(Preached at the 2008 Bible Conference at Grace Baptist Church, Rural Hall, NC)
The main teaching in the immediate context of Hebrews 6:1-6 is spiritual maturity and spiritual growth, or the lack thereof. As we will see, these Hebrews had not grown up in the faith. They were still babes in Christ. This, beloved, was a major problem. It is not normal for believers not to grow up in the faith. It is God’s design and perfect will for His people to grow up spiritually. So when believers don’t grow there is something seriously wrong – either with them personally, or with the conditions and influences around them that have been allowed to hinder and stunt their growth.
In our message we want to see four points, which are: 1) The Hebrews’ weak and immature spiritual condition; 2) secondly, their spiritual malnutrition; 3) thirdly, the danger of their condition; and 4) fourthly we will see why these Hebrews weren’t growing and who was hindering them.
1. First, let us notice the Hebrews’ weak and immature spiritual condition.
The Hebrew saints in our text were not growing spiritually like they should have been (5:11-14). Their growth was stunted. They were still babes in Christ when they should have been mature saints. Instead of eating solid food they were still drinking milk. By this time they should have been teaching others the Word of God but instead they were unskillful in the Word, and had need themselves to be taught again the basic principles or ABCs of the Word.
Some of them apparently had even spiritually digressed. Hebrews 5:12 tells us that they had need to be taught again the principles of God’s Word, and were “become such as have need of milk…”. This verse suggests that they had digressed from a higher level of spiritual growth. Beloved, it is a serious problem when believers don’t grow, but it is even worse when we go backwards! There is something wrong with this picture, as they say. Not growing or going backward is a direct contradiction to the revealed will of God for His People.
2. Secondly, we want to notice the Hebrews’ spiritual malnutrition.
These Hebrews were spiritually malnourished. They weren’t getting the proper diet to enable them to grow properly. Milk is fine for babies, but there comes a time when we have to put away the bottle and start eating solid food. Believers who do not get a proper diet of spiritual food cannot grow properly and will not come to spiritual maturity. This is the case of true believers in false churches. They are spiritually malnourished and so they don’t grow up in the Lord.
We see in our text in Hebrews 6:1-3 that these believers were stuck on certain basic Christian doctrines. (Read). We won’t take the time to elaborate on these verses, but suffice it to say that these doctrines were considered by the author of Hebrews to be among the ABCs of the faith. Yes, beloved, there is a proper place for the ABC doctrines in the Lord’s churches, but there is also the whole counsel of God that needs to be preached, including the many deep doctrines of God that are necessary for obtaining spiritual maturity.
I remember years ago a man in our church said that he believed the pastor should only preach the gospel, and teach only the basic doctrines of Christ in church. He didn’t believe that the doctrines of grace should be taught in church! Beloved, if these truths aren’t taught in church, then where will God’s people learn them. That man wanted the entire church to remain babes in Christ. Contrary to that man’s carnal opinion, pastors who neglect to preach the whole counsel of God are guilty of starving and stunting the growth of their church. Beloved pastor brethren, don’t cave in to those who tell you not to preach certain doctrines. These people savor not the things of God.
Beloved, these Hebrews, like all of God’s children, needed to move beyond the ABCs of the faith, and start feasting on the deeper doctrines of the Word. They needed to realize that spiritual malnutrition was not only hurting them and stunting their growth, but they were not able to be of any spiritual good to others who also needed to be taught all the counsel of God. And these Hebrews needed to awake to the great danger of their condition, which leads us to our next point.
3. Thirdly we want to see the danger of their condition.
In our text in verses 4-6 we see a solemn danger and warning to those who fail to grow spiritually, or who spiritually digress, who need to be taught the ABCs again, and again. (Read).
