Grace For The Journey
We are in a series of studies, verse-by-verse through the Book of Hebrews. Our study is called, “Captured And Captivated by Christ.” The writer encourages us to “fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith.” We are in chapter 6. Yesterday, we left off at verse 3 of chapter 6. Look at the context for a refresher. Back up to verse 11 of chapter 5. The writer of Hebrews was getting ready to talk about a high priest named Melchizedek. You note that in chapter 5 and the last part of verse 10 he says, “… according to the order of Melchizedek,” and then he adds in verse 11, “of whom (or about whom) we have much to say and hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing.” The writer was going to talk about the priestly order of Melchizedek, but he pauses for a moment to draw attention to a problem among his readers. He says in chapter 5, verse 11, “since you have become dull of hearing.”
We talked about this in terms of three phrases: spiritual perception, spiritual progression, and spiritual permission. Verse 11 in chapter 5 concerns spiritual perception. Do not be dull of hearing. Then, from verse 12 of chapter 5 forward is the word, Progression. Spiritual Progression. Every true believer progresses, grows, moves on from what he calls the “first principles” of the faith, the milk of the Word, progressing on to “solid food,” meatier teachings of the Word. Progression. Then the third phrase from verse 3 of chapter 6 is the word, Permission. Spiritual Permission. Chapter 6, verse 3 says, “And this we will do (this growing) if God permits.” We said that this verse points us upward to God who gives us grace to grow, He makes growth possible – but – not everyone will grow. Why? The author goes on to give the answer in verse 4 and following. Some will not grow – some will fall away from Christ. What a frightful thought! What we have in verses 4 and following is one of the most alarming passages in the Bible that teaches about the real possibility of being close to the things of God, even experiencing something of the benefits of God, but ultimately falling away to doom and destruction.
Most people use some kind of Global Positioning System when they drive to location that they are not familiar with, unless you are old school and you still carry around those hard-to-fold up paper maps in your glovebox. Most people use some kind of navigation system or app on their phones that provides turn-by-turn instructions. There is a new one I recently read about called WAZE. What is cool about this app is that it provides real-time traffic and road information. It is community-based. Folks are continually adding to it in real-time. You are traveling through Nashville and you get into awful traffic and it will say things like, “Traffic ahead. Take the next exit to save time.” It will reroute you and you will save time. Or there are other warnings like: “Look out, car pulled over ahead.” You will drive about a quarter mile and there it is, a car pulled over. Or, one that a lot of people like, “Be careful. Police ahead!” That is a warning a lot of people would especially appreciate.
This is the way believers in Christ should hear the warnings in the Book of Hebrews. If you are a true follower of Jesus Christ, then you are progressing on a journey, a pilgrimage, traveling along on your spiritual faith journey. You know where you are headed and you know you are going to get there. As we grow in our faith, God gives us information and directions, “turn-by-turn directions” from His Word. These warnings help us move forward in our journey, in our spiritual growth, in our progressing forward.
What I want to make clear is that
The warnings in the Book of Hebrews
Are not meant to unsettle true Christians.
The writer of Hebrews is not trying to get
True believers to question their salvation.
He is not trying to get Christians to doubt their salvation.
He is giving these warnings as a means by which
To encourage true believers to keep moving forward.
Like the helpful voice from the WAZE app, Christians hear the passages say to them: “Don’t stop . . . Turn here . . . Look out.”
Now, if some are reading these passages, and you are not Christians, then you will hear these warning passages very differently. And, in fact, remember the reason the writer is writing this letter to the Hebrews. He knows that some of them have gone back to the Old Covenant ways of Judaism. They have abandoned Christ and gone back to the Old Covenantal system of sacrifices, offerings, priests, and all the rest. They had fallen away from Christ. The writer is, in essence, saying: “Don’t you do that! You believe in Christ. Keep believing. Keep moving forward. Be careful. Turn here. Look out. Keep moving.”
Before we look more closely at our passage this morning, let’s place this passage, this warning, into a grid that will help us see its position among the other warnings in Hebrews. There are five warning passages in Hebrews. This is a key concern of the writer, these warning passages. We have already considered a couple of them. Here is a helpful breakdown for further study . . .
