We desire each one of you to show the same earnestness to have the full assurance of hope until the end, so that you may not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises. (Hebrews 6:11-12) Please open your Bible at Hebrews 6. This...
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, and of instruction about washings, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. (Hebrews 6:1-2)
Please open your Bible at Hebrews 6. We begin today a new series called Faith that Lasts.
Most Christians know someone who at one time professed faith in Jesus Christ and then wandered away. At one time they were enthusiastic, engaged in ministry — there seemed to be evidence of spiritual life.
But then something changed. Over time, she seemed to lose interest. Having once made a clear profession of faith, he began to talk about “being on a journey,” and now there seems to be very little evidence of spiritual life — no love for Christ, no hunger for his Word, no desire to be with his people. It is a real issue that affects every one of us.
The Only Kind of Faith Worth Having
The title for our series is Faith That Lasts, and the first thing to say is that, faith that lasts is the only kind of faith worth having. There are three things in this world that last forever, “These three remain: faith, hope and love” (1 Corinthians 13:13 NIV).
We know true love lasts, and ‘love’ that does not last is not true love; it is only infatuation. Real hope lasts, and ‘hope’ that does not last is not real hope at all; it is only a passing illusion. Genuine faith lasts, and ‘faith’ that does not last, by definition, is not genuine faith; it is only a passing interest. And a person is not saved by a passing interest in Jesus Christ.
The book of Hebrews makes this especially clear: “For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end” (Hebrews 3:14). Notice what this verse is saying: “If we hold our original confidence firm to the end…” That is, if our faith lasts, then we know that we have come to share in Christ.
True faith perseveres. Saving faith, that is, faith that joins a person to Jesus Christ, is faith that lasts. And a profession of faith that does not last is, by definition, not true faith. It is not saving faith. “We have come to share in Christ, if we hold our original confidence firm to the end.”
You find the same truth in 1 Corinthians: “Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you — unless you believed in vain” (15:1-2). People are not saved by a passing interest in the gospel. You are saved by this gospel “If you hold fast to it; otherwise you have believed in vain.”
There is a phrase that is often used among Christians that conveys a delightful truth, and at the same time, conceals a dangerous error: Once saved always saved. The delightful truth in this is that Christ guards and keeps his own. His sheep will never perish (John 10:28).
But who are Christ’s sheep? They are those who “hold fast to the word” (1 Corinthians 15:2). They are those who hold their “original confidence firm to the end” (Hebrews 3:14). These are the ones who truly belong to Jesus Christ.
So the dangerous error concealed in the phrase “Once saved always saved” is the idea that anyone who has ever made any kind of profession of faith at any time will be saved, irrespective of whether they show any continuing interest in Christ.
That error may be one of the devil’s greatest deceptions. It encourages people to think that they can safely live at a distance from Christ, because, having once professed faith in Jesus, all will be well with them in the end. And that is a house built on sand.
The writer of this letter was clearly concerned about the spiritual condition of these Hebrew believers. It was not clear to him that all would be well with all of them in the end. His concern — that we will look at next week — is that some of them were in danger of falling away from the faith they had professed (Hebrews 4-6).
The Basic Principles of the Oracles of God
For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. (Hebrews 5:12)
There are “basic principles of the oracles of God” that all of us need to grasp. These basic principles should be clear, established, and undisputed in the mind and heart of every believer (Hebrews 6:2). The writer is saying, “There are certain things that should have been settled for you long ago, but I’m not sure they are for some of you.” And that is why he is concerned.
What are these basic principles of the oracles of God that should be clear and settled in all of our hearts? The writer lists 6 things and at first sight this looks like a very strange list.
A Very Strange List
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, and of instruction about washings, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment (Hebrews 6:1-2).
It would be easy to assume that this must be some kind of summary of the Christian faith, especially since in verse one, he speaks of “the elementary doctrine of Christ.” But this cannot be a summary of the Christian faith.
If we handed out cards in the service today and you were asked to write a six-point summary of what Christians believe about Jesus, you would have to have the following on your list:
- The incarnation: How Jesus is truly God and man
- The atonement: How Jesus bore our sins in his body on the tree
- The resurrection: How Jesus triumphed over death and lives forever
- The faith: How Jesus brings us into a right relationship with God by binding us to himself
- The life: How Jesus gives the power and presence of the Holy Spirit to all who trust in him
- The return: How one day Jesus will come again in power and glory
Christians may summarize what we believe about Jesus in different ways, but I am sure that if we handed out cards today no one would have “instructions about washings” and “laying on of hands” on their list. Whatever this list is, it is not a summary of the Christian faith. So what is it?
