‘em and drop ‘em.”
the accusation often made against the churches of our brotherhood. We are very
fond of making new disciples (as we should be), but perhaps not so fond of
bringing them into maturity in Christ. Evangelism is great – but we need to
remember that Christ’s command was not “Go and evangelize” but “Go and make
disciples.” Baptism is not the end; it is the beginning. As Paul makes clear
here, we must go on from the elementary beginnings into Christian maturity.
1Therefore let us leave the elementary teachings about
Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again the foundation of repentance
from acts that lead to death,£
and of faith in God, 2instruction about baptisms, the laying on
of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. 3And
God permitting, we will do so.
4It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened,
who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, 5who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of
the coming age, 6if they fall away, to be brought back to
repentance, because£ to their loss they are crucifying the Son
of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace.
7Land that drinks in the rain often falling on it and that
produces a crop useful to those for whom it is farmed receives the blessing of
God. 8But land that produces thorns and thistles
is worthless and is in danger of being cursed. In the end it will be burned.
9Even though we speak like this, dear friends, we are
confident of better things in your case—things that accompany salvation. 10God is not unjust; he will not forget your work and the love you
have shown him as you have helped his people and continue to help them. 11We want each of you to show this same diligence to the very end,
in order to make your hope sure. 12We do not want you to become lazy, but to
imitate those who through faith and patience inherit what has been promised.
13When God made his promise to Abraham,
since there was no one greater for him to swear by, he swore by himself, 14saying, “I will surely bless you and give you many descendants.”£ 15And so after waiting patiently, Abraham
received what was promised.
16Men swear by someone greater than
themselves, and the oath confirms what is said and puts an end to all argument.
17Because God wanted to make the unchanging
nature of his purpose very clear to the heirs of what was promised, he
confirmed it with an oath. 18God did this so that, by two unchangeable
things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled to take hold
of the hope offered to us may be greatly encouraged. 19We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It
enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain, 20where Jesus, who went before us, has entered on our behalf. He has
become a high priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.
word “amateur” used to have a definite meaning in sports. It used to mean one
who was not paid to play. In our enlightened times, however, amateur has
become a Red Queen’s word: it means exactly what we say it means. Noted
“amateur” track stars are paid “appearance money.” “Amateur” basketball
players (who eke out a poor existence in the NBA) play in the Olympics. The
word has taken on different meanings.
of those meanings is rather derogatory. It means someone who should know his
job – and doesn’t. Paul gives us these tests of the Christian amateur:
hear things over and over again – at the same level of understanding.
only listen to a certain set of topics – those for beginners.
someone asks, you have no ready defense of the faith.
that sounds familiar, watch out!
The loss to the teacher
Paul brings it up, may your teacher share with you his troubles with amateurs
in the room? This is, after all, not a class for beginners.
frequently find the lessons over their heads – and that quickly leads to a
lack of attention.
get their attention, the teacher must “bring it down to their level” –
which quickly bores the rest of the class.
the teacher must persist (so give the man a little help, will ya?) He persists
because the basics are still so important. Unless, of course, he’s looking for
applause, in which case what are you doing in his class?
The loss to your classmates
can put this in simple English: while your classmates know that the basics are
valuable, do any of you remember being bored during our trial of Christianity
101? A lot of you complained of it!
What are the basics?
just what does Paul consider “the basics?”
The point here is not that you never need repentance. You will need it. The
point is that you don’t have to be taught how. By now you should have
practiced it a bit.
If you have a constant hunger for the miraculous, or the need to have your
faith affirmed, you haven’t been growing in the faith.
You should by now have figured out things like baptism.
By now, the hope of the Christian – which is the resurrection of the dead
at the return of our Lord – should be firmly planted in your life. This I
find is the most common failing.
Warning to the mature
section of Scripture can be frightening to the amateur. It is sometimes
interpreted to mean that “the first time you sin after you are baptized, you
have no hope of forgiveness.” That is not what it means at all. This section
is addressed to mature Christians. So first, we need to know what makes one a
mature Christian, right?
The mark of the mature
see just who Paul is speaking of:
- “tasted of the heavenly gift” – He’s talking about grace, of
course. If you ignore grace – or worse, go out on the theory that the
more you sin, the more God’s grace abounds – you can see that you are
rejecting the free gift of God.
