Can a Person Lose Their Salvation According to Hebrews?

An early New Testament leader of Jesus Christ around the mid 60’s AD wrote the book of Hebrews for a group of Christ-followers familiar with the Old Testament. It is clear by the writing he was deeply concerned with the well being of the Christians he wrote to.It is most likely the people he wrote to lived in Rome and were both Greek speakers and Jewish converts to Christianity.[1]

Though the exact author is unknown some things about the author can be known from the internal evidence. First, due to the extensive quotes of the Old Testament and their proper interpretations, he must have been very knowledgeable of the Jewish religion. Second, he must have been highly educated because of his style of writing, sound thought, and impressive arguments presented in the book. Lastly, he must have been some type of church leader due to the extensive warnings and corrections he brings to the people through the teachings.[2]

It is this last evidence, the warnings, in which this paper is written. This paper will adequately teach the reader the following things concerning these warnings: (1) The warnings of Hebrews are directed to real Christians, (2) The warnings themselves are evidence that real Christians can fall away, and lastly, (3) The warnings provide lessons against the very things they warn real Christians about.Therefore, these warnings serve the Christian in a great way because they provide lessons in persevering in the Christian faith.

Here is a brief description of the five major warnings with their location in Hebrews:

  1. Hebrews 2:1-3, A Warning Against Drifting Away
  2. Hebrews 3:12-15, A Warning Against a Unbelieving Heart
  3. Hebrews 6:4-6, A Warning Against Falling Away
  4. Hebrews 10:26-27, A Warning Against Deliberately Sinning
  5. Hebrews 12:15-16, A Warning Against Refusing God

I will now present to you the proper interpretation of these passages and the strong theological applications they bring.

1. Hebrews 2:1-3, A Warning Against Drifting Away

1We must pay more careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away. 2For if the message spoken by angels was binding, and every violation and disobedience received its just punishment, 3how shall we escape if we ignore such a great salvation? This salvation, which was first announced by the Lord, was confirmed to us by those who heard him.

Interpretation of Passage

(v. 1) The warning begins with the pronoun “we,” which includes the author himself. Therefore, the warning is clearly to the author and his audience, which are both followers of Christ. Next, the author tells the people to “pay careful attention to what we have heard,” this phrase “careful attention” means in the Greek, “to concentrate to a greater extant than what had been done before.”[3] Lastly, the warning is given, “so we do not drift away.”To “drift away” means “Christians are in peril of being carried downstream past a fixed landing place and so failing to gain its security.”[4]

(vs. 2-3) Next we are told that if the “message spoken by angels” was binding and people were punished for disobeying, how much severe will people be punished if they neglect the very message of God the Son (Hebrews 1:1-4).[5] The “message spoken by angels” is either referring to the Mosaic covenant, which was God speaking and using His angel to go before the people (Deut. 33:2), or the many times that God used angels to give messages to His people, such as; Abraham in Genesis 22:15, Jacob in Genesis 31:11, Moses in Exodus 3:2, Israel in Judges 2:4, and Gideon in Judges 6:11.

Therefore, this passage is clearly teaching that Christians cannot escape judgment if they “ignore such a great a salvation.” To “ignore” means, “to neglect through apathy.”[6] The warning is to Christians so they do not become so apathetic about the message of salvation that they neglect it and thus ignore it to their destruction.

Theological Application

This passage so clearly teaches that Christians can “ignore and drift away” from salvation that Guthrie, who does not believe a Christian can lose their salvation, in his commentary honestly states, “it seems certain he is addressing Christians…therefore, the ‘drifting’ and ‘ignoring of salvation’ must mean that those who have professed Christ in the past are in danger of losing sight of the Gospel.”[7]

Therefore, the theological applications of this passage are the following points: (i) Christians need to be careful not to forget the message of salvation, (ii) Christians who have at one time heard and believed the message of Jesus, if they ignore it, will not escape punishment, and (iii) Christians must make positive efforts everyday to never forget what they have heard and believed so they can avoid punishment and live a blessed life pleasing to God.

2. Hebrews 3:12-15, A Warning Against a Unbelieving Heart

12See to it, brothers, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. 13But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness. 14We have come to share in Christ if we hold firmly till the end the confidence we had at first. 15As has just been said: “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as you did in the rebellion.”

Interpretation of Passage

(v. 12) The command is explicitly given to Christians with the Greek noun “brothers,” which means “followers of Jesus,” as defined by Jesus Himself in Luke 8:21, “My mother and brothers are those who hear God’s word and put it into practice.” Also, the author uses the same term just a few verses prior in Hebrews 3:1 but adds the descriptive word “holy,” thus the brothers being addressed in v. 12 are the same “holy brothers” addressed in v. 1. As a result, the author of Hebrews is warning the holy brothers or the “followers of Christ” not to have a sinful and unbelieving heart that turns away from God.

