In chapter 5, after declaring Jesus’ superiority as our High Priest, the author then admonishes the readers for their immaturity and then calls them to move forward into “perfection” (which means completion or maturity). There is great danger in immaturity, first of all, it leads to ineffectiveness, those who should be teachers continue to be students which means that there are others waiting to be taught that have no one to lead them. When chapter 6 opens the author declares that a large reason for their immaturity is that they have become stuck in the debate and discussion of the “elementary” or first principles of Christ. The author’s point is not that we should abandon the first things but rather that the first things are to be the foundation for maturity, not the end of learning. There is a difference between sound doctrine and elementary thinking. Sound doctrine takes truth and builds upon it; elementary thinking holds the first truth as the only truth and that leads to immaturity and ineffectiveness.
After listing six elementary principles that the readers seem to be stuck on the author then shows us the greatest danger of immaturity, falling away. This passage gives us two truths that are often difficult for us to accept: some who believe fall away and that when they do fall away we don’t have the power or ability to win them back.
The author is very clear about those that he is writing about when he speaks of those who fall away. These are not people that never had an experience with Jesus, these are people that had been “enlightened”, had “tasted the heavenly gift” and “become partakers of the Holy Spirit”. “Falling away” here refers to deliberate apostasy (Hebrews 3:12). This is not a passage that is meant to invoke fear of losing salvation, it is a warning against the reality of where immaturity can lead. Chapter 3 told us “Beware . . . there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God . . .” Unbelief leads us to the deceitfulness of sin and sin’s purpose and desire is to destroy. Ultimately this passage is a call to be faithful in our relationship with Jesus, that we need to draw near to Him, to love Him and to follow Him constantly.
I want to be clear here, the Holy Spirit lives within us convicting us of both sin and righteousness. I don’t believe that salvation is something that is so fragile that it can be simply lose, that a wrong decision, a moment’s choice of the flesh or being temporarily deceived removes us from the grace of God. I also don’t believe that having an initial experience with God frees us from the responsibility and calling to relationship and somehow grants us an eternal reward that does not have to be continually lived out in love and intimacy. Apostasy is not backsliding, it is a rejection of Jesus as Lord and a leading of others away from Him as well. The apostates in the time of this letter were not merely unsure of Jesus they became enemies of the cross and those that are enemies of the cross are not secure in their past experience, no matter how real it may have been.
The second point is that the believers don’t have the power to win back those that have “fallen away”. The same is true for you and I. How do I convince someone that has known Jesus but now rejects Him that they should come back again? What piece of knowledge can I share, what bit of wisdom can I give? The reality is that the Holy Spirit is still working and He is still drawing, our role is to now pray, to intercede, to seek the face of God and to join Jesus in His intercession at the right hand of the Father. If you have someone you love that has “fallen away” and gone from believer to enemy of the cross, don’t ever stop praying, but you may want to stop trying to convince them of their error, they have known the truth, allow the Holy Spirit to do His work and continue to do yours, never stop praying!