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David Guzik :: Study Guide for Hebrews 6

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A Warning to Discouraged Believers

A. The essential nature of maturity.

1. (1a) Going beyond the basics.

Therefore, leaving the discussion of the elementary principles of Christ, let us go on to perfection,

a. Therefore: The writer has just rebuked his readers for their spiritual immaturity; but he knows that nothing is gained by treating them as immature. So he moves on to other ideas.

b. Elementary principles: This has the idea of "rudiments" or "ABCs." They are basic building blocks that are necessary, but must be built upon - otherwise you just have a foundation and no structure.

c. Perfection: This is the ancient Greek word teleiotes, which is much better understood as "maturity." The writer to the Hebrews is not trying to tell us that we can reach perfection on this side of eternity, but we can and should reach a place of maturity in Jesus. So the call is plain: let us go on to perfection.

2. (1b-2) Some of the "basics" to go beyond.

Not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, of the doctrine of baptisms, of laying on of hands, of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment.

a. These "basics" are given in three pairs: repentance and faith go together. Baptisms and laying on of hands go together. Resurrection of the dead and eternal judgment go together.

b. Not laying again the foundation: Many people regard this as a Biblical list of important "foundations" for the Christian life. Bible study series have been taught developing each one of these topics, out of the thought that this is good list of basic doctrines. But that isn't the writer's point here at all. To understand this list, you must ask a basic question: What is distinctively Christian about this list? Where is the specific mention of Jesus or salvation by grace alone? Can you believe or practice these things and not be a follower of Jesus Christ, believing Him to be the Messiah?

i. "When we consider the 'rudiments' one by one, it is remarkable how little in the list is distinctive of Christianity, for practically every item could have its place in a fairly orthodox Jewish community. . . . Each of them, indeed, acquires a new significance in a Christian context; but the impression we get is that existing Jewish beliefs and practices were used as a foundation on which to build Christian truth." (Bruce)

c. Not even baptisms, as it is used in this passage, is necessarily Christian. The specific ancient Greek word translated baptisms is not the word regularly used in the New Testament to describe Christian baptism. It is the word used on two other specific occasions (Hebrews 9:10 and Mark 7:4) to refer to Jewish ceremonial washings.

i. The New English Bible translation reflects this, translating doctrine of baptisms as "instruction about cleansing rites."

d. In this case, the elementary principles to move beyond are all items in the "common ground" between Christianity and Judaism. This was a "safe" common ground these Jewish Christians retreated to.

i. Because Christianity did grow out of Judaism, it was a more subtle temptation for a Jewish Christian to slip back into Judaism than it was for a formerly pagan Christian to go back to his pagan ways.

ii. Of course, these Jewish Christians did not want to abandon religion, but they did want to make it less distinctively Christian. Therefore, they went back to this "common ground" to avoid persecution. Living in this comfortable common ground, you would not stick out so much. A Jew and a Christian together could say, "Let's repent, let's have faith, let's perform ceremonial washings," and so forth. But this was a subtle denial of Jesus.

iii. This is entirely characteristic of those who feel discouraged, and wish to give up. There is always the temptation to still be religious, but not so "fanatical" about Jesus.

3. (Heb 6:3) A statement of hope and dependence on God.

And this we will do if God permits.

a. If God permits: This should not be taken as implying that God may not want them to go on to maturity, past those basics common to Christianity and Judaism.

b. Instead, if God permits expresses the believers' complete dependence on God. If we do press on to maturity, we realize that it only happens at God's pleasure.

B. The danger of falling away.

1. Understanding an approach to controversial passages like this.

a. We must first be concerned with understanding what the text says (exposition), before we are concerned with fitting what it says into a system of theology.

b. Systems of theology are important, because the Bible does not contradict itself; but the way to right systems begins with a right understanding of the text, not one that bends the text to fit into a system.

i. "We come to this passage ourselves with the intention to read it with the simplicity of a child, and whatever we find therein to state it; and if it may not seem to agree with something we have hitherto held, we are prepared to cast away every doctrine of our own, rather than one passage of Scripture." (Spurgeon)

ii. "We had better far be inconsistent with ourselves than with the inspired Word. I have been called an Arminian Calvinist or a Calvinistic Arminian, and I am quite content so long as I can keep close to my Bible." (Spurgeon)

c. Satan knows Scripture, and this passage has rightly been called "one of the Devil's favorite passages" for its ability to be taken out of context for condemning the struggling believer. Many have felt like giving up after hearing Satan "preach a sermon" on this text!

