19 Aug Hebrews 09 – It’s time to grow up!
11 About this we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. 12 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. You need milk, not solid food, 13 for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child.14 But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.
6 Therefore 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, 2 and of instruction about washings, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. 3 And this we will do if God permits. 4 For it is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, 5 and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, 6 and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt. 7 For land that has drunk the rain that often falls on it, and produces a crop useful to those for whose sake it is cultivated, receives a blessing from God. 8 But if it bears thorns and thistles, it is worthless and near to being cursed, and its end is to be burned.
Let me give you a warning from the very beginning. Tonight we are dealing with one of the, if not the weightiest and most difficult passage in the New Testament. But I think it is very interesting how one of the weightiest text in the New Testament comes just before one of the most comforting, mind-blowing passage in the New Testament. You don’t want to miss that one. But in order to get there, we have to be here first. This is one of the good thing about preaching the book of the Bible verse by verse. You don’t get to skip the part that is hard to preach. So yes, the text for tonight is a hard text but it is good. It is a good text for our souls. Tonight is not going to be an easy night. This is one of the passage that is designed for us to examine our own hearts. It functions like a medical check-up. You never know what you would find. You might think you are healthy but you can never really be sure until you do a medical check-up. It reminded me of what happened to me on July 2009. I thought I was healthy. Everything seemed fine to me. I went for a jog in the morning, I had my medical check-up during the day, and I was in the emergency room at night. I was diagnosed with leukaemia which I never knew I had until medical check-up. So, this is the goal tonight. The passage that we just read is like a spiritual check-up. You might discover that you are healthy and nothing is wrong with you. Or, you might discover that you are in fact very sick. And if you are diagnosed with cancer, in one sense that is a bad news. But in another sense, it is also a good news. Because now you can start getting treatment before it is too late. This is my hope for all of you. If you discover tonight that you are very sick, it is not too late for you to receive treatment. The beauty of the word of God is that it not only reveal your disease but it also has the power to heal you from your disease.
One of the question that we are going to deal with in this passage is, “Can believers lose their salvation?” You don’t have to second guess my answer. I’ll answer it for you right now. NO. True believers cannot lose their salvation. So the question now is, what do we do with this passage? Because this passage seems to suggest to us that believers can lose their salvation. I have told this story to you before. Back when I was still in a Bible College in Dallas, one of my friend used the argument that believers cannot lose their salvation against me. We entered Bible College at the same time but by the third year, he was living a life of party and drunkenness. When I confronted him on the issues, he simply told me, “Once saved always saved.” He argued, “Well, I gave my life to Christ at youth camp before. I walked down the aisle and the pastor prayed for me. I was even baptised and involved in ministries. And I am in a Bible College. Now, no matter what I do, I am saved. I cannot lose my salvation.” Is he right? What does the author of Hebrews has to say about it?
Let me remind you of the context of the book of Hebrews. Remember that the recipients of the letter of Hebrews were Jewish Christians who struggles to follow Christ. They were persecuted by both the Government and their Jewish communities. They experienced rejection from both side. And they began to ponder whether it is worth it to follow Christ. And again and again the author of Hebrews kept pointing out to them that Jesus is better. Jesus is so much better than everything they left behind. Therefore, he is saying to them, “Do not go back to your old way. Keep on pressing toward Christ. Become more mature in Christ. It is time to grow up.” And the last time I preached on the book of Hebrews, I preached on the fact that Jesus is our great High Priest. He did what no other high priest could do. Jesus is our eternal high priest and we do not need another human priest. Jesus is a high priest after the order of Melchizedek.
So now, the author wants to talk more about what it means for Jesus to be the high priest after the order of Melchizedek. He wants to talk about the beauty, majesty, and glory of Jesus in much more depth. But then he gets distracted. He knows what he wants to talk about but rather than going on a straight line, he decides to go off on a tangent. The reason for it is not because he lost focus, but the author of Hebrews believes that he needs to address a particular issue first before he goes on and talk about the depth of Christ’s glory as the high priest after the order of Melchizedek in chapter 7. And this particular issue is the main problem that the recipients of his letter experienced. He is essentially saying to them, “I want to tell you so much more about the glory of Christ. But in order for me to able to do so, you first need to grow up. It’s time to grow up!” And I believe that is the message for all of us tonight. RSI, it’s time to grow up!
