The Peril of Not Progressing
The normal Christian life is supposed to be one of spiritual
growth and progression. Starting out as "babes in Christ," we feed on the "milk
of the word." Then as our spiritual senses are exercised to discern good and
evil, we are able to progress to "solid food" (or meat). In this way we are able
to "grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ" (2Pet.
3:18). But not all of us grow as we should. And some of the indications of
spiritual immaturity are: dullness of hearing, the inability to teach others, a
diet of "milk" only, and the inability to discern between good and evil
But if we do not grow spiritually as we should, so what? Is spiritual growth really that essential? Is there a "danger" in not progressing spiritually? Well, in Heb. 6:1-8 we find that indeed there is "The Peril of Not Progressing," and that it is possible for Christians to find themselves in a very precarious situation.
The Duty Of "Pressing On To Perfection."
As we examine this passage, we first notice the duty of "Pressing on To Perfection" (vs. 1-3). Now the perfection we seek is two-fold. First of all we should seek maturity in religious knowledge as a means to an end. Peter said in 1Pet. 2:2 that we need the word of God in order to grow. And James says in Jas. 1:21 that by receiving the word with humility into our hearts, that it can save our souls. And so spiritual maturity is the means by which we are able to grow and save our souls.
But the development of spiritual maturity is also an end of its own, and that end is that we will be fruitful in the knowledge of Jesus Christ. When Peter was giving instructions for Christian growth in 2Pet. 1:5-8, he said that to faith and knowledge we must add the various qualities of a godly character. And as we develop this godly character, we truly come to know the Lord. And he says in v. 8, "For if these things are yours and abound, you will be neither barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ." And so, that is the end result that we should desire and strive to achieve by growing spiritually: to really know the Lord.
The Elementary Principles Of Christ.
But in order to achieve this "perfection," we need "the elementary principles of Christ." And the text reveals that this involves teaching on such subjects as: repentance from dead works, faith toward God, the doctrine of baptism, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead and eternal judgment.
"Repentance from dead works" means turning from works that produce spiritual death and not life. Paul often referred to such works (Eph. 2:1-3, Rom. 6:21). But these are things we should have already learned and acted upon. We should not need to continue studying about "repentance from dead works." There are now other important things that we need to move on to and to learn about.
"Faith toward God" means that trusting conviction in God and His promises that is essential to please Him (Heb. 11:6). And such a faith is produced by the word of God itself (Rom. 10:17, John 20:30-31).
"The doctrine of baptisms." Did you know that in the first century A.D., there were many ritual washings practiced by various sects of the pagans and Jews? And so, such practices needed to be carefully distinguished from Christian baptism just as John's baptism was distinguished from baptism into Christ in Acts 19:1-5, when Paul came across disciples who knew nothing but the baptism of John. Well, it is just as important for us to understand the different kinds of baptism that are practiced today. Nearly all so-called "Christian" religious groups practice some sort of baptism. But most of them do not baptize for the reasons stated in the Scriptures (Acts 2:38, 22:16, Rom. 6:1-6). You see, according to the New Testament, the purpose of baptism is to have your sins washed away and forgiven. But that is not the reason most churches baptize. And so the "doctrine of baptism" is important for us to fully understand.
The "laying on of hands." Now in the early church this was done for a variety of reasons. Jesus and others who had the gift of healing did it to heal the sick (Luke 4:40, Mark 16:18, Acts 28:8). But Jesus also did it to bestow special blessings upon others (Mark 10:16). And the apostles laid hands on people in order to impart the Spirit in miraculous measure (Acts 8:14-25, 19:1-7, 2Tim. 1:6). Church leaders also laid their hands on different ones to appoint them for specific areas of service (Acts 6:1-6, 13:1-3; 1Tim. 4:14, 5:22). But this laying on of hands was often accompanied by prayer. And so perhaps the imposition of hands was the outward symbol of prayer.
"Resurrection of the dead." A central theme of apostolic preaching was the resurrection of Jesus. That is what Peter preached in Acts 2 on the day of Pentecost. That is what he preached to Cornelius and his household in Acts 10:40. And that is what Paul preached everywhere he went (Acts 13:33). But they also preached our own resurrection in Jesus, which is our precious hope (Acts 4;2, 24:15, 1Cor. 15:12-23).
"Eternal judgment." This is another theme of apostolic teaching (Acts 17:30-31, 24:24-25, Rom. 14:10-12, 2Cor. 5:10).
