The Critical Need for Spiritual Progress
By Pastor Burchett
March 8, 1987
We have before us here in Hebrews 6 the first 12 verses, a very remarkable passage of Scripture. Actually, it begins a few verses earlier which we will look at in a moment. And it has a very abrupt beginning and a very perplexing and disturbing ending to this particular section. But it has one theme throughout and that is spiritual growth. Growing up spiritually, changing. When I was a young father at home we had marks on a wall. We would mark off a ruler on top of their head where they were at that time. Then we would measure and each child would stand there straining for their worth, trying to get another fraction of an inch out to prove that they were really growing and so forth. Here God says to us. “Here my child. Come stand by the measurement. Let me see how you are doing spiritually.” Now this text is not asking you, are you a good person? God is not saying, “Come let me find out about the things that you believe.” That’s not it either. He’s not saying, “How active of a person are you? How active are you in the church?” He is not saying that either. But in this passage God is saying, “How is it in your personal character?” He is saying, “Are my purposes being realized for your life?” He is saying, “Are you becoming more and more like my Son the Lord Jesus Christ? Let me see and measure the impact that your life is having on the people around you. Let me discover what your place in the church really is and how edifying you are.” A Christian should and must grow spiritually in the likeness of the Lord Jesus Christ. That’s what this passage is saying in substance. And I’d like to suggest a couple of real strong reasons derived from the text, why we should thus grow.
First of all you find in the text the tragedy of no growth. And that we will find in the preceding verses, the last several verses of chapter 5 of Hebrews. And then we will discuss as we look in the first few verses of chapter 6 the urgency of new growth. First then the tragedy of no growth and then the urgency of new growth.
A Christian must grow in the likeness of the Lord Jesus Christ. Now the apostle Paul suddenly breaks off from a most wonderful passage of teaching. And he’s talking about something that we don’t hear too much about today. But he’s talking about Melchizedek. Do you know what Melchizedek is? One of the great titles of Jesus, and after he mentions the name in verse 10 of chapter 5, Melchizedek, he then drops the whole thing and he says how frustrating it is. I don’t know if I named, I may have said Paul but we’re not sure who wrote the writing of the book of Hebrews. We are not even sure who the Hebrews are. But these people who received this writing are certainly people we can identify with. They had needs and weaknesses. And right as he was undertaking this majestic subject about Christ, he stops and he says, “well, of him I have a lot of things I’d like to say to you, but I can’t since you have become dull of hearing.” And so he interrupts himself and then he begins this remarkable passage. And he is trying to talk to people who find his teachings very hard and very difficult. He said in verse 11 of Hebrews 5, “we have much to say and hard to explain since you have become dull of hearing.” But notice he isn’t saying, “Now these Scripture teachings are just so hard to explain in themselves. He says they’re hard to explain because you can’t hear them. There are things in your life which are interrupting your reception of truth.
And my commission today is to ferret out those things for you and for me. What is there in my life, in your life that is hindering the truth? May I just suggest something? If you’re busy reading a lot of cheap things, how can you then read the riches of Scripture? Or if you just don’t read at all and your mind is just going along having fun in life then how can you read the Scriptures? You’ve neglected something. There are people who punch in a cheap immoral video in the evening. And then wonder why they have no stomach for the Scripture. The Holy God won’t mix with that. You have to decide, do you want this God who is holy or do you want these other things? Are you in for fun? And so today people argue that these things help relax. They bless their marriage and so forth. And we never had such a scourge on married life in our whole day. Oh they are maturing people–that’s adult and being mature. We have never had such a scourge on our whole population because of immorality. Therefore, the Holy God will have no part of that. And he says, these things that you have been wrapped up in, you’re wrapped up in your summer home, you’re wrapped up in your things and your things and your things and your rights and your privileges until you’re not anxious over spiritual things. And God says, “I don’t speak to those who aren’t anxious over my things.” Dull of hearing. They are hindrances to it. Then he says in verse 12 and I’ll stay rather close to the text. Be sure you have your Bible open to Hebrews 5:12. “For though by this time you ought to be teachers. You need someone to teach you again, the first principles of the oracles of God.” You notice the apostle here is very different from most of us. Most of us have a thought that because I’ve been a Christian for quite a while I am grown up in the Lord. And so I’m addressing an audience today of many, many older Christians. You are not just older physically but you’ve been a Christian for a good many years. But let me just remind you that the Scripture point of view is that added time in the faith means added accountability to God. It doesn’t mean that necessarily that makes us strong Christians. It might mean how weak we are–God’s measurements are different. And that’s what the text is saying. He’s saying that by this time you ought to be teachers of other people but you are not.
