The writer is challenging his readers to make sure that they continue to grow towards spiritual maturity, because at the moment they seem to be continuing in a kind of childhood. He will also tell them not to trust that they are saved on the basis of past experiences alone. They must be producing spiritual fruit and must persevere in doing so – this is the basis on which there can be assurance of salvation!
LOOKING BACK (Hebrews 5:11-14)
We felt the rebuke of the writer for his readers. It seems he was frustrated that he had to break into his treatment of the deep and glorious truths surrounding Melchizedek because he realized it would go over their heads. They had become dull, or sluggish in their spiritual hearing and as a result their spiritual growth had been stunted. They were still babies, still needing a diet of spiritual milk when by rights they should have been weaned onto solid food by now, having become able to communicate the basics of the faith to others. Ouch! Something had gone very wrong inside them, and they were in a dangerous place as a result.
Sadly, this is the condition of many in the churches in America these days. They have no hunger to grow near to God and to be more like Jesus themselves. They are happy to be spoon-fed with things that entertain them rather than doing the hard yards that it can sometimes take to grow in spiritual maturity. The question we were asked from this passage is this – does this sluggishness and spiritual hardness of hearing describe us?
We were encouraged if we felt that this is a problem we have not to become negative and beat up on ourselves but to repent and to return to God, (Who ever stands ready to forgive the truly repentant) asking Him for grace so that we might do (and keep doing) the training we need to be able to distinguish good from evil, so as to do the first and keep away from the second.
LOOKING AHEAD (Hebrews 6:1-12)
Having thus rebuked the readers, the writer then says, in effect, “Let’s go on to maturity! Snap out of the sluggishness and start training!”
But then the writer has to deliver another, shocking warning. He lays before them in Hebrews 6:4-5 a list of wonderful spiritual experiences that some people clearly have and yet still fall away. When they do this, the writer says, there is no hope of bringing them back to repentance. They have been blessed with abundant and glorious experiences (note the spiritual enlightenment, the spiritual tasting – mentioned twice – the experience of powers and gifts that the writer mentions) and yet are living as if Christ’s crucifixion was meaningless. You can almost hear them saying, “Yeah, I tried that Christianity thing. It felt cool for a while but in the end I wanted more, so I dropped it like a bad habit.” There were people at the cross as Jesus drew near to death who wanted an experience from Him – offering to believe in Him if He would come down from the cross, hoping that Elijah would come in response to His agonized cries so that their thirst (even addiction) for experience and signs would get another fix. When they didn’t get it, they were disappointed and moved away to something else. Those who go down this path are treating the cross with contempt, and can so harden their hearts against God (despite being so blessed by Him) that He will not grant them repentance to salvation, says the writer, in effect. The things that show a person is truly saved are spiritual fruitfulness and perseverance (Hebrews 6:7). Those who show no fruit and/or do not persevere in fruitfulness are not true disciples (Hebrews 6:8).
Having thus shocked the readers, causing them to understand that if they don’t keep going through these hard times there can be no assurance as to their salvation, the writer brings a word of comfort in verses 9-10. They have shown the fruit of love and the labors that come from it as they have served brothers and sisters in Christ. “Very well,” says the writer in verse 11, “now carry on doing that – persevere in it to the end as do all those who inherit the promises of God – and don’t be sluggish any longer, given the dangers of that behavior!”
What are we relying on as evidence of our salvation? Spiritual experiences are wonderful things, but if there is no fruit and if there is no perseverance in true spiritual fruitfulness, they are not enough to reliably indicate that our sins are forgiven and we are true children of God.