Questions and Answers

Written by Drew on February 21st, 2006

“Can a Christian fall from grace?”

The doctrine of perseverance of the saints (i.e., “once saved, always saved”) is the logical outcome of John Calvin’s systematic overreaction to Catholic dogma. Simply stated, it claims that it is impossible for a Christian to fall from grace into eternal condemnation.

Though many passages could be cited, one is all that is necessary to repudiate this idea. Hebrews 6:4-6 reads,

For as touching those who were once enlightened and tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Spirit, and tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the age to come, and then fell away, it is impossible to renew them again unto repentance; seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame (ASV).

Doubtless, the writer is speaking of Christians, for his subjects (1) “were once enlightened” by the gospel, (2) “tasted of the heavenly gift” of salvation, (3) “were made partakers of the Holy Spirit” (cf. Acts 5:32), (4) “tasted [i.e., received] the good word of God” (cf. Acts 2:41), and (5) tasted “the powers of the age to come.” No one but the Christian can enjoy these privileges. But these subsequently “fell away;” and their fall was so great that it was “impossible to renew them again unto repentance.” In other words, their hearts were too hard to be penetrated by entreaties to return to their first love.

A Calvinist will point out that several versions (e.g., KJV, NKJV, ESV, NIV, et al.) insert the word “if” before “they shall fall away,” meaning the writer was only pointing out a hypothetical situation. “If” they fell away it would be impossible to renew them to repentance, but they wouldn’t fall away. This is the quibble.

However, the word “if” is not in the original Greek. Therefore, the American Standard Version is right to translate verse 6 “and then fell away.” Hugo McCord gave this translation:

It is impossible, for those once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted God’s precious word, and the powers of the coming world, and have fallen away, to renew them again to a change of heart… (emphasis added).

Another consideration is that the tense of the phrase “fell away” is aorist, which expresses “undefined action that normally occurs in the past” (William D. Mounce, Basics of Biblical Greek, p. 190). Not coincidentally, all five of the descriptive phrases that precede this are also in the aorist. It is clear, then, that the passage refers to something that has already happened, not a hypothetical situation that could never happen.

The Hebrews writer raises the possibility of apostasy because he wants Christians who are still faithful to avoid it. In another place he says, “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful” (Heb. 10:23). Instead of holding fast a spurious teaching like “once saved, always saved,” Christians ought to be clutching the confession of their hope–Jesus Christ.

 

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