This letter was written first to Jewish people who had become believers in Jesus. So it should not surprise us that what is described here is not the New Testament revelation, but the Old Testament preparation. It is not a description of who Jesus is and what he has done. It’s a plain and compelling statement of why we need Jesus.
We are talking here about “The basic principles of the oracles of God” (Hebrews 5:12). Or to put it another way, “The elementary doctrine of Christ” (Hebrews 6:1), or literally, “The beginning of the word of Christ.” We might say, “The road that leads to Christ.”
So when the writer says, “Let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again a foundation…” (Hebrews 6:1). He is not saying that Christians should move on from Jesus. How could any Christian ever do that? The whole point of this letter is that you cannot move beyond Jesus (Hebrews 1:1-3).
The “elementary doctrine of Christ” [literally, “the beginning of the word of Christ”], is the starting point for faith in Jesus. That’s why the Old Testament was given. That’s what it is — the road to faith in Jesus. We are talking here about “the basic principles of the oracles of God” [literally, “the beginning of the word of God”]. When we grasp from the Old Testament why we need Jesus, then we will have a faith that lasts.
When the writer says, “You need milk, not solid food…” (Hebrews 5:12). [You need someone to teach you the basic principles of the oracles of God (Hebrews 6:12)]. The milk is: why we need Jesus, as revealed in the Old Testament. The solid food is: who Jesus is and what he has done, as revealed in the New Testament.
Every Christian needs the milk. We need be clear about why we need Jesus. This is basic — foundational to a faith that lasts. But we must move beyond the foundation of grasping why we need Jesus, to embracing him, and receiving all that is found in him. That is how we go on to maturity.
If you are not yet a Christian, I want to show you from these verses three compelling reasons to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ today. If you have professed faith in Jesus, these will be three compelling reasons to continue treasuring and trusting Jesus, irrespective of the cost.
Here are the basic principles that need to be clearly settled in the mind and heart of every Christian believer:
Why We Need Jesus
1. Our best efforts are “dead works” and we rely completely on the provision of God.
…repentance from dead works and of faith toward God. (Hebrews 6:1)
Repentance means “turning away from something.” What is turned away from here are “dead works” (cf. Hebrews 9:14).
This verse in not talking about sinful works. We all have to turn from sinful works for sure, but we also have to turn from “dead works.” What does that mean?
The point here is that our best efforts to live a good life — our most generous, most sacrificial acts — the best works any of us could offer to God in the hope of impressing him and winning his favor – are dead works. That is, they have no saving value at all. “All our righteous acts are like filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6 NIV).
It is easy to assume that the good you do in life will outweigh whatever sins you may have committed. But the most basic principle of the oracles of God is that any good work that you might think of offering to God is dead on arrival. So, you have to turn from believing in yourself and in your own effort to live a good life.
But if you have to turn from trusting your own best efforts to live a good life, then what are you going to turn to? Answer: Faith toward God. This is the most basic principle of the Old Testament. Abraham believed God (Romans 4:3; Galatians 3:6; James 2:23). Abraham knew that he hadn’t lived — and could not offer — the life God called him to live. So he looked to God to give him what he did not have in himself, and this is what we must do.
“Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:3). You will be blessed when, knowing that you do not have what God requires, and that you cannot offer what God seeks, you look to God to give you what he requires of you.
If this foundation is laid, if this basic principle is settled in your mind and heart — that you must look to God to give you what you do not have — then you will come to Jesus Christ, because he is God’s provision for you. And your faith in him will be a faith that lasts.
2. Our sins defile us and exclude us from the presence of God.
…instruction about washings, the laying on of hands… (Hebrews 6:2)
Commentators who view these verses as a summary of the Christian faith interpret the washing as Christian baptism, and the laying on of hands as an allusion to the gift of the Holy Spirit.
Notice that Hebrews does not talk about the “washing” of baptism, it talks about “washings” (plural). And while there are examples in the New Testament of the Spirit being given through the laying on of the hands, this was not the norm. Believers receive the Spirit through hearing the good news of Jesus with faith (as Paul points out in Galatians 3:2).
What we have here is not a summary of the Christian faith, but an explanation of “the basic principles of the oracles of God.” The Old Testament was full of ritual washings (e.g. Exodus 30:18f, Hebrews 9:10). There was no end to it — the washing of hands, the washing of feet, the washing of plates, etc. And these would have been familiar to the Hebrew believers.
