Jesus Is Better #8 -- Hebrews 6:1-12 -- Jesus Is Our Best Pursuit

  • My goal today: I want to address the difficulty in the passage, but then get back to the heart of the exhortation so that we might spiritually benefit from the text.

The Difficulty Of This Passage

  • The difficult verses here are found in Hebrews 6:4-6. Whoever this person is, it is said it is impossible to restore them again to repentance.
  • The debates center around the identity of the person he writes about.
  • Though I have seen seven or eight interpretations about their identity, there are two main ones:
    • 1 - These are people who almost became believers, but who eventually rejected Christ, and have become hardened to the gospel.
      • Example: Vaccinations -- They were inoculated to the gospel through a minor interaction with it.
      • This view is strengthened by viewing the list of elementary doctrines as Jewish doctrines which overlapped with Christianity, a sort of safe sphere of accepted beliefs these Christians could run back into.
        • 6:1 -- Repentance / Faith / Washings / Laying on of hands / Resurrection / Judgment
      • Though possible these verses are describing someone from a Jewish background who came close to Christ, but never received, the natural reading seems to indicate a named-believer.
    • 2 - These are people who appear to be believers who eventually turn from Christ.
      • 2A - Real believers who left Christ -- In this camp are those who believe they were definitely believers who lost their salvation.
        • The Bible indicates you cannot lose your salvation.
          • John 10:27-28 (ESV) — 27 My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. 28 I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.
          • Many other passages (Romans 5:10, 8:35, 8:38-39, 1 Peter 1:4-5, Philippians 1:6, Ephesians 2:1-10, etc.).
          • You are on thin ice when choosing to use Hebrews 6 as a proof-text that a person can lose their salvation, because you have to ignore other passages which bring balance and clarification.
      • 2B -- False believers who left Christ -- But also in this camp are those who think they appeared to be believers, but God saw weren't, who eventually gave up the charade.
        • The Bible leaves room for this type of person.
          • Matthew 7:21–23 (ESV) — 21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ 23 And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’
          • The Pharisees stood as an example of this type of person:
            • They proselytized, prayed, made religious vows, tithed, honored religious traditions, and fasted (Matthew 23:13-15).
            • Jesus' conclusion, amongst other things, was that they were children of hell (Matthew 23:15).
          • From the human vantagepoint, this person seems legitimately saved, but perhaps from God's vantagepoint there is another story.
          • Honesty: The major problem with the first view -- that these people were never believers, or claimed to be believers -- has to do with the description of the person Hebrews 6:4-6 describes -- it just reads like a believer!
            • Enlightened / Tasted / Shared
            • Holy Spirit / Goodness of the Word of God / Powers of the age to come
        • Two Biblical examples:
          • 1 - Judas Iscariot
            • One of the twelve
            • Cast out demons
            • Walked with Jesus
            • Found no true repentance -- Mark 14:21 (ESV) — 21 ...woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that man if he had not been born.
          • 2 - Demas
            • He was engaged in the mission -- Colossians 4:14 (ESV) — 14 Luke the beloved physician greets you, as does Demas.
            • He was a fellow worker with Paul -- Philemon 24 (ESV) — 24 and so do Mark, Aristarchus, Demas, and Luke, my fellow workers.
            • He was a deserter -- 2 Timothy 4:10 (ESV) — 10 For Demas, in love with this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica...
      • My Conclusion: The Hebrews 6:4-6 person looked like a legitimate believer to everyone, but God saw differently, and eventually their refusal to truly receive the gospel caught up with them, so they apostatized and left the faith.
        • We have known people like this -- well known believers or every day Christians -- people who at one time professed Christ, but who now reject him.
        • 6 It is impossible for that person to be restored again to repentance. It's like they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt. They joined the camp of those who killed Christ, saying his death is not important or salvific!
          • You cannot bring 'em back.
          • I cannot bring 'em back.
          • Maybe God can -- maybe this is an impossible thing God can overcome -- but we cannot!
            • Matthew 19:26 (ESV) — 26 But Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”
  • All that said, this passage is a warning passage.
    • There is a sense in which I am glad for the debate surrounding the identity of these people. I think it is a sobering text, and the conversation highlights the text's seriousness.

1. Pursue Christian Maturity (6:1-3)

1 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 of faith toward God, 2 and of instruction about washings, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. 3 And this we will do if God permits.

