This is a confusing and dangerous world. There’s a long list of ways we can make a mess out of our lives. We have so much more we need to learn and understand in order to live skillfully. The writer of Hebrews is saying, “Alright, let’s press on.” If you have a Bible, turn to Hebrews, Chapter 6. You’ll be delighted to know that Hebrews chapter 6, verses 1 through 8—is one of the, if not the most, debated, argued, and discussed text in the entire New Testament.
At the end of chapter 5 is what’s referred to as the third warning passage in the book of Hebrews. These people had been Christians for some time. They should have grown up. They haven’t grown up; they still seem to be infants. So he ends that discussion with a reminder that it is really important that they learn, understand, practice, and that they train in the truth in order to get more skillful at the ability to discern between good and evil as these people are headed into severe persecution. Chapter 6, verse 1:
Therefore leaving the elementary teaching (the ABC’s) about the Christ, let us press on to maturity, not laying again a foundation… (*NASB, Hebrews 6:1a)
So basically what he’s saying is, “I’ve gone over it enough times; it’s time to press on; we need to keep moving; we need to grow in these things.” He goes on then and does a quick overview of these elementary things, the ABC’s of what he’s already covered. Most of these we’ve seen already in the book of Hebrews. Most people see them as six phrases and they’re in couplets—so three sets of two that kind of play off each other. So the first one is:
…a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, (Vs. 1b)
Now there’s some discussion as to what is meant by dead works. Some people see it as maybe sinful behaviors. While that’s possible, that would seem odd right here in the book of Hebrews as it hasn’t come up as a concern one time yet. What has come up consistently as the concern is that they are drifting back into Judaism—drifting back into these old covenant ways instead of moving forward in their new relationship with Christ. So he told us that Sabbath rest is basically resting from religious works or attempts at self-righteousness, and instead resting in the finished work of Jesus on the cross. So he’s saying that we need to move on from our repentance. We changed our mind about these religious works. Let’s not go back to them but rather move forward, and that would be defined as faith in God, believing God tells the truth, so faith toward God. The second couplet; verse 2:
…of instruction about washings and laying on of hands…
Again, some people think washings is a reference to baptism. That seems like an odd interpretation. Baptisms aren’t really referred to this way. It’s also plural. None of that really makes sense. What makes sense is again they’re returning back to the ceremonial washings of the old covenant, for some reason to try to cleanse themselves. So he’s saying, “You know we’ve already talked about this. That was just a shadow of the ultimate cleansing to come. Now Christ has come, so we move away from the washings to the laying on of hands.” Most scholars think the laying on of hands was just that moment when they trusted Christ as Savior and that was kind of affirmed with them. We might think of it today like an altar call. So somebody walks to the altar and they remember that was the moment they trusted Christ as Savior. You hear the altar call and it gets everything revived up and you think, “I’m just not sure if it stuck,” so you do it again and again and again. But at some point you have to be mature enough to understand, “Okay, that is a decision I’ve made, so let’s move on. I don’t stay there. I shouldn’t spend the rest of my life doubting whether or not I’m a Christian. I get it; I believed; they laid hands on me; let’s press on. That’s the idea there. And the last couplet:
…and the resurrection of the dead and eternal judgment.
So this is just life after death. Remember the illustration of Psalm 8—that Jesus has already completed the assignment. He’s pioneered a way of salvation; He’s seated at the right hand of the Father. Therefore, Jesus has already accomplished that, but we live in the not yet. So there’s this weird tension between the already and the not yet, but we have the promise that one day that will be our future because Jesus is already there. So that’s the hope of the gospel—that ultimately the best is yet to come! So while those six things would have been kind of the ABC’s, the elementary things that he’s covered were specific or unique to them, they’re not so different to us. There’s a need to repent—change our mind about whatever religious works we were doing to save us—and to put our faith in Christ. We understand that we move beyond that religious activity to our belief that we’ve been saved through the death, burial and resurrection of Christ and understand that no matter what happens in this life, the best is yet to come! So those are kind of the fundamentals and he wraps it up in verse 3:
And this we will do (we will press on beyond these things), if God permits.
For in the case of those (so apparently this has already happened to some) who have once been enlightened and have tasted(that word means experienced) of the heavenly gift (or heavenly blessing) and have been made partakers (associates, partners) of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted (or experienced) the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away… (Vs. 4-6a)
So a lot of the discussion revolves around whether or not that describes a true believer or not. Now some commentators are very adamant that the book of Hebrews is written only to believers; therefore it’s a description of a true believer. I don’t think there’s a single book of the New Testament where the writer could know for sure that the recipients are believers. How could anyone know that? As a matter a fact, there’s always an assumption that there may be unbelievers mixed in with the believers. That comes up again and again and again.
So rather than describing someone who was truly saved and then fell away, it’s describing someone who seemed like they believed. But at some point apparently they weren’t, because they fell away.