Now it’s easier to get a person to teach a Sunday School lesson than it is to get them to be ardent teachers of other people. To handle God’s word and help other people and cleanse their lives. And he says, now by this time you have need of somebody to teach you. What are these first principles and by the way that word means literally what are the ABC’s of things. Can you imagine a fellow standing up reciting the ABC’s? And he gets part way and he bogs down. Now to get the full picture of it you have to picture this man. Let’s say he is about 6’1″ and he needs a shave and he is standing there in elementary school going, “A … B … C … oh , this is too hard!” That’s the thing God is seeing here. He says, by now you should be graduated. But he is talking about in the use of Scripture. You’ll see that. The whole church is to grow and the only way Christianity is propagated is when people go to maturity and teach others and bring them on with them. But he says, you have need of milk. Now this word “come to need milk” means — it’s the same as back in verse 11. You see the progression. Everybody is moving, nobody is static–we’re all moving toward graduation spiritually and into maturity or we are regressing. You’ll find the verse phrase near verse 11, “you have become dull of hearing and sluggish,” and so forth. Or at the end of verse 12, you have come to need milk. You’ve gotten back into the milk stage and not solid food. The two are put in opposition here. You don’t have to chew milk. And people just like their spiritual diet, they’re not in there digging and so forth. Now I know many of us have
regular kind of devotions. We have a little set pattern that we read. But that’s not what this is talking about. Let’s go on. This is talking about being able to use the Bible to help other people. And by now he says, surely you should be able to do that. Surely parents are teaching their children ardently and fully the Word of God. Surely you are able to handle Scripture and use it to teach and rescue people. And our congregation has many of who need rescuing. There are all sorts of failures and needs among us. And these are only met when God’s word is open and spoken clearly to one another. Not just cheering up each other. Not just relating to each other. But look what the Scripture says, “But for everyone who partakes only of milk.” What is a milk diet Christian? Well, he is one who is unskilled in the word of righteousness. Now, are you able to take the Scripture and help your neighbor? Do you take the Scripture and open that Scripture meaningfully and minister to your children? To your mother and father? Your brother and sister? Your neighbors in the church? It doesn’t say here, “For everyone who is mature he calls the Pastor to do this.” No it says, he does it or else he is in the milk stage yet. And God’s way of rating Christian growth you see is how well you handle the Scripture. How far you’ve gone on in memorizing and learning it and using it and writing it in letters to other people and blessing them through the truth. And he says, solid food for those who are strong in the Lord, that really belongs to those who are a full age, that really means full growth, not just chronologically, that is those who by reason of use have their senses — that’s all their faculties, their spiritual faculties exercised to discern both good and evil. These terms mean, habitually practiced in. The art of using God’s Word.
Now there are those who think of spiritual maturity as something that comes when they have some momentous special thing. And you’ll observe that there are certain Christians who spend their lives running around from one conference to another. They’re looking for their high moments that are going to boost them on and keep them in a maturing phase. Whereas God’s viewpoint is this — that it doesn’t have anything to do with any sudden secret burst of power. Maturity comes from the discipline of steady practice. Getting out of the bed — getting on my knees, calling on God — hungering after Him — pressing after Him, opening my heart to other people and letting God speak through me and using my faculties and spiritual things with the same consistency that you use the other powers of yours to pursue a profession, to get yourself through school. Why if the half-heartedness that Scripture gets from us was used in our school we would never be out of grade school. We’d still be back in kindergarten, we wouldn’t even get into grade school — and that’s what God is complaining about. He starts telling of the riches of Melchizedek. The heavenly glory of Christ and His function over the church. And he says, but I can’t tell you this. It’s so hard, I can’t talk to you. You are back saying, “ABC,” I can’t go on with you if you do not open your life and go forward with God.
Then he says, I have to teach more than that. And now we’re into chapter 6. And having dismissed this tragedy of no growth, he starts talking about new growth. And he says, there is an urgency that there must be new growth in a Christian because you are all sinking back into a belated babyhood. A delayed sub-adolescence. Or we are blossoming in new growth with God. And there is great danger if we’re not. So there is an urgency in this new growth. Did you know that from God’s point of view that the only protection against the peril of utter ruin spiritually is growing — progress is the only protection against this peril. Look in these opening words then. He says, “Therefore leaving the discussion of the elementary principles of Christ, let us go on to perfection.” The word “perfection” there is not to be taken in an absolute sense. It is rather a descriptive, comparative term saying Let’s go on to completion. Let’s complete the course. Let’s go on to maturity — that’s what it means. Some translator’s will put it just that way. He says, I must go ahead in the teaching and you must come over in your learning — let’s go on beyond toward to maturity. We cannot just re-lay the foundation again and just stay parked back there. Imagine a person building a new home and lays the foundation and goes and just sits there squatting in the middle of the foundation with his arms closed, folded and that’s where he is going to be. Then later he thinks about new buildings and super-structure and he goes back and sits again on the foundation. God says, “We can’t just keep doing this, we’ve got to go on.” And then he launches into a discussion and he uses I think about three pairs of terms of these basics. He says, These are the elements, the rudiments of our faith and he’s not saying we leave them in the sense of abandoning them. He says, Now we grow up from them — you build on them, but you don’t just stay parked on them. So what underlies our faith? You’ll find it there. You’ll find the foundation of repentance from dead works. All of the works of death which used to characterize the life before Christ came in and changed things. Faith toward God, the doctrine of baptisms, laying on of hands, of dedicating ones life to the full endowment of the Holy Spirit, no doubt. And the resurrection of the dead and eternal judgment. Those are awesome and very important teachings –those great principles there. But the apostle says, “Just hearing messages endlessly on that and about being saved and getting into heaven, all that” he says, “that’s great things but we’ve got to get on now. There are some things you need to know — that I want to teach.
