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About Me: I used to believe that evolution was reasonable, that homosexuality was genetic, and that people became Christians because they couldn't deal with the 'reality' that this life was all there was. I used to believe, that if there was a heaven - I could get there by being good - and I used to think I was more or less a good person. I was wrong on all counts. One day I finally had my eyes opened and I saw that I was not going to go to heaven, but that I was certainly going to suffer the wrath of God for all my sin. I saw myself as a treasonous rebel at heart - I hated God for creating me just to send me to Hell - and I was wretched beyond my own comprehension. Into this spiritual vacuum Jesus Christ came and he opened my understanding - delivering me from God's wrath into God's grace. I was "saved" as an adult, and now my life is hid in Christ. I am by no means sinless, but by God's grace I am a repenting believer - a born again Christian.
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Daniel's posts are almost always pastoral and God centered. I appreciate and am challenged by them frequently. He has a great sense of humor as well.
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[He has] good posts, both the serious like this one, and the humorous like yesterday. [He is] the reason that I have restrained myself from making Canadian jokes in my posts.
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There are some people who are smart, deep, or funny. There are not very many people that are all 3. Daniel is one of those people. His opinion, insight and humor have kept me coming back to his blog since I first visited earlier this year.
- Carla Rolfe
| Thoughts on Hebrews 6 as I prepare to preach on verses 4-8
|The author of Hebrews tells us that the things God commanded Israel on Mt. Sinai were ,"only a shadow of the good things to come and not the very form of things." (Hebrews 10:1b).
In other words the temple, the priesthood, and the sacrifices symbolized the good things to come. Whatever else may be included in the good things to come, we can be sure that the arrival of the Messiah, and the New Covenant are chief amongst them.
Looking back, we can see how the Mosaic Covenant prepared Israel (and the rest of the world for that matter) for both the New Covenant and the coming Messiah. The Law revealed to Israel who was a sinner, and also who was not. All of Israel sinned, but Jesus did not. By the Law we can disqualify every false Messiah, and identify the true Messiah, for only He was (or could be) without sin.
We don't often think of the Mosaic Covenant in terms of that which would eventually identify the Messiah - yet, that is one of the things that the Law did - it revealed Jesus as the only one able to keep the law, and thus qualified Him as the Messiah. The imagery of the Messiah's work in the reconciliation of God's people to God was displayed in the temple, the priesthood, and the sacrifices. These pictured what the Messiah would eventually do to reconcile God's people to Himself.
In the opening verses of Romans 8 we read:
Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh, so that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. [NASB]
The law identified you as a sinner, and condemned you to death. It did not make anyone righteous, because no one could keep it. Drill this thought into your understanding - even if you could keep the Law, doing so would not make you righteous. The Law cannot do that. You had to already be righteous in order to keep the law. Jesus kept the law because He was righteous.
The Law identified Jesus as the Messiah, and as the Messiah Jesus fulfilled all the things in the Law (including all that the Law pictured). The Law was waiting to be fulfilled by the Messiah, and once the Law was kept, God became obligated to keep His covenant with the one who kept the law: Jesus.
In that sense, once Christ kept the Law, God's covenant with Israel was "spent" - it had done all that it was meant to do, and could do: It identified the Messiah, foreshadowed His ministry, paved the way for the new/final/eternal covenant, and obligated God to bless Jesus with all the promised blessings of all previous covenants between man and God.
It is important to note that at the time this epistle was written many Jews and Gentiles understood Christianity to be another form of Judaism. You were a Pharisee was a Jew as was a Sadducee. In the same way the sect of the Nazarenes was considered just another Jewish sect.
In Acts 24, where the lawyer Tertullus is making a case before the Roman Governor Felix against the Apostle Paul, he refers to Paul as a ringleader of the sect of Nazarenes. In Acts 28, Paul arrives in Rome to discover that the Jews there have heard nothing bad about him, but wanted to hear what he had to say, "concerning this sect..."
Make no mistake, the Jews in Rome were not idly curious to hear to hear about the latest Jewish sect that was being spoken against everywhere. What they would have understood was that Paul, a Jew, was being put on trial in Rome - for being a Jew - who happened to be a leader in this new sect. Remember that these Jews in Rome were living in a pagan culture where political whim could and sometimes did lead to sudden ethnic cleansings. These Jews would have felt a very vested interest in everything Paul, as a "ringleader" of this new sect, had to say.
