“Therefore, let us leave the elementary teaching about Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works, faith in God, teaching about ritual washings, laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. And we will do this if God permits.” (CSB – Read the chapter)
Living things grow. All of them. If there is something that is living, that something is growing. Now, what growth looks like isn’t the same for every living thing. Our oldest has grown something like eight inches in the last eighteen months (we’re taking up a collection for clothes and shoes…). His growth has been hard to miss. I haven’t gained an inch of height in decades (although I have gained a bit about the midsection). My growth looks different from his. But we’re both living and so we’re both growing. As the author of Hebrews begins a section that is perhaps the most infamously uncomfortable of the whole letter, he continues the argument we looked at yesterday that a living faith must be a growing faith. Let’s start here and then next week we’ll continue working through these challenging verses together.
In yesterday’s post, we talked through the author’s challenge to his audience that they were too lazy to understand what he really wanted to tell them. He expected them to be growing…and they weren’t. And it wasn’t because of his lack of teaching abilities. It was because they hadn’t put in the work necessary to grow. If we’re being really honest, someone who professes to follow Jesus but really isn’t putting in the work to grow in their faith is something we consider to be not good, but not all that bad either. I mean, as long as they aren’t doing something really bad like sinning, a slow pace of growth in their faith is a pretty small matter.
But what if it isn’t? What if a lack of growth is a whole lot more significant of a thing than we would normally consider it to be? That’s a bit of a preview of where he’ll be taking us next week. Keep in mind as we go that the next section all flows out of his concern that his audience isn’t growing in their faith like they ought to be. If you aren’t growing like you ought to be…well…perhaps it all applies to you as well.
In any event, what about this passage? He outlines here for us some of what he considers to be the basics of the faith that we should strive to move beyond. What are these basics? Repentance from dead works. One of the absolute basic truths of the Gospel we must have down if our claim to faithfulness is to mean anything at all is that works cannot save us. There is nothing we can do on our own to secure our salvation. Nothing. Not a single thing. Any thought otherwise is rooted in self-righteousness. There is no amount of righteousness you can manage to produce on your own that will make you fit for God’s kingdom; that will leave you measuring up to His holiness. If that’s an idea you’re struggling with at all, you’re stuck in Faith 101. Getting your heart and mind around the fact that you can’t work your way into salvation is basic. Get that down or you’ll never move on to the sweeter, deeper truths of the faith.
The next is faith in God. This goes right along with repentance from dead works. When we have turned our back entirely on trying to secure salvation by our own efforts, what is left is putting our faith in God to do the work for us. Our need for faith in Him goes well beyond mere salvation. Our very life and breath in Christ happen by faith. We trust in Him to provide all of our needs. We trust Him to direct our steps and to give our lives meaning and purpose. This is basic. It is a foundational point that will allow us to do more things with our relationship with Jesus than we can without it. If you want do calculus, you have to know algebra. You have to know addition and subtraction. This is like 2+2=4. Learn it to progress.
The next thing on the list sounds a little odd – teaching about ritual washings – but this is just talking about baptism. Baptism (by which any of the guys who contributed to the Scriptures would have meant being fully immersed in water and drawn back out) is not essential to salvation in and of itself, but it is a powerful symbol of the transformation that has taken place in our lives. This symbol is so powerful, in fact, that the guys who wrote the New Testament didn’t have a category for an unbaptized believer. If you haven’t been baptized and you are following Jesus, you really should consider changing that.
Also sounding odd to us is the next on the list: laying on of hands. This one sounds odd to us because it’s not something we practice very often anymore. This wasn’t any kind of magical spell – magical thinking has no place in the life of a follower of Jesus – but rather another important symbol. We see this practiced throughout the New Testament. Whenever a follower of Jesus encountered a significant moment in his or her walk, other believers came along beside them and laid their hands on them and prayed. This was about communicating the solidarity and connectedness of the community of faith. Some faith traditions today have placed quite a lot of substance in this to the point of arguing that certain things aren’t possible without the laying on of hands, but I think that’s a step too far. But the reminder of the importance of the community of faith and the necessity of our being connected to it in order to grow healthily as a believer is basic nonetheless.
The last two things here go together: the resurrection of the dead and eternal judgment. There is a day coming when we will get to take part in Jesus’ resurrection. Our bodies will be transformed or replaced with resurrection bodies that will be fit for eternity. On that day, God will judge the living and the dead and reward each according to their works. And if it sounds terrifying that God will judge you according to your works, it should. That’s why repentance from dead works and faith in God are so important here. We repent from our dead works, place our faith in God through Christ, and we will be judged on that day according to Jesus’ works. That will go a whole lot better for us. Without that covering of grace, though, the results will be just as bad as you might be imagining.
The author’s larger point here is, again, that all of these things are basic. If you don’t have a firm grasp on these things, you need to fix that. You need to do whatever is necessary to grow in your knowledge and understanding of them. Study the Scriptures, yes, but do more than that. Read books about them. Have conversations with believers who do have a better handle on them. Ask questions and pursue their answers. Commit your whole being to growing in your grasp of these foundational points so that you can move beyond them to the treasures waiting for you further down the road. Apart from this, it’s not really accurate to say you are growing. And if you’re not growing…well…that’s not a good thing. If you’re not growing, the author’s words that we will engage with more next week become a whole lot more important. So grow. There’s no time like now to get started.