The washings were a constant reminder to the people that sin defiles us — that we cannot simply come into the presence of God unless and until we are washed. Again, this is a basic principle of the Word of God that ought to be settled in the mind of every believer.
When Adam and Eve sinned, they were excluded from the garden where they had known the presence and blessing of God. And if you go all the way to the end of the Bible, you find the same thing. God says of his heaven, “Nothing unclean will ever enter it…” (Revelation 21:27).
Think what that means for us: Not a hint of gossip or greed or pride or laziness will ever enter the holy presence of God. So if the stain of a single sin was to be found on you or me, we would be excluded from the light and joy and blessing of the presence of God forever.
Once that begins to settle in your mind, you will say, “Thank God he has provided a way of removing what defiles us!” He does it through the sacrifice of Jesus. The entire sacrificial system in the Old Testament was given for this one reason: to show us why we need Jesus.
Here’s why we have the reference to the laying on of hands in this verse. Remember, he was writing to Jewish believers, and at the height of the Day of Atonement was the “laying on of hands.” When the high priest offered the sacrifice on the Day of Atonement, God said, “Aaron shall lay both his hands on the head of the live goat, and confess over it all the iniquities of the people of Israel, and all their transgressions, all their sins. And he shall put them on the head of the goat and send it away into the wilderness…” (Leviticus 16:21).
The laying on of hands in the Old Testament spoke of sin being transferred and of guilt being taken away, so that God’s presence and the light of his blessing could come again among his people.
This is a basic principle of the oracles of God. If this foundation is laid in your life, if this basic principle is settled in your mind and heart — that your sins defile you and exclude you from the presence of God, that you must be washed, that your sins must be removed by one who will take them from you and carry them for you. If that is clear and settled in your mind, then you will come to Jesus Christ and your faith in him will be a faith that lasts.
3. Our lives are eternal and we all face the judgement of God.
…the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. (Hebrews 6:2)
Again, these truths are basic principles of the Word of God. Your life is eternal. There was a time when you were not, but there will never be a time when you will not be. However long you live in this world, it is just a flash of your entire life.
Here is the ultimate reality that every one of us must face: “It is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment…” (Hebrews 9:27). And then the writer of Hebrews says a little bit later: “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Hebrews 10:31).
People who have no faith in Jesus Christ are sometimes very confident, even defiant, in the face of death. But the problem for the sinner does not lie in the event of death itself. It lies in the resurrection.
The real problem lies in the fact that the sinner will be brought into the presence of the living God, and held accountable for every word, and thought, and deed. The real problem is the awful reality of facing justice as a sinner, and of that judgment stretching on into eternity — an eternal judgment with no end. Death can’t hide you from this God.
There will only be one hope for any of us on the day, and that is, that Jesus Christ will stand beside us and claim us as his own, that he will say of you, “She is one of mine. I died for her sins. All that eternal justice could ever bring to her fell on me. I bore it on her behalf and dealt with it forever on the cross.”
The resurrection of the dead and the eternal judgment is a basic principle of the Word of God. If this foundation is laid in your life, if this basic principle is settled in your mind and heart — that death will not be the end for you, that there is a judgment, that it is eternal and you cannot avoid it, that you will be in the presence of infinite holiness — then you will come to Jesus and your faith in him will be a faith that lasts.
This Will Bring Stability to Your Faith
This foundation matters. The basic principles of the oracles of God, a proper grasp of why we need Jesus, is essential to a faith that lasts. I want this foundation to be well laid in the life of every person here today. If you grasp why you need Jesus — the basic principles of the oracle of God — it will bring stability to your faith and to your life.
Some people profess faith in Jesus without ever really being clear about why they need Jesus. They come to Jesus because they hope that he will give them the life that they really want. “If I follow Jesus, he will answer my prayers, and give me what I want.” Behind that is an implied contract that if I believe in Jesus, the good things I want will come to me, and the bad things I fear will be kept far from me.
That is a house built on sand, and such a faith will not last. When the storm comes to your life, if that is the only foundation you have, you are going to be in big trouble, aren’t you?
At some point, the way of Jesus will involve a cross for you. You will find, as these Hebrews did, that Christ leads you on a path you would never have chosen for yourself. And if your faith is about Jesus giving you the life you wanted, your faith will not last. You will be gone.
If the foundation is laid in your life, if it is clear to you that you need Jesus, because your best works are dead works, because your sins defile you and exclude you from the presence of God, and because one day you will face the judgment of God — if these basic principles are clear, established, and settled in your life — then you will come to Christ and you will cling to Christ. You will go on to maturity in Christ, and your faith will be a faith that lasts.
© Colin S. Smith
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