,” since they were carnal and not spiritual (1 Corinthians 3:1-4). I see Scripture teaching that even wicked Manasseh could repent and God would meet him in that repentance (2 Chronicles 33:1-17). And Christ has met me again and again after I have sinned. His grace super-abounds over our waywardness. And His patience and longsuffering toward us remains our great hope when we long have persisted in sin and now want to return. He meets us in the driveway, whenever we return.

You also reference Christ’s teaching that no one, putting their hand to the plow and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of heaven (Luke 9:62). One cannot plow looking backwards. And one cannot serve the kingdom and look backwards. The question is: what is meant by “fit for the kingdom of heaven?” If it is meant to signify entrance, then it would seem to be at odds over Christ’s teaching on wandering sheep, lost coins, and prodigal sons in Luke 15. But I note that Jesus did not use a word meaning “entrance.” Rather, in Luke 9:62, He used a Greek word that is a blending of two Greek concepts. The basic word comes from a word meaning “to put or place.” To this word, the second word is prefixed, which word means “good or well.” Thus, the basic idea of the word is something that fits well, is well-placed, is beneficial, or is useful. The word is found only two other places in the New Testament: in Luke 14:35, and interestingly also in Hebrews 6:7. In each place, it has the meaning of being beneficial or useful. In Luke 14:35, it describes salt that is not fit or beneficial or useful for the land or the dunghill. In Hebrews 6:7, the word is also used in the sense of “useful” in describing herbs that are useful or fit for those who cultivate them. The herbs are beneficial or well-suited or fit for their intended purpose.

This is precisely the sense I believe Jesus is using the word in Luke 9:62. When Jesus says that one who looks back is not “fit” for the kingdom of heaven, He is saying that such a one is not useful, well-suited, or beneficial to the kingdom of heaven. Stated another way, the one who looks back is useless for the kingdom of heaven. That one is accomplishing nothing for the kingdom. But Jesus does not say that such a one will not enter the kingdom of heaven. Elsewhere Jesus addresses the subject of entering the kingdom of heaven (see Luke 18:24-25). There, though He says it is very difficult for those with riches to enter that kingdom, He quickly adds that with God all things are possible (Luke 18:27). But here, in Luke 9:62, Jesus does not use the words “enter the kingdom of heaven.” Rather, He is talking about being beneficial to the kingdom of heaven. The one who looks back is not beneficial.

I trust this helps. May you come to know the God of mercy more deeply and understand He is the One who welcomes the repentant son home.

a recipient of His great mercy,

tim

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