A Great Deal Of Hope In This Warning! Hebrews 6:1-12
The mission statement of Community Church states, “As a people living side-by-side, Community Church exists to pursue the transformation of hearts and minds by treasuring and spreading of the surpassing worth of Jesus”.
I think that the author of Hebrews would appreciate our mission statement. The reason he has written this letter is because these believers were wandering from their mission. They were drifting from ‘treasuring and spreading the surpassing worth of Christ’. Because of this they were struggling to pursue the transformation of their own hearts and minds (5:11-14). And they were not fulfilling the Great Commission within their community (Matthew 28:19-20); instead they were being converted back into the Jewish culture in which they lived.
Seeking to stop their drift away from Christ the author of Hebrews is showing them that Jesus is of surpassing worth and value. Drifting away from Christ has always been a temptation for the church. Sometimes this drift happens slowly. For example, John commends the church in Ephesus for their discernment and their patient endurance under trials. But John says to them, “I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love that you had at first. Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent.” (2:4-5)
At other times churches, like the Galatians, drift away from Christ very quickly. Paul said to them, “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ.” (1:6-7)
J. Grecham Machen, the Princeton theologian who fought against theological liberalism in his day, taught when the biblical views were being forsaken and cultural conformity within the church was being accepted.
To defend Christian truth against this cultural drift Machen taught that we must have a very high view of God, of the Bible, and of Jesus Christ. We must have a biblical view of man, the Fall, of sin and of the judgment to come. We must have a high view of salvation and of the church. Consider the high view that Machen had of Christ when he said, “Any view of Jesus which is less than infinite is infinitely less than the real thing.”1
It would seem that anyone who agrees with what Machen says in that quote will be able to understand of the book of Hebrews better than someone who does not appreciate it. There are two types of people addressed in Hebrews: those who have a low view of Christ, and those who have a high view; those who are are drifting away from Christ, and those who are holding fast to their confession of Christ; those who are trampling upon the Son of God, and those who consider Christ as precious; those who receive the truth and deliberately keep on sinning, and those who believe the gospel and are maturing and being transformed into Christ-likeness.
Those who have a low view of Christ and His redeeming work will not patiently endure, they will not hold fast to Christ and their confession; instead, they will become dull of hearing and lazy in spiritual things. Last week we mentioned that Judas had a low view of Jesus. He betrayed Jesus for thirty pieces of silver. We read of this in Matthew 26:14-15, “Then one of the twelve, whose name was Judas Iscriot, went to the chief priests and said, ‘What will you give me if I deliver him over to you?’ And they paid him thirty pieces of silver. And from that moment he sought an opportunity to betray Him.”
Those who have a high view of Christ have hope and they will enjoy innumerable blessings and graces. Those who have a high view of Christ will be able to endure suffering, hardship, trials and difficulties and remain faithful till the very end.
The Christians to whom Hebrews 6:1-12is written were facing persecution and they were beginning to lose their hope. As a result of this they were embracing a low view of Christ and His redeeming work. Some were seriously considering turning away from Christ and returning to Judaism. Therefore the author seeks to ‘transform their hearts and minds by provoking them to treasure and spread the surpassing worth of Christ.’ In Hebrews 6:1-8 he does this with a strong warning. In Hebrews 6:9-12 he does this by giving them strong encouragement to re-establish their hope and promote a steadfast faith within them. He writes,
Therefore, let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and faith towards God, and of instruction about washings, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. And this we will do if God permits. For it is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt. For land that has drunk the rain that often falls on it, and produces a crop useful to those for whose sake it is cultivated, receives a blessing from God. But if it bears thorns and thistles, it is worthless and near to being cursed, and its end is to be burned.
Though we speak in this way, yet in your case, beloved, we feel sure of better things—things that belong to salvation. For God is not unjust so as to overlook your work and the love that you have shown for his name in serving the saints, as you still do. And we desire each one of you to show the same earnestness to have the full assurance of hope until the end, so that you may not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises.
Commentators usually take two views in regards to Hebrews 6:1-2. First, some say that these six doctrines: repentance from dead works, faith in God, washings, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment; are all basic principles of the Old Covenant that were to point people to Jesus Christ. Once Christ appeared He fulfilled these Old Testament shadows and signs and became the full reality of these things. As a result, these Hebrews were to ‘move on’ from these foundational teachings about the doctrines of Christ and go on to maturity. They were not to return to the types and shadows of the Law because there is no salvation in the Law.