Three things that we can learn from this passage. Grow up; Go on to maturity; The consequences of not growing.
Hebrews 5:11-13 – 11 About this we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. 12 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. You need milk, not solid food, 13 for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child.
Here we find the author of Hebrews wants to say so much more about Jesus but his recipients are not ready. Why are they not ready? Because they have become dull of hearing. Now, it does not mean that there is something wrong with their hearing. Their ears are perfectly capable of hearing. However, even though they hear, they do not really hear. They have become dull of hearing. The word dull is literally translated as sluggish. They are sluggish in the way they hear. So their problem is not that they are not able to hear but they have become lazy in their hearing.
Let me explain. One of the thing that I get to do as a preacher is I get to travel to different places quiet a lot. Especially to Indonesia. And no, I do not travel to Indonesia by car nor boat. It would take months and you would find yourself a new pastor if that’s the case. I travel to different places using airplane. And every time I get into the airplane, before we take off, something always happened without fail. They always show the safety procedures. “This is how you fasten your seatbelt. This is how you put on your oxygen mask. And this is how you used your emergency air bag.” Okay, let’s be honest now. How many of you actually listen to those safety procedures? Sometimes I feel sorry for those flight attendants, especially in some domestic flights. Because unlike International flights that use video, in some domestic flights the flight attendants have to demonstrate it and tell it to us. So, I tried to pay attention and listen to them. But it only took few seconds before my mind went “poof” and by the time the demonstration ended, I did not remember a thing they said. Anyone can relate with me? What happen at that time? I hear but I do not really hear. I can hear what they are saying but I am too lazy to process what they are saying.
This is what happen in the book of Hebrews. The recipient of the letter hears what the author is saying but they have become sluggish in their hearing. They simply hear with one ear, possibly affirm what they hear, and they leave. They never process what they are hearing. Does it sound like some of you when you hear the sermon being preached? You hear me but you have become dull of hearing. And the problem is not mainly intellectual. Okay, let’s admit that sometime a preacher can preach a sermon that makes us go, “That was a deep sermon. It is so deep till I don’t have a clue what he is preaching.” It’s possible. But that’s not the problem here. The problem with them is not an intellectual problem but a heart problem. They hear but they are lazy in the way they hear. They are not paying attention to what they hear. Because if they hear properly and they are not sluggish in their hearing, they should be teachers already by now. They should be able to teach others already by now. Which tells us an important thing. Every Christian has the responsibility to teach the truth of the Bible to others. Did you hear me? It does not mean everyone should be preacher like me. I’ll be out of job soon if that’s the case. But every Christian should be able to teach others about Christian truths. Every Christians are called to make disciples. Every Christians. Not just pastors. However, the recipients of the letter of Hebrews are not able to do so. Instead of teaching others, they need someone to teach them again the basic principles of the oracles of God. The word “again” tells us that they are not new Christians. They have been taught the truth of the Scriptures before but they keep forgetting what they should have known already because they have become dull of hearing. So they keep needing someone to teach them the basic again. They need milk and not solid food. And that’s a problem.
Please note that there is nothing wrong with learning the basic and milk. Basic principles are extremely crucial. It is like learning Alphabet. It is extremely crucial for you to learn your ABC. But you don’t stop there. You need to know your ABC in order to learn words. And then you put words together to construct sentences and convey meaning. Learning your ABC is very important. However, if you keep forgetting your ABC, then you have a problem. There is nothing wrong with a baby drinking milk as their primary diet. Milk is important. It is how the baby grow. There is nothing wrong with Reynard walking around in a diaper and sucking a bottle of milk. However, something is very wrong if Jejep is walking around in a diaper and sucking a bottle of milk. Right? Try not to picture it in your head. It will give you goose bump. But that is what’s happening here. The author of Hebrew is saying that by now his audience should be able to eat medium rare rib-eye steak yet they are still sucking their bottle of milk. They are unskilled in the word of righteousness, which in this context refers to the gospel.
