Christ is Superior to Aaron Part 4 “The Warning against Dullness toward God’s Word 2” – Hebrews 6:1-6a
Pastor Mark Hardy July 19, 2015
This spring two robins built a nest out of weeds and mud in a tree in my front yard. I watched as the eggs hatched and the baby robins grew and finally left the nest. This reminded me of how a mother eagle builds her nest high in the branches of a tree or in the crag of a cliff. She starts with thorns, broken branches, sharp rocks, and a number of other items that seem entirely unsuitable for the project. But then she lines the nest with a thick padding of wool, feathers, and fur from animals she has killed, making it soft and comfortable for the eggs.
However, by the time the growing eaglets reach flying age, the comfort of the nest and the luxury of free meals make them quite reluctant to leave. That’s when the mother eagle begins “stirring up the nest.” With her strong talons she pulls up the thick carpet of fur and feathers, bringing the thorns, jagged branches and sharp rocks to the surface making the nest very uncomfortable for them. Eventually, this and other urgings prompt the young eagles to leave their once-comfortable abode and move on to more mature behavior.
In a similar way, God intends for newborn Christians to not merely remain comfortable in the “basics” of their Christian faith but to “leave the nest” in order to become spiritually mature. This is one of the things we will be looking at this morning.
As we continue on in our study of Hebrews 5:11-6:12, which involves the third of five warning passages in this letter, we now come to Hebrews 6. Please turn there in your Bible.
In Hebrews 6:1-8 we will be looking at six aspects of an exhortation and warning that is one of the most sobering and disputed passages in the New Testament. This morning we will address only the first three aspects in vv. 1-6a.
The first aspect of this passage is:
I. The Call to Growth toward Maturity
A. Look at vv. 1-2: 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, of instruction about washings and laying on of hands, and the resurrection of the dead and eternal judgment.
1. The word “Therefore” here in v. 1 indicates that there is a close link in thought with what the author has just said in 5:11-14. Having just rebuked these Jewish Christians for remaining spiritual infants, and as a consequence becoming spiritually dull towards God’s Word, lazy and apathetic, we might have expected him to continue feeding them spiritual “milk” since this is all they could handle.
2. But he doesn’t do that! Instead, he exhorts them to do something about it.
3. He calls them to growth toward maturity. Look again at v. 1: “…leaving the elementary teaching about the Christ, let us press on to maturity…” (Stop there)
4. As we saw last time, “the elementary teaching about the Christ” is equivalent to “the elementary principles of the oracles of God” in v. 12. Although some scholars say this refers to Old Testament truths, it is better to see this as referring to the ABC’s of divine revelation or basic fundamentals of the Christian faith.
5. In other words, this refers to the spiritual “milk” of God’s Word. Now as vitally important as this milk is for a new believer’s spiritual growth (1 Pet. 2:2), God never intended us to stop at the beginning but to keep moving forward in our Christian lives!
6. Philip Hughes accurately states, “To leave the elementary doctrines does not mean to despise or abandon them any more than a pupil who has learned the ABCs can then dispense with the alphabet. The letters of the alphabet are indispensable in the formulation and communication of the most advanced learning; for progress to maturity is always cumulative. So, also, the first principles of Christian truth are basic to every stage of development and are no less essential at the end than they are at the beginning. The point is that the beginning is not a stopping-place; it is the door to progress and the springboard to achievement.” (pp. 194-195)
7. This is why I personally believe church leadership that does not preach and teach the “whole counsel of God,” but only topical and salvation messages, do a great disservice to their people. They remain spiritual “children” and because they don’t know God’s Word Ephesians 4:14 says they are “…tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming” (Eph. 4:14).
8. No wonder the apostle Paul declares in 2 Timothy 4:2, “…preach the Word.” In 2:15 he states, “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth.”
9. And he says why in 3:16-17, “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.”
10. The Word of God is sufficient to bring every believer to spiritual maturity!
B. Since the author already said in 5:14, “But solid food is for the mature…,” notice how he invites these believers to join him in united progress saying, “…let us press on to maturity.”
