LEAVING THE FIRST PRINCIPLES
"Therefore, leaving the discussion of the elementary principles of Christ, let us go on to perfection, not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, of the doctrine of baptisms, of laying on of hands, of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment. And this we will do if God permits. For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted the heavenly gift, and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit, have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, if they fall away, to renew them again to repentance, since they crucify again for themselves the Son of God, and put Him to an open shame. For the earth which drinks in the rain that often comes upon it, and bears herbs useful for those by whom it is cultivated, receives blessing from God; but if it bears thorns and briars, it is rejected and near to being cursed, whose end is to be burned. But, beloved, we are confident of better things concerning you, yes, things that accompany salvation, though we speak in this manner. For God is not unjust to forget your work and labor of love which you have shown toward His name, in that you have ministered to the saints, and do minister. And we desire that each one of you show the same diligence to the full assurance of hope until the end, that you do not become sluggish, but imitate those who through faith and patience inherit the promises" (Hebrews 6:1-12, NKJV).
The book of Hebrews is a Divine commentary on the nature of the New Covenant. First and foremost, it is under the administration of the Lord Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of God. Through Him, and Him alone, God speaks to "us," clarifying the nature of redemption and preparing us for the "world to come." In this Epistle, we have more than the statement of systematic theology. Spiritual life is defined in this volume, and we do well to give our minds to the contemplation of its words. Men that are disposed to consider angels are to reflect on the superiority of the Son of God to angels. Those enamored of religious procedure and the emphasis of human conduct must consider the superiority of Christ Jesus to Moses and the Law. If men are inclined to be remiss in their commitment, let them remember the plight of the unbelieving Israelites. Should it be possible that some imagine they have arrived at the acme of spiritual life, let them recall that there yet remains a rest to the people of God. If one dares to imagine they are locked into salvation, let them seriously reflect upon the High Priesthood of Jesus Christ, and its indispensability to their salvation. This book will correct flawed thinking! Life in the New Covenant [and there is no other real life] depends upon the individual's identity and fellowship with the Son of God. This life involves ardent effort, strong faith, and sensitivity of spirit and soul. External identity with a group (i.e., like an Israelite with Israel) is no longer the basis of Divine acceptance. Not only are the children of God NOT begotten or born of the flesh (John 1:13), they crucify the flesh, together with its affections and lusts (Gal 5:24). That includes earthly values, goals, and aspirations. Because of the direction of contemporary Christianity, it is necessary to say these things. Institutionalized religion has robbed the souls of men, leaving them in practical alienation from God because of its earthly emphasis.
SOMETHING TO LEAVE
The appropriation of Divine blessing always involves the forfeiture of something. Abraham had to leave Ur of the Chaldees and his father's house in order to go to the promised land. Lot had to leave Sodom to be spared. Moses had to leave Pharaoh's house to be used by God. Israel had to leave Egypt to go to Canaan. Coming to Christ involves leaving the world. It does not end there. Spiritual growth requires leaving an emphasis on elementary things. This is a most vital aspect of spiritual life, and is rarely declared in the institutional church. [By Institutional church, I mean the religious body that is able to exist without fellowship with God through Christ, and by the Spirit.]
"Therefore, leaving the discussion of the elementary principles of Christ . . . " (NKJV). Other versions translate this verse as follows. " . . . leaving the principles of the doctrine of Christ" (KJV). " . . . leaving the elementary teaching about the Christ" (NASB, NIV). " . . . leave the elementary doctrine of Christ" (RSV). " . . . leaving the word of the beginning of the Christ" (Darby's and Young's Literal). At this point we confront one of the great deficiencies of the contemporary church. The most favorable view of much religious activity is that it majors on--even remaining confined to--the "first principles of the doctrine of Christ." Much, of course, of the activity we see around us has not even come up to these "principles," but is enclosed by the even lower climes of flesh and blood. Let it be clear that there are no acceptable alternatives to this to word from the Lord! There is no provision for a lack of upward movement in the faith life even though men may be dealing with Bible matters. Stagnation is dangerous in any realm, but especially so in the matter of spiritual life.
At this point, it is necessary to say a word about the movement with which I have been associated. It has been noted, particularly in recent years, for shallowness and restriction to "first" or "elementary principles." Of course, this most serious deficiency is not confined to this particular movement. I receive a number of religious periodicals, as well as other Christian publications and church newsletters. The fare that is being served up, at the very best, falls into the category of "first principles of the doctrine of Christ." By that I mean this is the thrust of their message. It is not conducive to productive thought or spiritual growth. Therefore, it is actually damaging to the faith of those that accept it. There is no neutral teaching. Let it be clear that in "things pertaining to life and godliness," the lack of progression in Christ equates to "drawing back," "falling away," and "denying" Christ before men (Heb 10:38-39; Luke 8:13; Heb 6:6; 2 Thess 2:3; Matt 10:32-33). There is no such thing as a non-growing believer, a spiritual person that is carnal, or a heavenly-citizen that is earthly-minded. Growth is not only the evidence of life, in Christ it is essential to the maintenance of spiritual life.