Hear me out on this. I love the fact that in RSI right now we have different groups of people. There are some of you who are not Christians and are exploring. To you, I want to say, “welcome.” This church is a safe place for you to continue to explore Christianity. We will not make you sign a form that say we will only give you three chances to explore Christianity and if you have not believed by the end of it, then you are out. You are welcome to take as long as you need although I will continue to push you toward a decision. Not because I did not respect you but because I am convinced this is a matter of eternal life and death. I want you to believe what I believe because I believe Jesus is the only way to eternal life. The most unloving thing I can do to you is to not say anything to you and leave you walking toward eternal punishment. There are also some of you who are new into Christianity, or maybe you are not new Christians but you are new in the gospel. My prayer for you is that you continue to drink the milk and grow in the gospel. There are also some of you who grow in the gospel and are able to teach others about the gospel. I am thankful to God every time I see your growth in Christ. You are my pride and joy before God. However, there are some of you who have been Christians for many years, who have been exposed to the message of the gospel for years, and yet you are still sucking bottle. And that is not okay. This is not normal. A living being always grow. If you are not growing, then you are not living. You ought to be teachers by now and yet you still need others to teach you the basics. And to this group of people, I want to say, “Grow up! Do not become dull of hearing. Pray that God gives you a heart that is receptive to his words, start drinking your milk and become mature with milk. God has medium rare rib eye steak prepared for you but you cannot eat it yet. So, grow up.”
Go on to maturity
Hebrews 5:14-6:3 – 14 But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil. 6 Therefore 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, 2 and of instruction about washings, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. 3 And this we will do if God permits.
So now the question is, how do you grow up? How do you go on to maturity? How do we move on from drinking milk to eating steak? The answer is not one that we expected. We expect the answer to be, “You need to study more. Learn more. Read more. Then you will grow up.” But that is not what the author of Hebrews is saying. Knowing the basics are important. But those basics are only the foundations. Foundations are not the goal of something. Foundations are something you lay down in order to build something on top of it. Correct? So the author of Hebrews says that we need to leave the elementary doctrine of Christ. He is not saying that we should move on from Christ and talk about something else other than Christ. He cannot be saying that. That is inconsistent with everything else he writes in the letter about focusing on Christ, looking to Christ, hold on to Christ. And it is consistent with what he wants to do. The author of Hebrews wants to talk more about the glory and beauty of Christ as a high priest after the order of Melchizedek. But he is taking this side step because some of his recipients are not ready. So, what is he saying? He mentions three couplets of truth that function as foundations. First couplet – repentance and faith. Second couplet – washing and laying of hands. Third couplet – resurrection of the dead and eternal judgement. These truths are the teaching of the Old Testament that the Jews believe and all of them are pointing to Jesus. That is why he calls it the elementary doctrine of Christ. And now his argument is, “Stop replacing and rebuilding the foundation again and again. The teaching of the Old Testament is great. Foundations are crucial. You cannot build anything without foundations. But the purpose of foundations is not for you to admire the foundation. The purpose of foundation is so that you may build on it. Christ is the building. Christ is the purpose of those foundations. Don’t get too caught up in the foundations until you forget the building.” Are you with me?
But here is the most interesting part. So how do you go on to maturity? How do we move on from milk to steak? Do you want to know the answer? It will surprise you. It surprised me for sure. The answer is not more learning. The key to go on to maturity is not an intellectual capacity but an obedience capacity. Obedience is the key to growing mature. Pay attention to verse 14. Hebrews 5:14 – 14 But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil. Powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil. This is talking about obedience capacity. Maturity is less about what you know but more about practicing and living out what you know. The more you practice and live out what you know, the more you are able to discern good from evil, the more mature you become in Christ.