1. Only those who have first actually become Christians can be challenged to do this! Now the one Greek word translated “let us press on” literally means “let us be carried.”
2. It is in the present tense, signifying that this is to be a continuous action in our lives. And it is also passive, known as a “divine passive,” implying that it is God Himself who causes us to mature.
3. Therefore, the author in essence is saying, “Let us together be continuously carried forward by God to maturity.” B.F. Westcott said it well, “The thought is not primarily of personal effort . . . but of personal surrender to an active influence.” (p. 143)
4. It is crucial to understand that as believers we are responsible to do our part in our growth toward maturity. We must avoid the one extreme of the “Try Harder Approach” whereby we legalistically try to grow spiritually by sheer will-power and self-effort.
5. And we must also avoid the other extreme of the “Do Nothing Approach,” also called “Let Go and Let God Approach” whereby we passively wait for God to do everything for us. We never just “drift” into spiritual maturity.
6. The biblical balance of growth toward maturity involves the mysterious interaction between human responsibility and divine enablement. It is both/and not either/or.
7. We see our responsibility to give our all in Philippians 2:12, “So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling.” And we see God’s empowerment to bring about maturity in v. 13, “For it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.”
8. Therefore, growth toward maturity involves both all of us and all of God. It is our mutual co-operation with God.
9. We are responsible to give our all in obedience to God’s commands, at the same time being surrendered to Christ and totally dependent on Him, who alone can bring about growth. Theologians call this “concurrence,” I like to call it “Responsible Dependence.”
B. Having called these believers to leave the basics and to press on to maturity, the author then lists six elementary doctrines in three pairs that they are to move forward from. Look again at vv. 1b-2: …not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, of instruction about washings and laying on of hands, and the resurrection of the dead and eternal judgment.
1. To build a strong house that is not going to collapse a solid foundation must first be laid. Then the superstructure of the house is built on it.
2. Therefore, just as a foundation of a house is not torn up and laid over and over again but built upon, so these elementary doctrines are not to be stopped at but built upon.
3. The first pair of elementary doctrines in v. 1 involves the believer’s conversion. The author says, “…not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God.”
4. The gospel of Jesus Christ tells us that all of our self-efforts to please God and earn our way to heaven are “dead works” that can never bring eternal life. The word “repentance” means “a change of mind” and is the first step that leads a sinner back home to the Father (Lk. 15:17).
5. Repentance is turning from sin and turning to Christ in saving faith. This is why repentance and faith are inseparably connected; they are two sides of the same coin.
6. Repentance is meaningless without faith in Jesus Christ (Acts 11:17-18). Jesus said in Mark 1:15 “…repent and believe in the gospel.”
7. And Paul declared in Acts 20:21 that he was “solemnly testifying to both Jews and Greeks of repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.”
8. Salvation has always been by faith in both the Old and New Testaments (Gen. 15:6; Hab. 2:4; Eph. 2:8-9). Our only hope for salvation is “faith toward God,” which is faith in Jesus Christ (Jn. 14:6; Acts 4:12).
9. The second pair of elementary doctrines in v. 2a involves ordinances or ceremonies. These believers were not to be laying again a foundation “…of instruction about washings and laying on of hands.”
10. Since the term “washings” is plural and is not the word regularly used for Christian baptism some insist that this refers to Jewish washings alone. However, Homer Kent Jr. says, “The problem would appear to be sufficiently answered by seeing a reference to the instruction given, particularly to Jewish converts, about the distinctions among the various washings in Judaism as compared to Christian baptism. The term ‘washings’ needed to be broad enough to cover all ceremonial a-blu-tions (i.e. washings). . . . at least twice in the New Testament there are examples of such distinctions . . . once regarding John’s baptism as compared to that of Jesus (Jn. 3:25-26), and once regarding certain Christians who were confused about John’s baptism as compared to the Christian rite (Acts 19:1-5).” (p. 106)
11. The “laying on of hands” was a practice sometimes associated with the initiatory rite of water baptism among Christians, as well as, symbolizing the imparting of the Holy Spirit (Acts 8:17; 19:6) and was done in the commissioning of believers for Christian service (Acts 13:1-3) and ordination (1 Tim. 4:14; 5:22; 2 Tim. 1:6).