There is no member of Christ that is exempt from this admonition:"Therefore, leaving the discussion of the elementary principles of Christ . . . " Permit me to explore this statement for a moment. It is staggering how many professed leaders in the Christian community conduct themselves as though they were somehow excluded from this admonition. There are vast areas of professed Christian ministry that are noted for their lack of growth and advance in the Spirit. To mention a few, Youth Ministries, Music Ministries, Senior Citizens Ministries, etc. Throw in Financial Ministries, Singles Ministries, Marriage Consulting, and often even Pulpit Ministries. Many of the individuals associated with these activities admit that spiritual depth does not blend with their work. They see it as a threat and counterproductive in their field of professed expertise. However, after we have heard them speak, we must hear what the Spirit is saying! Elementary views will not sustain the soul. That is why we must move on, building upon them. Everyone associated with the ministries mentioned above do not ignore these kingdom realities. We praise the Lord for that holy remnant that see the need for "leaving the first principles." In my judgment, however, such are an exception to the rule declared by the Holy Spirit. The truth of the matter is that those insisting upon remaining in an immature spiritual condition are not suitable for continued Divine employment. Individuals that are not advancing in their apprehension of the Lord are not ministering for in any decisive sense for Christ.
Allow me to say it again, in yet a different way. There can be no standing still for the child of God! This thought underlies this entire passage. The gales of temptation and temporality demand aggressive effort on the part of the believer. This effort cannot be made while one insists on continuing in the "first principles." Although shallow religion is fashionable in our day, it is contrary to the nature of the heavenly kingdom. God does not tolerate it, and neither can His people. The mandate from heaven is clear: MOVE ON! If a professed believer refuses to do so, he stands in eternal jeopardy. That is the undeniable thrust of our text.
Spiritual maturity is to characterize every individual aspect of ministry. Our preaching, as well as our singing, is to reflect an acceptable level of advancement in Christ. It would be refreshing is all ministry was noted for spiritual growth. Whether we are ministering to children, homeless, or leaders, there is no place for lingering on the "first principles of the doctrine of Christ." Suffice it so say, the unreserved acceptance of this Kingdom perspective would so revolutionize religious services the difference would be noted by all.
It is not enough to simply refuse to linger in the area of first principles. We leave that realm in preference for another--one that rests upon the foundation. There is nothing about life in the Spirit that is not progressive. Stagnation contradicts the very concept of salvation. The thought of coming out of sin without progressing to life with Christ is as absurd as Israel coming out of Egypt without making progress to Canaan. The Israelites that came out of Egypt but did not get into Canaan are described with arresting words. "And with whom was He angry for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the wilderness?" (Heb 3:17, NASB). "Nevertheless, with most of them God was not well-pleased; for they were laid low in the wilderness" (1 Cor 10:5, NASB). If the matter of progress was critical for Israel, it is even more so for those who have named the name of Christ.
The goal to which we are to make progress is identified. " . . . let us go on to perfection . . . " This epistle has already introduced us to the term "perfection" (2:10; 5:9). It is a standard in God's kingdom. The Lord Jesus, because He was identified with us in the flesh, was also made "perfect." Jesus ministers in a "more perfect tabernacle" (Heb 9:11). Now the Spirit addresses the matter of our "perfection." No believer can remain content while not moving toward this objective.
The word from which "perfection" and "perfect" are translated is teleio,thta(from the root teleioo). The word speaks of fulness or maturity. More precisely, it speaks of wholeness, or complete adequacy.
The Captain of Our Salvation
In the case of the "Captain" of our "salvation, God has made Him "PERFECT through sufferings" (Heb 2:10), or adequate to lead us to God. Therefore, "being made PERFECT, He became the Author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey Him" (Heb 5:9). In His humanity, Jesus was marvelously adapted to bring salvation to sinners, then bring them to glory. In His present ministry, the Lord Jesus is constituted "an high priest of good things to come, by a greater and more PERFECT tabernacle" (Heb 9:11).
The New Covenant
The New Covenant, called a "better hope," is said to make men "PERFECT" (Heb 7:19). What a wonderful covenant, superior in every way to the first covenant which "made nothing perfect."
