Baptism is Once For All Time

Posted: May 20, 2019 in Uncategorized

OneBaptism

Or “What Does It Mean to Crucify Christ Again?”

Martin Luther called Hebrews 6:4-6 a “hard knot” in the Bible, because it seems to deny repentance to those who sin grievously after joining the church. In the third century, a schism formed because an elder in Rome, Novatus, denied restoration to lapsed Christians on the basis of these verses. Many Christians who read this passage are struck with fear, wondering, “Does this apply to me, since I have backslidden in my walk with the Lord?” The text reads:

For it is impossible, in the case of 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, and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt.

Note that the reason given for being unable to repent is specified in the second half of verse 6: they crucify again the Son of God and hold him up to contempt. What could this possibly refer to? Many years ago, St. John Chrysostom (a powerful preacher in Constantinople who died in the fifth century) suggested that it referred to being baptized a second time. Other students of the Scripture have followed Chrysostom, and although his view seems less common today, I believe it carries significant weight. Here are three reasons—contextual, exegetical, and theological—that  “crucifying once again the Son of God” is a reference to attempting to be “baptized” again after committing apostasy.*

Contextual Evidence

Hebrews was written to a church that had members who were considering leaving the faith behind. They had taken the “new members’” class, been baptized, participated in the life of the church, but the pressures of persecution were making some in their number reconsider the Christian faith. Throughout the book of Hebrews, the author encourages these believers not to let go of their confession (3:1; 4:14; 10:23). The word “confession” used here indicates a public act of allegiance (cf. 1 Tim. 6:12); and it’s hard to imagine a more fitting reference than baptism. Throughout this letter, the Hebrews are encouraged to cling to their baptismal hope which centers on Christ. Furthermore, there very well may be a reference to baptism in 6:4 where the author speaks of being “once enlightened.” At least from the 2ndcentury onward, “enlightened” was used as a technical term for being baptized. If we couple that idea together with an allusion to the Lord’s Supper immediately following (tasting of the heavenly gift), it isn’t difficult to see that baptism is in the foreground of this book, and especially chapter 6.

Exegetical Evidence

In verse 6, crucifying the Son of God again is parallel to holding him up to contempt. The word used by the pastor here is rare in the New Testament, in fact, this is its only occurrence! It means to disgrace someone in a public manner. The people described in Hebrews 6:4-6 experienced in a powerful way the ministry of God’s word and Spirit (they were baptized church goers who had an intimate knowledge of the Bible). If they were to abandon it all, and then sign up again for the new members’ class and seek to be baptized a second time, that would be a public disgracing of Christ, as if his initial promise in baptism was insufficient. A person is either born again or they aren’t, but you cannot be born again – again. Continually hardening yourself to the gospel after years and years and then ultimately rejecting it (as some in the Hebrew church were dangerously close to doing) leaves one in a graceless situation (cf. Gal. 5:4). Indeed, later this pastor will say that if we reject Christ’s once-for-all sacrifice, there’s no other sacrifice left for us that can atone for sins (Heb. 10:26).

Theological Evidence

When we understand what baptism is, theologically speaking, it becomes obvious that Hebrews 6:6 alludes to attempting to be baptized twice. In Romans 6:3-6, Paul taught this about baptism:

Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin.

In baptism, we enter into Christ’s death and resurrection by faith. We are crucified with him. We can only be once enlightened because Jesus died once for the sins of the world (Heb. 7:27; 10:10). Perhaps now this pastor’s warning is a bit clearer; he’s saying to the Hebrew church: Let’s not start over from scratch again (Heb. 6:1-3); we’ve already been once enlightened; we’ve tasted the heavenly gift, the good word of God, the powers of heaven! If you throw it all away and trust in something else besides Jesus to save you, you can’t come back and get baptized again. Christ can’t be crucified twice!