If they were to return to the Law they would reject the high view of Christ. In doing this they would be joining the unbelievers who rejected Jesus Christ and were faithless. In doing so, they would deny that Jesus is the Prophet, Priest and King who was to come and they would be like those who called out for Jesus’ crucifixion. You can see that this text would encourage those in this congregation who were tempted to return to the Law to repent and to embrace Christ by faith.
The second way that Hebrews 6:1-2 is interpreted is to see that these elemental doctrines of Christ are the foundational teachings of Christian maturity. And when they are practiced a believer will mature in sanctification and true righteousness. For example,
A believer will need to practice repentance from dead works and turn to God in faith to be saved from the penalty, power and presence of sin. A believer who approaches God after they have sinned and repents will continue to grow and mature (1 John 1:9; 2 Peter 1:3-11).
Baptisms, or washings, in the Old Covenant were external ceremonial cleansings. In the New Covenant, however, water baptism is an outward testimony of an inward work of the Holy Spirit in regeneration that results in the faith and repentance. At our baptism we acknowledge that we are agreeing to the privileges, the promises, the responsibilities and demands that we have as believers by the grace of God which is in Christ Jesus.
In the Old Covenant hands were laid upon offerings as sign that God would place our sins on the sacrifice and the sinner would receive mercy. In the New Testament we see that hands were put on people for many reasons. This is done as people are commissioned for a special service. Jesus laid his hands upon the children and blessed them. Hands were laid upon people who had been given a gift for ministry. Often you see that hands were laid upon people who desired to be healed.
In the New Testament the resurrection is central to everything that we believe. It is necessary for the hope that we have and to the obedience that we walk in even when we suffer and face death on account of the faith that we profess before men.
In the New Covenant much that is said about the eternal judgment that all mankind will one day face. The author of Hebrews will say in Hebrews 9:27, “It is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment…”. He speaks of these things in our text today in Hebrews 6:7-8 when we read, “For land that has drunk the rain that often falls on it, and produces a crop useful to those for whose sake it is cultivated, receives a blessing from God. But if it bears thorns and thistles, it is worthless and near to being cursed, and its end is to be burned.”
Keep these things in mind as we continue to study Hebrews because we will see that the author of Hebrews will often refer to these things within the New Testament context. For example, as we come to Hebrews 10 many of these doctrines are spoken of when the author is concluding his teaching concerning Jesus our Great High Priest (10:19-39).
In Hebrews 6:1-2 these believers are told to move on from these elemental doctrines. This is not done by our own effort and intellect. The author says in Hebrews 6:3, “And this we will do if God permits.” This reflects the authors biblical view of man and of God. Apart from God we can do nothing; but with Him all things are possible.
James, the half brother of Jesus, says, “Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit’ – yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring...Instead you ought to say, ‘If the LORD wills, we will live and do this or that.’ As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil.” (4:13-16) James also says, “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.” (1:5) We are to always come to God prayerfully and come humbly to His Word if we are to grow and mature in the faith. Apart from the work of the Holy Spirit it is impossible to progress even under the best of conditions.
Consider the blessings these believers had in struggling because of persecution and trials; yet, we can see from our text that they were struggling even while they were experiencing profound blessings of grace. These graces are always sufficient to keep a believer in any difficult circumstance. Paul was challenged to have a high view of Christ while he experienced suffering in 2 Cor. 12:9-10. We read, “But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
Consider the blessings these believers had inHebrews 6:4-5. They had “once been enlightened, they had tasted of the heavenly gift, they have shared in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come.” What an amazing list of grace and blessings that these believers have received!
The scary part for most of us is what the author says next. He says that if after experiencing these things we fall away that it is impossible if they ‘...to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding Him up to contempt.’
In one sense, as we have already mentioned that there are those, like Judas, who can sit under all of these influences but they never respond in saving faith. They never respond with a faith that is “accepting, receiving, and resting upon Christ alone for justification, sanctification, and eternal life, by virtue of the covenant of grace.”2
However, in another sense this text seems to be saying that a true believer who has experienced these things may loose their salvation and that it would be impossible for them to be brought back to repentance. If this is the case, how are we too have any confidence and hope that this will not happen to us? You all know that I believe that the scriptures teach in the security of the believer. I believer that none of the elect will ever be lost. So how are we to understand this passage if indeed the author is talking to believers who have experienced these great blessings?
Most of your translations will sound similar to the ESV that I am using. They will say, “It is impossible...to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding Him up to contempt.”