Those Who Have Finished the Race
Those who have completed their warfare are called "the spirits of just men made PERFECT" (Heb 12:23). They have completed their tenure in the strange world, and are not "present with the Lord." Perfection is the manner of the kingdom of God! The Administrator of the Kingdom was made "perfect" for His ministry! Being made perfect, He now authors salvation in those committed to Him. He does this through a covenant that makes men "perfect," and He does it in a "perfect" realm. The thought of being imperfect in such an environment is absurd.
What Is Perfection?
What is the "perfection" toward which we are to move? If it is moral flawlessness, with the total absence of all blemishes or deficiencies in our persons, there is no hope of any of us being saved! Because this subject is developed extensively later, we will only introduce it here. The "perfection" in question pertains to the conscience. This is something that could not be achieved by the Law. Under the first covenant, the conscience was contaminated when the sacrifice of atonement was made (Heb 10:3-4). Thus, the people were afraid to draw near to their God. A defiled conscience constrains one to draw back from God. Going on to perfection involves the persuasion of Divine acceptance--a persuasion that compels one to come confidently to the throne of all grace, to obtain mercy and find grace to help in the time of need.
Leaving the first principles is not abandoning or despising them. Rather, it is building upon them. Life in the Spirit never leads us to repudiate these foundations, but to build for eternity upon them. They have not lost their utility, but not longer occupy the place of preeminence. We do not forget them, but we no longer emphasize them. We never reach the point in the faith life where principles are inconsequential or irrelevant. We are to, however, reach the point where they are not to be reestablished.
LAYING THE FOUNDATION AGAIN
Foundations are not meant to be repeatedly put into place. Once there, the superstructure must be erected. There is no purpose for the foundation without the structure, and were it not for that structure, the foundation would not have been positioned in the first place.
Here is an aspect of the heavenly kingdom that is virtually unknown in our time. " . . . not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, of the doctrine of baptisms, of laying on of hands, of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment . . . " Suffice it to say, nearly all sectarian activity is related, at the very best, to the "principles of the doctrine of Christ." I will wax bold and say that confinement to the first principles will inevitably result in a distorted theology and sectarianism.
A Look at the Principles
Here we have three pairs of principles. Two inward experiences: Repentance and faith. Two outward ceremonies: Baptism and the laying on of hand. Two future events: The resurrection of the dead and eternal judgment. What thoroughness characterizes the principles of the doctrine of Christ! Within the man, evidence of the grace of God. Without, the confirmation of faith. The future, encapsulated in the confrontation of humanity with the ages to come. Mind you, these are the elemental points of Christian doctrine. That means you cannot get your bearings spiritually without an understanding of these things. Spiritual growth cannot take place without the apprehension of these principles. A failure to grasp them gives Satan and flesh the advantage. Some have called them "the simple Gospel of the apostolic age." The fact that these things are considered deep in our day is evidence of a remarkable deterioration in spiritual appetite and culture. Notwithstanding the inability of the contemporary church to receive these things as elementary, that is precisely what they are. Those who are confined to them, lingering in the beginnings, and are thereby subject to unspeakable danger. They are in a backward stance, which is consistently condemned by God. Let the slothful soul take heed to these words.
Repentance From Dead Works
Participation with Christ begins with a renunciation of the way of the flesh--"repentance from dead works." "Dead works" is a word for sin--expressions that proceed from a state of spiritual death. Apart from Christ, men are "dead in trespasses and sins" (Eph 2:1). Scripture apprizes us that even "the thought of foolishness" and "the plowing of the wicked" is "sin" (Prov 24:9; 21:4).
Repentance from dead works involves least three things. First, a withdrawal from a fruitless manner of life--a life characterized by death. Second, a determinate renunciation of manners that will not blend with eternity. Thirdly, the recovery of ground lost when alienated from God "in our minds through wicked works" (Col 1:21).
This is a "first principle" upon which godly living is built. Like other aspects of "first principles," this is not intended to be a life-long emphasis. It is introductory in nature. In "repentance from dead works," we cut the umbilical cord to the world. We repudiate our former manner of life, in which we were alienated from God. We also cease our dependence upon our own deeds to appropriate the favor of Almighty God. While such activity will be found throughout our pilgrimage, as we grow, it is no longer the primary activity.
Faith Toward God
The language here is specific. He is not speaking of faith in the "living by faith" sense (Rom 1:17; Gal 3:11; Heb 10:38), but in its introductory aspects. It is the initial focus of the soul upon the Lord after turning from the course of this world.