2. (Heb 6:4-6) The impossibility of repentance for those who have fallen away after receiving blessing from God.

For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted the heavenly gift, and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, if they fall away, to renew them again to repentance, since they crucify again for themselves the Son of God, and put Him to an open shame.

a. For it is impossible: The word impossible is put in a position of emphasis. The writer to the Hebrews is not saying it is just difficult, but truly without possibility.

i. Note the other uses of impossible in Hebrews: It is impossible for God to lie (Hebrews 6:18). It is impossible that the blood of bulls and goats can take away sin (Hebrews 10:4). Without faith it is impossible to please God (Hebrews 11:6).

ii. "This word *impossible stands immovable." (Alford)

b. Who were once enlightened, and have tasted the heavenly gift, and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come: Their experience is impressive. The big debate is whether this is the experience of salvation, or the experience of something short of salvation.

i. Enlightened: This ancient Greek word has the same meaning as the English word. These people have experienced the light of God shining upon them.

ii. Tasted: This word speaks of a full, real experience (as in how Jesus tasted death in Hebrews 2:9). The heavenly gift is probably salvation (Romans 6:23 and Ephesians 2:8).

iii. Partakers of the Holy Spirit is an unique term, having to do with receiving the Holy Spirit and having fellowship with the Holy Spirit.

iv. Tasted the good word of God means they have experienced the goodness of God's word, and have seen its work in their lives.

v. The powers of the age of come is a way to describe God's supernatural power. The ones written of here have indeed tasted of these powers.

c. One of the most heated debates over any New Testament passage is focused on this text. The question is simple: Are these people who have had these impressive spiritual experiences in fact Christians? Are they God's elect, chosen before the foundation of the world?

i. Commentators divide on this issue, each deciding the issue with great certainty but with no agreement.

ii. Remember that one can have great spiritual experiences and still not be saved (Matthew 7:21-23). One can even do many religious things and still not be saved. The perfect example of this are the Pharisees, who evangelized (Matthew 23:15), prayed impressively (Matthew 23:14), made religious commitments (Matthew 23:16), tithed rigorously (Matthew 23:23), honored religious traditions (Matthew 23:29-31) and who fasted (Luke 18:12).

iii. Yet, from a human perspective, who would call anyone who seemed to have the credentials mentioned in Hebrews 6:4-5 a non-Christian? We might make that person an elder! From all human observation, we must say these are Christians spoken of in Hebrews 6:4-5.

iv. It is possible to display some fruit or spiritual growth, then to die spiritually, showing that the "soil of the heart" was never right (Mark 4:16-19).

v. So are they Christians? From a human perspective we would say they are. Yet, from God's perspective, it is impossible to say on this side of eternity.

d. For it is impossible … if they fall away, to renew them again to repentance: If these people are Christians or not, once they have come to this place, it is impossible for them to repent.

i. If these are just Christians who "lost their salvation," the terrible fact is that they can never regain it. This passage was used by some in the early church (like Montanists and Novatianists) to say that there was no possibility of restoration if one sinned significantly after their baptism.

ii. Others have explained it by saying that this is all merely a hypothetical warning, in light of Hebrews 6:9. So, they say, no one can really lose their salvation. But what good is it to warn someone against something that can't happen?

iii. Still others think that this penalty deals only with reward, not with salvation itself. They stress the idea that repentance is called impossible, not salvation.

iv. This difficult passage is best understood in the context of Hebrews 6:1-2. The writer to the Hebrews means that if they do retreat back to Judaism, all the religious "repentance" in the world will do them no good. Their forsaking of Jesus is tantamount to crucifying Him all over again, especially if they were to express their repentance in traditional Jewish forms: especially animal sacrifice, which denies the total work of Jesus for them on the cross.

