In Hebrews 6:1, the author of this epistle sounds a rallying cry to Christians who are at the crossroads of their faith. He exhorts them by saying, "Let us press on to maturity." You see this letter was written to Christian Jews who had begun to follow Jesus in a burst of enthusiasm but were growing weary of their faith.
They longed for the majesty of the rituals connected with Judaism and the tradition and the acceptability of this religion with their countrymen. They missed the festivals and parades during the Jewish feasts and the grandeur of the temple. These were in stark contrast to the meager observance of the Lord's supper or the humbling confession and submission demonstrated in baptism. They were outsiders twice removed. Alienated as Jews from a Gentile society. Rejected as Christians by their Jewish countrymen.
This burden coupled with the normal worldly temptations had stopped their progress in the faith and saw them either:
- Looking back longingly at their former religion and its familiar practice.
- Looking around at the enticements of the pagan world beckoning to them in their confusion.
These Jewish Christians were stalled in their faith, floundering in uncertainty. In response to their dilemma the Hebrew writer sends them an epistle that does two things:
- He demonstrates to them the superiority and excellence of Christ. From beginning to end Jesus is shown to be better than anything they had known in the Jewish faith, better than Moses, Law, higher than angels, more effective than the priests - and for this reason worthy to be believed in. So Don't Go Back!
- He exhorts them to "press on" to maturity. If Christ is the better way, then keep going / don't quit / continue the struggle to reach maturity which was their goal. And this goal remains the same for every Christian in every generation.
So, in this lesson I'd like to use Hebrews 6:1-12 in order to explain what "pressing on to maturity" means for us as individuals, in our day and age. We are not in a similar situation as the Jewish Christians but as Christians our goal is exactly the same - only our obstacles are different.
In Hebrews 6:1-12 the writer talks about Christian development in terms of maturity. Development is on a continuum, a line that has immaturity at one end with its identifying signs and maturity at the other with its own characteristics. Now maturity (in some Bibles the word used is "perfection") is that state where something is complete, finished. Like a house that begins as a design and a blueprint then moves through various stages of construction until it is finished, complete - perfect - mature (in Biblical language).
You see, the Bible teaches that the end of what each Christian is to be like is already there in the mind of God - our lives are the building process that ultimately will finish with completion / perfection - maturity according to God's image of us - when Jesus comes. Colossians 3:3-5 says:
For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory.
It is to this "maturity" that the writer refers to when he encourages his readers to move with him towards this goal - away from the immaturity where they seemed to be stalled.
1 Therefore leaving the elementary teaching about the Christ, let us press on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, 2 of instruction about washings and laying on of hands, and the resurrection of the dead and eternal judgment. 3 And this we will do, if God permits.
- Hebrews 6:1-3
In this passage immaturity is described in terms of what one is learning about. One is immature when one is learning:
- The basic teachings about who Christ is and His role in salvation (vs. 1a)
- The need to repent from sin (vs. 1b). Not a complete victory over sin but the understanding that one's attitude towards sin is that when we recognize it in our lives we begin the process of repenting from it (not justifying it, playing with it, hiding it, ignoring it) - we hate sin and want to eliminate it.
- The necessity of faith and trust in God as a basic attitude of our lives as we face each day (vs. 1c).
- Christian doctrines relating to baptism (reference washings because Jesus related to it as this), various reasons to lay on hands, and the teachings concerning the end of the world and Jesus' return - (vs. 2).
All things that they needed to know in order to become Christians and understand what they were going towards. These are teachings that need to be repeated over and over in order to build a good base and the writer says that he's willing to review these if necessary and time permits (vs. 3).
Immaturity is not a sin. It's not a bad thing or something to be ashamed of. It's the beginning point of Christianity and is a necessary stage in our development. The danger is being stuck there too long. Learning but not fully believing. Knowing about sin but not dealing with it, and so on. In the next verses he explains that the danger in being stalled too long is that one grows cold, unbelieving and ultimately falls away.
Dangers of Immaturity
For in the case of those who have once been enlightened and have tasted of the heavenly gift and have been made partakers of the Holy Spirit, 5 and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come,
- Hebrews 6:4-5
In verses 4-5 he describes the experience of Christianity using various terms. The person he uses as an example here is one who has truly become a Christian in that:
- He has understood and accepted the divinity of Christ - insight into the "mystery" of the gospel as Paul refers to it in Romans 16:25 (this is enlightenment - "Jesus is the Son of God")
- He has experienced the "power" of the gospel in his life as the word and the Spirit begin to transform him into a new man in Christ - producing spiritual fruit, moving him towards maturity.
