Determine to Mature

Explore the Bible Series

October 8, 2006

 

Background Passage: Hebrews 5:11-6:12

Lesson Passage: Hebrews 5:11-6:12

 

Introduction: Great challenges attend the interpretation of these verses, and we must exercise great caution in handling this passage.  Several principles should guide our study.

(1). Scripture must always shape our theology.  Too often, Bible students impose a theological framework on the interpretation of the Bible.  This proves most dangerous.  Seek to know the plain meaning of the text and fashion your theology accordingly.  This principle should not cause us to discount the appropriate use of statements of faith; however, it does warn us of the dangers of imposing a system of thought on the  teachings of the Scripture.

(2). Clear passages of Scripture must aid the Bible student in the interpretation of more problematic passages.  Not all portions of the Bible are equally transparent.  Some sections pose great challenges to the Bible interpreter.   Generally, it is wise to allow clear passages to shed light on more difficult texts.

(3). The study of history can provide great help in understanding difficult passages.  How have great Christians viewed problematic texts?  What insights do these great hearts and minds give to contemporary readers of the Bible?

 

James Leo Garrett provides a useful summary the various historical views on passages like the one in our lesson this week.  I briefly recount some of Garrett’s observations.

(1). Augustine placed great emphasis on the connection between election and perseverance in grace.  Ultimately, the renewed heart cannot return to an unregenerate condition.  This position, Augustine asserted, was grounded in the immutable work of God.

(2). John Calvin, according to Garrett, built on Augustine’s foundation.  Calvin and John Owen agreed that Hebrews Six describes the lengths to which an unregenerate person may approach God’s grace; yet, in the end, fall short of his profession.

(3).  Roman Catholicism affirms the belief that Christians may, through mortal sin, lose their standing in grace and finally, fatally fall away from a previously held faith.  The Council of Trent concluded that assurance of a secure standing in grace was presumptuous.

(4).  Garrett concludes that early Arminianism failed to make definitive statements about the possibility of genuine Christian falling from grace.  However, in time, Arminians came to affirm such a position.  John Wesley, for instance, rejected the notion of unconditional perseverance.  Some Baptists have affirmed a similar position (Dale Moody and Clark Pinnock).

 

In my judgment, the present passage describes persons who give a credible profession of faith in Christ; yet, in time, this profession proves inauthentic.  

 

 

I.                   A Rebuke for Spiritual Immaturity (5:11-14)

A.    Their condition described (v. 11): The writer employed a perfect tense, “since you have become dull of hearing”, denoting a settled condition.  This dullness had degenerated into a way of life for the people described here. 

B.     The marks of the dullness of the original readers (vv. 12-14)

1.      They had failed to make the normal progress toward Christian maturity (v. 12a).  This situation startled the writer of Hebrews.  He seems genuinely surprised at their dullness and immaturity. He anticipated that, by this time, his readers would have advanced enough to teach the principles of the faith; instead, they needed instruction in the rudiments of the faith. 

2.      They remained, in regard to their appetites, like infant believers (vv. 12b-13):  Our author scolded his audience for their attraction to milk when their spiritual “age” demanded solid food. The term “word of righteousness” may have one of two meanings.  (1) It could specifically refer to the doctrine of justification: that is, the term may denote the foundational and rudimentary doctrine of salvation, by grace through faith in Christ.  Perhaps these “infant” believers were incapable of seeing the theological implications of one of the central truths of the Christian faith, justification. (2) The term may refer to the entirety of the Christian message; thus, it would have a broader application than the first option (justification).

3.      They were incapable of spiritual discernment (v. 14): mature Christians, who feed on solid food, possess the ability to discern between good and evil. 

 

II.                The Basic Principles of Christ (6:1-3): Hebrews Six encourages all believers to move beyond the discussion of the elementary principles of Christ.  Deeper, weightier things await mature Christians.  The writer delineated three (actually three pairs of twin doctrines) of these foundational principles.