Elsewhere, the Word of God addresses faith from this fundamental view. "Now to the one who works, his wage is not reckoned as a favor, but as what is due. But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is reckoned as righteousness" (Rom 4:4-5, NASB). Through faith we enter into a vital and saving relation with the living God. "Faith toward God" is the means of approaching Him. If I only speak of the means, and never get to the business of coming to God, living in Him, and walking with Him, nothing of lasting value has been accomplished. Moving on from this principle has to do with Divine fellowship, involvement in His eternal purpose, and reigning with Christ.
The Doctrine of Baptisms
There is a striking resemblance between this verse and Peter's comment about baptism in 1 Peter 3:21. "The like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us (not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God,) by the resurrection of Jesus Christ." It is unfortunate that some translations have obscured the meaning of this verse by using the words "removal of dirt from the flesh" (NASB), "not the removal of dirt from the body" (NIV). The Spirit is not referring to "washing" or "cleansing" in a sanitary way, but in a ceremonial way. Baptism in water is not a mere ceremony, and they that so represent it do greatly err. It has spiritual significance, being the appointed means of appropriating a purged conscience.
Having said that, the plural baptismwn by itself does not mean specifically Christian baptism either in this epistle (9:10) or elsewhere (Mk 7:4), but ablutions or immersions such as the mystery religions and the Jewish cults required for initiates, proselytes, and worshipers in general" (Moffatt). The disciples of the Baptist had disputes with the Jews over purification (John 3:25). By reverting to Law as a means to justification, the Hebrews were accenting form more than substance, and ceremony above reality. They were thus in the vestibule of truth rather in the holy of holies.
It is possible to spend so much time talking about being clean that we never get to the work for which cleanness equips us. Being clean is not an end of itself, but a means to an end. "Depart! Depart! Go out from there, Touch no unclean thing; Go out from the midst of her, Be clean, You who bear the vessels of the LORD" Isa 52:11). It is bearing the vessels of the Lord, i.e., being a "worker together with God," that is the point! Ablutions, or cleansing, without that are of no eternal consequence. At some point, the people of God must cease to talk about the truth and begin to live in it. The results that flow from being clean are the point.
Laying On Of Hands
"The laying on of hands" may seem out of place in a list of elementary principles. However, it was common as a sign of blessing (Mt 19:13), of healing (Mk 7:32), in the choice of the first seven deacons (Acts 6:6), in the Apostolic conferment of the Holy Spirit (Acts 8:17f; 19:6), in separation for a special task (Acts 13:3), and in ordination (1 Tim 4:14; 5:22; 2 Tim 1:6). Prayer often accompanied this laying on of the hands as a symbol. Whatever may be said concerning the laying on of hands, it is not an appropriate subject for emphasis among God's people. We do not speak against the practice, any more than we do against repentance, faith, of cleansing. But God will not allow us to remain in a position that allows for a continual discussion of such procedures. While valid, the laying on of hands is more related to procedure than vitality. It thus must not become a major emphasis. It is what results from the laying on of hands that validates the deed.
Resurrection of the Dead
Although it is rarely addressed by ministers today, the resurrection of the dead is a principle of the doctrine of Christ--a foundation upon which spiritual life is built. Jesus shed light upon this grand subject, declaring that an hour was advancing toward us in which "all that are in the graves shall hear the voice His (Christ's) voice" (John 5:28-29). The consideration of the resurrection of the dead will constrain one to discard personal earthly advantages for eternal ones (Phil 3:8-11). However, if "the resurrection of the dead" is only a tenet of our faith - -a subject about which we frequently speak philosophically--it will have no moral impact upon us. Early believers built upon the resurrection of the dead. They laid down their lives in hopes of being raised again. (1 Cor 15:29-32).
There is a judgment that is final, and from which no reversal is possible. Solomon once said, "For God will bring every act to judgment, everything which is hidden, whether it is good or evil" (Eccl 12:14, NASB). In Christ, there is a more optimistic note, praise the Lord! We can have "boldness in the day of judgment" (1 John 4:17).
In Christ, we make preparations for the day of judgment. The day itself is not the point, but what will result from it. There must come as time in the life of the believer when there is no question about the day of judgment--when the anticipation of that time brings joy and gladness to the heart. Such a person will never forget about the day of judgment, but will prepare for that day.
