NOT LAYING THIS FOUNDATION AGAIN
Hebrews 6: 1-12 NET
This month, we have been studying our Lord’s command to repent and believe the gospel. We have found that repentance and faith are commanded in both the Old Testament and the new. We saw last week that when our Lord began his preaching ministry in Galilee, it could be summarized by those two words: repent and believe. Foundational to living the Christian life are the twin acts of repenting of sin and believing in God’s good news of salvation through Christ.
And yet, in today’s text, we find a Christian apostle saying these words: “not laying this foundation again.” What did he mean by that? This is another piece of the puzzle. What I want to do today is walk through the first 12 verses of Hebrews 6, and find out what the author of Hebrews is saying when he encourages his readers not to lay the foundation of repentance and faith again.
First, he’s saying that we need to progress in our Christian lives (1-3)
1 Therefore we must progress beyond the elementary instructions about Christ and move on to maturity, not laying this foundation again: repentance from dead works and faith in God,
Every time we see the word “therefore” in Scripture, we need to go back a few steps. In this case, we need to go back to the previous chapter. In Hebrews 5, the author was getting ready to teach about Jesus being appointed a priest in the order of Melchizedek. He told his readers that he had a lot to say about that topic, but it was going to be hard for him to do that because they had become “sluggish in hearing.” They had been believers for a long time, but it hadn’t resulted in their being discipled in the mature aspects of the Christian faith.
So, his words to the Jewish Christians to whom he was writing were “we must progress.” They had stayed in the elementary instructions about Christ for too long. The problem was not with those elementary instructions. They are true instructions. The problem is that they were intended to be the beginning of the Jewish Christians’ walk in the Lord, not the end of it.
Repentance from dead works and faith in God are absolute essentials. They are foundational. The problem that the author of Hebrews had was that his readers had decided to keep laying this foundation over and over again, and never progressing beyond it.
Take this building we are in today, for example. The building has a good solid foundation. You cannot see the foundation, because it is down there – at the foundation. All the wonderful things you can see in this building are supported by that foundation. They were built on it. What would have happened if the builders kept digging up the foundation over and over again? The rest of the building would never have been built.
Here’s a quote from A. B. Bruce that explains what is happening among the readers of this epistle:
“Such are the fundamentals. What is meant by leaving them? Not, of course, ceasing to believe in them, or to think and speak of them, or to attach importance to them; for, though elementary, they are the foundation (θεμέλιον). They are to be left in the sense in which a builder leaves the foundation of a house—by erecting an edifice thereon. They are not to be treated as if they were everything, building as well as foundation. There has always been a Christianity of this sort, stationary, unprogressive; always concerned about the initial stage, and never getting beyond it.”1
2a teaching about baptisms, laying on of hands,
At this point, the author of Hebrews mentions another couple of things that are foundational to the Christian life. Baptisms and the laying on of hands are things that every believer experiences early on in his or her Christian life. Most of you were baptized a long time ago. You remember your baptism and it helps you to keep your commitment to Christ. You don’t have to do it again. It was a symbol that stays with you. The laying on of hands refers to your acceptance of the Holy Spirit, and all of the Spiritual gifts that you operate in. You don’t have to do that many times either.
Baptism and spiritual gifts naturally flow from repentance and faith. They are initial proof of a person’s repentance and belief in the gospel.
2b resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment.
The final two foundational elements that the author of Hebrews mentions are doctrines that a new believer puts his faith in, but does not experience until Christ returns. We trust Christ for the permanent life he promised, but we will not experience that life until the resurrection. Until then we continue to live our temporary lives. We trust Christ to permanently judge and condemn unbelievers in Gehenna. But unbelievers continue living their temporary lives as well.
A translation note on the word “eternal” is helpful here. Eternal is technically an English translation for the Greek word αἰώνιος. But it sends the wrong message to use it in this context. We know that Christ is going to judge on a certain day in the future. Because the Bible talks about a future judgment day, we know that Christ’s judgment is not taking place now and that it is not a perpetual process of judgment. So, a better translation for the Greek phrase κρίματος αἰωνίου would be permanent judgment. That is what hell will be. It will be the permanent destruction of evil.
