We live in a world of instant information. There is 24 hour news, Internet sites for anything you can think of and no end of blogs, chat rooms, discussion boards and podcasts. It is not uncommon to see people connected to their phone almost constantly. There is an obsession with staying connected.
Ironically, at the same time Biblical literacy is falling precipitously. The same people who are passionate about keeping in touch with what friends are doing and saying on Facebook; following the latest political scandal; or trying to keep up with the activities of their children, are doing little to prepare themselves for a vital relationship with God.
As we will see in our text this morning, this is not a new phenomenon. Hebrews is a book that addresses deep truth. Our author seems to sense that there are some people who think his teaching is “too deep” (And you haven’t seen anything yet!). That leads to this parenthesis on spiritual growth.
What we see in this passage is an expression of frustration, a rebuke, and a sober warning.
An Expression of Frustration
Let’s start with the frustration that is revealed here at the end of Hebrews chapter 5.
11 There is much more we would like to say about this, but it is difficult to explain, especially since you are spiritually dull and don’t seem to listen. 12 You have been believers so long now that you ought to be teaching others. Instead, you need someone to teach you again the basic things about God’s word. You are like babies who need milk and cannot eat solid food. 13 For someone who lives on milk is still an infant and doesn’t know how to do what is right. 14 Solid food is for those who are mature, who through training have the skill to recognize the difference between right and wrong.
The author of the book of Hebrews is trying to explain some deep and complex truths of the faith. However, he feels constrained. It wasn’t that these people were new to the faith. On the contrary, they had been believers for some time. The problem was that they were not growing. They were not increasing in knowledge and understanding. They learned enough to be able to function as believers but never went any further.
To be honest, I am sobered when I pick up a sermon or theological text from 100-200 years ago. I find that I struggle reading these works. It is not because of the language, it is because the level of thinking is so much deeper.
We live at a time when we want bite size portions of everything. We want our news in sound bites, we want issues boiled down to a slogan (Politicians have discovered they don’t need to talk deeply about a topic, they just have to develop the right “talking points”). We want abridged books (if we are willing to read at all). We want to be entertained more than we want to think.
When it comes to even Christian faith, people often say they don’t want to study doctrine; they just want to follow Jesus. The problem is that doctrine is what helps us know Jesus! Who is He? Was He real? What was the significance of His death? Is it possible that He actually rose from the dead? How do we come into relationship with this Jesus? How does He want us to live?
These are all key questions that most people never get around to answering. They are following a Jesus who is a caricature they (or someone else) have created in their minds. If we do not continue learning we will also stop growing. We must study so we can grasp how wonderful and great this Jesus really is. We must study so we might know the reason for the hope in which we stand.
This lack of growth is not just intellectual; we can also stop growing experientially. We have information but we don’t DO anything with that information. Too many people have information without any change in their living. It is like taking driving lessons but never actually getting in the car and driving anywhere.
God tends to reveal truth incrementally. As we put the truth we have into practice He will take us deeper in understanding. But until we put it into practice we will stagnate.
Here is something we need to understand about Christianity. It is not primarily about learning information, or having experiences, or even doing better things. (All other religions focus on these things). It is about becoming a new person. Jesus came into the world so we could be forgiven and made new. Christianity starts with a new beginning. We become children of God. All other religions try to get us to become better people. Christianity starts where others end. It starts with us becoming new and taking us from there.
The person who is stagnant in faith is generally either a person who is pursuing religion rather than living in the life of Jesus; or one who does not understand who they are in Christ.
So, here is the question: What are you doing to grow in your faith? Are you “stuck”? Are you pursuing a deeper knowledge of God or are you content to simply “look the part” of a Believer?
It is fair to ask: How does one go about growing in the faith?
- Make growth a priority. If you were going to learn a new skill you would have to devote time and energy to doing so (you might take a class, or go into some kind of apprenticeship program.) If we want to grow in our faith we need to make it a priority in our thinking, in our calendar, and in the way we live our lives.