The Common Factor There is something common in these six principles. They all have to do with the induction of men into the Kingdom of Christ. They are all beginnings--introductions to a new realm. In repentance, we turn from the world and unacceptable pattern of life and thought, to embrace the Lord. In faith, we focus our trust in the Living God in order to the realization of the blessing. Baptisms are associated with preparation, as well as the laying on of hands. The resurrection of the dead will induct us fully into the eternal order, and eternal judgment is the beginning of either a reign with Christ or exclusion from the presence of the Lord and the glory of His power. There is something else about these principles that knits them together. They all have to do with the activities of the saved. They are the ones that repent and believe, need cleansing and either lay on hands or have hands laid on them. They will be raised, and they will be judged. Elementary principles have to do with us. They are matters that assist in orienting us for Divine fellowship. However, the real heart of the message is not what we should do, but what God has done through Christ. The focus is not upon men, but upon Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Nothing about Jesus, for example, is rudimentary. The Gospel is characterized by remarkable depth, and is not elementary (Eph 3:16-21). No matter how long you are in Christ, Jesus and the Gospel must never be left! If ever men are going to grow, they must make the transition from themselves to the Lord; from their works to His, from what is required of them to what is declared of Him. This is an exceeding difficult thing to proclaim, but it must be done. It is not difficult because of the proclamation itself, but because of the inability of the contemporary churchmen to receive the message. In Scripture, particularly in the epistles, the most powerful and effective proclamations do not pertain to human involvements. They always center in Deity, eternal purpose, and the culmination of Divine intent..As we become involved in God's purpose, we begin to grow.
IF GOD PERMIT!
Here is an arresting consideration! Going on to perfection--to strong confidence and a purged conscience--involves more than our will and effort. It also requires the permission of God. "And this we will do if God permits." The patience and longsuffering of God are not endless. He will not override the volitional capacity of any person. Neither, however, will He allow any one to endlessly impose upon His free will.
No person can "go on to perfection" if God will not allow it! That is an activity that requires Divine aid. It simply cannot be accomplished by our will alone. The Word of God is too clear on this matter to entertain any doubt about it. "So then it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy" (Rom 9:16, NASB). There are matters that are, by Divine intent, "hidden" to men, and they cannot be discovered apart from God's involvement. As it is written, "I praise Thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that Thou didst hide these things from the wise and intelligent and didst reveal them to babes. Yes, Father, for thus it was well-pleasing in Thy sight" (Luke 10:21), NASB).
Let no one question for a single moment whether or not God will allow the humble and contrite spirit to "go on to perfection." God is still "not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance" (2 Pet 3:9). Those who "press toward the mark" can expect to obtain the prize (Phil 3:14). However, those that tamper with Divine mercy by lingering in the outer court, are putting God to the test! There comes a time when Esau cannot inherit the blessing, even when he seeks it with repentance and tears (Heb 12:17). There also came a time when many Israelites were denied the right to enter the promised land. God would not allow them to do so because they had hardened their hearts against Him (Heb 3:19). The point of our text is that stubbornly remaining in spiritual infancy brings a hardness to the heart. An "evil heart of unbelief," which is unquestionably condemned by God, can overtake the individual that is not advancing (Heb 3:12). We are not in a moral vacuum. If we do not deliberately and energetically "grow up into Him in all things" (Eph 4:15), a distance is being formed between us and God. Hearts are growing more hard, the conscience is becoming less tender, and the individual is losing sensitivity. God may not "permit" such sluggardly souls to "go on to perfection." They may "die in their sin" (Ezek 3:20). Jesus may come and find them unexpectedly (Luke 12:40). Those that do not grow flirt with spiritual disaster. While it is not my intent to provoke unwholesome fear in any one, no un-advancing soul should feel comfortable in its rebellion against God! There is no place in the Kingdom of God for slothfulness! Those who do not aggressively seek to enter heaven's door will not do so! Jesus once said, "Strive to enter by the narrow door; for many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able" (Luke 13:24, NASB). Some day, the door of grace will close, and God will no more allow men to turn from their sin and come to Him. It is on the part of wisdom to move close to Him now, pressing diligently toward the mark for the prize of the high calling. Of God in Christ Jesus the Lord.
AN IMPOSSIBILITY, FROM ANY VIEW!
For many, we have before us a very difficult text. Those that view Jesus as locking recalcitrant spirits inside God's will are very foolish. If God could tolerate personalities unlike Himself in His Presence, there would be no need for the new birth, the remission of sins, and the presence of the Holy Spirit. The very concept of justification presumes the total unacceptability of sin in the presence of the Almighty! The necessity of the new birth affirms that "flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God" (1 Cor 15:50). Those who find it difficult to believe God will not "permit" some to "go on to perfection" have not considered the whole case. The Holy Spirit speaks powerfully to this point. "For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted the heavenly gift, and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit, have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, if they fall away, to renew them again to repentance, since they crucify again for themselves the Son of God, and put Him to an open shame."
Here is something that is "impossible." Let no person, then, attempt to introduce a possibility where God has affirmed there is none! Those locked in a backward motion--who have descended beyond the circumference of sensitivity--cannot be reclaimed! Even though they once participated in the good things of God, if they did not "go on to perfection," they shall lose their inheritance just as surely as Jacob lost his, and the unbelieving Israelites lost theirs.