Let me illustrate it for you. Most of you know that I do not drink Alcohol. I do not hold on to this conviction as an unnegotiable truth. Which mean, if there are special occasions that require me to drink, then I’ll drink with a healthy conscience. It’s not a matter of sin or not sin. But in general, I do not drink. Now, let me tell you why I choose to not drink. Back in 2007 when I graduated from my first Bible College, me and my group of friends decided to celebrate our graduations by drinking some beers. And I never drink beer before. That was my first experience. But I did not want to look like I never drink before in front of my friends. So I decided to have few cans within one hour. By few, I means seven. And yes, I was drunk. Can you imagine that? On my graduation day from a Bible College, in the house complex within my Bible College, I was drunk. I lost control of myself and began to do few stupid things outside of my unit before I then threw up in the bathroom. Good thing it was after my graduation otherwise I might get expelled from a Bible College on my graduation day because of getting drunk. And I’ll forever be known as “the pastor who got drunk and expelled on his graduation day.” That day I learned the danger of alcohol and the thin line between drinking and getting drunk. I also learned that I am not the type that have a high tolerance toward alcohol. So I made a promise that I’ll limit myself to one or two can of beers. But along the way, I encountered many people who had a drinking issue and made a big mess of their lives. And I also encountered many Christians in the church who had a past drinking habit that they continue to struggle with.
At first, drinking a can or two is fine with me. It is not sinful. Alcohol and wine are gifts from God for us to enjoy. But as I continue to practice my limitation on alcohol, I realized more and more that I am not helping those in the church who have a drinking problem. There is a thin line between drinking and getting drunk. And for those who are struggling, it is best for them to stay away from drinking altogether. And I did not do them any favour if I continue to drink alcohol in front of them. Add to it the fact that we live in a culture that do not see getting drunk as a sin. Getting wasted on the weekend is seen as part of life. That is why, few years ago, I decided that one of the way I can love the people as their pastor is to not drink alcohol. Not because it is sin. But simply because for those who are struggling with drinking issue, one of the most loving thing I can do for them is to not drink alcohol. I don’t want any of you to say, “Well, my pastor is drinking. It won’t hurt for me to have a sip.” And then you end up getting drunk and fall back to your past addiction. Now, I’m not saying that all of you should stop drinking alcohol. Please do not hear me say that. Some of you have the gift of drinking 24 pack in an hour and not drunk. Go and drink. But in my case, to go on to maturity, loving Christ and living Christ, requires me to stay away from alcohol. And I do not end up with this decision overnight. I arrived here through practicing obedience. From getting drunk on my graduation, to realizing the danger of alcohol, to witnessing people’s struggle, to learning to love Christ and love you as your pastor. Step by step. That is how I grow in maturity. That is how I move from milk to solid food. I keep drinking the milk that I know – love Christ and love others. And as I let the milk take effect on me, I am growing as a Christian. Now I can understand more when Paul says that Christian life is not about you eat or don’t eat, but at the same time those who are strong in Christ have the resposibility to care for the weak and do not make them stumble. This is how we go on to maturity as Christians. Moving from milk to meat is not about intellectual capacity but obedience capacity. You do not become mature by more learning but by more obedience. Your obedience to Christ increases your capacity for Christ.
As you practice your obedience to Christ, you will be able to discern and distinguish good from evil. There are many things that the Bible is black and white. It is clear. Such as, do not get drunk. But then there are also many things that the Bible are not black and white, which requires us to practice discernment. Should I drink alcohol? How much should I drink? Can I watch this movie or that movie? Can I wear this kind of clothes to the beach? Can I go clubbing? How far is too far in dating? These questions require discernment. And the more you practice the truth that you know, the more you are able to discern.
