Press on to Maturity
(The following text is taken from a sermon preached by Gil Rugh in 1978.)
The author begins chapter 6 with the word "Therefore." This is an admonishment to the Hebrews to take heed to what has just been said in 5:11-14. The author is saying, "I have have just told you about your dangerous condition of becoming sluggish, and dull of hearing. I have compared you to infants who do not even understand the Law with which you have been raised. Therefore...let me tell you what to do. Leaving the elementary teaching about the Christ, let us press on to maturity... ." One will notice that the Hebrews are commanded to leave one thing and move forward in another. They are commanded to leave the elementary things (the Law), and press onward to Maturity (Christ).
The word "leaving" is in the aorist tense, indicating a completed action in the past. The Hebrews were trying to mix the Levitical system with Christ, and that really is not an option. Instead, if they are to be pressing forward to maturity in Christ, they must leave the old system behind. This is the same word, "atheame," that is used for "divorce" in Corinthians 7:11. It means "to send away." The idea is one of total abandonment, and detachment. The Hebrews were to totally separate themselves from the old Levitical system of worship and then devote themselves completely to worshiping and serving the Lord Jesus Christ.
We also see this word used several times in Matthew. For example, Matthew 4:19-20 says, "And He said to them, 'Follow Me and I will make you fishers of men.' And they immediately left the nets, and followed Him." This is an excellent example of the kind of separation that is demanded of the followers of Christ. The apostles were told to leave their familiar life and follow Christ. What did they do? They set down their nets and left everything behind in order to serve the Lord. Some other examples of the use of the word "atheame" are found in Matthew 4:22, 8:15, 19:27, and 26:56. In every example, the meaning is the same: a complete separation and detachment from the referred object.
The Hebrews are commanded to leave "the elementary teachings about the Christ." Now, this is not a reference to the gospel. Nowhere in Scripture are we told to separate ourselves from any aspect of the gospel of Christ. In fact, we are commanded to stand firm on the basics of the gospel (1 Cor 15:1, 2). This phrase means the same thing as "the elementary principles of the oracles of God" that we examined in 5:12. The point is, we are never to desert the basics of the gospel of Christ, and this is not what the author is referring to in 6:1. The "elementary" teaching about Christ can be translated "the beginning word of the Christ," or "the first word of the Christ," and refer to the Old Testament system that the Hebrews were familiar with.
The contrast is the same as that which we examined in 5:14. The author is exhorting the Hebrews to leave Judaism behind, and become mature by believing in the person and work of Jesus Christ. Judaism cannot bring one to maturity, while true Christianity does bring us to perfection (literally "tilleos," meaning "to have all its parts").
The seventh chapter of Hebrews illustrates this comparison. In verse 11 it says, "Now if perfection (tilleos) was through the Levitical priesthood (for on the basis of it the people received the Law), what further need was there for another priest to arise according to the order of Melchizedek, and not be designated according to the order of Aaron?" The Levitical priesthood could not bring perfection or maturity, so Christ had to come for that purpose.
Verse 19 reiterates the same point; "(for the Law made nothing perfect), and on the other hand there is a bringing in of a better hope, through which we draw near to God." Again, the Law did not perfect anyone. But the salvation that is offered through Christ is eternal. We are to be leaving everything else that stunts our growth in order to become mature through Christ.
The writer expresses the same idea in 10:1; "For the Law, since it has only a shadow of the good things to come and not the very form of things, can never by the same sacrifices year by year, which they offer continually, make perfect those who draw near", but through Christ, ''...by one offering He has perfected for all time those who are sanctified" (Heb 10:14). The New Covenant (New Testament) has made the Old Covenant (The Mosaic Law) obsolete (Heb 8:13). If the Old Covenant is obsolete, why would we hold on to it? We need to abandon it and cling to what makes us mature, which is the New Covenant (Christ).
The writer proceeds to outline six principles we are to avoid that characterized the Levitical system, beginning at the end of verse 1; ''...not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God." This was a foundational message in the Levitical system. People were to do things that were pleasing to God, continually repenting of their dead works.
The point that the writer is making in verse 1 is: as we come to Christ we still repent, but not from dead works. Dead works serve only to bring death, and condemnation. The repentance associated with the Old Covenant is no longer binding. Christ offered Himself on our behalf, once for all time (Heb 9:13), so that our repentance is associated only with our faith in Christ. John, in Acts 20:21, walked from house to house "solemnly testifying to both Jews and Greeks of repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ." As one can see, repentance is no longer associated with the Law, but with one's faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.
The second foundational principle under the Old Covenant system was faith toward God. This is not a foundational principle in Christianity. If I stood up and said, "I want to tell you the gospel. Believe in God, and you will be saved," that would be a false gospel would not it? The gospel is much more specific now. One is saved when he believes in the person and work of JESUS CHRIST. The Jews believed in God, but they were not saved. This is the meaning of the writer's exhortation to the Hebrews: you must believe in Jesus Christ. You cannot be saved by returning to the principles of the Mosaic system.
