To the End

runner3cWhat’s wrong with an all milk diet? Nothing, if you are a young infant. But if you are more mature, you need more substantial nourishment. The author of Hebrews makes that point in the context of a strong warning, Hebrews 5:11—6:12.

Grow up! Eat solid food. The teaching of the book of Hebrews is difficult. Christ’s priesthood, which is the immediate topic, is not a simple matter, see Hebrews 7:3. The original readers were “hard of hearing.” They were slow learners, or they had retrogressed. Instead of being teachers, they still needed to learn their ABC’s. Are you still on milk? Milk is important, it is vital at points, and is what new believers need., but there comes a time to leave milk for meat and solid food, and that time had come. . Were some readers Jewish Christians in danger of reverting to the ceremonies of what they had left? Meat, or solid food, is for the mature. Another way Hebrews makes the point is to tell his readers that they ought to be teachers. It is easy to be satisfied with minimalism, and even to rebel at further teaching. The slogan, “No creed but Christ,” reflects such an attitude. Some people protest at sermons which contain doctrinal teaching. The author of Hebrews expected that his readers should have progressed to the point that they could be teachers. The readers are not a special group (priests, etc.,) but are simply believers. There is a real sense in which all believers should be teachers, and whether or not they realize it, are teachers. Your words and example have an impact on others. Don’t be satisfied with the ABC’s. Study the Word. Spend time understanding the confession of your church. Make use of the means of grace and the wisdom the Lord has given to the church down through the ages. Notice the emphasis in Hebrews 5:14 on using your faith. “Because it stresses the idea of revelation, the Epistle treats especially of the theological aspect of Christianity. It expresses a firm belief in the efficacy of doctrine as a means of grace.” (Geerhardus Vos, The Teaching of the Epistle to the Hebrews, p. 69).

Do not lay the foundation again, but press on! The author might go on to give the ABC’s. He might have said, nevertheless, press on…. But the text reads, therefore, press on…. The solution to this immaturity is not to continue a diet of milk, but to move on to meat. Leave these things and press on. The readers’ minds needed to be stretched. Pressing on will help you mature. This will help you grow. It will help you learn to be a teacher. Use the means of grace! Press on, lest you slide back (see Hebrews 6:4-9).

As you press on, pay attention to the warning. Beware of complacency. Does Hebrews deny the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints? No, it is a biblical doctrine. The author does warn against complacency or abuse of your relationship with God. God’s oath is sure. Look at the following context. The original readers were in danger of slipping back into unbelief (Hebrews 4:1,11). Perhaps it involved a trust in external ceremonies. Deliberate disobedience can be a sign that you do not belong to Christ. Close is not enough! It is not enough to be enlightened. It is not enough to have tasted the heavenly gift. It is not enough to have shared in the Holy Spirit! The statement sounds astonishing, but there is a work of the Spirit that falls short of final salvation. It is not enough to have tasted the Word of God and the powers of the age to come. God’s Word has been experienced, it has touched their lives, but it has not made a lasting change. Certain powers, even wonderful ones, have been theirs, but they did not have true faith. Remember Jesus’ warning in Matthew 7:21,22, “Many will say, ‘Lord, Lord. . . .’” These people had been part of the covenant community. Note the parallel with 1 Corinthians 10. Judgment does come on rebellion, on unfruitfulness, Isaiah 5:1-7. There is a corporate aspect to this, but remember that Paul takes the warning personally! (1 Corinthians 9:27).

Instead, persevere! The warning is given, not because you have reached that point of rebellion from which there is no turning back, but rather to prevent you from turning against Christ. Remember the context of the wilderness. Not only Israel, but you, are a pilgrim people. Your trust cannot be in some past experience in your life, but has to be a continual resting on Christ, a continual trusting in him. Hebrews not only expects better things of you, he encourages you to endure to the end. Whether facing persecution of the temptation of complacency, you need the warning and the exhortation to persevere. “True faith is known by the fact that it perseveres to the end.” (Richard B. Gaffin, in a lecture on “The Theology of Hebrews”).

Beware, lest you reject Christ—but if you trust, what a great Savior you have! Hebrews goes on to assure you of God’s great faithfulness in Christ.

About jwm

I serve as pastor of Trinity Presbyterian Church, Newberg, Oregon.
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