Our inbox holds at least fifty questions about Hebrews 6:4–6. We get a ton of questions about falling away and losing salvation, like this question from Josh. “Pastor John, a couple of years back, I heard you speak on Hebrews 6. I fear a lot, and your words have not helped my fear because you talked about what it would look like if you, John Piper, were to fall away.
“I have professed faith, and I have been dealing with sexual sin for a long time. It manifested itself in my marriage as I acted out on fantasies and committed adultery multiple times. My sin was found out and my wife left me. I spent last summer living as one with the world. I slept around and was ‘one of the guys’ in every aspect. Nothing could have distinguish me as a Christian. I’ve repented, and I’m trying to overcome the root sexual sin that caused my downfall. I’m getting back into the word and praying daily. I know that my salvation depends on Christ. But, would what I have done count as falling away in the context of Hebrews 6:4–6? Does my sexual sin mean I cannot be restored to repentance?”
Well, the short answer is I don’t know. I don’t know whether your protracted sexual sin will have the effect of preventing you from being restored to repentance.
I hope the fact that I don’t know will sound to you both sobering and hopeful. Sobering, because it is possible to sin oneself into a condition of being unable to repent. But hopeful, because in Christ Jesus, the worst of sins will be forgiven if there is authentic repentance and faith in Jesus Christ. Let me try to help by giving the bigger picture of the book of Hebrews.
This book is written precisely to help people who have made a great beginning in the Christian life. The author describes it in Hebrews 10:32–34:
But recall the former days when, after you were enlightened, you endured a hard struggle with sufferings, sometimes being publicly exposed to reproach and affliction, and sometimes being partners with those so treated. For you had compassion on those in prison, and you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property, since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one.
That’s an amazing beginning in the Christian life. They joyfully accepted the plundering of their property for the sake of love. They had a great beginning, but now they’re starting to drift away. Here are a few examples:
- “We must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it” (Hebrews 2:1).
- “Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed” (Hebrews 12:12–13).
- “Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called ‘today,’ that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end” (Hebrews 3:12–14).
We know that they were born again because they’re persevering. Did you get that from verse 14? It says, “We have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end.” Our perseverance to the end confirms that we were truly in Christ.
Christ Is Better
What’s so baffling for many people, and yet so wonderful about this book, is that the strategy of the inspired writer is to lavish the readers with glorious displays of superiority — the superiority of Christ and his salvation for sinners.
On the other hand, the author gives some of the most stark and stunning warnings of destruction if we turn away from this overflowing grace, and join Esau by selling our birthright for a bowl of pottage, and so prove that we were never in Christ. This is just what we saw in Hebrews 3:14.
“Our perseverance to the end confirms that we were truly in Christ.”
I strongly encourage anyone who may be stumbling over the warnings of chapter 6, chapter 10, and chapter 12 to read the whole book, beginning to end. Let yourself be swept up into the superiority of Christ over angels, the superiority of Christ over Moses, the superiority of Christ over Old Testament priests, the superiority of Christ over Melchizedek.
Let yourself be swept into the fact that his covenant is a better covenant, and his promises are better promises, and his sacrifice is a better sacrifice. This book is a volcano, an overflowing volcano of spectacular provisions of God through Christ to save the worst of sinners. Yes it is. Let this be the primary impact of the book of Hebrews.
Now, to be sure, the terrible warnings of destruction are there. Take, for example, Hebrews 12:
See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled; that no one is sexually immoral or unholy like Esau, who sold his birthright for a single meal. For you know that afterward, when he desired to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no chance to repent, though he sought it with tears. (Hebrews 12:15–17)
Esau couldn’t repent, “though he sought it with tears.” That’s the heart of the warning in this book. Don’t treat the grace of God, the preciousness of Christ, the forgiveness of sins, and eternal life with such contempt that you harden your heart to the point where you can’t cherish Christ anymore. When this happens, you can’t hate sin anymore, you can’t repent, and you can’t receive forgiveness anymore.
The warnings through the book of Hebrews are most fundamentally not warnings about being beyond the reach of grace. They are warnings about hardness of heart that cannot receive grace as a precious gift, rest in grace as free, and cherish grace as all-satisfying.
“Turn. Don’t harden your heart. Maintain your hope. Keep your confidence.”
The problem with Esau in chapter 12 — and this is the main problem that the writer’s dealing with — was not that grace and forgiveness were unavailable, but that he had sinned himself into a condition where he could not welcome them as more precious than his bowl of Cheerios, oatmeal, pottage.
He loved this world so much. He loved sin so much that the freeness and the all-sufficiency of grace couldn’t be seen, or felt, or received as more precious than sin. It says in Hebrews 12:17, “For you know that afterward, when he desired to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no chance [no place, no occasion, no ability] to repent, though he sought it with tears.”
There were not tears of repentance over the ugliness, the distasteful, the Christ-crucifying evil of sin. No. His tears were the tears of fearful remorse that refused repentance because of the sin he still loved.
Not Too Late
The point of the book of Hebrews, and my point here, is not to identify people for whom it’s too late. That’s not what Hebrews is trying to do. That’s not what I want to do.
I don’t want to decide for anybody whether it’s too late for you. I pray and I hope it’s not. I don’t believe it is. Rather, the point is to say to everyone what it does in Hebrew 3:
Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts. . . . Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. (Hebrews 3:7, 12–13)
This is a man crying out to a church for whom he believes it’s not too late. It’s not too late if you can do this.
Would you do this? Would you not harden your hearts? As Hebrews 10:35–36 says, “Therefore do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised.”
This is a sweet pleading to every person. It’s not too late. Turn. Don’t harden your heart. Maintain your hope. Keep your confidence.