Some people imagine that a mere decision guarantees eternal safety. Let them examine this passage with care. There is a level of genuine participation that can be forever forfeited by lingering in the realm of spiritual immaturity.
Once enlightened. The enlightenment of the soul involves a perspective of salvation. As it is written, "For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ" (2 Cor 4:6). This is an experience involving deliverance from darkness, or spiritual ignorance (Col 1:13). The "enlightened" person sees the world for what it is, is convinced of the nature of sin, and persuaded of the grace of God. He is also certain that Divine acceptance is attainable in Christ, by grace, and through faith. Have tasted the heavenly gift. The word "gift" is here used to denote the entirety of salvation. "For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God" (Eph 2:8). The word "taste" is not a light word, denoting superficial involvement. Rather, it is a strong word, describing genuineness in every sense of the word. Jesus is said to have "tasted death for every man" (Heb 2:9). That certainly is not the depiction of a shallow experience. Those who have "tasted of the heavenly gift" have learned from experience that "God is gracious" (1 Pet 2:3). Such have realized the joy of forgiveness and Divine acceptance.
Have become partakers of the Holy Spirit. God has given His Holy Spirit to those in Christ (1 Thess 4:8). Because we are sons, His Spirit is sent into our hearts, crying Abba Father (Gal 4:6). To partake of the Holy Spirit is to enjoy His communion and fellowship (2 Cor 3:14; Phil 2:1). The blessed Spirit "helps our infirmities" (Rom 8:26), coming along side, as it were, to help us navigate through the difficulties of life in the world.
Have tasted the good word of God. To "taste the good Word of God" is to be nourished by it: to have strength and joy imparted to us through our insight into Scripture. This experience is living "by every Word of God" (Luke 4:4). It is being made equal to the challenges of life, encouraged in the good fight of faith, and made joyful in the anticipation of glory.
Have tasted the . . . powers of the age to come. This is heavenly citizenship--being brought into the fellowship of "the general assembly and church of the first-born who are enrolled in heaven, and . . . God, the Judge of all, and . . . the spirits of righteous men made perfect, and . . . the mediator of a new covenant, and . . . the sprinkled blood, which speaks better than the blood of Abel" (Heb 12:23-24, NASB). A lively sense of the unseen world grips the soul, and things that are not seen become the focus of the individual. When it comes to personal consciousness, the believer is more aware of heavenly personalities than of those in the world.
Some might imagine that there is safety in such experiences--that once they are attained, the person can never be lost. Such benighted souls forget that we are yet subject to "the wiles of the devil" and a fallen nature. We still sojourn in a "dry and thirsty land where no water is" (Psa 63:1). We still have "this treasure in earthen vessels" (2 Cor 4:7). The Holy Spirit Himself can still be "resisted," "quenched," and "grieved."
Here is something that an experience-centered religion overlooks! By "experience-centered," I mean a religious posture that looks for something to happen to them. There can be no more lofty experiences than those here mentioned. Yet, they are a means to an end, and not the end itself. They are all orienting us for the world to come, in which we shall reign with Christ. They assist us here to prepare for there. If, however, they are viewed as great single blessings, and are not employed to make progress into the image of God's Son, they will soon be gone! The purpose of God is to conform us to the Image of His Son (Rom 8:29). To aid us in this monumental work, He has granted enlightenment, the heavenly gift, the Holy Spirit, the good word of God, and citizenship, in heaven. All are designed to underwrite the good fight of faith, helping us to "go on to perfection," where Divine fellowship is realized. Those who "fall away" are those who "neglect so great salvation" (Heb 2:3). They are not pressing toward the mark, engaging in a fervent quest to "know Him, and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; in order that they may attain to the resurrection from the dead" (Phil 3:10-11). The point of our text is simply this: a lack of spiritual effort gives the advantage to the devil. Digression is inevitable where progression is not made, and there are no exceptions to the rule!
The tragedy of this circumstance is that religion brought the Hebrews into spiritual danger. They had not, so far as we know, been flirting with immorality, or indulging in idolatry. Rather, they were falling back into a first-covenant-approach to God--one based upon procedure and conformity to a code. If that approach thrust them into danger, you can be sure that it does the same today.