Spiritual stagnation is a dangerous condition. To “fall away” in our text is apostasy, which means to totally renounce Christ and the Christian faith. Beloved, people who constantly wrestle with the basic teachings of the faith, who constantly need to be taught again and again the principle doctrines of Christ, there is cause to question their faith. The fact that they don’t grow is evidence that they lack spiritual life. Failure to receive the basic teachings of Christ and to grow in the faith are danger signs. True believers who show these signs should take warning. Paul said to “examine yourselves whether you be in the faith; and prove yourselves, lest you be reprobates. Peter said to make your calling and election sure, for if you do these things you shall never fall.
Beloved, where are we in our spiritual growth? Are we growing up in Christ, or do we wrestle with the very ABCs of salvation in Christ? If so, we need to examine ourselves. There is great danger and severe warning to those who are not growing. This is a precursor to apostasy.
4. Fourthly we want to see why these Hebrews weren’t growing and who was hindering them.
Beloved, probably every church has had members that meet the description of those in our text. They constantly wrestle with the truth, and never seem to come to a knowledge thereof. The strong meat doctrines offend them, and like the crowd in John 6 they eventually leave the church when they continue to hear those teachings from the pulpit.
These people are a hindrance to the church. They constantly stir up strife and division. They constantly question and criticize the pastor and his preaching. These people hinder the progress of the church. They hinder the spiritual growth of God’s people, and hold them back from obtaining spiritual maturity.
Beloved, God’s Word warns against all such people. These people are not malnourished Christians, nor are they backsliders who have fallen into some sin or other. No, these are apostates. These are the Judas Iscariots in the church. These make professions of faith like the stony ground and thorny ground hearers, but by and by they are offended and leave the faith.
Paul, Peter, Jude, and John all wrote about them in their epistles. Jesus warned of them during His earthly ministry, and spoke of them in His messages to the churches in Revelations 2 and 3. Now for a few moments we want to examine these people in the light of verses 4-6 of our text.
First we must understand that the author of Hebrews was not teaching that saved people can “fall away” from the faith and lose their salvation. To “fall away” means to completely renounce Christ and the Christian faith. Let us remove any thought from our minds that a true child of God can fall away from Christ and be lost in sin again. Beloved, the Scriptures unanimously and ardently teach the eternal security of the believer. The Holy Spirit would not change His mind here, or in a few other similar passages, and teach that the elect of God for whom Christ died, could fall from grace and be damned to eternal hell. This just could not be!
If verses 4-6 are referring to true believers, then the author was speaking of a hypothetical condition that could not actually be true of genuine believers. The Arminians can forget about being saved and lost and saved again. This passage teaches that such notion is impossible. If, however, the author was speaking about those who had indeed had apostatized, then it must be understood that these people were never truly saved by the grace of God.
These apostates were not believers who just failed to grow, nor were they backsliders who had fallen into sin. These are curable conditions that are all too common among true believers. But this is not the case with apostates, who completely renounce faith in Christ. These are incurably lost. These are certainly beyond all human help, and must be turned over to the sovereign God to do with as He sees fit. Beloved, there is nothing else that we can do for them.
How then can those who were never true born again believers apostatize from the faith? We want to consider verses 4 and 5 for a moment and see how that these spiritual conditions might apply to unregenerate men who never were saved. Obviously we don’t have time to do a word study but we will entertain a few thoughts on these verses.
First, these apostates are said to have been once enlightened. They were exposed to the light of truth. The light of the glorious gospel of Christ shone upon them. They had a head knowledge of the gospel and even seemed to believe and to receive it with joy, like the stony ground hearers in the parable of the sower, but they were still lost in the darkness of sin. These only had a natural knowledge of spiritual truth, and therefore they were not truly converted.
Secondly, these apostates had tasted of the heavenly gift. They had a personal experience with the Lord. They were in close company with Christ, as it were, and witnessed His blessedness, His mercy, His gracious deeds, and His power divine, whether in person or through His Church. Notwithstanding, they had only tasted the heavenly gift. They had not eaten of Christ or drunk from the well of salvation, but merely sampled, as it were, the blessedness of salvation.