  • 1 Therefore: Their spiritual sluggishness needed a response. The author, rather than go back to the elementary doctrine of Christ, the ABC's or basic principles (5:12) of their faith, decided to press on, taking them into maturity.
    • He did not want to talk again about six things.
      • Repentance from dead works: Repentance
      • Faith toward God: Justification
      • Instructions about washings: Baptism
      • Laying on of hands: Service
      • Resurrection of the dead: Future
      • Eternal judgement: Heaven/Hell
        • Note: Some have wondered if these are distinctly Jewish doctrines, safe ground for Jewish Christians to stay in.
    • God wants us to go on to maturity.
      • There is only one path -- forward!
      • What should we do to pursue Christian maturity?
        • Receive mature teaching -- church, books, podcasts.
        • Watch mature people -- Life Groups, ministries.
        • Do mature things -- service, giving, prayer, priorities.
      • The sky is the limit if you do. Danger lurks if you don't.

2. Receive The Gospel Well (6:4-8)

4 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, 5 and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, 6 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.

  • 6 Crucifying once again the Son of God: Agreeing with those who crucified Jesus. To renounce your faith is tantamount to a fresh public rejection of Christ.
    • It is impossible, unless this person recognizes Jesus, for this person to experience repentance leading to salvation.

7 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.

  • 7-8 Land / Rain / Produces / Bears:
    • Human hearts receive the blessing of the gospel, but respond in different ways.
      • A. Some bear thorns and thistles, are worthless and near to being cursed, and, in the end, are burned.
        • To be burned makes us think of hell, but it might not be the point here. God is called a consuming fire (Hebrews 12:29) and the point of burning a field is to redeem it.
        • God must turn them back.
          • Paul seemed to think this way about those who had shipwrecked their faith -- 1 Timothy 1:19–20 (ESV) — 19 holding faith and a good conscience. By rejecting this, some have made shipwreck of their faith, 20 among whom are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan that they may learn not to blaspheme.
      • B. Some produce a crop useful to those for who sake it is cultivated.
        • These Jewish people needed to receive the gospel well.
        • 4 Soils Parable (Mark 4:13-20):
          • Along the path: Satan steals.
          • Rocky ground: No root.
          • Thorns: Cares of the world, etc.
          • Good soil: hear, accept, bear fruit.
        • Do you want to produce a useful crop?
          • Philippians 2:12 (ESV) — 12 ...work out your own salvation with fear and trembling...

3. Know God Sees Your Work, Love, And Service (6:9-10)

9 Though we speak in this way, yet in your case, beloved, we feel sure of better things—things that belong to salvation. 10 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.

  • 9 Things that belong to salvation: The author saw how his audience needed encouragement.
    • When he said, "We feel sure of better things," he was like a pastor who, after a stern warning to his flock, said, "But I'm sure you would never do that!"
    • He is hopeful for them, less severe than many who've interpreted his words in 6:1-8.
  • How did he want to encourage them?
    • 10 By showing them God is not unjust as to overlook their work, love, and service.
    • Three things that belong to salvation:
      • 1 - Work
      • 2 - Love
      • 3 - Service
        • To the saints
    • God sees!
      • 1 Corinthians 9:25 (ESV) — 25 Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable.
      • It can be tiring to work and love and serve the saints.
        • Even when they do not see, know that God sees.

4. Be Diligent To The End (6:11-12)

11 And we desire each one of you to show the same earnestness to have the full assurance of hope until the end, 12 so that you may not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises.

  • Other translations:

    • Hebrews 6:11 (NIV) — 11 We want each of you to show this same diligence to the very end, so that what you hope for may be fully realized.
    • Hebrews 6:11 (The Message) — 11 And now I want each of you to extend that same intensity toward a full-bodied hope, and keep at it till the finish.
      • Have an intensity and diligence in your walk with Christ to the end.
  • 12 May not be sluggish:

    • Imitators of the faithful and patient
      • One way to avoid sluggishness is to find people to imitate.
        • Acts 18:5 (NET) — 5 Now when Silas and Timothy arrived from Macedonia, Paul became wholly absorbed with proclaiming the word, testifying to the Jews that Jesus was the Christ.
        • Next week we will consider the example of Abraham.