It’s been a while since our last study from Hebrews (like since last August), but here we are again. Today we pick up our study with Hebrews 6:
Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, and of instruction about washings, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. And this we will do if God permits. 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. For land that has drunk the rain that often falls on it, and produces a crop useful to those for whose sake it is cultivated, receives a blessing from God. But if it bears thorns and thistles, it is worthless and near to being cursed, and its end is to be burned. – Hebrews 6:1-8 (ESV)
Since it’s been a while, let’s remind ourselves about what is happening in the book of Hebrews.
This book is all about the supremacy of Jesus Christ. The author, as we can gather from the title of the book, is addressing a congregation of followers of Jesus Christ who have a Jewish heritage. So, the author makes a case for the audience explaining the superiority of Christ. He is superior to angels and he’s even superior to Moses, who has a most exalted status in the Jewish religion. In fact, God has made Jesus “a priest forever, after the order of Melchizedek.“
The audience, meanwhile, is left to consider its response to Jesus. In other words, after we’ve heard and learned and accepted these things about Jesus, how do we respond? When we left off in chapter 5, the writer was reminding the audience that they “have become dull of hearing.” The audience should be approaching maturity in their faith, but, instead, must be taught again “the basic principles of the oracles of God.” This theme continues as chapter six begins.
(v. 1) “Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity…” - The writer gives these instructions (“therefore”) as a continuation of what he finished with in chapter 5. You get the idea of a congregation (or at least parts of one) that are struggling with the same old things and not really getting anywhere. Instead of moving forward in their faith in Christ, the audience can’t quite get the grasp of certain “elementary doctrine(s).”
Another point is worth making here. As the original audience for this letter was likely a church, it is very likely that some receiving the letter are indeed true Christians and some are not. This is like any large church today. The pastor’s sermon is not only addressing the followers of Christ, it is also addressing those who need to come to Jesus. This is important to remember throughout this passage. Some who are hearing the message aren’t yet in the family of God and are being encouraged to hear the call of Christ.
(v. 1-2) “not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, and of instruction about washings, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment.” - These are the “elementary doctrine(s)” referred to in verse one.
* “…not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and faith toward God…” – This refers to a basic part of the gospel message of Jesus Christ. You can’t work your way into heaven. Eternal life is a gift received by faith.
* “…and of instruction about washings…” – Some worry about the things we have to do once we follow Jesus. In the age of the writer, many were coming to Christ from Judaism and wanted to hear (over and over) what kind of rituals should be performed. Christians are instructed to be baptized, but this is viewed as an act of faith and isn’t normally repeated.
* “…the laying on of hands…” – Christians do, however, often perform “the laying on of hands.” This most frequently today happens when some are praying for others. This doesn’t “guarantee” that a person will be healed or that some supernatural act occurs. Today, some use this as part of an act (e.g. faith healers), but is mostly done during prayer as a symbol of uniting believers and as a show of faith because we have heard of great things God has done.
* “…the resurrection of the dead and eternal judgment.” – These are two separate events both occurring during the end times. We should always have our thoughts above, where Christ is and from where He is returning, but in the case of some early believers, these doctrines had to be addressed repeatedly.
(v. 3) “And this we will do if God permits.” - The instruction in verse one, is to move from the elementary things and onward to maturity in Jesus Christ. This can either mean moving forward in our relationship with Christ, or actually coming to Christ if we don’t yet know Him. How does this happen? If God permits. We need to realize that in everything we do, we only proceed by God’s grace and mercy. It’s one thing to realize that we need to mature, but another for it to happen. And it happens by the hand of God.
(v. 4-6) “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.“ - Again, the context of the passage (v. 1-8) is the necessary movement to maturity. This represents either Christians growing in their relationship with Christ, or unbelievers turning from their sins and following Him. Both groups have heard the gospel (in a sense, the elementary doctrines). The time is now to move on to maturity.
Here, in verses 4 through 6, the passage turns to specifically address unbelievers. How do we know this? Because true followers of Jesus Christ don’t fall away. True followers of Christ persevere until the end. The writer’s point is true: if a person has “been enlightened,” “shared in the Holy Spirit,” and “tasted the goodness of the word of God,” and then falls away, that person can’t come to Christ again because the person would be “crucifying again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt.” Therefore, it’s not possible for a person to gain and lose and gain and lose their salvation.
Can a person fall away? Yes, but they were never truly in Christ. Can a person backslide? Yes, but disobedience isn’t the same thing as being apostate.
(v. 7-8) “For land that has drunk the rain that often falls on it, and produces a crop useful to those for whose sake it is cultivated, receives a blessing from God. But if it bears thorns and thistles, it is worthless and near to being cursed, and its end is to be burned.” - The writer uses verses 7 and 8 to illustrate the point being made in verses 4 through 6. This passage reminds us of what Jesus said in John 15:
I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. – John 15:5 (ESV)
So what do we take away from this piece of Scripture? We need to move beyond the elementary doctrines and move to maturity in Jesus Christ. This doesn’t mean moving to perfection, but this does mean having a relationship with Jesus. This doesn’t mean that we are experts in all things Christianity, but it does mean that we are committed to a growing relationship with Christ.