KEY CONCERN OF HEBREWS: THE WARNING PASSAGES
1. 2:1-4 – The first warning passage was back in chapter 2. Key word: Drift. You will remember chapter 2, verse 1, “Therefore we must give the more earnest heed to the things we have heard, lest we drift away.”
2. 3:7 – 4:13 – The second warning passage from chapters 3 and 4. Key word: Disobey. And you will recall the writer’s concern about his hearers not being like those Old Testament believers in the wilderness who through lack of faith disobeyed God. He says in chapter 4 verse 11 that believers are to be “diligent to enter that rest, lest anyone fall according to the same example of disobedience.” Do not disobey the Word of God.
3. 5:11 – 6:12 – Today we are studying the third warning passage. The key Word is Dull. Chapter 5, verse 11 warns us to not become, “dull of hearing.”
4. 10:19-39 – Despise.
5. 12:14-29 – Defy.
In time we will get to the other warnings in chapters 10 and 12. This is a helpful guide to review these passages at a future time. It may be something you would study for your own benefit, or with your husband, wife, or children, and take five weeks and look at one warning passage each week.
Today we will begin with chapter 6, verse 4 and following. I want to give you a very simple outline, one-word points that describe the flow of the passage. Three words . . .
- A Warning (4-6)
- An Illustration (7-8)
- An Encouragement (9-12)
We will deal only with the first point today; we will deal with the warning itself. We will not get to the illustration or the encouragement. We will save verses 7-12 for a fuller treatment tomorrow, Lord willing.
As we study these verses, I want to ask you, “Who do you think the writer is talking to here?” Verse 4 through 6 say, “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 (or when 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.” It sure sounds like he’s writing to saved people here. Most scholars believe he is.
There are those who believe that a person can be saved and then fall out of salvation. Or get saved and then lose his salvation. Now there are at least two problems with that view:
1) For those who believe a person can lose his or her salvation and get saved again or, in some cases, over and over again, this passage teaches that there is no “again.” Repentance again is impossible. The writer says in verse 6 that “it is impossible” … “if they fall away, to renew them again to repentance.” There is no “getting saved again” here. Here is someone who has fallen away from faith in the Lord and turned his back decisively and definitively on Christ. 2) Remember what we read before back in Hebrews 3. Hebrews 3:14, “For we have become partakers of Christ if we hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast to the end.” Those who are true partakers of Christ are those who “hold the beginning of their confidence steadfast to the end,” – which suggests those who do not hold their “confidence steadfast to the end” are not, nor ever were, “partakers of Christ.” To cite an old adage that Dr. Adrian Rogers used to say, “Faith that fizzles before the finish was flawed from the first.” That is a memorable phrase, isn’t it?! Put another way: True believers do not fizzle out, they finish. They persevere in their faith to the end.
True believers remain believers. They remain saved. They persevere to the end of their days. A basic Baptist refrain is: “Once saved always saved.” Now that is true, but I like to say it more accurately as, “Once saved, always persevering” or, “Once saved, always progressing;” “Once saved, always growing; “Once saved forever following.” True believers keep growing, keep following, remaining faithful to Christ, looking like Jesus, acting like Jesus, growing in their love for more Jesus. That is the true believer.
All I am doing here is a laying down little bit of systematic theology. We know this passage cannot be addressing true Christians because true Christians persevere in their faith, they “hold their confidence steadfast to the end.” And this is the whole of the Bible’s teaching on this matter. God does not contradict Himself. His Word contains no contradictions. Now there are difficulties in the Bible to be sure, but there are no contradictions. If we turn elsewhere in the Bible for passages related to this matter of persevering in our faith, then we will find those passages to be in agreement with what we are studying here. Elsewhere the Bible speaks encouragingly about the Christian’s salvation as that which is permanent.
There are encouraging passages that provide strong assurance. Jesus, for example, in John 5:24, “He who hears My Word and believes in Him who sent Me has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, but has passed from death into life” and in John 10:28, “And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand.” Once saved, forever following. Romans 11:29 states, “For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.” Once saved, always progressing. Romans 8:38-39 declares, “For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Nothing can separate us from God’s love. Once saved, forever following.
