The Covenant Community
“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” (Heb. 6:4b–5).- Hebrews 6:4b–5
Over the years, debates have raged in the church as to whether or not Hebrews 6:4–6 refers to genuine believers. If it does, which seems to be the case at first glance, then we have a passage teaching us that truly regenerate believers may finally fall away and lose salvation.
This position, however, is untenable. It contradicts a vast number of biblical passages affirming the perseverance of true believers and the permanency of salvation (John 6:39; Rom. 8:28–29; Eph. 4:30; Phil. 1:6; 1 Peter 1:3–5; et al.). It also contradicts the teaching of the book of Hebrews itself. The sons will be brought to glory (Heb. 2:10). Christ effectually delivers all the seed of Abraham (2:15–16). The true saints are perfected for all time (10:14).
But how should we understand the list of spiritual experiences we find in Hebrews 6:4–5? Are not these things only true of those with genuine faith? Well, not necessarily. It is possible to be enlightened with the truth and yet still deny it. Jesus condemns the Pharisees for knowing He was from God and yet saying that He was from the devil (Luke 11:14–23). A person can also taste the heavenly gift without ever having been truly saved. This is especially evident if, as some commentators believe, “tasting the heavenly gift” is a veiled reference to the Lord’s Supper. Certainly unregenerate persons do partake of the cup on occasion. When they do, they do so unworthily, leading in some cases to illness and death (1 Cor. 11:29–30). Likewise, it is possible to share in the Holy Spirit and taste the goodness of the Word and the powers of the age to come. It is no wonder that those who go to church and yet are not saved experience some of the same blessings as actual believers. They see the power of God; they can appreciate the beauty of the Scriptural writings and see how the Law restrains sin. They can share in the blessings of the Holy Spirit when true Christians have been blessed and share those blessings with them.
There is nothing in Hebrews 6:4–5 that tells us that only genuine Christians receive these blessings. They can be given to all those in the covenant community, regardless of whether saving faith is present. Thus, Hebrews 6:4–6 may well refer to those who have been in such close contact to the Gospel that they received some of its blessings without ever being saved.
Few of us realize that some of the blessings of the new covenant (except salvation) are also conferred on those who do not have true faith. Many people in our churches receive blessings because they are a part of the covenant community even though they are not really saved. Ask the Lord to grant saving faith to all in your church who profess to have it.
Passages for Further Study
2 Chron. 9:1–4
1 Cor. 7:12–14