Last week we learned about the difference between physical rest, as well as the different types of God’s rest which are: past, present, and future. We were encouraged to be on the look-out for our fellow believers who don’t seem to have entered God’s rest, and we learned that it is possible to be assured of our standing before God because of Christ’s High Priestly office before God on our behalf. It is because of what Christ has done, who He is, and what He is doing that we have confidence and can enter God’s rest now and in the future.
Hebrews 5: 11 About this we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. 12 For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, 13 for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. 14 But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.
Now the writer of Hebrews pauses in his teaching, admitting that it is hard to explain such deep spiritual truths of what we have been learning when most of the congregation listening has not been paying close attention to the salvation and exhortation they had previously received when they confessed Christ. He says they are “dull of hearing”. We learned in chapter 2:1 that we should be paying much closer attention to what we have heard so that we don’t drift away from it. What have we learned?…The way of salvation through Christ.
It’s all about the Gospel and you grow by coming to deeper levels of understanding the Gospel. If we remove ourselves from reading God’s word, prayer, and fellowship, our ears will begin to dull at the sound of salvation and what it means to and for us. The writer exclaims that by this time the congregation should all be teachers (indicating their endurance for a long period of time), but they haven’t been paying closer and closer attention to the hope they received in Christ. He says that because of this they need milk – the basic principles of salvation – just like a baby who has to grow the ability to eat solid food must first take in the basics.
So what are the basic principles of the ‘Oracles of God’ (or God’s revelation of salvation)?
- Who is God – Creator, holy, righteous, Trinity (God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit), everlasting to everlasting, Yahweh, I AM, good, unable to lie, requires justice, full of mercy, love.
- Who is man – born into sin, unrighteous because of it, desires to be above God and to live his own way, disobedient, will justly pay for his sins against God through death.
- What did God do about it – sent Jesus (who is fully God and fully man) to take our place in death and pay for our sins because He is sinless and desires to give us life. He rose from the dead to new life after 3 days to show death He was victorious and so that we can rise to new life with Him. For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son that whoever should believe in Him will not perish but have everlasting life. For there is no other name by which we must be saved.
14 But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.
Now that we are all believers in what Christ has done, and know these principles of salvation, we can move forward to solid food – a deeper understanding of who God is and what this means.
Hebrews 6:1 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, 2 and of instruction about washings, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment.
It’s time to move on from our foundation of repentance. We’ve recognized our need for God to save us from the penalty of sin which is death. We understand that there is nothing we can do to get to God by ourselves – there are no works we can do to get to Heaven. We’ve repented, we believe that Christ died on our behalf, we have confessed Him as our Lord and savior, and we believe that He has been raised from the dead, will return, and that we will be raised. We understand that when we are saved we have received the Holy Spirit and that we can live in His power. All these things are the basis (the milk) which we need to begin to grow and move on to maturity in Christ. We must be grounded in these to move forward.
3 And this we will do if God permits.
It is God who brings us to this saving faith. “For by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this is not of yourselves, it is the gift of God”. – Ephesians 2:8-9
4 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, 5 and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, 6 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.
Let’s look at each phrase individually.
- “It is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened”… In other words, the message has been revealed to them.
- “who have tasted the heavenly gift”… In other words, been part of a sacrament or experienced fellowship with God’s people.
- “and have shared in the Holy Spirit,”… In other words, been witness to or part of something the Holy Spirit was doing.
- “and have tasted the goodness of the word of God”… In other words, understanding the message of salvation.
- “and the powers of the age to come”… In other words, knowing that judgment and Christ’s return is immanent.
- “and then have fallen away”… In other words, to separate themselves from God’s word, prayer, and fellowship.
- “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.”… Taking all we’ve learned in Hebrews into context to this point; the writer is speaking directly to those who, like the Israelites standing on the edge of Canaan, have witnessed and been part of what God was doing, and may have even confessed belief in all that was promised, but they themselves did not believe. They were in the fellowship with believers and even broke bread with them, but they did not trust and accept God’s plan fully, nor give their lives over to Him. They followed God but because of unbelief they were unsaved. Now if they repent it is of no use, for they have already confessed allegiance to God through repentance, but their unbelief kept them bound to their chains of flesh and sin.