The word ‘since’ is a present active participle. This means that the action is being accomplished by the subject of the verb. In this case, it is speaking of those who have ‘fallen away...and are crucifying once again the Son of God”. It is those who have turned away from “accepting, receiving and resting upon Christ alone for justification, sanctification, and eternal life, by virtue of the covenant of grace”.
It is also in the present tense which means that this is a continuous and repeated action by them. They have turned from Christ and are continually embracing the Law while thinking that it can save them. They have turned away from the grace of God and repeatedly embraced something else to trust in for salvation. They have left the good confession concerning Christ and had begun to boast in someone or something other than Jesus Christ. We are told that impossible for the person who continually and repeatedly does this to be brought back to repentance.
What does this mean for you and I? What does this mean for our friends and family members that we love? What does this mean for entire churches and denominations that have fallen away?
Most of the translations translate the participle in Hebrews 6:6with the word, ‘since’. But there is another word that could be used. In fact, in older versions of the NIV translation would make a note in the footnotes for this participle that says, “Or ‘repentance while’”. Therefore, this verse could be translated, “It is impossible...to restore them again to repentance, while they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding Him up to contempt.”3
In other words, repentance is impossible only to those who continue to repeatedly turn away from Christ and embrace something else for salvation. But once a person turns away from these things and clings to Christ they can be forgiven. Therefore, the author says in Hebrews 6:9, “Though we speak in this way, yet in your case, beloved, we feel sure of better things – things that belong to salvation.”
In the past this congregation had been faithful to the LORD. In Hebrews 6:10 we read, “For God is not unjust so as to overlook your work and the love that you have shown for his name in serving the saints, as you still do.” By writing to them as he has done he intends to restore their high view of Christ and His redemptive work that they once had.
By restoring this high view of Christ within this congregation they would no longer be lazy, dull, distracted and immature; rather they will display earnestness and a full assurance of hope until the end. They will not be sluggish, but they will be imitators of Christ and of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises. This is what we see in Hebrews 6:11-12, “And we desire each one of you to show the same earnestness to have the full assurance of hope until the end, so that you may not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises.”
Hebrews 6 should not bring us to despair, but to repentance. It should not cause us to leave Christ, but to embrace Him. It should not cause us to trample underfoot the Son of God, it should make us have a high and loft view of Jesus; it should not make us want to run away from Christ, but to approach with confidence that He will forgive our sins. He alone can forgive my sins, even the sin of turning away from Him and trusting in other things.
What is the one blessing that the author of Hebrews would seek to promote in these struggling Christians? He wants us to have hope, a full assurance of hope to the very end! Hope, not despair; hope, not discouragement; hope, not a sense of futility; hopefulness, not hopelessness. If a believer, or a congregation, has hope then they will benefit in every way and they will make great progress in the faith and mature into Christ-likeness.
As we come to communion let us consider the words of the apostle Paul in Colossians 1:3-5.In this passage we see the importance of having hope. Paul says in the NIV translation, “We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, because we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all God’s people —the faith and love that spring from the hope stored up for you in heaven and about which you have already heard in the true message of the gospel that has come to you. In the same way, the gospel is bearing fruit and growing throughout the whole world—just as it has been doing among you since the day you heard it and truly understood God’s grace.
These verses remind us that those who believe the gospel and receive it by faith will have a hope that produces love and a faith.
This hope allows us to walk in a manner worthy of the LORD.
This hope is gained through a spiritual wisdom and understanding.
This hope rests upon God’s salvation of sinners by God’s sovereign grace.
This hope recognizes that we have been called, justified, sanctified, and qualified to share in an inheritance.
This hope is confident that we have been delivered from the domain of darkness and transferred to the kingdom of God’s Son.
This is a certain and confident hope that looks to Jesus in whom we have redemption and the forgiveness of sins.
Seeing that hope is so vital for the Christian in so many ways I cannot imagine that the author of Hebrews would intend for this text to make us feel helpless and in an impossible situation. As we take communion this morning our hearts should be full of hope. Let us consider Luke 22:14-20. On the night that Jesus was betrayed His heart was full of hope. Therefore He says,
“I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. For I tell you I will not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.” And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he said, “Take this, and divide it among yourselves. For I tell you that from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.” And he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.
1Christianity In America, Steven Nichols, ‘Fundamentalism in America part 2’
2Westminster Confession on saving faith
3Copyright 1973, 78, 84 by International Bible Society.