Thirdly, they were made partakers of the Holy Ghost. They were not “born of the Spirit” nor were their bodies the temples of the Holy Ghost as with true believers. Yet by their proximity to the mighty manifestation of the Holy Spirit, these apostates sensed the power, and joy, and elation that true believers enjoyed. Even today, lost sinners attend church services and sometimes they seem to be moved, as it were, by the manifestation of the Holy Spirit. Sometimes they are overcome with tears of sorrow, or sense the joy of the Spirit’s presence, yet they go away lost in their sins. To a degree they partake of the Holy Ghost, yet He has not taken up residence in their soul.
Fourthly, these had “tasted of the good word of God”. They had heard and understood in a carnal way, the promises of God, and how that God had been faithful to His promises to His people. These had come to embrace the Word of God as truth, to the extent possible in the flesh. They willingly listened to God’s preacher like Herod gladly heard John the Baptist, and as Felix heard Paul concerning the faith, and trembled with fear, yet these were not changed.
Once again, these had only tasted, but had not eaten of the good Word of God. A mere taste goes no farther than the tongue, but only by eating and digesting the Word of God does one receive the saving benefit in their heart and soul.
Fifthly and finally, these also had tasted of the powers of the world to come. They had witnessed the mighty works of Christ in this dispensation, either in person or through the Holy Spirit in the Church. There was no doubt that what they had seen and heard was the mighty working of God’s power that He wrought in Christ. They could not deny that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, and therefore they were without excuse.
Beloved, the unregenerate who experience these divine influences and privileges can and do fall away if they are not regenerated by the Holy Spirit to receive the love of the truth. In contrast, the author was persuaded “better things” of the true Hebrew believers in verse 9, “things”, he said, “that accompany salvation”. But of these apostates the author only predicted eternal doom.
It is impossible to renew such ones to repentance, seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put Him to an open shame. They had totally renounced faith in Christ, and therefore there remaineth no more sacrifice for sin. They have cast off the hope of the gospel and the sufficiency of Christ’s sacrifice for their sins. There is nothing more to do for them or say to them. They are no more our responsibility to try and win them to Christ. To do so is to cast our perils before the swine. Can God still save them? This is for the Lord to determine and not us.
These are “spots in your feasts”, “clouds without water”, and like fruitless trees they are “twice dead, plucked up by the roots”. They are “raging waves foaming out their shame”, and “wandering stars, to whom is reserved the blackness of darkness forever” (Jude 12-13). These have “escaped the pollutions of the world” through the knowledge of the Saviour but were “entangled again therein”. “It would have been better for them to have not known the way of righteousness, than to have known it and then turned away from the holy commandment that was delivered unto them. But it happened unto them according to the true proverb, The dog is turned to his own vomit again; and the sow that was washed to her wallowing in the mire”. (2 Pet. 2:20-22).
Beloved, these apostates are a hindrance to the church and the true saints of God. They drag us down and hold us back from going on to spiritual maturity. Moreover, they cause strife and dissension in the church. May God help us to discern these apostates when they come in among us, and to turn them over to the Lord. Don’t permit them to hinder our spiritual progress. Don’t let them cause division and turmoil in our churches. And don’t spend all our time and energy on apostates of whom God’s Word said “it is impossible to renew them again to repentance”.
God help true believers to grow up in the faith. This is God’s will for His people. Don’t let any thing or anyone hold you back or hinder your spiritual growth.
Be warned, professing Christian, failure to grow and spiritual digression are danger signs. If this is your case, examine yourself and prove to your own self whether you be in the faith.
And finally, may God help we who are pastors to preach the whole counsel of God regardless of what men might do or say. Don’t give in to the apostates that come into our churches. Don’t let them tell us what or what not to preach. Don’t let them work havoc and division in our churches but deal with them according to the Word of the Lord, lest they get a foothold and subvert the faith and hinder the growth of God’s people. And let us not spend all our time and energy on goats when we have a whole flock of sheep that need to be fed.