Unit: Hebrews (Part 3)
Lesson Text: Hebrews 5:11–6:12
Supplemental Text: Matthew 13:3-9, 18-23; 2 Peter 1:3-10
Aim: “Show . . . diligence to the very end, so that what you hope for may be fully realized.”
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By Mark Scott
God expects things to grow. He wants crops (Mark 4:26-29), families (Genesis 1:28; 12:3), churches (Acts 2:47; 14:1), and individual believers (2 Peter 3:18) to grow. In fact, when things do not grow, something is drastically wrong (Luke 13:6-9). There is nothing wrong with feeding an infant in a high chair. But if that infant has turned 17 and he’s still being fed in a high chair, something isn’t right.
Ongoing growth was a challenge for the Hebrew Christians. They were being tempted to compare lesser people or things with Jesus (e.g., angels, priesthoods, covenants, or Moses). They were being lured back to the practices of Judaism. They were being persecuted for their faith. Christian maturity was not a given. The writer stepped aside from an argument about the priesthood of Jesus being superior to the Aaronic priesthood and like the priesthood of Melchizedek (Hebrews 4:14–5:10; 6:13–7:28) and inserted this aside to exhort people to Christian maturity (5:11–6:12).
Metaphors in the Text
The Hebrew writer used several metaphors to encourage readers to “grow up.” The first was milk. Every infant wants and needs milk. But solid food must be introduced at some point. The Hebrew believers were immature, so certain matters of the faith were hard (i.e., hermeneutically difficult) to understand. It was time to be teachers. Instead, these immature believers were still learning the elementary truths of the faith. The word elementary was a favorite term of the ancient Greek philosophers. It dealt with the basic elements of the universe (e.g., earth, water, air, and fire). In effect, the Hebrew writer was saying they were still learning the ABCs of the faith. Only as they grew in righteousness would they be able to distinguish good from evil.
The second metaphor was foundation. Good builders lay a foundation just once. In Christian terms, that foundation consisted of repentance, faith, cleansing rites (literally “baptisms,” but think of the priests using the laver), resurrection from the dead (which the Old Testament did not discuss at length), and eternal judgment. The Old Testament laid the foundation, but it was not the house itself.
The third metaphor was taste. The psalmist wrote, “Taste and see that the Lord is good” (Psalm 34:8). To “taste” here means to ingest salvation. The heavenly gift (the same word used in Acts 2:38) is the salvation experienced when the Holy Ghost becomes our “holy guest.” God’s glorious future (the powers of the coming age) had invaded the present.
The fourth metaphor was land. Thirsty soil laps up rain, and then crops grow. But dry ground (especially fallen earth) produced thorns and thistles (Genesis 3:18) that will be burned at the final judgment. The writer used any helpful metaphor to call readers to grow.
The Elephant in the Room
The issue of eternal security (also known as once-saved-always-saved or the perseverance of the saints) obviously is the elephant in the room. Can salvation be lost? Some suggest that the people in the text had simply made a “profession” of faith but fell short of having real faith. Others suggest that the writer was giving a hypothetical example of losing one’s salvation to encourage his readers to grow. Still others believe the passage speaks not about losing one’s salvation but being disqualified from further service to God. Finally, some believe that salvation, once embraced, can be given back—a view that does not threaten God’s sovereignty but does break his heart. God-loving, Bible-believing, and Jesus-honoring people disagree about this.
Indeed, there are Bible passages that, at first pass, do seem to indicate that one cannot lose salvation (John 10:28; Romans 8:29-30; 1 Peter 1:4-5). Dare we doubt God’s ability to save us to the uttermost? Is God so capricious with us that we end up hopping in and out of his grace daily, dependent on our mere human obedience? Can we even know if we are saved or is it just a roll of the dice (1 John 5:13)? Is there no such thing as assurance of salvation?
It partly comes down to nomenclature. You can lose your car keys and your cell phone, but can you “lose” your salvation? What if we changed the wording to “surrender”? Can we, after we have embraced the faith, surrender it back to God? Hebrews 6:4-6 and 9-12 would seem to indicate we can. One can go down a path of no return (2 Thessalonians 2:11-12). One can fall away from grace and still be restored (Galatians 5:4). But in this text one can be fallen away (the Greek word in Hebrews 6:6 is different from the one in Galatians 5:4) from grace and it is impossible to restore such a one. Not only that, but the last paragraph of our text indicates that God would not forget their work and love, but they must show constant diligence to inherit what has been promised.
No matter on which side one lines up, Christian growth is the best assurance of staying as far away from apostasy as possible.