This passage continues the discussion of Jesus as our eternal high priest after the order of Melchizedek. The writer states that he has much to say about this. (5:11) And he does, because this topic goes on for several chapters (through 10:39).
It starts, however, with a rebuke. The writer says it is hard to explain this truth to them because they are spiritually immature and “dull of hearing”. (The New International Version says “slow to learn”. But the idea is not that they are dumb, but that they are spiritually dull or listless.) And they are not new believers. We know this because he says “by this time you ought to be teachers”. But, despite the fact that they have been believers for a good while, they still need someone to teach them basic truths. So, this does not mean they were new believers and it does not mean they were stupid. Rather, they were spiritually dull.
Believers have a duty to read, study and obey the Bible to become more mature as believers. Preachers and teachers have a duty to teach all of the truths of the Bible and not just the simple ones. I have been a member of one one denomination for a long time. It seems like almost every year they come out with a program that is the basics of this or the basics of that. I want to know when they will have the advanced version!
The writer here uses the picture of a baby. The baby must have milk. But after he grows up, he needs solid food for nourishment. These believers are still babies. They are immature. They do not know the Bible. The writer is trying to shame them with this portrayal.
In verse 14, the writer gives us the sign of Christian maturity: they are able to distinguish good from evil. He says by constant use, or study, they have developed the ability to discern. We need this so badly today. We are constantly exposed to false teaching within the church, attacks of non-believers and even the assertion that there is no truth. We can only discern these matters if we are in the Word constantly. That we are not explains a lot of the problems in churches today.
The Call To Move On
So, he says, let’s move on from the elemental teachings. Let’s leave the milk and feed on some solid food! He lists these elemental teachings for us. There are 6:
- laying on of hands
- resurrection of the dead
- eternal judgment.
He is not saying these doctrines are not important. They are in fact elemental or foundational. But they are the first things you should learn. And then you should move on to greater and deeper truths.
And so, in verse 3, he says they will do so “God permitting”. If God continues to give him the time and the opportunity, this writer will move them on to this deeper truth of the priesthood of Christ. If God continues to give the congregation spiritual understanding, they will move on to know these deeper truths. It reminds me of James writing “you ought to say if it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that”. (James 4:15) He is acknowledging that God is sovereign. He will give the opportunity to teach or he will not according to his will. He will open the hearts and minds of the congregation, or he will not, according to his will.
Why It Might Not Be Impossible
Verse 4 begins an explanation of why it might not be possible for this group to move on to maturity. It begins with the conjunction “for”, which in the Greek text is “yap”, pronounced “gar” transliterated into English. I’m not sure why, but the New International Version (NIV) leaves this word out. But it is the “for” that tells you what the writer is trying to explain.
So, why might these people not be able to move on to maturity? The answer is because they are not believers and are demonstrating this by leaving Christ for Judaism. It is apostasy, a firm rejection of salvation through Christ alone.
In verses 4 through 6, he says it is impossible for a certain type of person to be brought back to repentance if they fall away. If we take out the subordinate clauses, we see that it says “it is impossible for those...if they fall away, to be brought back to repentance”.
So, who are these people? The writer describes them in several ways:
- those who have been enlightened,
- those who have shared in the Holy Spirit,
- those who have tasted the goodness of the word of God, and
- those who have tasted the powers of the coming age.
This is not four different kinds of people. Rather it is four ways of describing those who will not move forward to maturity. So, who are they?
There are two main opinions about whose these people are.
First, some maintain these are Christians who lose their salvation. Second, others maintain the passage refers to those who have been in the church, have professed Christ, but not truly believed. Their unbelief is demonstrated by their falling away.
I do not believe that a believer can lose his salvation, so I do not believe this passage can refer to those who believe but fall from grace. The Bible speaks of the security of the believer. This is the old doctrine of perseverance of the saints. For example, Jesus said he would give eternal life to everyone who believes in the Son of God. (John 3:16) He does not give temporary life and take it away when a person sins. Eternal means forever.
Jesus told the woman at the well that whoever drinks of his water will never be thirsty again and that water would be a spring of water welling up to eternal life”. (John 4:13-14) He also said “I give them eternal life and they will never perish and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me is greater than all and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand.” (John 10:28-29)
John explained it this way: “They went out from us but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out that it might become plain that they are all not of us.” (1 John 2:19) This writer of Hebrews said the same thing in 3:14: we are his house if indeed we hold fast our confidence and our boating in our hope.
