Hebrews 6 - InterVarsity Large Group - A Warning And A Promise
Before we look at Hebrews 6 I would like to begin by referencing Acts 11:19-24. At this time the Jewish believers were being persecuted and this caused them to scatter out to other areas. These exiles took the gospel as far away as Cyprus and Antioch. Some of them began to preach to the Hellenists and they believed upon the LORD Jesus Christ. Something like this had never happened before!
When the church in Jerusalem heard what had happened they sent a man named Barnabas to investigate. Why was Barnabas chosen to go and investigate this situation? The first reason is described in Acts 11:24 as ‘a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith’.
He was a good man who was able to discern these things wisely.
He was full of the Holy Spirit and able to minister by the Spirit of God with discernment.
He was full of faith and able to act and speak appropriately in any situation.
Secondly, in Acts 9 Barnabas introduces Paul to the other apostles for the very first time. The apostles were afraid of Paul and did not want to see him because he had violently persecuted the church, but Barnabas reassured the apostles that Paul had been saved and that he now loved the church.
Because of these two things it should not surprise us that the Church in Jerusalem would send him to go and investigate this situation. Barnabas knew what to look for in these situations and he could rightly discern between true grace in a believer and a counterfeit grace in an unbeliever.
In Acts 11:23 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…’.
We are told that Barnabas “saw the grace of God, was glad…”. A good man, who is full of the Holy Spirit, and who is full of 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 what nationality they might be, or what their past might be like. A man like Barnabas rejoices to see the grace of God in others.
But notice also that Barnabas will also exhort them and give them a charge. He ‘exhorts them all to remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast purpose’. (23)
What is meant by ‘remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast purpose’? Other translators say,
‘remain true to the Lord with all their hearts’,
‘abide in the Lord with resolute purpose of heart’,
‘with purpose of heart that they would cleave to the Lord’.
Barnabas sees that the grace of God is in these Christians. He sees that they love Jesus Christ, that they are repenting of their sins, that they treasure the Word of God, that they have rejected idolatry, that they have abandoned their former way of life. He sees that they have bowed their hearts down to the Lord Jesus Christ and they are not looking to Rome, or the Law, or to Moses for salvation.
He is overjoyed about these things; but he also exhorts them by saying remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast purpose, remain true to Christ, and to cleave to the Lord Jesus Christ. He knows that these knew believers will need to do this if they are to hold on to their profession of hope to the very end.
I wanted to share this with you as we come to Hebrews 6 so that we can see several parallels between these two texts. We will make four observations about Hebrews 6:1-20 tonight.
First, the author of Hebrews is a good men, filled with the Holy Spirit and full of faith.
Secondly, these believers are struggling to remain true to Christ so they are exhorted strongly to not fall away from the Lord. (1-8)
Thirdly, the author is convinced that many of these believers have received the grace of God and that they will not abandon the Lord. (9-20)
The author of this letter invites them to be patient and steadfast to inherit the promise
The Author of Hebrews, like Barnabas, Was A Good Man, Full Of The Holy Spirit And Faith
There is much debate about who wrote this letter. However, we can know one thing for sure, like Barnabas, the author was a man who was good, full of the Holy Spirit, and faith. As a result, we know that such a man will speak differently than we are used to hearing. He can rejoice in the grace of God that he sees in others and also exhort them strongly if needed to remain steadfast in Christ.
The faithless may desire a comforting word, but a faithful man will give a strong exhortation.
The faithless may desire an ear tickling word, but a faithful man will give a strong warning.
Because of this, we should respond to this passage with faith and not with paralyzing fear. Let this author, who is full of the Holy Spirit and faith, speak plainly and powerfully for our own good. The author’s words make us tremble but it is for our own good. The puritan John Bunyan said that there are many ways to respond improperly to these 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.
We may not often hear people speak to us like this today but that does not mean that our text is to be avoided. It does not mean that we should shrink away from God in dread. Rather, we should draw close to God in faith and remain steadfast to Jesus Christ.
In the Westminster Confessions of Faith 14.2 we are given the description of saving faith. “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.”
A passage like Hebrews 6 is intended to exercise our faith by giving us commands to obey, threats to tremble at, and promises to embrace. We can embrace all three of these things by a faith that belongs to salvation (6:9). A counterfeit faith, however, will not be able to embrace these things.
These Believers Are Exhorted To Remain True To Christ (1-12)
At the end of Hebrews 5 the author of Hebrews found himself at an impasse. He wanted to speak more about Jesus and His High Priestly role but he found it hard to explain. These believers had become dull of hearing and had stopped maturing in the faith. They should have been mature believers by now but they are still children. They need milk and not solid food. They should be teachers, but they are still infants in their understanding of Christ.
The author of Hebrews will not allow excuses for why this has happened. They had been taught the Word of God but they were not receiving it. Jesus had been proclaimed but they were falling back to the Law and to Moses. And in some extreme cases, some were speaking against Christ and becoming apostates. As a whole, they were not progressing in the faith but were stuck on certain elementary doctrines concerning Christ. In Hebrews 6:1-3 we read, “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.”
In Hebrews 2:1 the author told these people to pay more careful attention to what they had heard about Christ. They looked religious but they were not progressing in their relationship with Christ. Proverbs 19:27 warns us, “Cease to hear instruction my son, and you will stray from words of knowledge.” This is what the author of Hebrews saw was happening to them. They had stopped receiving instruction and were at risk of straying far away from Christ and falling into apostasy.