If the writer is not addressing true Christians, then just who does he have in mind? Context is key. That is a good memory phrase: context is key. Want to know what a Bible passage means? Know that context is the key to unlocking the meaning. The immediate context and then the context of the Book. We read the verses surrounding the passage to get at the context. Then we take into consideration the greater context of the letter to the Hebrews.
The writer is addressing Christians who had come out of Judaism but were considering going back. Going back for a number of reasons, not the least of which was to avoid persecution from family and friends in the Jewish community. Like you and I, they were ridiculed at times for their faith in Christ. They were thinking about going back to the old ways, turning away from Christianity. Some already had gone back. The word used to describe the action of falling away, or turning away from Jesus is the word “apostasy.” A person who turns away from Christ is a person who has “apostatized,” they have abandoned Christ and renounced whatever they had previously believed.
The Apostle John mentions this very thing in 1 John 2:19 where he refers to those who abandoned Christ. He says, “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 they might be made manifest, that none of them were of us.” And this very thing was happening in the congregation the writer of Hebrews is addressing. Some had gone back to the old ways and the writer seeks to stop that regression.
This is why the central or major theme of this letter is the idea of “better,” woven throughout the 13 chapters is a bundle of words and phrases: “better,” “greater,” “more,” – these words occurring for a combined total of 25 times in the letter. We can sum up the Book of Hebrews in three words . . . Jesus is better. And the writer means, “better than what you had before. Better than what you left. Better than what you are thinking of going back to.” Like a navigation app he is saying, “Don’t do that. Stop. Turn here. Get back on the route. Jesus is better.”
Having considered the context, we then apply the simple rules of grammar to these word phrases in verses 4 through 6 and we are helped immensely. Verse 4 refers to those who were “once enlightened.” The word means to have light shine onto you. You are in a dark room and someone flips a switch, you are enlightened. You sit in a small group and a Bible teacher explains what a passage means and you are enlightened to understand it.
The next phrase in verse 4 refers to those who have – “tasted the heavenly gift.” Tasted the basic principles of Christianity. Got a taste of it, did not commit to it entirely, but tasted the heavenly gift.
Also in verse 4 is the phrase – “have become partakers of the Holy Spirit.” In the same way a non-Christian can taste the heavenly gift without committing to it entirely, so may an unbeliever become a “partaker of the Holy Spirit.” This word “partaker” has a wide range of meaning. It can convey both an intimate association or a more general and broader association, less familiar, less intimate. Here that general sense is in view – the idea of being “associated with” or “influenced by.” In verse 4, to be a “partaker of the Holy Spirit” is to be someone who has been in some sense associated with or influenced by the Spirit.
Of course, we know this is true from experience, don’t we? A person can enter into a worship service, and sense there is something unusual about it. You sense something special happening. Preaching, music, teaching of the Bible – these are all the means by which the Holy Spirit is moving and working. A person can receive spiritual benefit by the work of the Spirit in a general sense. Influenced by the Spirit, a partaker of the Spirit, without yielding completely, committing entirely to the Spirit.
Then in verse 5 the writer describes those who have “tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come.” And again, the idea is merely tasting of something, experiencing something, without necessarily moving beyond that taste. He gets a “taste” of blessing from the Bible or a “taste” of something of the work of almighty God. It can happen. Remember the warning from Jesus in Matthew 7:21-23? Near the end of His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus talks about this very thing – how people can taste something of “the powers of the age to come” yet not be true believers, “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ (powers of the age to come!) And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’”
It is possible to get really close to the things of Christ and even enjoy something of the power and influence of the Word and work of God – but still not utterly commit to Jesus Christ. Does this not explain the many people we know from Christian experience who once seemed to be “on fire” for the Lord, but have since fallen away. Emotional fervor, a heightened sense of spiritual awareness, enlightenment as the Word is preached, but ultimately falling away. They merely tasted the things of God.