The word used for fallen away there is a Greek word from which we get our word apostasy, and it does show up in Hebrews, but not here. It shows up in Hebrews chapter 3. If that’s what this was, why not use the term? This is an unusual term. It’s the only place in the New Testament it’s used. It means to fall by the roadside; just to fall away. So the idea is if you’re pressing on, you’re going down the road and there are those who have just fallen by the roadside, they’ve fallen into the ditch; they’ve been left behind. That’s essentially what he’s saying. He goes on and says:
…it is impossible (not difficult, not challenging…impossible) to renew them again to repentance (Vs. 6b)
That’s the line that terrifies some people. Repentance means a change of mind. So what he’s saying is, “There’s nothing new to tell you to change your mind.” So the idea is this: you have been exposed to the gospel of Christ that the apostles delivered; you can quote it as well as I can; you’ve experienced the life of the body; you’ve been in the community of faith and the work of the Spirit—you’ve been part of all of that. But at some point you’ve decided, “I don’t believe it. I’m out.” At that point, once you’ve rejected Christ, there is no plan “B”. There’s nothing else to tell you. There’s nothing new I can tell you to get you to change your mind, so it’s impossible to renew you to repentance because you’ve rejected the one and only way of salvation. That’s essentially what he’s saying. That is confirmed by the last part of verse 6. Why is it impossible to renew them again to repentance?
…since they again crucify to themselves the Son of God and put Him to open shame.
In other words, at some point they decide, “I’m out, I’m out. I don’t believe it.” Therefore, what they’re saying is, “I’m going back to Judaism and I’m going to stand with the religious leaders and agree with the crucifixion of Christ. In other words, I don’t believe He’s the Messiah; I don’t believe He died for my sins; I stand with those religious leaders who put Him to open shame and reject this idea that Jesus is the Savior of the world. It’s interesting that in the last half of verse 6, all of the verbs are present tense. So essentially what it’s saying is, “Right now my position is that I do not believe Jesus is the Christ; I don’t believe He’s the Messiah; I don’t believe He died for our sins. Therefore, I stand with the religious leaders when they crucified Jesus; I put Him to open shame and I reject that message.” Essentially, I’m going back to Judaism. As long as that’s where I’m at, it is impossible to renew me again to repentance because there’s nothing that you can offer me to get me to change my mind. As long as I’ve rejected the Messiah, there is no plan “B”. There is no other message. There is nothing more I can tell you. You know what the truth is. You’ve just decided you don’t believe it. So that’s the idea there. Verses 7 and 8 then create kind of an illustration of this.
For ground that drinks the rain which often falls on it and brings forth vegetation useful to those for whose sake it is also tilled, receives a blessing from God; but if it yields thorns and thistles, it is worthless and close to being cursed, and it ends up being burned.
So what is he saying there? It sounds a lot like the parable of Jesus and the sower and the soils. Here’s the idea. The farmer goes out and plants his seeds. The rain comes down and now we wait. Every farmer knows this. You don’t get a crop the next day; you wait. In the ancient world they wait and see if they’re going to get a crop or if they’re going to get weeds, but you don’t know for a while. So it has this same flavor as Jesus’ parable—that the message goes out; the rain comes down but only time will determine if this is going to be a crop or if it’s going to be weeds—very similar again to Jesus’ parable of the wheat and the tares. It’s not up to me to judge people. It’s not up to you to judge people. I don’t know. There are a lot of people who seem like they’re in, but maybe they’re not. I don’t know. Time and truth go together. Eventually it will work itself out. But part of the concern of the warning, is sometimes it’s hard to tell and the writer has some real concerns. Why are you still infants? Why are you not growing? Why aren’t you moving forward? And he’s wondering, “Do you really believe this or are you just taking it for a test drive?” You’re kicking the tires and you’re eventually going to say, “You know I get it, but I don’t believe it. I’m out.”
Now this is a really good message for us as Christians to think about. Historically for most Christians, to be a Christian meant persecution, so there wasn’t this mushy middle ground. Either you’re in or you’re out. It’s that way in many places in the world today. There are places in the world today where if you declare yourself to be a Christian, you are setting yourself up for persecution, possibly imprisonment, possibly torture, and possibly death. So there is not really a middle ground. It’s “in or out,” “in or out”. That’s what Jesus said. “Count the costs. Are you in or are you out?” And there was this great divide between people as to those who were followers and those who weren’t. That’s the concern; are they in or are they not in? Do they believe or do they not believe?
There are some who will wrestle with, “But what if someday I do that, what if someday I do that— like it’s a lottery ticket and I don’t know if I have a winner or not?” It’s not like that. It’s not a mystery; it’s not a lottery ticket. It’s a choice. You choose! You choose: Do you believe it or not? Are you in or not? Do you believe Jesus is the Christ? Do you believe Jesus was God in the flesh and He died for my sins? Do you believe He rose again? Do you believe He offers salvation freely as a gift? It’s not a mystery. “Yes,” or, “No,” because that’s where the writer of Hebrews is at. We need to press on based on that truth. He’s saying to these first century believers, “This is going to get really complicated. This is going to get really hard. The intensity of the persecution is going to increase. We can’t keep going over these basics again and again and again. We need to move on. We need to learn more and grow more and practice more and train more and get more skillful at discerning between good and evil.
There is so much more we need to learn in order that, at the most difficult moments of your life, you will believe with all your heart in that moment that Christ is enough!
Our Father, we are thankful that You haven’t left us in the dark to struggle our way through, but You’ve given us the truth. We also understand it’s up to us to believe or not to believe. Lord, it’s not enough just to call ourselves Christians. Do we believe or do we not believe? Lord, my prayer would be that, “I believe; I’m in,” that we might press on, that we might grow, that we might learn, that we might live more skillfully as Your children, and in our worse moments we would be adequately prepared to know that in that moment, Christ is enough! Lord, may that be so. In Jesus’ name, Amen.