The author of Hebrews has diagnosed their ailment and it is not good. 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 makes us all look like the disciples on the night that Jesus was betrayed in Luke 22:23, “And they all began to question one another, which of them it could be who was going to do this (betray Jesus).”
In this moment, they all wondered if they were the ones who would do this?
Judas appeared to have been enlightened, to have tasted the heavenly gift, to have shared in the Holy Spirit, tasted the Word of God, and also the powers of the age to come; but Judas did not have the faith to embrace these things. Therefore, he turned away from Christ and held Him in contempt.
There are people who attend church, take communion, who have been baptized, who have experienced the operations of the Holy Spirit, who have sat under the teaching of the Word of God; but they have not engaged in these things by faith. As a result, they show no progress and they don’t become fruitful. In fact, they are producing thorns and thistles, they’ve become worthless and near being cursed. (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. 8 But if it bears thorns and thistles, it is worthless and near to being cursed, and its end is to be burned.)
The Author Of Hebrews Is Convinced Of Something Better For Them (9-12)
After having said this the author of Hebrews seeks to encourage the true believers in the church. Like Barnabas, he believes that he has seen the grace of God at work in their lives. 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 (of faith) 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.”
Like Barnabas, 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 to draw closer to Christ and bear the fruit one expects to see because of the grace of God.
The author sees that they have labored for the Lord and they have expressed love for Christ by their service to the saints. This love for Christ and for the saints must continue if they are to have the full assurance of hope until the end and not be sluggish and if they are to inherit the promises. Let me make three brief observations about this.
First, I can appreciate his exhortation to not be sluggish. When I am scared, overwhelmed or insecure I get sluggish. When I lack assurance I am not decisive and disciplined in my Christian walk. However, if I respond in faith at these times I am not sluggish. If I look to Christ and maintain my hope in these moments I am not sluggish.
Secondly, We are encouraged to imitate those who inherited the promises. I want to point out here that the author of Hebrews has always encouraged us to imitate Christ first and then to look to others. Every believer needs to receive grace from Christ first before they can appreciate the grace in other Christians. Every believer needs to receive the Word of Christ for themselves before they can receive the word spoken by His servants. Having pointed them to Christ time and time again he will now speak about Abraham but only to get them to consider Christ again after (19-20)
Thirdly, we are to imitate those who through faith and patience inherit the promises. There are many in the church who claim to be believers who start out quick but soon become sluggish. There are many who appear to bear some fruit in their lives but soon they turn to thorns and thistles. The author of Hebrews, therefore, encourages us to model our lives after men like Abraham who through faith and patience inherited the promises. We must be careful who we hold up as role models.
The Certainty Of God’s Promise
Hebrews 6:13-20 says, “For when God made a promise to Abraham, since he had no one greater by whom to swear, he swore by himself, 14 saying, “Surely I will bless you and multiply you.” 15 And thus Abraham, having patiently waited, obtained the promise. 16 For people swear by something greater than themselves, and in all their disputes an oath is final for confirmation. 17 So when God desired to show more convincingly to the heirs of the promise the unchangeable character of his purpose, he guaranteed it with an oath, 18 so that by two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us. 19 We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain, 20 where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf, having become a high priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.”
God made Abraham a promise that He would ‘bless and multiply him’. But God did not make this promise between Himself and Abraham; but between God the Father and God the Son. He did this because ‘God desired to show more convincingly to the heirs of the promise the unchangeable character of His promise’. Therefore those of us who have fled for refuge might have great encouragement.
We flee from the Law to Christ for righteousness.
We flee from trusting in our own righteousness, to trusting in Christ’s alone.
We have forsaken all worldly promises and pleasures to cling to a promise that is guaranteed by an oath, between God and Jesus.
The author of Hebrews ended chapter five by talking about Jesus as our great High Priest. At that time he had to stop because he looked at these believers and they were ‘sluggish’ and not characterized by those who were ‘fleeing to take refuge in Christ’. Therefore, he exhorted them to approach God with a faith that perseveres and with a faith that produces fruitfulness. Having done that he can again talk about Jesus our great High Priest.
There are three types of people here tonight.
There are those who hear the Word of God and it produces fruit. They hear the Word of God and it produces maturity. They hear the Word of God and it produces hope and patience in Christ.
Then there are those who hear the Word of God and they are dull of hearing, sluggish and even hard-hearted. They have experienced the goodness of God but they do not engage in these things with faith. They have ceased to hear the Word of God and are beginning to stray from words of knowledge. They need to be exhorted tonight about the danger of continuing in that path.
Then there are those who are hearing the gospel and have never responded by receiving the grace of God like the people do in Acts 11. If that is you, you need to repent of your sins and flee for refuge in Christ and begin patiently waiting for the promise of eternal life. As we have seen, patiently waiting does not mean sluggishness and laziness; but rather, it means bearing fruit and maturing in the faith. It means setting your gaze and grasp upon Christ and never turning away from Him.
Hebrews 6 reminds us to believe and trust in a personal savior, a practical faith that we engage in daily, a plentiful faith that produces much fruit, a powerful and protecting faith that we shelter in, and a faith that looks to Christ for pardon as He is our great High Priest.
Hebrews 6 reminds us to flee to Christ and not harden our hearts or become sluggish for any reason.
Hebrews 6 reminds us to reflect by the grace of God the things that belong to salvation by the inner working of the Spirit of God and the grace that He gives to us.
I have been like Barnabas tonight. I rejoice in those who have a relationship with Christ and have received the grace of God. I also plead and exhort believers and unbelievers to draw near to Christ by faith. He alone can deliver the promise that He and the Father have made.