Understanding these concepts, or "elementary principles," serves as the "beginning" of spiritual growth. But sadly, some of us who have been Christians for years still "need someone to teach (us) again the first principles of the oracles of God." Such people are "babes" who "need milk and not solid food." But we need to "go on to perfection." Once we have laid the foundation of these "elementary things," we need to build on it. With an understanding of these "elementary principles," we are now ready to receive more difficult knowledge such as the high priesthood of Christ that is presented in Heb. 5:9-11. We might also add the work of Christ as our "King of kings and Lord of lords," as predicted in the book of Revelation. And by comprehending the "meatier" parts of the word of God, we are then more likely to remain steadfast in our faith. And so we need the attitude of striving toward perfection that Paul described in Phil. 3:12-15. Is this your attitude? It should be, because as we continue to read in our text, there is ...
The Danger Of Irreversible Apostasy (vs. 4-8).
Just notice some of the privileges that some apostates had enjoyed.
They "were once enlightened." This most likely refers to their conversion mentioned in 10:32. And so, "enlightenment" means to have received the knowledge of the truth. These apostates knew the truth!
But they also "have tasted of the heavenly gift." Now, the word "tasted" here suggests a deep personal experience. Their tasting of the "heavenly gift" refers back to their past experience of salvation in which they experienced the forgiveness of sins and in which they began to receive the spiritual blessings of being in Christ. And so, the clause describes vividly the reality of personal experiences of salvation enjoyed by Christians at conversion (or baptism).
They also "have become partakers of the Holy Spirit." Now this also refers back to their conversion. On the day of Pentecost Peter said, "Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit." In Acts 5:32 he said, "And we are His witnesses to these things, and so also is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey Him." Now the word "partakers" is significant here. In 3:1, Christians are said to be "partakers of the heavenly calling." In 3:14, they are "partakers of Christ." And now in this text they are said to have been "partakers in the Holy Spirit." And so, the writer has reference to people who were once in covenant with God and who for a time enjoyed all of the blessings and benefits of His church on earth.
And so they "have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come." Here again the word "tasted" suggests personal experience. These apostates had experienced the good things that the word of God promises. They had experienced "the powers of the age to come." Now the "age to come" is the Christian age ushered in with the first coming of Christ, and it will be consummated with His second coming. And the "powers of the age" they had experienced certainly included the "power" experienced by all Christians. Paul had a lot to say about this "power" in the book of Ephesians (Eph. 1:19, 3:20, 6:10). But it could also be that the writer is referring to the "signs and wonders with various miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit" he mentioned in Heb. 2:4. And so, can these be any other than true Christians who had once believed in Christ? Notice the successive steps by which they had advanced to the highest stage of Christian experience: they were once enlightened, they had tasted of the heavenly gift, they had become partakers of the Holy Spirit, and they had even tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come.
But notice how far they had fallen! It was now "impossible ... to renew them again to repentance." And so it is apparent that Christians can "fall away." Isn't it? Paul warned that one can become "estranged from Christ" and "fall from grace" in Gal. 5:4. And Peter described those once saved whose "latter end is worse than the beginning" (2Pet. 2:20-22). And now here we learn that some can fall so far away that they are beyond rescue. Now, we can not say when a person reaches that point, but there is a point where renewal becomes impossible. And in such a state, "they crucify again for themselves the Son of God and put Him to an open shame."
Now this is not a Christian who sins out of weakness or ignorance! This is someone who knowingly and openly rejects Christ publicly! It is someone whose heart has been so hardened by sin that in unbelief they have departed from the living God (3:12-13). It is someone who despises Jesus and His blood and the Spirit of grace (10:29). It is someone who, if he could, would even crucify the Son of God again and put Him to open shame. You see, it is one thing to "yield" to sin contrary to the new life in Christ, but it is another thing to "abandon" that new life altogether. And this can happen to US, if we are not careful to "go on to perfection."
The fearful destruction reserved for them. Like unproductive branches, these people are "rejected ... whose end is to be burned" (v. 8). Having received blessings from God, they should have produced good fruit. But instead, they are like thorns and briars, taking nourishment, but not producing useful fruit in return. Jesus warned His disciples about this with a similar illustration in John 15:1-8. And so by abiding in Christ, we are able to bear fruit to God's glory. But if we do not bear fruit, we will be cut off and "burned."
Now, from this stern passage we learn some very sobering truths. First of all, receiving wonderful blessings from God does not mean that we cannot fall into apostasy. And secondly, for those who do fall away to the point of casting off their faith, destruction awaits! And so, in view of such truths, "the peril of not progressing" is very real. We need to heed the exhortation given here to "let us go on to perfection." We must not be content with spiritual immaturity. We must be diligent to "press on" in our spiritual growth. Now does this mean that we live our Christian lives with insecurity regarding our salvation? Of course not! Because there are things upon which we can base our hope and trust for the future. But the warnings in this passage must be heeded!
My friend, what are you doing with the blessings you have received in Christ? Are you "pressing on" in your spiritual growth? Or have you stopped growing spiritually?
By Joe Stroud
From Expository Files 8.7; July 2001