- Hunger for God’s Word. This means we need to read significantly and apply what we are reading constantly. It is sobering to realize that many Muslims have memorized the entire Koran because they believe it is an inspired text. Too many Christians would have trouble finding verses in the Bible much less quoting them from memory!
- Study Theology. You don’t have to read big theological books but having an awareness of Christian doctrine is important. Work to learn how to explain what you believe, and why, to others.
- Expose yourself to solid teaching. I love Christian music. I think it is helpful in our growth but . . . it is not solid food! You need to expose yourself to solid teachers through worship, Christian Radio teachers, and by reading good Christian books (more than just novels).
- Make growth a matter of prayer. The closer you draw to the Lord, the more you will grow.
The author of Hebrews issues a challenge and a warning.
So let us stop going over the basic teachings about Christ again and again. Let us go on instead and become mature in our understanding. Surely we don’t need to start again with the fundamental importance of repenting from evil deeds and placing our faith in God. 2 You don’t need further instruction about baptisms, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. 3 And so, God willing, we will move forward to further understanding.
We are told that we shouldn’t have to keep going over the basics of the faith. It is not that we shouldn’t teach these things (and many churches don’t even do this well), it is that we should teach these things and build on them.
We are challenged to move beyond the basics. What are these basics?
- Recognizing our sinful actions and then repenting and asking for forgiveness.
- The importance of putting our trust for salvation not in our deeds, but in the work of Christ on our behalf.
- Baptism and the importance of declaring our faith before others.
- Laying on of Hands. This may have to do with spiritual gifts. We have all been given a gift that God commissions us to use.
- Belief in the resurrection of the dead (starting with Jesus) and extending to everyone. This life is not all there is.
- Eternal Judgment . . . the fact that God will judge between the true and false believers. What we do in this life matters.
This is basic instruction. Every believer should know these things. It is core belief. We shouldn’t have to keep going over the same lesson again and again. In fact, Christians should be familiar enough with these things to be able to share these truths with others. If you cannot do so, there is a problem that needs to be addressed in your life.
The next words are pretty strong and have been the focus of debate in the Christian community for a long time.
4 For it is impossible to bring back to repentance those who were once enlightened—those who have experienced the good things of heaven and shared in the Holy Spirit, 5 who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the power of the age to come—6 and who then turn away from God. It is impossible to bring such people back to repentance; by rejecting the Son of God, they themselves are nailing him to the cross once again and holding him up to public shame.
We are told that there are some people who, when they renounce their faith will have made it IMPOSSIBLE to be brought back to faith. By turning away from Christ they have cut themselves off from the only one who can save them. Once you turn your back fully and finally to Jesus, you are without hope. You have become hardened and will surely spend eternity in Hell.
The question is, who are these people he is talking about? There are three possibilities. First, they are true believers who walk away from the faith and lose their salvation. There are many of our brothers and sisters who would interpret these words exactly this way. They say since we have chosen to respond to Christ in faith, we can just as easily choose to walk away from Christ. There are some passages that could leave this impression.
I do not think this is what the passage is teaching for a couple of reasons. First, the Bible teaches in many places that we are not saved because we chose Him; we are saved because He chose us. The Bible testifies that there is no one who does what is good. No one even seeks God (see Romans 3). In John 6 Jesus said, “For no one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws them to me, and at the last day I will raise them up. (John 6:44) In Philippians 1:6 Paul said, “He who began a good work in you . . . “ (see also John 1:12-13) So, I would contend that the premise is flawed: we are not saved by the choice we make, we are saved by God’s grace. Apart from the work of God’s Spirit we would not choose to be saved. Salvation is something God brings to pass. If God gives us salvation, only He can take it away.