Of course, at this point you might be thinking, “Yikes, I’ve been baptized several times!” The truth is, there’s only one baptism, and the act of baptism, without faith, cannot save you. The pastor in Hebrews is calling his audience to lay hold of the grace of God given to them in baptism, and you must do the same. The good news is, he trusts that his hearers will (note the encouragement in 6:9-12). Hebrews 6:4-6 doesn’t teach that if we deny Jesus, or commit a heinous sin, we can never repent again (remember King David the murderous adulterer, or Peter the denier). As long as there’s breath in your lungs, today is the day of salvation. Don’t harden your heart to God’s grace though, and don’t think that going and getting baptized for the seventh time will grant it to you. By faith, lay hold of the promise that has already been set before you and hold fast to it each and every day. And here’s the promise: if you trust in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, you have eternal life. Let’s have a full assurance of hope in that promise until the end of our days (Heb. 6:11).

By Adriel Sanchez, taken from his article on http://www.corechristianity.com

*Notes from St. John Chrysostom’s Homily on Hebrews 6:

“But what is “the doctrine of baptisms”? Not as if there were many baptisms, but one only. Why then did he express it in the plural? Because he had said, “not laying again a foundation of repentance.” For if he again baptized them and catechised them afresh, and having been baptized at the beginning they were again taught what things ought to be done and what ought not, they would remain perpetually incorrigible.

It is not open to them to say, If we live slothfully we will be baptized again, we will be catechised again, we will again receive the Spirit; even if now we fall from the faith, we shall be able again by being baptized, to wash away our sins, and to attain to the same state as before. Ye are deceived (he says) in supposing these things.

“Crucifying to themselves,” he says, “the Son of God afresh, and putting Him to an open shame.” What he means is this. Baptism is a Cross, and “our old man was crucified with [Him]” (Rom. vi. 6), for we were “made conformable to the likeness of His death” (Rom. vi. 5; Phil. iii. 10), and again, “we were buried therefore with Him by baptism into death.” (Rom. vi. 4.) Wherefore, as it is not possible that Christ should be crucified a second time, for that is to “put Him to an open shame.” For “if death shall no more have dominion over Him” (Rom. vi. 9), if He rose again, by His resurrection becoming superior to death; if by death He wrestled with and overcame death, and then is crucified again, all those things become a fable and a mockery. He then that baptizeth a second time, crucifies Him again. But what is “crucifying afresh”? [It is] crucifying over again. For as Christ died on the cross, so do we in baptism, not as to the flesh, but as to sin. Behold two deaths. He died as to the flesh; in our case the old man was buried, and the new man arose, made conformable to the likeness of His death. If therefore it is necessary to be baptized [again], it is necessary that this same [Christ] should die again. For baptism is nothing else than the putting to death of the baptized, and his rising again.

And he well said, “crucifying afresh unto themselves.” For he that does this, as having forgotten the former grace, and ordering his own life carelessly, acts in all respects as if there were another baptism. It behooves us therefore to take heed and to make
ourselves safe.

What is, “having tasted of the heavenly gift”? it is, “of the remission of sins”: for this is of God alone to bestow, and the grace is a grace once for all. “What then? shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? Far from it!” (Rom. vi, 1, 2.) But if we should be always
going to be saved by grace we shall never be good. For where there is but one grace, and we are yet so indolent, should we then cease sinning if we knew that it is possible again to have our sins washed away? For my part I think not. He here shows that the gifts are many: and to explain it, Ye were counted worthy (he says) of so great forgiveness; for he that was sitting in darkness, he that was at enmity, he that was at open war, that was alienated, that was hated of God, that was lost, he having been suddenly enlightened, counted worthy of the Spirit, of the heavenly gift, of adoption as a son, of the kingdom of heaven, of those other good things, the unspeakable mysteries; and who does not even thus become better, but while indeed worthy of perdition, obtained salvation and honor, as if he had successfully accomplished great things; how could he be again baptized?

What then (you say)? Is there no repentance? There is repentance, but there is no second baptism: but repentance there is, and it has great force, and is able to set free from the burden of his sins, if he will, even him that hath been baptized much in sins, and to establish in safety him who is in danger, even though he should have come unto the very depth of wickedness. And this is evident from many places. “For,” says one, “doth not he that falleth rise again? or he that turneth away, doth not he turn back to [God]?” (Jer. viii. 4.) It is possible, if we will, that Christ should be formed in us again: for hear Paul saying, “My little children of whom I travail in birth again, until Christ be formed in you.” (Gal. iv. 19.) Only let us lay hold on repentance.”

 

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