Back in the mid80s, folks didn’t know anything about Chick-Fil-A. One of the ways they got folks to try Chick-Fil-A was through “sampling.” The majority of Chick-Fil-As were in shopping malls so what you did was cut up a couple filets into bite-sized chunks, put toothpicks in them, and walk out in front of the counter and offer free samples to anyone who came by. It really was a stroke of genius on the part of whoever came up with this marketing strategy. People would wander into the food court area of the mall and there they are giving out free samples of this good, godly chicken, amen?! The Baptist Bird! Hungry people – and not so hungry people – could hardly resist a free sample. And what happens to you when you get a taste of Chick-Fil-A? Someone has said, you say, “Heaven” … “I am in heaven.” Like a magnet you are pulled to the counter and order your meal.
But . . . not everyone responded that way. There were some who got a taste of Chick-Fil-A, but it was merely a taste. They got a taste of “the heavenly gift,” but they did not commit to anything further. They were blessed by “partaking” of the sample, but they did not continue on to further enjoyment of it. They just walked away.
Far more important than sampling food in the mall, is our tasting of the “good Word of God” and going on to further commitment and enjoyment of the work, the Word, and way of God. Perseverance. Following. Growing. Progressing.
Those who persevere in their faith are those who do more than merely taste the Word. They taste it and go on to further enjoyment of it. But those who do no more than taste, those who walk away and forget about what they have sampled, are in danger of finally falling away from Jesus.
The writer puts it this way in verse 6: “If (or when) they fall away, (it is impossible) to renew them again to repentance, since they crucify again for themselves the Son of God, and put Him to an open shame.” When people merely “taste” the Christian experience and then do not go on in the faith, but walk away, abandon Christ, they are in one sense “crucifying again the Son of God,” and “putting Him to an open shame.” In other words, to get so close to Jesus as to experience spiritual benefit from being associated with Him and His people, tasting of the Word, partaking of the Spirit, enjoying these blessings that come from God, and then you walk away and abandon Christ, does not make sense! You may as well have driven more nails into His hands and feet. You may as well have stuck His side again with a sword. You are crucifying Christ again by making Him a public spectacle of rejection.
That utter rejection is illustrated in verses 7 and 8. You will note the contrast in those two verses. One a field that produces fruit. The other a field that produces merely thorns and briers whose end is to be burned. Those who persevere in their faith are fruitful and those who merely taste the Christian experience are fruitless. One is supernaturally empowered to bear fruit. The other remains in his natural state and produces nothing.
But . . .
The writer is confident that those
Who hear him will go on from mere tasting
To full commitment, enjoyment, and surrender.
That is why he says in verse 9, “But, beloved, we are confident of better things concerning you.” Yes, better than a fruitless land of thorns and briers, you will be blessed with “things that accompany salvation,” things that are better than merely tasting of the Christian experience, better in that you receive the “full meal,” the fulness of Jesus Christ and your inheritance of the promises.
Let me say that if you are a follower of Jesus Christ and you desire more of Him, to go on tasting of the things of God, then you are in good company. There is a whole host of us who desire to go on believing, go on following, go on progressing.
Some of you, however, may be hearing about Christ for the first time. You are hearing that He lived a perfect life for you and died a substitutionary death for you, dying on the cross in your place, and rising from the dead that you may be saved. What will you do? Will you repent now? Will you turn to Christ now? Do not find yourself in that awful position where you will no longer be “renewed again to repentance.” Turn to Him now. Heed the Bible’s invitation, “Today if you hear His voice, do not harden your heart.” Heed the warning. Get on the right path. Follow Jesus. Be captivated by Christ. And go on following Him.
God, help us. Give us grace. Grace to believe the gospel. Grace to receive Christ. Grace to go on living for Christ. God help our family members, our loved ones. Some of us have sons or daughters, brothers, sisters, and loved ones who are not progressing. They are not growing spiritually. They are not going on in faith. Ask the Lord to give them grace to believe and to go on believing.
This is God’s Word …
This is Grace for your Journey …
Rest and Rejoice in this eternal truth!
Ephesians 4:7 – “But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.”
Hebrews 4:16 – “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”