What I want us to understand here is how Christianity was being seen at the time that the epistle to the Hebrews was written. Christianity was seen the latest patch being sewn into the fabric of the Mosaic Covenant. It was new wine being poured into the worn out wine skin of the old covenant. Those outside the church did not understand that Christianity was never an amendment to the Mosaic Covenant, but rather the promised New Covenant for which the previous covenant had only been a placeholder. When the New Covenant came into being, the Mosaic Covenant ended - because it had served it's purpose. When what was perfect came (the New Covenant), what was in part (the Mosaic Covenant) was done away with.
It shouldn't surprise us to learn that Christianity was being misunderstood and misrepresented at the time. That still happens today. Most people are ignorant of what the bible actually says, but they have heard from various sources what the bible has to say - and a great deal of what they've heard is either not in the bible, or is nothing like what they have heard.
The Judaizers insisted that Gentile believers be circumcised. They rightly understood that no male proselyte could enter into the Mosaic covenant apart from the Covenant God made with Abraham. The Mosaic covenant was for Jews only. To enter that covenant, you had to become a Jew - that is, you had to be circumcised in accord with God's covenant with Abraham. The Judaizers main error was not that they believed Gentiles should be circumcised, it was -why- they believed Gentiles should be circumcised. The erred in thinking that Christianity was a form of Judaism.
In general, we understand that the Judaizers considered themselves to be Christians, but their theology was messed up. They apparently got the gospel right, but otherwise, were content to remain Jews.
Remember how the Apostle Peter - the very man God chose to bring the Gentiles into the New Covenant - behaved at Antioch when certain Jews came there? How Peter used to freely eat with the Gentiles, but when the Jews came, he separated himself from the gentiles? Paul had to rebuke Peter to his face in front of all of them, because there is no mixing of the Old and New Covenants, the old is obsolete, and the New is in effect. To set aside what is true, to embrace again what has already passed away was a great sin. Thank God that Peter repented of that.
I mention Peter's folly because it shows how difficult it was for a Jew to fully embrace the New Covenant. How much more so would it be for the Jewish believer to sort out how the Messiah put an end to the Mosaic Covenant, and replaced it with a new and better one?
I want to understand what the author of Hebrews is up against as he writes his letter to them. I want to understand what his specific concerns are as he pens verses 4-8 of chapter six.
Many who read verse 4-6 see in these dire warnings, the suggestion that they could possibly lose their salvation. But that isn't what the author is suggesting or concerned about. I think his concern is that unless the Jewish followers of Christ embrace the entire New Covenant, they will eventually revert back to a kind of Judaism - continuing to regard Jesus as their Messiah - but looking to the blood of bulls and goats to deal with their sins, because they don't understand how Jesus replaces all that.
His readers have already been taught (and likely convinced) that Jesus is the Christ. They have been instructed to repent of vain/dead works as a means of justification, and shown from the scriptures how justification is by faith through God's grace. They've been made aware that certain Jewish traditions are bogus (hand washings) and that commonly held Jewish notions about the resurrection and eternal judgment are false (The Sadducees, who the the most common, believed there was not judgment or resurrection). But some of His readers (at least) didn't seem to know how the Messiah fit into the New Covenant, or put an end to the Old Covenant.
No one enters into the New Covenant through the Mosaic Covenant. That is not, and has never been how it works. The Old Covenant not only prepared Israel for her Messiah, but, along with the prophets, it identified the Messiah when He appeared - while disqualifying every false Messiah at the same time. When the Messiah came, the Old Covenant had done what it was created to do. Point people to the One who actually would take away their sins.
Let's not forget that Jesus was an Israelite, and as such lived his life under - and in perfect obedience to what God as the correct behavior of his children in the Mosaic Covenant. He was called out by the religionists of his day, because he understood the Law in a way that they never understood. They followed the letter, ignoring the intention, but Jesus followed both the letter (rightly understood) and the spirit of it.
In living perfectly, Jesus earned everything promised in all of God's covenants.
Do you understand what that truly means? It means that Jesus secured God's promised blessings for Himself.
No other person has ever earned God's blessings - no one has ever, by their obedience to God's covenant, obligated God to keep His word and bless them - until Christ.
But the blessings and promises were only promised to the one who kept the covenant. So even though Jesus perfectly did all that God required of mankind - doing so only obligated God to bless Jesus - it did nothing for anyone else. That was why a new covenant was needed, because the Mosaic Covenant could only benefit those who kept it - and only the Christ could keep it.
Said another way: The Mosaic Covenant had no power bless anyone who failed to keep it. That was why a New Covenant was needed. That was also why in keeping the Old Covenant Christ made the Old Covenant obsolete. Seriously: no one else would ever keep it. It had fulfilled the purpose for which it had long waited.
So God was obligated to bless Jesus, but only Jesus. The New Covenant was made to allow a righteous God to bless guilty sinners.