This is the taste of the heavenly gift, the sharing in the Spirit, the effect of the word in the new believer. Here is a person born again, beginning to take the first exciting steps as a Christian. In vs. 6-8, however, the author goes on to describe the state of one who stops growing, who falls away (the danger faced by his readers in the "stalled" condition).
6 and then have fallen away, it is impossible to renew them again to repentance, since they again crucify to themselves the Son of God and put Him to open shame.
To have experienced Christ and the new life and then reject it makes one hard and unable to repent again. The word "fallen away" refers to a complete falling by the wayside (not just stalled, but completely broken down). Not a slip, a weak moment, doubt or fear or an on-going struggle with sin.
The idea is that someone who is a disciple and then openly rejects Christ and becomes an antagonist (like a disgruntled former friend / partner who puts down the ex. with an intimate knowledge of that person so that the remarks are especially cruel and hurtful).
Good example: former Christians who put down the church, the work of the church, do more damage to themselves because their remarks harden their own hearts and make it impossible to come back.
This is the idea of putting Christ to open shame and re-crucifying Him.
7 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; 8 but if it yields thorns and thistles, it is worthless and close to being cursed, and it ends up being burned.
The final result for those who once were faithful but have fallen away is the same as those who are lost because the Law of reward and punishment will be executed by God on everyone. Those who are faithful when Jesus comes will be saved and those who are unfaithful when He comes will be lost (regardless of the fact that they may have been faithful for a time in between). Matthew 10:22:
...the one who endures to the end will be saved.
And so he warns them concerning the dangers that threaten those who refuse to move ahead towards the goal to which they have been called and finishes the passage by telling them how they can "jump start" their faith once again and get back on the road to maturity.
9 But, beloved, we are convinced of better things concerning you, and things that accompany salvation, though we are speaking in this way. 10 For God is not unjust so as to forget your work and the love which you have shown toward His name, in having ministered and in still ministering to the saints.
The writer tells them that God remembers their work in the past and how they ministered to the saints: Apparently in 64AD Nero accused the Christians of setting the fires that destroyed Rome and used this excuse to persecute them in terrible ways. These "Jewish" Christians were spared much of the persecution and none of them were martyred because they were still considered as "Jews" by the Romans. They did, however, help and minister to those Christians who were suffering and the writer refers to this good work they had done in the past, and were doing presently.
His exhortation is brief and to the point:
11 And we desire that each one of you show the same diligence so as to realize the full assurance of hope until the end,
Keep working / keep ministering. The way to repair a stalled faith is to keep pumping the ministry pedal.
The Hebrews were growing weary, they were in unfamiliar territory far from their comfort zones and their faith was starting to choke. The writer tells them to keep pumping service / ministry / work in order to revive the engine of faith which would carry them to maturity, completion - the goal of heaven. They weren't the first to feel this way, in verse 12 he reminds them that all those who had made it in the past, had done so by keeping their faith alive through service despite the obstacles.
12 so that you will not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises.
Two thousand years ago Hebrew Christians began the walk of faith with enthusiasm, good works, great hopes and then when suffering came and doubt they paused and began to question their faith. God sent them a message that said basically three things:
- The Lord Jesus is worthy to be believed. He is far superior than anyone or anything. Don't be ashamed of Him, don't be afraid to trust Him with your life - after all He gave His life for you.
- Be careful of falling away, it can happen. (If you don't believe, me look around and see the people who used to be here 2 years ago serving Jesus who no longer do so - in 2 years some of you sitting here today may be gone! It can happen!). As sure as God will reward the faithful, He will condemn those who disbelieve and fall away.
- The way to demonstrate faith and keep it alive until the end is through service.
Developing and increasing our service is the way we press on to maturity.
2,000 years later the goal of your congregation is that each of you press on to maturity. This will mean something different for each one of us:
- For some it will mean that we will have to take the first steps of faith by confessing Christ and being baptized and learn the "elementary teachings of Christ".
- For many it will mean that certain sins, habits, and attitudes will finally have to be faced and dealt with because they are blocking our path to maturity.
Don't kid yourself, your little habit or attitude is what's keeping you back and may keep you out - deal with it! But for everyone (young and old, women and men, mature and immature, it will mean that we will have to begin to serve the Lord in some way. If you're not serving - you won't grow and if you're not growing, you'll fall away.
Are you stalled somewhere on the highway to heaven? You can start up the engine of faith by coming forward now and expressing your need (baptized, restored, membership, prayer) as we stand and sing.