(v. 13) The author then gives the way in which Christians can avoid having an evil and unbelieving heart, and that is by staying accountable to each other and encouraging one another to not be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness. The word “hardened” means in the Greek, “to become hard, obstinate, or stubborn.”[8] Therefore, this cannot be referring to “those whose outward association does not reflect the inward condition of the heart” as claimed by Guthrie because according to Paul those who have not been born-again already possess a hard, obstinate, and stubborn heart (Romans 3:9-18, 8:7-8).[9] Paul describes the mind (or heart) of the sinner, as “hostile” towards God and that it can never please the Lord. Therefore, the brothers being addressed do not have a hostile mind and obstinate heart towards God, thus the warning is for them not to let themselves go back to the way they were before they come to God.

(vs. 14-15) The warning ends with an encouragement to “hold firmly” to the “confidence” they have “till the end.” Bruce claims that these verses mean, “if the end comes and a person is not in relationship with Christ, it means that the person had never truly become Christ’s companion.”[10] However, he contradicts himself and the author concerning the audience being addressed as “brothers,” when he writes, “he addresses them collectively as believers, but realizes that some in the group may manifest a different reality as time goes on.”

Therefore, either the author is right that all who are being addressed are brothers, or Bruce is right, that though they are being called brothers, some are not. I dare not go against the plain reading of Scripture to support a biased claim. Thus, the command remains to believers and that if they hold until the end they will be saved.

Theological Application

The great Methodist preacher and scholar Adam Clarke says it best concerning this strong warning in Hebrews, “For our participation of glory depends on our continuing steadfast in the faith, to the end of our Christian race.”[11] Therefore, the following applications should be made from this warning: (i) Brothers (Christians) need to be careful to never let their heart become hardened by sin, (ii) Encouragement and accountability need to be present in every believer’s life so they do not get deceived by sin, and (iii) Those who believe today, need to continue to believe and hold to their faith so they will not become rebellious, but rather live a obedient life.

3. Hebrews 6:4-6, A Warning Against Falling Away

4It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, 5who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age, 6if they fall away, to be brought back to repentance, becauseto their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace.

Interpretation of Passage

(vs. 4-5) This warning is one of the strongest warnings found in the entire Bible. The word “impossible” means, “it cannot not happen,” thus those who have had the type of relationship with God as described in this passage can never be saved again.Some scholars have tried to avoid this passage referring to a genuine believer by making dishonest use of the word “tasted.” However, even Guthrie states that those who say, “tasted” refers to those who “have tried but not fully partaken of… must be ruled out on consideration of its usage elsewhere.”[12]

Therefore, the following statements can only refer to a real believer, (i) enlightened, (ii) tasted the heavenly gift, (iii) shared the Holy Spirit, (iv) tasted the goodness of God, (v) tasted the Word of God, and (vi) tasted the powers of the coming age.All of these statements not only describe a Christian’s life, but a person that has had many awesome experiences with God.

(v. 6) This verse gives the strong warning to the Christians noted in the pervious verses, that “if they fall away, (it is impossible) to be brought back to repentance.” The phrase, “if they fall away,” means “to go astray, to reject Christ,” thus the people being warned are those who had been going on the right path with Christ, but now cannot return because they have rejected Him.[13]

There is no doubt from the passage’s structure, language, or content that this warning is to real Christians. However, what does remain, is the question, does this experience of falling away without being able to return refer to every Christian who sins? I do not believe this refers to every Christian falling away based on the following points: (i) The rest of the Bible does not support the truth that a Christian can not return once they have fallen away, (ii) Stories such as Samson, David, Peter, and the teachings of Jesus concerning the prodigal son all show redemption for those who have turned away from God, and (iii) Other passages in the Bible teach the restoration of those who have fallen but come back to faith in God – 1 Corinthians 5 & 2 Corinthians 2:5-11.

Therefore, I believe this passage is directed towards mature Christians who have gone very far and deep into the things of God and for them to reject it, there is no more hope. Such was the case of King Saul, he had great encounters with God and His Spirit, but when he rejected God’s ways he was handed over to an evil spirit which afflicted him unto the time of his death.Thus, this is a warning to those who are mature, that if they fall away, they cannot come back to Christ.

Theological Application

The applications of this powerful passage are found in the following points: (i) There are real Christians who have had great experiences with God that can turn away, (ii) Those who have had these experiences, if they fall away, cannot return to God, and (iii) All who desire to be mature and grow close to God must fear turning away and rejecting God, lest they fall and be damned forever.

4. Hebrews 10:26-27, A Warning Against Deliberately Sinning

26 If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, 27but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God.

Interpretation of Passage

(v. 26) The author of Hebrews is serious about making his warnings directed towards Christians clear and understood.Once again he uses the pronoun “we,” which includes himself and all the true believers that are reading his letter. The warning is to not “keep on sinning” after receiving the knowledge of the truth. The phrase, “keep on sinning,” means to deliberately “renounce the profession of the Gospel.”[14]

Bruce, who does not believe a person can lose their salvation, admits that this passage is referring to “outright apostasy” and that it is the “renunciation of Christianity.”[15] However, his presuppositions will not allow him to reach the obvious conclusion that a person who has been saved can walk away from their salvation and be lost forever.