It Is Impossible
When God says it is "impossible," to renew a person to repentance, that is precisely what it is! God has given us every advantage in Christ, but if we do not avail ourselves of His benefits, they will do us no good. This perspective is remarkably absent most everyplace I go. Myriads of people entertain the notion that a little amount of religious activity, and an allegiance to the institution is all that is necessary to stay in favor with God. They thus remain in a state of Scriptural illiteracy, and are unacquainted with the ways of the Lord. Their hearts are being draw toward the temporal order, and much of what they receive in church is nothing more than somewhat wholesome entertainment. The gravity of their situation is obscure to them. Actually, they are drifting away from God, away from grace, and away from power. The world, like a silent tide, is taking them away from the Lord that bought them. As they drift away from their Lord, they are becoming less and less sensitive to Him. Unless their course is arrested, eventually they will drift to a place where their conscience is "seared," and they are unable to hear the voice of the Lord. By not availing themselves of Divine resources, "they again crucify to themselves the Son of God, and put Him to open shame." They have again cried, "Away with Him! Crucify Him!" Those who do not "go on to perfection" are in the process of resisting the Holy Spirit. They tear Christ out of the recesses of their hearts, and refuse to let Him reign over their hearts, minds, souls, and wills. They insult God, pour contempt upon His Son, consider the blood of the covenant an unholy thing, and grieve and quench the Holy Spirit of God. If all of that seems too strong, do not be deceived. This IS what happens when a soul refuses to make progress in the conformity determined by God. If we do not become like His Son, we will not reign with Him!
The Spirit does not let this matter go. The Hebrews had been resting in Law, and were satisfied with mere procedure--a posture occupied by far too many with whom we are acquainted. It is unreasonable for a spiritually unadvancing person to expect Divine approval. It is not right for them to expect their prayers to be answered, or to receive strength in the time of need. Such defies sound reason. Even nature refuses to allow us to entertain such folly. "For the earth which drinks in the rain that often comes upon it, and bears herbs useful for those by whom it is cultivated, receives blessing from God; but if it bears thorns and briars, it is rejected and near to being cursed, whose end is to be burned."
"Thorns and briars" are not merely sinful deeds, or the development of habits that violate the moral code of the Law. A focus upon things that "are seen" is a "thorn," because it violates the entire thrust of Scripture, the intercession of Christ, and the convincing power of the Holy Spirit. A preference for the things of this world--even apparently lawful things--is a "briar" to the soul. Left unaddressed, these will eventually dominate the heart and cut one off from God. The Lord has lavished His grace upon us to a remarkable degree. To neglect that grace in preference for "other things" (Mark 4:19) is not innocent, and God will not tolerate it!
If you cultivated and fertilized a field, only to have it yield a patch of briars and thorns, what would you do? And what will the Lord God do if He has poured Himself out upon us abundantly, only to find us immersed in the world, thinking as men, and living without heaven in view? How will it go for those that have once been tender to the Lord, but are now calloused and insensitive to Him. They cannot long endure His Word, and have no demanding appetite for "the things of the Spirit of God." How does it set with God when He has appointed a High Priest to continually represent the people to Him, while some of them make little or no provision for Him? The answer to these questions is obvious! Such people are very close to being cursed!
Let us not forget the point of this text. The salvation of God will not be effective in an unreceptive heart! A distracted spirit will NOT obtain the blessing! When we are not aggressive to reach the goal, we are actually losing ground, slipping back into a state from which recovery is eventuality impossible. If this single perception were generally known and embraced, it would have such an impact upon our churches you would not be able to recognize them.
The Spirit has pointed out how illogical it is to expect blessing while living at a distance from God. He has shown that such a posture violates the nature of God, as well as that of salvation itself. The danger in which the Hebrews found themselves was most serious. They were reverting to a system of Law, which permitted hard hearts and a distance from God--at least, that is what men think. Now a strong appeal is made to the slumbering spirits of men. Although they have been in a backward stance, He is going to reach into the depths of their spirit and seek to awaken the sensitivity they once possessed. "But, beloved, we are confident of better things concerning you, yes, things that accompany salvation, though we speak in this manner." How glorious to have such "confidence." One spark of sensitivity can awaken a zealous return to the Lord! How we must capitalize upon the hearts of God's people, even when they are in a state of withdrawal! It was necessary to speak forthrightly and sternly, but He will not end on such a note. The writer knows that no thinking person wants to be rejected by God! He knows salvation comes with an inexhaustible supply of grace, and "all things pertaining to life and godliness." These are "things that accompany salvation." God can "strengthen us with might by is Spirit in the inner man, so that Christ may dwell in our hearts by faith" (Col 3:16). There is "grace to help, in the time of need" (Heb 4:16). It is still true, "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness" (1 John 1:9). These are all "things that accompany salvation." There is no reason why these cannot be found in every believer!
