Hebrews 6:1-12 (Part One) - Imitate Those Who Through Faith And Patience Inherit The Promises
About this we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.
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.
Last week I told the story of how David Clarkson spoke at the funeral of John Owen. He told Owen’s congregation that their pastor’s chief endeavor was that they grow in righteousness and holiness. Yet, despite his best efforts Owen’s greatest complaint was that these things were declining among his congregation.
With this in mind let me read you part of a sermon by Owen where he speaks of this problem and where he exhorts them to live by faith. He said, “There is not the life, spirit, courage and delight in the congregation that there has been in the past; and if this is so, God only knows how it will end. This, I say, is the first thing that faith will do in this state, if we set it to work. If we would only make an effort to stir it up to find those supplies of spiritual life and strength in the paths of worship and the ordinances; if we would labor to overcome prejudices, and set ourselves against laziness and negligence. We would find ourselves like others who have been freed to a great extent from the worry of what the world can do to them. This is what faith can do for us, and this is what I am laboring to bring my own heart to.”1
In Hebrews 6:1-12 the author of Hebrews seeks to stir up the congregation’s faith through any appropriate means as they are facing persecution and being subjected to false teachings. The author seeks to restore the life, spirit, courage and delight of this congregation. He seeks to stir up their faith so that their laziness and negligence is overcome in the face of their great fears.
Today’s sermon is simply an overview of Hebrews 6:1-12. We will consider three things today.
The Author of Hebrews Was A Good Man, Full Of The Holy Spirit And Faith
These Believers Are Warned and Exhorted To Remain True To Christ (1-8)
The Author Is Convinced That They Have Obtained Salvation And Received Grace (9-12)
The Author of Hebrews Was A Good Man, Full Of The Holy Spirit And Faith
Why is this our first point in this sermon?
Is it not true that we receive strong exhortations best when we know the character and quality of the person through whom it comes? We have come to an incredibly difficult warning in scripture and we may be able to understand it better if we understand what type of person the Holy Spirit used to give this exhortation.
In Hebrews 5:11-14 this congregation was told to grow up! They needed to mature in the faith so that they could determine between good and evil.
What does a mature Christian look like?
What does a mature Christian sound like?
What does it look like when someone is able to discern between good and evil?
There is much debate about who wrote this letter but whoever he was, he is a great example of how a mature believer should speak, act, think, and respond to things from a biblical worldview.
Even though we do not know for sure who the author of Hebrews is I will make the claim that he was a good man, he was full of the Holy Spirit, and he was full of faith. Because he has this character he can rejoice when he sees the grace of God in people, but in wisdom he will also exhort them that they need to remain steadfast in the faith.
There is a great example of the kind of mature believer who could have written this letter to the Hebrews. We read of him throughout the book of Acts. In Acts 9:26-27we are introduced to a man who may have been qualified for this task.We read, “And when he (Paul) had come to Jerusalem, he attempted to join the disciples. And they were all afraid of him, for they did not believe that he was a disciple. But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles and declared to them how on the road he had seen the Lord, who spoke to him, and how at Damascus he had preached boldly in the name of Jesus.” In this case, Barnabas alone was able to discern that Paul’s conversion was real and that the grace of God had transformed his life. His discernment eventually overcame all of the fears that the apostles had concerning Paul.
We read of Barnabas again in Acts 11:19-26. It says,
Now those who were scattered because of the persecution that arose over Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia and Cyprus and Antioch, speaking the word to no one except Jews. But there were some of them, men of Cyprus and Cyrene, who on coming to Antioch spoke to the Hellenists also, preaching the Lord Jesus. And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number who believed turned to the Lord. The report of this came to the ears of the church in Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch. When he came and saw the grace of God, he was glad, and he exhorted them all to remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast purpose, for he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. And a great many people were added to the Lord. So Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul, and when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. For a whole year they met with the church and taught a great many people. And in Antioch the disciples were first called Christians.
When the Christians in Jerusalem were persecuted they scattered throughout the land. Some of them took the gospel to a city named Antioch and they began to preach to the Hellinists. This had never happened before! When the church in Jerusalem wanted to confirm that this was a genuine move of the LORD they had to send someone who was mature and discerning in spiritual things. They sent a man named Barnabas.