Second, I do not believe a true believer can lose their salvation because the Bible seems to clearly teach otherwise. Not only are we given the Holy Spirit that guarantees our inheritance (Eph. 1:14), we are told that NOTHING can separate us from His love (Romans 8). Listen to these words of Jesus:
37 However, those the Father has given me will come to me, and I will never reject them. 38 For I have come down from heaven to do the will of God who sent me, not to do my own will. 39 And this is the will of God, that I should not lose even one of all those he has given me, but that I should raise them up at the last day. 40 For it is my Father’s will that all who see his Son and believe in him should have eternal life. I will raise them up at the last day.” (John 6:37-40)
As you read the passage what do you hear Jesus saying? Is He saying we can lose our eternal life?
There is a second possible interpretation. He may be speaking “hypothetically”. In other words he is saying, “IF a person who has known Christ and then turned away, it would be impossible for them to ever come back”. We take this tactic when we are arguing on occasion . . . we follow something to its logical conclusion. In other words, if we continue to stagnate in our faith we will eventually end up renouncing the very one who alone can save us. In verses 9-12 it seems like he is saying he is only speaking hypothetically,
9 Dear friends, even though we are talking this way, we really don’t believe it applies to you. We are confident that you are meant for better things, things that come with salvation. 10 For God is not unjust. He will not forget how hard you have worked for him and how you have shown your love to him by caring for other believers, as you still do. 11 Our great desire is that you will keep on loving others as long as life lasts, in order to make certain that what you hope for will come true. 12 Then you will not become spiritually dull and indifferent. Instead, you will follow the example of those who are going to inherit God’s promises because of their faith and endurance.
The author does not believe his words apply to anyone who is reading his letter. Perhaps he is reminding people that Jesus is the ONLY way of salvation. If someone who was a believer were to reject Christ (and that wouldn’t happen), they would no longer have any hope of salvation.
The third alternative is the one I hold: he is talking about people who are active in the church, who benefit from the church, and maybe have had great “experiences” but are not really believers. They look like believers but they show they are not, by walking away. They may have information, experiences, and are trying to live a good life but they have never become a new person through Christ. D.L. Moody once said, “The genuineness or authenticity of a conversion will be revealed in time and life.” In other words, not everyone who claims to be a believer actually is a believer. Only time will reveal this for sure.
It is possible to be part of the local church and not be a member of the Universal Church (made of the genuine followers. This seems to fit the illustration used in 7-8
When the ground soaks up the falling rain and bears a good crop for the farmer, it has God’s blessing. 8 But if a field bears thorns and thistles, it is useless. The farmer will soon condemn that field and burn it.
In 1 John 2:19 John notes that some renounced their faith. John says of them, “These people left our churches, but they never really belonged with us; otherwise they would have stayed with us. When they left, it proved that they did not belong with us.
The text seems to be saying that if such people are so close to the truth and then renounce it, they are closing the door to any possibility of being saved. Anyone who rejects the gospel of Jesus cannot be forgiven and made new.
This is a controversial passage and there are brothers and sisters in Christ who hold to all of these different positions of how to understand Hebrews 6. We must show grace in our views even as we continue to discuss the deeper meaning of the text. Practically the message is the same for all of us: if we get lazy, if we stop growing, we are in trouble.
Here is what we need to take away from this: The Christian life is not static. In other words, we are growing or we are stagnating. There is no such thing as simply standing still. Shallow faith indicates either that our priorities need adjustment OR we are not genuine followers of Christ to begin with.
There is no such thing as “Christianity Lite”. Jesus calls us to a radical commitment. He tells us that we are new in Him. It is our job and our delight to follow Him. We should be growing to look more and more like Him. There is no other way to do this than to put in the hard work of discipleship. Most jobs demand continuing education of some kind. It is understood even by the secular world that we must keep growing. That is never truer than when it comes to faith. If we become stagnant in our faith we become inviting targets for the Devil and his forces. People who are lazy in faith soon drift from that faith.
Remember, people can proclaim anything they want about their faith. They can post anything on Facebook about how committed they are to the Lord. They can give endless testimonies of how they believe in Christ. However, whether or not that faith is genuine is not a matter of what we say, it is shown over the course of time. It will be seen in the growth that takes place in our lives and in the life you live seeking to do what God has told us to do.