What a blessed attitude to have--to be "persuaded of better things" in those that have been drawing back! How frequently this spirit is expressed in God's Word. We do well to appropriate it for ourselves. "And we have confidence in the Lord concerning you, that you are doing and will continue to do what we command" (2 Thess 3:4). " . . . having confidence in you all, that my joy would be the joy of you all" (2 Cor 2:3). "I rejoice that in everything I have confidence in you" (2 Cor 7:16). "I have confidence in you in the Lord, that you will adopt no other view . . . " (Gal 5:10). "Having confidence in your obedience, I write to you, since I know that you will do even more than what I say" (Phile 21). The power of such expressions can be sensed by all that hear them.
GOD WILL NOT FORGET!
Here is why the writer had such confidence. He is saying he was persuaded God would "permit" their recovery from the snare of the devil. "For God is not unjust to forget your work and labor of love which you have shown toward His name, in that you have ministered to the saints, and do minister." Looking into their past, the writer finds a ray of hope. The Hebrews had once "ministered to the saints," and they were still doing so! How sensitive the Lord is to such conduct! Elsewhere the Spirit admonishes, "So then, while we have opportunity, let us do good to all men, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith" (Gal 6:10, NASB). God has appointed a High Priest over "the house of God," having a special care for it. Those that have ministered to that house are, by virtue of their care for them, recognized by God. Of old time, a certain man was recommended to Jesus because "he loves our nation, and it was he who built us our synagogue" (Luke 7:5). How much more, those that have shown favor to those that are joined to the Lord!
"God is not unjust (unrighteous)!" Here justice is associated with mercy instead of condemnation. In Christ it is fulfilled, "Lovingkindness and truth have met together; Righteousness and peace have kissed each other" (Psa 85:10, NASB). And what is it that God will "not forget." The loving work and labor bestowed upon His people! You will remember Jesus associated eternal life and condemnation with the response of individuals to His people (Matt 25:35ff). I have often thought how rare the consideration of God's people is held in high regard in the institutional church. The absence of such regard is a sign of serious spiritual decline. Can you believe, child of God, that he will NOT forget your work and labor of love? If you can, that recollection will help you make any required recovery. How blessed your memory is when motivated by truth.
WHAT IS WANTED FOR YOU
What is desired for the people of God? "And we desire that each one of you show the same diligence to the full assurance of hope until the end, that you do not become sluggish, but imitate those who through faith and patience inherit the promises." What a fitting conclusion for the people of God! Here the writer reveals the mind of God Himself. He wants the people to be noted for their diligence. He knows that slothfulness defeats the individual, robs the soul, and calls down the curse of Almighty God. He knows that properly directed diligence is always rewarded by the Lord.
But he also knows the value of "the full assurance of hope"--of knowing our status, and being persuaded of the reality of Divine commitments. Knowing who you are in Christ, and being fully persuaded that He can keep what you have committed to Him against that day, becomes a strong incentive to faithfulness. Too often faithfulness is preached from Sinai. Salvation, when correctly seen, provokes us to be faithful "until the end."
People speak of role-models. Well here are some good ones: "those who through faith and patience inherit the promises." They will not allow the world to dim their eye and slow their pace. They are more convinced of glory to come, than of imagined advantages in "this present evil world." Their patience refers to their perseverance, or continuation in the race. They have come "through tribulation," but they have remained in the race!
To inherit the promises--that is the point! These are the appointed means of conforming us to the image of God's Son (2 Pet 1:3-4). The desire of the godly is that their brethren will inherit the promises that at last they will stand before the Lord without spot or wrinkle, or any such thing! It is that their brethren will have their part in the throne of Christ, ruling and reigning, world without end. If that does not happen, little else matters! O, how such thoughts are to be articulated!
Let it be clear to every soul, spiritual juvenility is fraught with danger. Simplistic views of God, Christ, and the glories of the world to come are overrated in our world. People that are regularly subjected to spiritual froth are not to be content with such a situation. Preachers and teachers that dwell upon "the principles of the doctrine of Christ," regardless of their seeming sincerity, have thrust us into jeopardy. They have made it more difficult for us to overcome the devil, run the race, and obtain the promises. Those that serve up a regular diet of milk are not our friends, and they are not God's ministers. Our safety is found in our progression toward glory. As we make advancement into the holy of holies, into the very presence of God, we come into the safety zone. We are only as safe as our faith is strong--and faith cannot be made strong by continually dwelling upon "the principles of the doctrine of Christ."
The tragic irony of this situation is that many of God's people are not even being subjected to the "principles." They are hearing about world issues, given humorous anecdotes, and receiving pep talks to pump life into a gasping organization. What shall be said of such activities at the judgment seat of Christ? I plead with you to be up and growing "in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ." "Set your affection on things above, and not on thins on the earth!" See to it that, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust, you do not come short of glory!