Why was Barnabas chosen to go and investigate this situation?
The church in Jerusalem had criteria that they used to determine who would be sent to investigate these things. We read in Acts 11:24 that Barnabas was ‘a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith’.
Let’s look at these qualities more closely. First, Barnabas was a good man. If you send a sinful man you will receive back a twisted report. But if you send a good man the report will be accurate. If you send a man who is in love with the world, you will receive back a report that is more worldly than spiritual. Proverbs 11:3 says, “The integrity of the upright guides them…”. If someone does not live in godliness, integrity and goodness they will not discern the things correctly.
Secondly, We are told that Barnabas was full of the Holy Spirit. A person who is full of the Holy Spirit will recognize the fruit of the Spirit’s work in the speech and deeds of others. 1 Corinthians 2:10-16, “...these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. For who knows a person's thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual. The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. The spiritual person judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one. “For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ.”
Thirdly, we are also told that Barnabas was full of faith. People who are filled with saving faith will be drawn to two things according to Hebrews 12:1-2. They will fix their attention upon Christ and they will consider the faithful witnesses of others. Hebrews 12:1-2 says, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith…”. Because Barnabas was full of faith he could discern when God was truly present among His people and he could recognize sincere faith in others.
Because of these things it is not a surprise that the Church in Jerusalem would send Barnabas to investigate this situation. He could rightly discern between true grace and a counterfeit grace. He was a mature believer and could discern between good and evil (Hebrews 5:14).
In Acts 11:23 we see what happened when Barnabas arrived in Antioch and it is similar to what we see the author of Hebrews doing. We read, “When he came and saw the grace of God, he was glad, and he exhorted them all to remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast purpose…’.
Barnabas “saw the grace of God and was glad…”. A good man who is full of the Holy Spirit and faith will be glad when they encounter the grace of God in others. It does not matter if it is seen in the young or old, male or female. It does not matter if they are rich or poor. It does not matter if they are Jews, or Greeks, or Romans, or Barbarians. It does not matter what nationality they might be or what their past might be like. A man like Barnabas will rejoice when he sees the grace of God in others.
I said that a mature believer who sees the grace of God in others will not care what their past was like. They could have been a murderer like Paul but they know that the grace of God can save the worst of sinners. They may not focus upon their past but they do care what their future looks like. Once the grace of God is detected in their lives a mature believer will begin to exhort new believers to remain faithful to the LORD with steadfast purpose. This is why Barnabas rejoices when he sees the grace of God in them but he is also quick to exhort them to remain faithful with steadfast purpose.
Application: Some of us have received the grace of God but you are not baptized yet. Some of us have received the grace of God but you are not participating in the ordinances. Some of us have received the grace of God but you are not growing in the faith. Some of us have received the grace of God but we are letting a sin dominate our hearts. The scriptures come today to exhort you to remain faithful to the LORD in steadfast purpose.
What is meant by ‘remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast purpose’?
Other translations say,
they are exhorted to ‘remain true to the Lord with all their hearts’,
they are exhorted to ‘abide in the Lord with resolute purpose of heart’,
they are exhorted to ‘with purpose of heart they are to cleave to the Lord’.
We are told that Barnabas saw that they had received grace. What does it look like to see the grace of God in someone's life?
Barnabas sees that they love Jesus Christ, that they love Christ’s church, that they are repenting of their sins, that believe the Word of God, that they have rejected idolatry, they have abandoned their former way of life, they are walking by faith. He sees that they are not looking to themselves, the Law, to Moses, or to anyone else for salvation. Because of these things Barnabas sees that they have received the grace of God!
Barnabas rejoices about this grace but he also gives them a strong exhortation. He exhorts them to remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast purpose, to remain true to Christ, and to cleave to the Lord. By doing this they would confirm their calling and election (2 Peter 1:10). They are exhorted to finish the race that is set out before them and not fall short of the finish line or the prize that awaits them (1 Cor. 9:24-27).