That’s what he started back in the previous chapter. And incidentally, after he breaks off back there in chapter 5 at verse 10 and 11, he then later comes back to this grand subject and he talks about Jesus Christ who is alive from the dead and who’s in heaven, ever living to make intercession for us. He’s literally opening heaven for us. And he says, “Now come in this new blood bought way. Come and actually stand in the very holy presence of the Lord God Almighty under the ministry of this great high priest Jesus Christ.” And the apostle Paul spoke in another place, “Don’t set your mind down here on earth. Don’t keep your nose down here on earth to the grind stone of this world. But look up into heaven and remember Jesus Christ at the right hand of God. Set your affections there. He’s coming back again and we’re going to appear with Him in glory. Therefore, put to death these baser things and go on with God.” That’s the teaching he has for us. But you know, many of us, many of us don’t ever enter into those heavenly things — we never move on — we’re just stuck. But you see, the passage won’t allow that. You have to say, listen carefully, according to this text you have to say, “I will give up my confidence that I’m even a Christian or I will grow.” The Bible doesn’t allow the middle group. Christians everywhere today are taught things out of order. Before they’re ever taught this truth that I just gave you which is a very basic thing and which belongs to people in a milk stage. But before people are taught that, they are dangerously taught something else — they are taught their security. Which is out of order, it is not the order of truth to do that. It is not in the order of telling a child, now no matter what you do everything is going to work out okay. You’d better first teach them responsibility then teach them other things. You see, when you tell a Christian you can safely backslide, you’ll still be saved — you are actually feeding rebellion and presumptuous sin. And maybe that presumption will forbid some from ever being truly converted. The Bible makes no room for safe backsliding. It tells a person that whenever you backslide you are near the edge.
Let’s read on. You’ll see this scripture does teach what I’ve just said and teaches this very, very forcefully. And the teacher here goes on to say in verse 3, “and this will we do if God permits. We are going forward if the Lord permits it.” And what does he mean there? Probably he could mean that in the great sovereign purposes of God we’re dependent on the sovereign God. If he wills and allows it, then we’ll move in our study. Or perhaps he is saying because of the immaturity and the weakness — sin which has invaded our lives — you folks there in the Hebrews to whom he is writing — maybe he saying, “It’ll only be God’s help and whatever he determines with you, and I don’t know yet.” Or perhaps he is saying, “if God blesses my ministry and my message that I’m bringing to you we’ll go on. It is as he wills and permits.” The great Bible expositor John Owen, the Puritan of England has held that all three
of these emphases are there in verse three.
Now he comes to the section which is one of the problematic sections of Scripture. And I suppose when I used to intinerate and travel about this would be most often asked of me as I brought a strong evangelistic message and one would come forward and say, “I guess I can’t be saved,” and they would quote, they’d say, “I have a troublesome Scripture that tells me I can’t be.” And so then I would already know what the Scripture would be. This is one often people already quote and they are harassed in their hearts over it. The trouble is the devil harasses the ones that are not to be harassed with it and the ones who are in danger of this passage are unperturbed, don’t notice it even. It says in Scripture that it is impossible for those who were once enlightened and so forth in verse 6 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. That is a disturbing scripture.