As a result, he ignores the practical implication and goes on in his commentary to describe the wrongful use of the early church, which taught that if someone sinned a “grievous enough sin” after baptism they would be lost forever. However, the issue is not how the early church misused this passage- though their use of it proved they believed a Christian could walk away from God, but rather what does the passage itself teach.Thus, the passage is clearing teaching that a person can sin willfully after knowing Jesus as his Savior and be lost forever.

(v. 27) The rebellious Christian who has chosen to live in willful sin after knowing Jesus can expect the following from God: (i) There is no sacrifice of sins left, (ii) fearful expectation of judgment, (iii) raging fire, and (iv) being consumed as an enemy of God.

Therefore, the author of Hebrews uses the most vivid and terrifying imagery to teach his followers what will happen if they do not hold on to their faith. He loves them enough to warn them not to continue in sin lest their hearts become hard and it lead them astray. He warns them very harshly that if they go on sinning, they will crushed and destroyed without mercy by a holy God.

Theological Application

The applications of this warning are the following points: (i) A Christian can go on sinning willfully after being saved, (ii) Christians who go on sinning will be punished by God with terrifying consequences, and (iii) As a Christian do not go on sinning willfully lest you be destroyed by a holy God.

5. Hebrews 12:15-16, A Warning Against Refusing God

15See to it that no one misses the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many. 16See that no one is sexually immoral, or is godless like Esau, who for a single meal sold his inheritance rights as the oldest son.

Interpretation of Passage

(v. 15) The last and final warning found in Hebrews brings together all the previous warnings into one simple statement, “see to it that no misses the grace of God.” This phrase means, “to reject the Gospel and miss forgiveness offered by the sacrifice of Jesus.”[16] The author of Hebrews is teaching that the only way of salvation is through the grace of God and if Christians reject this they will miss the mercy of God and only be left with the wrath of God.

The warning is to not let bitterness come and cause trouble that will bring destruction. The bitterness referred to here is most likely, that which would come from unforgiveness. Thus, the warning is in line with Jesus’ words, “if you do not forgive, you will not be forgiven” (Matthew 6:15). Plus, the warning extends to those around the person with bitterness, so not only does it affect their relationship with God, but also the “many” who are present in the congregation.

(v. 16) The warning continues to include sexual immorality and godlessness. The act of sexual immortality refers to any and all sexual acts other than sex within a marriage of one man and one woman. Though the author does not include an example for this sin, many are found in the Bible, but none greater than that of Solomon who was said to have had hundreds of wives and concubines and as a result they turned his heart away from God (1 Kings 11:1-6). Therefore, Christians are to take warning and not let their hearts go astray because of sexual immorality.

Godlessness is included in the warning, and though the author could have chosen from many different examples he chooses Esau’s foolish decision to trade his birth right for a bowl of soup for his main example (Genesis 25:28-34). I believe the reason for this example is because godlessness has its roots in selfishness and thus all disobedience from Adam and Eve until the present is seen in the example of a man trading God’s eternal blessings for temporary pleasure. Therefore, the warning to Christians is to not trade the eternal grace of God for temporary pleasures in sin, for in the end they will have nothing but regret and punishment.

Theological Application

The applications of this final warning are the following points: (i) A Christian can miss the grace of God, (ii) Bitterness can lead Christians to miss the grace of God, (iii) Sexual immorality can lead Christians to miss the grace of God, (iv) Godlessness can lead Christians to miss the grace of God, and (v) By living holy a Christian will not miss the grace of God.


In conclusion, the following points have been made and established (1) The warnings of Hebrews are directed to real Christians, (2) The warnings themselves are evidence that real Christians can fall away, and lastly, (3) The warnings provide lessons against the very things they warn real Christians about. Therefore, these warnings serve the Christian in a great way because they provide lessons in persevering in the Christian faith.

The lessons gained from these five main warnings in Hebrews are (i) Hebrews 2:1-2, Pay attention more carefully to the message of the Gospel, (ii) Hebrews 3:13-14, Hold firmly to your faith and do not let sin have mastery over your life, (iii) Hebrews 6:4-6, In your desire to become mature, remember to never turn away from God, (iv) Hebrews 10:26, Do not continue in willful sin, and (v) Hebrews 12:15-16, Do not let bitterness, sexual immorality, and godlessness cause you to miss the grace of God.


[1] George H Guthrie. The NIV Application Commentary: Hebrews. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1998), 19-22.

[2] Guthrie, 23-26.

[3] Guthrie, 83.

[4] F.F Bruce. The Epistle to the Hebrews. (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1990), 66.

[5] See Guthrie’s commentary on this passage titled, “The Climax of Divine Communication,” 45.

[6] Guthrie, 85.

[7] Guthrie, 88.

[8] Defined by Strong’s Concordance under the entry G4645 – ????????.

[9] Guthrie, 129.

[10] Bruce, 136.

[11] Adam Clarke. Adam Clarke’s Commentary on the Bible – Hebrews 3, found at on Dec. 11, 2009.

[12] Guthrie, 218.

[13] Guthrie, 219.

[14] Clarke, Hebrews 10 found at on Dec. 11, 2009.

[15] Bruce, 261.

[16] Guthrie, 404.


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