After the spies came back from inspecting the land of Canaan (Numbers 13-14) and the Israelites decided it was too scary to invade the land, God told them that they would roam the desert for 40 years and die in the wilderness because of their unbelief. Then the Israelites tried to repent for their unbelief because they realized they would never enter the Promised Land, but God did not give them a second chance to follow Him into the land. They had believed enough to follow Him into the desert (by way of Moses), but not enough to get to the promise land. Hebrews 4:2 For good news came to us just as to them, but the message they heard did not benefit them, because they were not united by faith with those who listened.
7 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. 8 But if it bears thorns and thistles, it is worthless and near to being cursed, and its end is to be burned.
This is almost poetic summation of the difference between a believer doing works for God that benefit His kingdom verses someone who confesses Christ but works for themselves and what they produce is worthless. There are 2 types of people represented in verses 7-8. Both are described first by the phrase, “land that has drunk the rain that often falls on it”. Both are people who hear God’s word often, or are around it enough to be influenced by it and take it in.
- The first type of person takes in the word of god and applies it to their life to produce a crop (or fruit of the Spirit) that is useful to those that god intends to disperse it to. So, say my crop or ‘fruit’ is Biblical discernment. I am being useful to those who hear the message I give because they can understand it and in turn I receive the blessing of watching people come closer to Christ.
- The second type of person takes in the word of God but does not apply it and so what they produce is burned up as useless on the Day of Judgment. Using me as an example again.. If I just taught whatever makes me feel good (nothing that benefits God) then what does it matter eternally? I have done nothing for God or for myself, even if I feel special for being a teacher that people listen to.
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. If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. – John 15:5-6 (words of Jesus)
Though chapter 6 has some serious accusations about people who seem like they are believers but really they have lost their salvation – it doesn’t say that this has happened. In fact, it says just the opposite. At the beginning of verse 4 it says, “It is impossible”… It is impossible for something like losing your salvation to occur. The writer uses these verses as a warning to us who are in Christ to stick to what we know and go deeper into our confession so that we may continue to be sanctified and therefore used by God.
It is passages like this that cause skeptics of the bible to say there is a contraction in the text so the bible must not be true because in one place, like in Romans 11:29 it says, “The gifts and the call of god are irrevocable”, but then here in verse 6 it says, “they fell away and cannot be brought back to repentance”. But let’s remember who we serve. He is God – holy and pure, unable to lie or change His mind. Once you are sealed with the Holy Spirit (God inside of you), you belong to God and no one can take that from you.
God is not a man that He should lie, or a son of man that He should change His mind. – Numbers 23:19
In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory. – Ephesians 1:13-14
9 Though we speak in this way, yet in your case, beloved, we feel sure of better things—things that belong to salvation. 10 For God is not unjust so as to overlook your work and the love that you have shown for his name in serving the saints, as you still do. 11 And we desire each one of you to show the same earnestness to have the full assurance of hope until the end, 12 so that you may not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises.
Continuing, the writer brings this very point home – you have confessed Christ – you are in the fellowship of believers – and therefore, the works that you are doing on behalf of them (that will lead others to salvation) are worthy of blessing – not hay and straw to be burned up at judgment. But he reminds them again in verse 11 to show the same excitement and fervor they had in the beginning right now. It’s the same message all the way through Hebrews so far: Pay closer attention to what you already know: the Gospel. This is where we will start, grow, and end.. in Christ’s work.
Use these questions to think more deeply about what we’ve learned in Hebrews 5:11-6:12 and how you could apply that to your life.
1. How are obedience and faith connected?
2. What does obeying the Lord teach a person about faith in Him?
3. What fruit could you point to if asked for evidence that you are a maturing follower of Christ?