12. The third pair of elementary doctrines in v. 2b involves eschatological or end times truths. These believers were also not to be laying again a foundation of “…the resurrection of the dead and eternal judgment.”
13. The Bible teaches the literal, bodily resurrection of all men (Jn. 5:28-29). The moment we as believers die our eternal souls pass immediately into the joyful presence of Christ (2 Cor. 5:8). When Christ returns (i.e. Rapture) we all will receive glorified bodies suited for eternity (1 Cor. 15:12-58; Phil. 3:20-21).
14. However, the moment unbelievers die their eternal souls pass immediately into the conscious punishment in Hades (Lk. 16:19-31) until the second resurrection.
15. Concerning eternal judgment, we as believers will stand before “the judgment seat of Christ” to be judged not for our sin but for our service to Christ to receive rewards or the loss of rewards (1 Cor. 3:12-15; 2 Cor. 5:10). However, unbelievers will stand before Christ at the “Great White Throne” judgment to be judged for their sin and then be cast, body and soul, into the eternal lake of fire, which is the second death (Matt. 25:31-46; Rev. 20:11-15).
16. These kinds of elementary doctrines are the spiritual “milk” that we as believers are to leave, so that we can press on to maturity. This brings us to the second aspect of this passage, which is:
II. The Confidence that Maturity is Attainable
A. Look at v. 3: And this we will do, if God permits.
1. The affirmation “And this we will do” is an expression of the author’s confidence in his readers’ capacity to learn and progress spiritually in Christ as he teaches them what they need to know. As we will see in chapter 7, he will go on to give them the “solid food” of Christ’s royal priesthood “according to the order of Melchizedek” that he began to talk about in 5:1-10 and thus encourage them toward maturity.
2. However, he is fully aware that for them to attain spiritual maturity requires far more than his efforts to challenge and teach them. This is why he says, “…if God permits.”
3. It is only by the sovereignty and power of God that anyone can be saved or sanctified. He alone changes hearts and brings about spiritual growth in believers lives.
4. Therefore, both teacher and student alike desperately need the Lord! We as believers are responsible to “…discipline (ourselves) for the purpose of godliness” (1 Tim. 4:7), but we must do so in complete dependence on God’s enablement if growth toward maturity is ever to take place in our lives.
5. Jesus said in John 15:5, “I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing.”
6. This is why Paul proclaimed in 2 Corinthians 3:5, “Not that we are adequate in ourselves to consider anything as coming from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God.”
7. We can be confident that spiritual maturity is attainable, but only God can ultimately bring it about. And since God intends every believer to grow toward maturity we must take seriously our relationship with the Lord.
8. This brings us to the third aspect of this passage, which is:
III. The Characteristics that Reveal genuine Salvation
A. Look at vv. 4-6: 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, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, 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.
1. This is one of the most sobering, severe and terrifying warnings in the New Testament. And it is one of the most disputed.
2. All Bible teachers are hard-pressed to treat this passage forthrightly without letting their explanations be shaded by their particular theological system. Therefore, I want to simply stay with the text and look first at how the author describes the people he is talking about in five descriptive phrases or characteristics.
3. The first characteristic in v. 4a is they “have once been enlightened.” The word “once” here means “once for all” and can apply to each of these five characteristics.
4. Although there are those who say the word “enlightened” has to do with some kind of intellectual perception of spiritual truth that is short of regeneration, the use of “once for all” points to something complete, rather than partial or inadequate.
5. The author’s only other use of the word “enlightened” in Hebrews 10:32 is a clear reference to an experience of true salvation. Therefore, being “enlightened” is a natural way of to refer to the conversion experience (2 Cor. 4:3-6).