e. If they fall away: Remember there is a great difference between falling and falling away. Falling away isn't just falling into some sin, it is actually departing from Jesus Himself. For a righteous man may fall seven times and rise again, but the wicked shall fall by calamity. (Proverbs 24:16) The difference is between a Peter and a Judas. If you depart from Jesus, there is no hope!

i. The message to these Christians who felt like giving up was clear: if you don't continue on with Jesus, don't suppose you will find salvation by just going on with the old basics that are common to Judaism; if you aren't saved in Jesus, you aren't saved!

ii. If one falls like this, does it mean they can't repent? That God prohibits their repentance? Remember first that repentance itself is a gift from God; no one genuinely repents without God's enabling. Second, if one does repent, that in itself is evidence that they have not truly fallen away.

iii. The idea is not that "if you fall away, you can't come back to Jesus ever," but that "if you turn your back on Jesus, don't expect to find salvation anywhere else, especially in the foundations of Judaism apart from the fullness of Jesus."

iv. "This passage has nothing to do with those who fear lest it condemns them. The presence of that anxiety, like the cry which betrayed the real mother in the days of Solomon, establishes beyond a doubt that you are not one that has fallen away beyond the possibility of renewal to repentance." (Meyer)

3. (Heb 6:7-8) An illustration of the serious consequences of falling away.

For the earth which drinks in the rain that often comes upon it, and bears herbs useful for those by whom it is cultivated, receives blessing from God; but if it bears thorns and briars, it is rejected and near to being cursed, whose end is to be burned.

a. For the earth which drinks in the rain … and bears herbs useful … receives blessing from God: When the earth receives rain, and then bears useful plants, it then fulfills its purpose and justifies the blessing of rain sent upon it. The writer to the Hebrews applies the point: "You've been blessed. But where's the fruit?" God is looking for what grows in us after He blesses us, especially what grows in terms of maturity.

b. But if it bears thorns and briars, it is rejected: If ground that is blessed by rain refuses to bear fruit, then who can blame the farmer for burning it?

c. The picture presented reminds us that growth and bearing fruit is important to keep from falling away. When we really bear fruit, we abide in Jesus (John 15:5) and in no danger of falling away.

C. Don't be discouraged!

1. (Heb 6:9) The writer admits he is being a little more harsh than he needs to be.

But, beloved, we are confident of better things concerning you, yes, things that accompany salvation, though we speak in this manner.

a. We are confident of better things concerning you: Though he spoke so severely, the writer to the Hebrews is confident that they really will continue on in Jesus, that their perseverance is one of the things that accompany salvation.

b. Though we speak in this manner: However, it would be wrong to take Hebrews 6:9 to mean the warnings in the previous verses were not serious, or warned of impossible things. If anything, verse nine is a verse of encouragement; these Christians are in danger of falling away not so much out of a calculated rebellion, as because of a depressing discouragement. They need to be warned, but they also need to be encouraged!

2. (Heb 6:10-12) Don't be discouraged into giving up on Jesus! God hasn't forgotten about you!

For God is not unjust to forget your work and labor of love which you have shown toward His name, in that you have ministered to the saints, and do minister. And we desire that each one of you show the same diligence to the full assurance of hope until the end, that you do not become sluggish, but imitate those who through faith and patience inherit the promises.

a. God is not unjust to forget your work and labor of love: When we are discouraged, we often think God has forgotten all we have done for Him and His people. But God would cease to be God (He would be unjust) if He forgot such things. God sees and remembers.

i. How many lose sight of the fact that God sees their service? How many serve for the applause and attention of man, and are discouraged because it doesn't come?

b. We desire that each one of you show the same diligence to the full assurance of hope until the end: Keep up your good work; press on with that hope until the end; imitate those who inherit (not earn) God's promises. When we are discouraged as the Hebrew Christians were discouraged we can easily become sluggish. The writer to Hebrews encourages us like a coach, pressing us to press on.

c. But imitate those who through faith and patience inherit the promises: Imitate those who found the key to gaining God's promises - faith and patience, as demonstrated by Abraham.

i. But, praise God, Abraham did not have a perfect faith or a perfect patience! If Abraham had some of our weaknesses, then we can have some of his faith and patience.

d. Do not become sluggish: Don't let discouragement make you sluggish. It's that sluggish attitude that really makes us feel like giving up. First we lose the desire to press on then we lose the desire to go on.

i. You really don't have to give into discouragement. David encouraged himself in the Lord his God (1 Samuel 30:6, KJV). So can you! Encourage yourself in the Lord!

