Bible Answer

Explain Hebrews 6:3 “If God permits”

In Lesson 6A on Hebrews, what does the writer mean by "if God permits"? Is God not obligated to receive us back if we repent from sin? Can our sanctification be lost?

Let us begin by viewing the verse in context:

Heb. 6:1 Therefore leaving the elementary teaching about the Christ, let us press on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God,
Heb. 6:2 of instruction about washings and laying on of hands, and the resurrection of the dead and eternal judgment.
Heb. 6:3 And this we will do, if God permits.

The writer’s exhortation is to:

1. Leave behind elementary teaching
2. Press on to maturity
3. And this we will do (pressing on to maturity) if God permits

The writer is simply acknowledging that our sanctification is a work God performs in us by His Spirit, and that unless the Lord does this work, we will not see that fruit in our lives. Our part is yielding to His work by crucifying our flesh. The writer simply acknowledges that if we neglect to pursue the process with the Spirit, then there is no guarantee that the Lord will continue to give us second, third, or fourth chances. At some point we may test the Lord’s patience and He may leave us to our immaturity. 

Obviously, once we are glorified we will be sinless and therefore sanctified, but at that point we will have lost opportunity to earn reward. The writer’s analogy reinforces this conclusion:

Heb. 6:4 For in the case of those who have once been enlightened and have tasted of the heavenly gift and have been made partakers of the Holy Spirit,
Heb. 6:5 and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come,
Heb. 6:6 and then have fallen away, it is impossible to renew them again to repentance, since they again crucify to themselves the Son of God and put Him to open shame.
Heb. 6:7 For ground that drinks the rain which often falls on it and brings forth vegetation useful to those for whose sake it is also tilled, receives a blessing from God;
Heb. 6:8 but if it yields thorns and thistles, it is worthless and close to being cursed, and it ends up being burned.
Heb. 6:9 But, beloved, we are convinced of better things concerning you, and things that accompany salvation, though we are speaking in this way.

Falling rain is God’s grace given to the believer to advance their sanctification. If we attend to this grace and mature, we receive a blessing. Neglect this grace, and we are destined to a poor judgment. The writer is optimistic concerning his audience, he says, but the reality is that God may not permit a Christian from maturing in their walk if they neglect to pursue it for too long. 

This is a different issue than repentance and forgiveness. Forgiveness is limitless and the Father is always ready to forgive a repentant believer (Listen to Lesson 3A&B from Matthew for more on this). But there is no guarantee that a believer will be permitted to mature in their walk should they neglect God’s grace. Better not to take that chance. 

Earlier, the writer says it this way:

Heb. 3:13 But encourage one another day after day, as long as it is still called “Today,” so that none of you will be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.

The deceitfulness of sin will lead a believer away from the walk of sanctification, and if they do not turn back, they could reach a point where the Lord leaves them in that place. And since it’s impossible to renew them again to repentance, the individual has no assurance of some breakthrough moment in their future where they might be pulled back to Christ.