6. The second characteristic in v. 4b is they “have tasted of the heavenly gift.” Although there are those who say that this heavenly gift is “tasted” not eaten, the word “tasted” carries the idea of an experience that is real and personal.
7. For example, the author earlier said of Jesus in 2:9 that He would “taste death for everyone.” This was definitely an experience that was real and personal.
8. And the “heavenly gift” that has been personally experienced is Christ Himself (Jn. 4:10), although other suggestions include: salvation, eternal life, forgiveness of sin and the Holy Spirit. I like what Homer Kent, Jr. says about this, “The matter is not a crucial one, however, because there is an inherent connection between all of these possible identifications. Christ is God’s gift to men; and when He is received by faith, He supplies the gift of salvation, involving forgiveness and eternal life, all of which are resultant from the ministry of the Holy Spirit.” (p. 109)
9. The third characteristic in v. 4c is they “have been made partakers of the Holy Spirit.” Those who say that these people were merely exposed to the Holy Spirit’s convicting power but were unresponsive to it ignore the simple meaning of the word “partakers,” which means sharers.
10. The author has already told us that these same people were “partakers of the heavenly calling” in 3:1 and “partakers of Christ” in 3:14. Therefore, to dilute this term to mean anything less than genuine participation of the Holy Spirit’s indwelling presence is inconsistent with the author’s own use of the term.
11. The fourth characteristic in v. 5 is they “have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come.” Again the word “tasted” means to have an experience that is real and personal.
12. These people have experienced the Word of God in the gospel preached to them and have found it to be good. And as a result of having received and experienced the gospel, they personally experienced the miraculous “powers of the age to come” in their own deliverance from sin and in witnessing it performed in the apostles lives through “signs and wonders and miracles” (2 Cor. 12:12; Heb. 2:4).
13. Now when we just stay with the text it is clear that these first four characteristics refer to those who are regenerated and genuinely saved. In every way the language fits true Christians with remarkable ease.
14. However, the problems begin as we come to the fifth characteristic. Look at the first part of v. 6: and then have fallen away…”
15. The one Greek word translated “fallen away” in this context means to commit apostasy. This is the complete and final repudiation and forsaking of Jesus Christ.
16. Now for those like me who strongly believe in God’s promise of the believers “eternal security,” also known as “the perseverance of the saints,” how do we explain a passage like this? What is the author really saying?
17. Now since this hotly disputed topic is no small matter, we will look at the different views on how Christians interpret this passage next time and what I believe to be best.
B. But for this morning, the one thing that we all should get from this passage is this: We must take seriously our relationship with Jesus Christ!
1. Pablo Ca-sals from Spain was regarded as one of the greatest cello players and composers of the twentieth century. When he turned 95 years old, a young reporter asked him, “Mr. Ca-sals, you are now 95 and the greatest cellist that ever lived. Why do you still practice six hours a day?” He simply replied, “Because I think I’m still making progress.”
2. Wow! Don’t ever think that you are “too old” to learn.
3. Oh, that we as believers would have the same attitude and commitment to progress in our eternal relationship with Jesus that this man had to progress in his temporal instrument of wood! Why?
4. Because Jesus Christ is worthy of our all, and He has called us to leave the comfortable nest of the basic fundamentals of the faith and to continually press on to maturity!
Let me ask you: How seriously are you taking your relationship with Jesus Christ?
• Are you daily spending time in studying God’s Word and prayer?
• Are you regularly worshiping the Lord privately, as well as, corporately in the church?
• Are you faithfully giving your offerings to Him?
• Are you exercising your God-given spiritual gifts in the body and witnessing to the lost in the world?
These are some of the things we are responsible to obey in total dependence on the Lord, if we are to continue to grow toward maturity. There is no status quo in the Christian life! We are either moving forward or we are going backwards. May we all press on to maturity, so that we not only begin well, but also finish well in our Christian lives.