3 And this is what we intend to do, if God permits.
What the author of Hebrews intends to do is progress beyond the elementary instructions about Christ and move on to maturity. He’s saying that there is more to learn that will help his readers live victoriously and faithfully today.
He’s frustrated that his readers are taking so long to grow. Jesus felt that same frustration. He once told his disciples “I have many more things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now (John 16:12).
Second, he explains what happens if we do not progress in our Christian lives (4-8)
4 For it is impossible in the case of those who have once been enlightened, tasted the heavenly gift, become partakers of the Holy Spirit,
5 tasted the good word of God and the miracles of the coming age,
6 and then have committed apostasy, to renew them again to repentance, since they are crucifying the Son of God for themselves all over again and holding him up to contempt.
7 For the ground that has soaked up the rain that frequently falls on it and yields useful vegetation for those who tend it receives a blessing from God.
8 But if it produces thorns and thistles, it is useless and about to be cursed; its fate is to be burned.
There are a lot of preachers and biblical scholars who use this section to argue over the theological question of whether or not a person can lose his salvation. That theoretical question is not what the author of Hebrews is addressing here. He is talking about Jewish people who have had access to the gospel, and have professed faith in Christ.
He’s telling those Jewish Christians that they are in danger of committing apostasy. He’s saying they could be tempted to chuck all this Jesus stuff and return to a Judaism without the Messiah. He uses a parable similar to the one that Jesus used about the different soils. Like in Jesus’ parable, the seed of the word of God comes, but the soil can reject it. The Jewish Christians can have all the truth of the gospel and the power of the Holy Spirit that comes with the gospel and still choose to reject it.
Bruce comments “This was the crime the Hebrew Christians were tempted to commit. A fatal step it must be when taken; for men who left the Christian Church and went back to the synagogue became companions of persons who thought they did God service in cursing the name of Jesus.”2
Now, here’s my point. If we Christians today hear the truth and refuse to respond to it, we’re not just being slow. We are taking a step back. We are not just being immature, we are toying with apostasy. Growth is not an option in the kingdom of God. To refuse to build on the foundation is to reject the foundation.
Third, he explains why we can be assured that true Christians will progress and inherit God’s promises (9-12).
9 But in your case, dear friends, even though we speak like this, we are convinced of better things relating to salvation.
10 For God is not unjust so as to forget your work and the love you have demonstrated for his name, in having served and continuing to serve the saints.
11 But we passionately want each of you to demonstrate the same eagerness for the fulfillment of your hope until the end,
12 so that you may not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and perseverance inherit the promises.
In the end, the author of Hebrews is confident that his readers are going to build upon the foundation of repentance and faith in the gospel. He remembers the love they have shown each other in Christ. He’s confident that this love came from God himself. He knows they have a hope that can only be fulfilled by Jesus. He encourages them to be imitators of those who through faith and perseverance inherit the promises. A little later on in his letter, he’s going to talk about those people he encourages them to imitate. Chapter eleven lists these heroes of faith.
Abel was one of those heroes because he had only one shot at demonstrating faith in God and didn’t throw away that one shot.
Enoch was one of those heroes because he chose to walk with God when everybody else was walking away from him.
Noah was one of those heroes because he believed that God was going to do what he said he was going to do.
Abraham was one of those heroes because he trusted God for his future, even though he didn’t know all the details.
Sarah was one of those heroes because she trusted God to use her, even though she was already past her “use by” date.
Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph were heroes because they trusted God to help them make an impact on the future of their families.
Moses was one of those heroes because he learned to see the invisible and trust God for the impossible.
Rahab was one of those heroes because she risked everything since her confidence was in God.
In that number, some people received miracles and some remained faithful but saw no miracles. But each of them learned to be faithful and each will be rewarded for their faith.
What the author of Hebrews is saying now is that his readers have a choice. They can stop and turn back now, reject Christ, refuse to grow in their faith, and it will result in apostasy. But he is convinced that the building is going to continue to grow.
The same is true for you and me. God is building a temple for his presence. Every day we face the choice as to whether we will be part of that temple.
1 Bruce, Alexander Balmain. The Epistle to the Hebrews: The First Apology for Christianity; an Exegetical Study. (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark) 1899, p. 206.
2Bruce, p. 214.