It is saying to us one of three things. It has to be taken one of three ways. Is it talking of (1) people who have just tasted and really weren’t converted? Are they the one who fell away? Or is it saying that some who were (2) truly converted might apostatize and turn away and listen, it isn’t just fall in verse 6, but fall away from Christ. Is it talking about some who were once God’s children and they are gone, forever lost? Or is it, the only other way to take it (3) in a hypothetical sense? In other words, it is saying, if that would be the interpretation — let us suppose that a Christian should turn away. Or let us suppose if one were to drop out the word Christian, if one should turn away and supposing one who knew the way, turned away from the way, then he could never then be saved, so it’s a hypothetical statement. Many of the Bible teachers hold that. Look again at the text, it says near the beginning of verse 6 that if they did fall away it would be impossible to renew them again. So you have to hold that in mind and therefore it is saying that of whom this is spoken they can never be renewed if they fall away. So the one thing it is saying, you just can’t go in and out. “I know they were once saved but they’re lost now.” It is saying that can’t be done. Whatever it says, it says that. And probably we’re shut up to this teaching. It probably is saying to us that a person who does not come this one way of an eternal surrender to Jesus Christ will not be saved. There is only one way and that is to embrace the cross forever. And a person who reject that way, who understands it, to some degree knows it and if he should turn from that way, there isn’t any other way. It’s saying, God guards this one way. And supposing a man refuses that even after he’s known it then he will never be saved. There isn’t any other way. Any way you take it: To succeed in turning away is to be lost forever!
Let’s observe a few things about this very serious passage. You’ll notice in the 4th verse he starts a listing to describe the people to whom he gives this warning. He is talking about 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 even the powers of the realm beyond. O my, what wonderful things. Do you know, people use this in the exact opposite manner.
Our human hearts are so different from God’s way. He doesn’t think like we do. We need to come under submission, not of our sentiments, not of our emotions, but the solid truth of God. The Devil’s interpretations may be pleasant and what we want to hear. But God’s teachings go against the grain. Come up higher, says God Let me see how you measure. Will you take the sure word of righteousness and let that guard you? And live on the basis of my principles and not your emotions, not your expediencies. Now notice, we reason this way, “Well so and so, someone we love or something, so and so has, they had such a wonderful testimony — I know they are going to come back. They’re living for the devil now but they’re going to come back because they had all those advantages. They grew up in the church or whatever.” My friends, it’s the exact opposite he’s teaching. He’s saying that puts them in deadly jeopardy. This passage if it says anything, says this, that it is a principle that the greater the light a man abandons the more serious and the more difficult and the less hope we have that he’ll ever come back. That’s what the passage is saying — the danger of not going on with the truth once having it. My friends, there is just one comfort and foundation to stand on, just one answer to the peril that is talked of here and that is progress, going on with God, not fooling with God. Friend, it is not a comfort to say, “Well, I have been a Christian for so many years.” It is not a comfort to say that, “I have had all these advantages. I know I’ll come back.” It is the exact opposite in Scripture — that we are a stewardship and answerable for every advantage we’ve been given. And how often has the truth of God poured out like a flood unto the hearers. Men and women, we are responsible for God. We have the truth. And I fear that some of us have a great urgency, hear me now, some of us have a greater urgency to save the poor people beyond — to get the Gospel out and we have not grown with God and become skilled in the word of God and the principles of the Holy God do not determine the way we think. It has to just utterly up-end and change around our whole life. Or else we’ll just stay and God will say, “Come stand over here and let me measure, why, you’re not even
where you used to be; you’re shrinking, my friend.” That’s what he says at the end of verse 11 and the end of verse 12. You’ve gone back. And the Scripture says, “Oh if they fall away, how will you ever be renewed having known all these things for so many years? Shall we crucify afresh the Son of God and put Him to open shame? And then the apostle, the writer changes and he says something he never says in the book again. He says, “Beloved,” he calls them in the tenderest term, he says, “we’re confident of better things of you.” Things that accompany salvation. I see in you things that go along with the saving grace of God. Don’t stay back there. You belong to God. You remember how you used to serve Him? God won’t forget if you don’t forget. We desire, verse ll, that each of you show the same diligence, the full assurance and hope to the end. That you not any longer be sluggish and dull spiritually.
Friend, listen, how long, how long since you read the word of God with freshness and the truth of God spoke to you and you heard the voice of your Savior. Where is your God? He says, “I don’t want you to be dull and sluggish. I want you through faith and patience to take the promises of God in your life. God is a quickening, life-giving God. You cannot put your hand in the nail-scarred hand without the touch of resurrection power in your life. Either we have a hold of the God of life or a false idol that can never give life. Are you God’s child? If you will give yourself to Christ this is what he says. As the apostle goes in the very next chapter, this one verse, “He is able to save to the uttermost, forever, completely, onward, all who come unto God by Him because this Jesus Christ, God’s Son ever lives to make intercession for us.” There are some decisions that need to be made here. And friends you cannot just say, “well, that’s not our culture, that’s not our way of doing it. We just don’t do things outwardly. Friends, there are some sins that need straightening out. It is a rebellion against God to stay stuck in elementary school.
God wants you with a fresh new life. And He has Christ to give it to you there in the glory.