Hebrews 6:3 – And this we will do if God permits. This verse shows both limitation and hope of pastors. It shows limitation because ultimately, there is nothing I can do to make you grow in maturity. In fact, there is nothing you can do as well. Your growth is ultimately dependent on whether God permits you to grow or not. God is the one who governs the process of maturity. You do not become mature by will-power obedience. But it also gives me hope because God can make you grow. If God permits, then you will grow. And if you are in Christ today, then God already gave you everything you need to grow. He is working in and through you to accomplish his good purposes. He will not fail.
The consequences of not growing
Hebrews 6:4-6 – 4 For it is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, 5 and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, 6 and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt.
This is an extremely difficult part of the passage. It is possible to look into each detail and what does it mean to be enlightened, tasted heavenly gift etc. But I won’t go there. At least, not tonight. I’ll show you what the author is trying to say without going into the specific details. The question is now, what happen to those who instead of going on to maturity, they leave their Christian faith? Is it possible for Christians to never grow, leave their faith and still be saved? Can believers lose their salvation?
There are three ways to read this passage. First is to treat this passage as a hypothetical warning. So this is not a true situation but rather the author is ‘hypothetically speaking.’ He is creating a “what if” scenario that is unlikely to ever happen just for the sake of giving warning. This way of reading this passage is just non-sense. Why on earth would do the author gives such a strong warning if this scenario is not a real life situation? Why would you warn people of the sin that is impossible for them to commit? You can cross out this possibility. Which only leave us with two other possibilities.
The second way to read this passage is to warn genuine Christians to not commit the unforgiveable sin. This reading communicates that it is very possible for genuine believers to lose their salvation if they walk away from their faith in Christ. If you read the description in the passage, then it seems that the person being described is a genuine Christian. He is enlightened, tasted the heavenly gift, shared in the Holy Spirit, and tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come. But then something happens, and this person falls away from their faith in Christ. And the author says that it is impossible to restore this person again to repentance since they are mocking Jesus and his sacrifice by what they did. So, Christians can lose their salvations if they are not careful. This is a very popular view. However, there is one massive problem with this interpretation. It ignores the rules of interpreting scripture. Three main rules of interpreting scripture. One, Scripture interprets Scripture. We do not seek meaning of Scripture from our experiences but from Scripture. Two, Scripture never contradict itself. We believe that the whole Bible is inspired by Holy Spirit and it has no contradiction. Three, you interpret the not so clear passage in the light of the text that is clear in its meaning. So if you find a difficult passage that you are not sure what it means, you interpret that passage using other texts that is clear in its meaning.
Now, here is the problem of interpreting this text to mean that genuine believers can lose their salvation. The author of Hebrews himself disagrees with it. And not only that, Jesus would also contradict this view. And the whole Bible does not support this view. Let me just give you few Scriptures for the sake of time. Hebrews 10:14 – For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified. Meaning – Jesus’s death at the cross has perfected all our salvation for all time. It means you are perfected in the sight of God in one single moment. If you have been perfected, how can you fail in the process? John 10:27-28 – My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. It cannot get any clearer than this. They will never perish and no one can snatch believers from Jesus’ hands. None. I can see some of you are still not convinced. One more for a bonus. Philippians 1:6 – And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. God will complete his works in Christians. He will not fail. So whoever the person being described in Hebrews 6, he or she is not a genuine believer.
Which lead us to the third way of reading this passage, and I believe this is the correct one. This passage is a strong warning to Church goers. Those who might have confessed with their mouth that Jesus is Lord. Those who might have been baptised. Those who might have been involved in ministry. Those who might have understood the message of the gospel. Those who might have partaken the Holy Communion. Those who might have witnessed the power of God to save sinners. Everyone think you are Christians. You look and smell like one. Although I do not know what Christian smell like. You are in the church and you participate in all of God’s blessing toward the church. But you are not Christian. That is why you never grow. You never go on to maturity in Christ. You never truly repented of your sin. Here is the warning. If you do not repent and put your faith in Christ, there will come a time that your heart will get so hard that you will not want to have anything to do with Christ. You will leave the church and you will mock Jesus and his death. And if that time come, it will be impossible for you to repent. Not because God hates you but because your heart have become so hard that you do not want to repent. And my friend, this is a strong warning for the church people. If you do not believe this can happen, all you have to do is look at the life of Judas Iscariot. He was in the presence of Jesus and witnessed and experienced all the blessings of Jesus, yet he never really trusted Christ. He betrayed him and committed suicide. This is a warning to many church goers. Repent before it is too late. There is a line that you must not cross. If you cross that line, there is no turning back. I have no idea where that line is. But one thing I do know. If you hear this call of repentance and you want to put your faith in Christ, it is still not too late. God always accepts genuine repentance.
