Impossible to Repent?

Written by Drew on September 19th, 2006

“My friend read Hebrews 6:4-6 and feels that it may be ‘impossible’ for her to come back to the church. She has a good heart and wants to do right. Please help me with any scripture or information you can share to study with her.”

I am honored when Truth and Repose readers submit questions like the one posted above. For one thing, it is encouraging to know that anybody would want my opinion. Also, it gives me something to write about.

Here’s Hebrews 6:4-6:

For it is impossible to restore again to repentance those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, if they then fall away, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt.

This is indeed a frightening passage. God meant for it to be frightening because Christians who fall away from the Lord put themselves in serious spiritual jeopardy. Peter says this latter state (the condition of a Christian turning his back on God) is “worse” than the first (the time before he obeyed the gospel) (2 Pet. 2:20-22). Some even connect this passage with Matthew 12:22-32, calling it the “unpardonable sin.”

But the fact that the person mentioned in the question is showing signs of repentance reveals that her case is not addressed by Hebrews 6:4-6. Consider the following observations:

1. It is true that Hebrews 6:4-6 describes the condition of those who have obeyed the gospel. The descriptions in verses 4 and 5 can describe no one else.

2. It is also true that with these repentance is “impossible.” But we should ask why repentance is impossible for them. Repentance is, simply put, changing one’s mind; it is deciding to live for God instead of for sin (Mt. 21:28-31). Every human being with the capacity to think is physically and mentally capable of repenting. The only time repentance truly becomes “impossible” is when a person willfully rejects God’s Word. He has the capacity to repent, but cannot repent because he will not repent.

By implication, John defines the unpardonable sin in 1 John 1:9: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” God is willing to forgive “all unrighteousness”—no exceptions—but only if an important condition is met. We must “confess” our sins. Therefore, the unpardonable sin is sin that is not repented of or confessed. God will not forgive that.

3. The Christians addressed in Hebrews 6:4-6 are characterized by two actions: (1) “they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm;” and (2) “holding him up to contempt.” Both of these actions are described in the present tense, which denotes continual action. They have not stopped sinning, nor do they intend to. Unabandoned sin is unpardonable sin, as we noticed in the last observation. Therefore it is “impossible” to renew these to repentance.

This is the sense in which “fall away” should be taken. Often we speak of a person who has momentarily left the church as having “fallen away.” That is not the meaning here. Here we are reading about Christians in outright and permanent rebellion against Christ.

The young lady in the question can be forgiven if she will repent and confess her sins to God. I pray the concern that is being shown for her will point her in the right direction.


2 Comments so far ↓

  1. J-Train says:

    I could have sworn I saw some retarded comment here yesterday!? Ohh well, must have been my imagination.


  2. Lynn says:

    Thank you for this post, Drew. I’ve read commentaries on these verses and have still walked away unsure of what was meant. And I’m not saying this because I’m looking for an interpretation that makes me happy. You have explained this passage in a well-reasoned manner. This lesson will be taken to heart so I can teach others.

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