A.    “repentance from dead works and faith toward God” (v. 1b): Repentance and faith, twin graces in the Christian life, form a foundational element in understanding the gospel.  Hebrews does not denigrate these graces by referring to them as elementary principles, instead, the book demands that believers build on the foundation of repentance and faith.  Repentance, of course, refers to that inward change in the disposition that accompanies all salvation experiences. It turns from the inclinations and sins of the past and redirects the heart to Christ.  Faith, on the other hand, looks to and delights in Christ as one’s only hope of redemption.  Repentance turns from sin, and faith turns to Christ. God grants sinners the gifts of repentance and faith, but these are also gospel duties that very person must obey in order to receive the salvation of Christ.

B.     “of the doctrine of baptism and the laying on of hands” (v 2a): From very early times, the Church baptized and laid hands on believers as a initial symbols to unite the new convert with the people of God. Baptism denotes cleansing from sin and union with Christ.  The laying on of hands apparently accompanied baptism, in the early church, and symbolized the believer’s infilling with the Holy Spirit.

C.     “of the resurrection of the dead and eternal judgment” (v. 2b): This last pair of terms refer to eschatology (the study of “Last Things”).  Christianity, from its earliest development, affirmed the resurrection of the dead, at the end of the age, and the judgment of all mankind before the tribunal of God.

 

III.             A Grave Exhortation (6:4-8): “It is impossible for those ... if they fall away, to renew them again unto repentance…”

A.    Three exegetical points to consider

1.      The pronouns change in this passage. Previously the author had used the first person plural (“us” and “we”); now, the pronouns change to third person (“they”).  The writer seems to have a different group in mind other than his readers.  This does not suggest that the text has no application to the first readers, but it provides some indication that it aims at addressing the concerns of another group of people.  It seems that verse nine affirms this view.

2.      The condition of these people who fallen is described in a series of aorist participles. 

3.      The verb “fall away” (v.6) may be conditional (third class) and might denote a statement that is assumed to be unlikely.

B.     Descriptors of those who may fall away

1.      “those who were once enlightened” (v. 4)

2.      “and tasted the heavenly gift” (v. 4)

3.      “have become partakers of the Holy Spirit” (v. 4)

4.      “have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come” (v. 5)

Personal word: The grammar of this text is not terribly difficult.  The problem, of course, centers, not so much on the passage says, but what the passage means. At the beginning of the lesson, I provided a summary of the historical debate about these matters, and gave a brief statement of my own view.

 

C.     Consequences of this falling away

1.      It is impossible to renew them to repentance (v. 6):  Whatever this text means, it seems to close the door on “falling from grace” and renewing one’s faith at a later point.  This turning away, it seems, brings eternal, irreversible consequences.

2.      This falling away crucifies Christ again and puts him to open shame (v. 6b). 

D.    An analogy of apostasy (vv.7-8): A good field yields a useful and bountiful harvest; however, poor soil produces thorns and briars.

 

 

IV.             A Hope for Better Things (6:9-12)

A.    The writer’s compassion and confidence in his readers (v. 9):  Though the recipients of this treatise have made little progress toward maturity; yet, the author hopes better things for them than  he has described in these searing verses.

B.     Some marks of genuine saving faith (vv. 10-12)

1.      labor born of love for the Lord (v. 10):  Their acts of mercy toward other people demonstrated the presence of God’s righteous work in their lives.  Love for God manifests itself in acts of mercy toward other people.

2.      “diligence to full assurance of hope until the end” (v. 11):  Not every Christian will evidence the same measure of assurance, but all Christians value this hope and give diligence to acquire a biblically grounded assurance of salvation.

3.      “imitate those who through faith and patience inherit the promises” (v.12):  Christians must know something of their heritage as believers in Christ.  Many have trod the narrow path before them, and they take comfort and encouragement as they imitate the faithful from by-gone generations.