- “shared in the Holy Spirit” – note the word “shared.” To
reject the “seal” (the guaranty) of God, our comforter in troubles, and the
one who makes the church one is rejection of God Himself.
- “tasted the goodness of the word” – suppose you spend much time in
studying the Scriptures, and then, at the last, decide that you need them
no more. Are you not rejecting the life found therein?
- “powers of the coming age” – the Christian knows the power of
the Resurrection. It changes our attitude towards death. We see death as
the door to eternal life, and freedom from mortal ills. If you have
experienced this, and then rejected it, you have thrown your hope away.
this mean there is no repentance for the mature Christian? Of course not.
What it does mean is that there is no chance to go through the initial stages
of Christianity again. We are privileged to know God, to experience his
baptism and know his saving grace only because of what Christ did on the
Cross. If having become mature we fall away, how could we start again? Would
not Christ have to die again for us? It is absurd to think of it.
then, Christian, as you mature, remember: press on until the end of life. Not
only did your Lord undergo death for you, He was humiliated
for you. Many of us would rather die than be humiliated; he accepted both for
you. If you reject this – especially after having grown mature in this faith –
how could you start over? Would you humiliate him a second time?
By their fruits
do we know if we are mature Christians? “By their fruits you will know them.”
This is a pass-fail exam, so to speak.
“pass” if you have the fruits of the Spirit in your life. This is because
you “drink in the rain” – the shower of blessings that God gives you.
When you do, you produce good fruit – both in your personal life and in
those about you.
“fail” if you produce thorns – or sins. Note the progression: when God’s
patience runs out, you will be cursed. If cursed, then burned – in the
lake of fire.
Confident of Better Things
lesson does not end with such gloom, however. Paul tells these Hebrews that he
is confident of better things in their case. Having seen the fate of those who
fall away, let us look at the joys of those who persist until the end.
God is just
we look around and see the rewards of the unjust in this life. We’re tempted
to ask, “If that’s what the wicked get, and I get what the righteous get, maybe
I’m on the wrong side here.” But remember: God is just. Because he is just,
this is what He will do:
will not forget your hard work. No, you cannot work your way into
heaven. But your Lord, who sees all things, sees your hard work too. He
will reward it when he comes.
will he forget the love you have shown to his saints. Remember, a
kindness to another Christian is a kindness to Christ himself. It makes
sense: those who show love to my children show love to me.
he will not forget your diligence. If you persist until the end, he will
know, and he will reward. Keep on keeping on!
how do I keep on keeping on? Paul tells us that too.
you do it by faith. As your faith matures, God will stretch you more and
more. Hang on to that faith; remember that when he stretches you, he is
making you stronger for the next trial.
you do it by patience. This is not a passive thing. Rather, it is the
patience which is ever ready to seize God’s opportunity – but does not
moan until the opportunity comes.
major foe is laziness. Interestingly, the word can also be translated
“dull.” Don’t coast downhill when God wants you to be climbing.
this looks rather difficult; we tend to see ahead and look only at the bumps
in the road. How can we be sure?
- It is impossible for God to lie. By his very nature, he is
truth. But just to make sure you got the message, he made his promises
“on oath.” We do that yet today; the oath (or at least the fear of trial
for perjury) is supposed to give us confidence in what is said. In this
we see the humility of God. There is no one greater than God; God is
truth – but so that we might be certain of his promises, he added to them
his sworn word.
- Hope “as an anchor.” The metaphor is a deliberate
one. He refers not to the rock as foundation, but an anchor. Those whose
faith has been tried know what this means. They know what it is to be “at
sea.” When everything else is shaky, you pull on the anchor chain. When
you do, you find it is stretched, but firm. Even more of a blessing is
this: it’s secure. It is stuck in the Rock of Ages; it will not move.
- Our hope is the atonement. How do we know this can be so?
Because we remember what Jesus did for us in the Atonement. The picture
would be clear to the ancient Jew. Jesus has gone into the Holy of Holies
(remember the veil of the Temple torn from top to bottom?), just as the
High Priest would. In there (in the days of its glory) would be the Ark
of the Covenant. The cover of that ark is called the “mercy seat” or the
“atonement cover.” It is there that our Lord has presented himself as
sacrifice, on our behalf. There is a reason we take communion each week –
so that we might remember this.
hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.” An old
hymn, but a true one. Keep on keeping on!