Paul underscores the essence of this in Galatians 2:15, 16; "We are Jews by nature, and not sinners from among the Gentiles; nevertheless knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus, even we have believed, and not by the works of the Law; since by the works of the Law shall no flesh be justified." Paul, a Jew, recognized that the Mosaic system was obsolete, and that salvation could only occur when one believed in the person and work of Jesus Christ. The foundational principle of our salvation is not a faith in God, but rather our faith in Jesus Christ.
The third foundational principle of the Mosaic system is illustrated in verse 2. The writer says, "of instruction about washings, and laying on of hands... ." Right away you might think, "This verse is referring to baptism, which is part of Christianity!" This is why it is important to understand the context and word usage of a verse. The word for baptism is "baptisma," while the word for "washings" in verse 2 is "baptismo."
This term is used only three times in the New Testament. In Mark 7, a discussion had arisen because the disciples of Christ were eating bread and they had not washed their hands, which was part of the Jewish tradition. The Jews cannot understand how these men can be spiritual and not wash their hands. Now, I believe washing our hands before we eat is a good idea too. But not as a mark of our spirituality. Mark 7:3, 4 say, ''(For the Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they carefully wash their hands, thus observing the traditions of the elders; and when they come from the market place, they do not eat unless they cleanse themselves; and there are many other things which they have received in order to observe, such as the washing (baptismos) of cups and pitchers and copper pots.)" As one can see, the term "baptismos" has nothing to do with baptism. The Jews washed themselves and their utensils as part of a ritual to avoid defilement.
The picture in Hebrews 9 is the same. The writer emphasizes that the rituals of the Jewish system do not perfect the worshipper (vs. 9), "since they relate only to food and drink and various washings, regulations for the body imposed until a time of reformation" (vs. 10). The Levitical system does not perfect anyone. But the salvation provided through Christ is "once for all" (vs. 12). This is the same meaning we see in 6:2 as a foundational principle of the Old Testament Mosaic system. But remember, these things were only to be practiced until a "reformation" came. He exhorts them to leave it behind, because the true, perfect "reformation" has now come in the person of Jesus Christ.
The fourth foundational principle of the Mosaic system is the "...laying on of hands." The first response of some is that the writer is referring to the spiritual gift of healing seen in Acts, therefore he is referring to Christianity. However, it is clear that the referral is again being made to the Levitical system. Leviticus 1:4 says, "and he shall lay his hand on the head of the burnt offering, that it may be accepted for him to make atonement on his behalf." In the Old Covenant system, the high priest had to lay his hand on the animal that was being sacrificed for the people's sin to symbolize his identification with that animal. Although this was foundational to the Mosaic system, we now have a New Covenant. Christ is our one, final sacrifice, and the writer exhorts the Jews to leave the Old Covenant behind, and believe the New Covenant.
Continuing in verse 2; "...and the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment." Now, the Jews understood that there was going to be a resurrection, even though it is not clarified in the Old Covenant. For example Martha, a Jew, declared "...I know he (Lazarus) will rise again in the resurrection on the last day" (John 11:24). She understood that there was going to be a resurrection of some kind, although she did not understand all the details. Her understanding was limited to what she had learned from those who taught the Old Covenant. She did not have the understanding of one who had become mature, such as the resurrection of the bride of Christ at the rapture, the Old Testament saints being resurrected, the tribulation saints being resurrected, or the wicked being resurrected.
Paul, a man of Jewish descent, also understood the doctrine of resurrection through the Law and the prophets (Acts 24:14, 15), but this understanding of the resurrection is "elemental" in its state. We are to go on to the New Covenant, in which we can be made mature.
The Jews had limited knowledge on the truth of "eternal judgment" as well. Passages such as Ecclesiastes 12:14 illustrated the fact of a coming judgment, but the details are not known until the New Testament. The Jews understanding was "elemental". They would not fully understand until they abandoned the Old Covenant and trusted in Christ as their Lord and Savior.
Verse 3 is a transition between verse 2 and verse 4. The writer says, "And this we shall do, if God permits." There are two things the author may be communicating in this verse. He may be saying, "I will continue to teach you these things if God allows it." Or, he may saying, "You will go on to perfection if God allows you to." The point is God is sovereign over all things. Nothing will happen unless He "permits." Only by God's grace will someone be able to turn their back on false worship systems, and believe in the person and work of Jesus Christ and be forgiven for all their sins.
The parallel is no different for us today. The Jews were exhorted to abandon and separate themselves from their religious past. It was hard for them to do, and some of the Jews were torn between the Old Covenant and the New Covenant. They wanted to mix both together. Today, people wonder if they can stay in their old system of worship after they have become believers. The answer is NO! We are commanded to turn our backs on any false system of worship and go on to maturity in Jesus Christ.
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