Here is another reason why I believe the authors is not trying to scare off genuine believers. Hebrews 6:7-8 – 7 For land that has drunk the rain that often falls on it, and produces a crop useful to those for whose sake it is cultivated, receives a blessing from God. 8 But if it bears thorns and thistles, it is worthless and near to being cursed, and its end is to be burned. The image the author of Hebrews gives us is not one land with two different results. The image he gives us is of two different land that produce 2 different results. The rain or the blessings of God fell on both lands. But one produced crop and the other produced thorn and thistles. Two different lands, two different results. Christians produces Christ-likeness through the blessings from God while the other produces thorns and thistles through the same blessings from God. You are either Christians or you are not. You are either growing or you are dying. You are either saved forever or you are not saved at all. Here is the best way I know how to put it. If ten or twenty years from now, you hear that Yosia Yusuf walk away from his faith and forsake Jesus, then everything you hear from me as your pastor is never real. I did not lose my salvation. I never had it in the first place. I was just fascinated with this thing called Christianity but I never have genuine faith and trust in Christ from the very beginning. Can genuine believers fall into sin? Of course. We have examples of it all throughout the Bible. Just look at King David. The man after God’s own heart. The man who wrote most of Psalms. Yet he slept with the wife of his friend and got her pregnant. And then he murdered her husband to cover it up. But when God rebuked him, David repented. A genuine Christian is not one who do not sin but one who sinned and repented from their sin and persevere in their walk with Christ. They are those who go on into maturity in Christ.
So, here is where I want to land the plane tonight. This passage calls us to examine ourselves. Have we become dull of hearing? Are we growing in our walk with Christ? Are you living out what you believe? Or are you still sucking your bottle after 10 years of following Christ? How is your heart tonight? Are you growing in your affection for Christ? Or is your heart cold toward him? Here is what I know. Some of you might be on your way to hell right now. You think you are okay because you are in the church but being inside the church does not guarantee anything. And tonight I am instilling fear in your life but it is not because I hate you. It is because I love you. Some of you need to be afraid tonight. Some of you need to question whether you are truly Christian or not. The only assurance you can have that you are Christians is that you have fellowship with Christ. You are walking in obedience to him. You are growing in your affection and love for Christ. But if you do not have fellowship with him, if you continue to harden your heart and do not repent of your sins, the most loving thing I can tell you tonight is that if something happens to you when you walk out of this building and you die, you will not be with Jesus. You will be burned in hell for eternity. But if you repent of your sin, if you put your faith and trust in Jesus, then know that he is faithful and just to forgive you from all of you sins. You will be in his arm forever and nothing can snatch you from his grip. He will love you to the end. Let’s pray.
- What is “dull of hearing”? What is the cause of it?
- “Every Christian has the responsibility to teach the truth of the Bible to other.” What does it tell us about our maturity in Christ?
- Is spiritual milk a good thing or bad? What is the purpose of “milk”?
- What is the key to go on to maturity? How does it trained our powers of discernment?
- Read Hebrews 6:3. What does it tell us about our growth?
- What are the 3 rules of interpreting Scripture? How does it help us to interpret Hebrews 6:4-8?
- What is the mark of genuine Christians?
- Are you growing in maturity as Christians? Is there any area of your life that you need to surrender to Christ?