Hebrews 6is intended to stimulate our faith by giving us commands to obey, threats to tremble at, and promises to embrace.
In the Westminster Confession of Faith we are given the description of saving faith which will help us as we think about a passage like this one. It says, “By this faith, a Christian believes to be true whatsoever is revealed in the Word, for the authority of God Himself speaking therein; and acts differently upon that which each particular passage thereof contains; yielding obedience to the commands, trembling at the threatening's, and embracing the promises of God for this life, and that which is to come. But the principle acts of saving faith are accepting, receiving, and resting upon Christ alone for justification, sanctification, and eternal life, by virtue of the covenant of grace.”
Biblical faith will listen to the full counsel of God. We should respond to this passage with faith and not with paralyzing fear. John Bunyan said that there are many ways to respond improperly to biblical passages that make us tremble but there is only one proper response. When the Word makes us tremble we are to draw close to God in faith. Even in the face of this warning passage we are to draw near to the Throne of Grace to receive mercy and grace in our time of need.
These Believers Are Warned To Remain True To Christ (1-8)
At the end of chapter 5 the author of Hebrews found himself unable to continue. He wanted to speak more about Jesus as our His High Priest but he found it hard to explain. These believers had become dull of hearing. They should have been mature believers by now who were able to teach others but they were still children in the faith.
They had been taught the Word of God but they were falling back to the Law of Moses. In some cases, individuals were speaking against Christ and becoming apostates. They were not progressing in the faith so they are exhorted to grow up!
We read of this in Hebrews 6:1-3, “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.”
Proverbs 19:27 warns us, “Cease to hear instruction my son, and you will stray from words of knowledge.” This is what was happening to these believers. They had stopped receiving instruction and were at risk of straying far away from Christ and falling into apostasy.
We read in Hebrews 6:4-6, “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.”
A text like this probably makes us feel like the disciples in Luke 22:23.Jesus has told the twelve disciples that one of them was going to betray Him. We read how the disciples respond, “And they all began to question one another, which of them it could be who was going to do this (betray Jesus).”
That night all of the disciples wondered if Jesus was talking about them. Each of them wondered if they were the one who would betray Jesus. Judas was capable of betrayal because he was never one of them. Peter was capable of denying Jesus but would be restored by Him. All of the disciples fled during Jesus’ arrest but when He was resurrected He came to them and encouraged them.
That night Jesus was talking about one man - Judas. Judas appeared to have been enlightened. He seemed to have tasted the heavenly gift. He ministered powerfully alongside the others and shared in the signs and wonders that were done by the Holy Spirit. He heard all of Jesus’ messages and had tasted the Word of God. He witnessed the powers of the age to come, but Judas did not have the faith to embrace these things. Therefore, he betrayed Christ and was never restored.
Similarly, there are people who attend church, they take communion, they’ve been baptized, they’ve experienced the operations of the Holy Spirit, and have sat under the teaching of the Word of God, but they have not engaged in these things by faith.
These people are described in Hebrews 6:7-8, “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.”
Out of a regenerated heart that exercises saving faith there will come the fruit appropriate to the grace that they have received. But if a heart is still dead in sin and faithless it will produce things appropriate to that nature: thorns and thistles (James 3:11-12).
The Author Of Hebrews Is Convinced Of Something Better For These Believers (9-12)
After having said these things author of Hebrews seeks to encourage them. Like Barnabas, he believes that he has seen the grace of God at work in their lives. Therefore, he calls them to remain steadfast in the grace of God. He says in Hebrews 6:9-12, “Though we speak in this way, yet in your case, 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.”
The author of Hebrews can exhort strongly and also affirm the grace of God that he sees in their lives. His intent is to get them to respond in faith and draw closer to Christ.
I have stressed today that our response to this warning has to be a response of faith. We are to come to the commands, the promises and the threatening's of God in His Word and respond in saving faith. Such a faith will acknowledge our sin and turn to God and His promises and have hope. Our first reaction might be to run away from God but we are commanded to draw near in faith. Through this warning we are being provoked to strive to enter into the rest that God has promised (4:11).
1John Owen, Searching Our Hearts In Difficult Times, p. 121