3. (Heb 6:13-18) Don't be discouraged: God's promises are reliable.

For when God made a promise to Abraham, because He could swear by no one greater, He swore by Himself, saying, "Surely blessing I will bless you, and multiplying I will multiply you." And so, after he had patiently endured, he obtained the promise. For men indeed swear by the greater, and an oath for confirmation is for them an end of all dispute. Thus God, determining to show more abundantly to the heirs of promise the immutability of His counsel, confirmed it by an oath, that by two immutable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we might have strong consolation, who have fled for refuge to lay hold of the hope set before us.

a. After he had patiently endured: During this time of patient endurance, many Christians get attacked. They wonder if they too will obtain the promise. They often wonder "Will God really come through?"

b. After he had patiently endured, he obtained the promise: God came through for Abraham, even sealing His promise with an oath. In fact, because He could swear by no one greater, He swore by Himself. This oath showed that God's promises (like His character) are unchanging.

i. "This passage teaches us … that an oath may be lawfully used by Christians; and this ought to be particularly observed, on account of fanatical men who are disposed to abrogate the practices of solemn swearing which God has prescribed in his Law." (Calvin)

c. That by two immutable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we might have strong consolation: The two immutable (unchanging) things are God's promise and His oath. It is impossible for God to lie in either of these two things.

d. We might have strong consolation, who have fled for refuge to lay hold of the hope set before us: Don't be discouraged! God has a refuge of hope ready for you. We can think of this refuge of hope are like the cities of refuge commanded by the Law of Moses, as described in Numbers 35.

i. Both Jesus and the cities of refuge are within easy reach of the needy person; they were of no use unless someone could get to the place of refuge.

ii. Both Jesus and the cities of refuge are open to all, not just the Israelite; no one needs to fear that they would be turned away from their place of refuge in their time of need.

iii. Both Jesus and the cities of refuge became a place where the one in need would live; you didn't come to a city of refuge in time of need just to look around.

iv. Both Jesus and the cities of refuge are the only alternative for the one in need; without this specific protection, they will be destroyed.

v. Both Jesus and the cities of refuge provide protection only within their boundaries; to go outside meant death.

vi. With both Jesus and the cities of refuge, full freedom comes with the death of the High Priest.

vii. However, there is a crucial distinction between Jesus and the cities of refuge. The cities of refuge only helped the innocent; the guilty can come to Jesus and find refuge.

4. (Heb 6:19-20) Don't be discouraged! Jesus will lead us into God's glory.

This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast, and which enters the Presence behind the veil, where the forerunner has entered for us, even Jesus, having become High Priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.

a. This hope we have as an anchor: The anchor was a common figure for hope in the ancient world. Here it especially reminds us that we are anchored to something firm, but unseen (which enters the Presence behind the veil).

i. You don't need an anchor for calm seas. The rougher the weather, the more important your anchor!

ii. But the anchor analogy doesn't apply perfectly. We are anchored upward in heaven, not down in the ground; and we are anchored to move on, not to stand still!

b. Which enters the Presence behind the veil, where the forerunner has entered for us: This hope will see us into the very presence of God. Hope is the opposite of the discouragement these Jewish Christians have been battling against.

c. The forerunner … even Jesus: We are assured of this access into the presence of God because Jesus has entered as a forerunner. The Levitical high priest did not enter the veil as a forerunner, only as a representative. But Jesus has entered into the Father's intimate presence so that His people can follow Him there.

i. A forerunner (the ancient Greek word prodromos) was a reconnaissance man in the military. A forerunner goes forward, knowing that others are going to follow!

d. Behind the veil … having become High Priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek: The temple analogy (behind the veil) reminds the writer to the Hebrews that he was speaking of Jesus as our High Priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek. The thought continues into the next chapter.

© 2001 David Guzik - No distribution beyond personal use without permission

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