So, if the Bible teaches us that a believer cannot lose his salvation, this passage must apply to someone else. The Holy Spirit does not contradict himself. Given the description, it has to apply to those who have been fully exposed to the gospel, the fellowship, the power of God, and understand it to be true, but walk away from it and refuse to believe or, believing, refuse to follow. They hold Christ up to contempt by rejecting him.
The example the writer gives helps us to see this is the correct interpretation. In verse 7, he gives a farming analogy. He says land that produces the crop for which it was cultivated receives the blessing from God. In other words, soil that takes a seed and produces a crop receives the blessing. Soil that grows thorns and thistles is worthless and receives a curse. It ends up being burned. Fire is usually a symbol of judgment. This is a symbol of judgment and hell.
Does this story sound familiar? It so, it is because Jesus told the same story. Some people call it the parable of the sower, but it should be called the Parable of the Soils, because that is what it is about. This story is recorded in Matthew 13:1-23, Mark 4:1-20 and Luke 8:4-21. In this story, Jesus said a farmer sowed seeds in four different kinds of soil. Only one produced a good crop. One sprang up with plants, but they had no root and withered away, choked by thorns. This is the same group to which the writer of Hebrews refers.
In every congregation of believers, there are people who stay a long time, enjoy the fellowship, attend, give and seem to be saved. Then, one day they leave and we are shocked. This writer of Hebrews says that those who have experienced all this and walk away, denouncing Christ, cannot come again to repentance. God will not let them hold Christ in contempt.
I know it is popular in Evangelical life to say God always gives everyone another chance, but this passage refutes that. He may bring a lost person to salvation when it seems impossible, but he will not always continue to call one who knows everything there is to know and still rebels.
This passage is not written to make you doubt your salvation. If you believe in Jesus as the Son of God who died for your sins and was raised from the dead for your salvation, you are saved. But it is to caution us from believing we can attend church and be saved while maintaing a heart that is hard toward Jesus and unbelieving. And the greatest warning is, those who reject Christ are held accountable.
It is not just about what you say, but what you believe. There are no magic words to recite. There is no requirement that you have a specific memory of what you said the day you committed your life to Christ. What is required is that you believe in Jesus and confess him as Lord. (Romans 10:9-10) That is why Peter tells us to make our calling and election sure. (2 Peter 1:10) Your calling and election is sure if you believe and place your faith in Christ alone for salvation.
Thinking the best of the Congregation
The writer of Hebrews thought his audience was actually saved. So, in verse 9, he says he feels sure of better things. He means he feels sure they are not abandoning Christ and showing they are not saved. They have worked and loved for Jesus’ name. (10) They have served the saints.
But, the writer wanted each of them to show this same earnestness and, therefore, have this same assurance of salvation. They should look at those who inherit salvation because of their faith in Christ and patience in waiting for their full inheritance.
We all need motivation sometimes. He encouraged his people not to be spiritually sluggish. We motivate each other with our fellowship. We motivate each other by teaching God’s word. We motivate each other by joining in worship.
Are you sluggish spiritually? Are you sliding into apathy or sin? Are you thinking of abandoning the faith? Are you tormented with doubt?
The cure for sluggishness is to grow your relationship to Christ. I know you have heard it many times and it may even sound trite to you. But, the cure for sluggishness is to repent of sin, study God’s word and pray often and diligently. Then, it is to serve. Give yourself to Jesus without reservation. That is what it means to believe he is the Son of God. If he really is the Son of God and he died for your sins, you owe him everything and you want to follow him wherever he leads. You love him and rejoice to belong to him. You persevere to the end.
If none of these seem to apply to you, make sure you really are committed to Christ. I do not mean that you go to church, you do not do anything really bad, your family is Christian or that you own a nice, leather Bible. I mean that you believe Jesus is God’s son raised from the dead, you believe he will save you from the penalty of your sins and has given you eternal life. And you have committed to follow him no matter what. If that is not what your story is, give your life to him today. Confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart God has raised him from the dead. (Romans 10:9-10)