Remember that God is obligated (by His own word) to punish every sinner who has ever sinned. We obligate God to damn us the moment we first sin. Paul tells us that the wages of sin is death (c.f. Romans 6:23). So God is obligated to damn sinners like Abraham, and David, Isaac and Israel, Moses, and you and me. How then can the blessings God is obligated to pour out on Christ, come to any of these?
That is where the new Covenant comes in. It obligates God to bless those sinners who are in Christ. To understand who is (and who is not) in Christ, we look to the New Covenant.
Our Lord Himself links His sacrificial death to the New Covenant in Luke 22:20 we read, "And in the same way He took the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in My blood."
The Apostle Paul refers to this same cup as the cup of blessing in 1 Corinthians 10:16 (c.f. Is not the cup of blessing which we bless a sharing in the blood of Christ?). Consider also how the cup mentioned by the psalmist in Psalm 116:12-13, "What shall I render to the Lord for all His benefits toward me? I shall lift up the cup of salvation and call upon the name of the Lord."
It is safe to say that the New Covenant - God's way of justly justifying a condemned sinner - i.e. God's way of salvation - involved the death of Christ.
Those who believe the bible is true and without error, recognize that the death of Christ was necessary for our salvation - but some (if not many) Christians are unclear about how that really works. They know that Jesus died "in our place" but they don't really understand (or care to understand) how his death makes us righteous or why it obligates God to bless us.
In Romans 6, Paul describes the believer's union with Christ as having been baptized into Christ Himself. This is what our water baptism pictures: our union with Christ. We are put into Him in the same sense as we are "united together with Him" - our condemned and sinful life becomes His life, and His perfect life - the life that God is obligated to bless becomes our life.
Recall how God is obligated to pay out the wages of sin (death) to all sinners. Everyone who has ever, or will ever call upon the name of God is immediately united with Christ. This union is the basis of our justification. Through this union we die with Christ (suffering as it were the wages of our sins). Through this union we are then raised with Christ. Not that our old life is raised - our old life (the life that currently animates our flesh) dies there on Calvary with Christ. What is raised is not our old lives, but the life of Christ - which we are joined to. It is this life that God is obligated to bless, not our sinful lives which died in Christ on Calvary - but the life of Christ that we have been united to through being baptized (not water baptism, but a spiritual baptism - being born from above) into Christ.
All of that old Covenant symbolism tells this story. The old covenant held the story of the New Covenant beforehand in its symbolism, such that Christ was able, on the road to Emmaus (c.f. Luke 24:13-32) Jesus explained to those walking with him the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures - starting with Moses and all the prophets.
These are the things the author of Hebrews is talking about when he mentions pressing onto maturity. The author regards this knowledge - the knowledge of Christ as a High Priest according to the Order of Melchizedek, the knowledge of how the New Covenant replaces the old covenant, etc. as a necessary foundation for our growth in the faith. The author believes that in order to persevere in what God calls us to do, we need to understand these things.
The word we use to describe a Christian who fails to persevere is apostasy. We are told to persevere in “subjecting ourselves to the Father of Spirits” (Hebrews 12:9b), and the author believes that growing deeper in our knowledge of what Christ has done for us - will helps us get to where we need to be.
But practical sanctification does not fall out of the sky -- it is a work that God does in us - that He works into us. We hear His word (or recall it) and are provoked by it, because the life of Christ acts upon our conscience through the Holy Spirit. We either resist/grieve the Holy Spirit, or submit ourselves to doing what we know we ought to do - setting aside our own desires, and subjecting ourselves instead to doing what we know to be God’s will. As we do this more and more, we draw nearer to God. In fact that is our motive - not to please an angry God, but to draw near to the living God.
At first we're all over the map. We are provoked to obedience, and our response is fear. What if I don't do this? Am I still saved? So we obey as much as we can, and we dread every act of disobedience because we believe that our obedience was something we were doing to satisfy God instead of something God was doing in us to make us desire to please Him. We have no fellowship with God in this sanctifying work until we understand that God is the one supplying us with the desire to please Him. We have no joy in obedience when we foolishly imagine that our obedience is what makes God favorable towards us.
But little by little, as we come to know God's word, and find our place with God in prayer - we grow. Somewhere along the way we stop thinking that God is trying (and failing) to make us stop desiring sin - and realize that the desire to sin is resident in the flesh, and that God is not trying to make our flesh any better - but working in us a desire to please him rather than to please ourselves (i.e. our flesh).
Once we realize that we're never going to live a day without having a desire to sin - we stop trying to change what can't be changed, and instead begin what Paul tells us is the meat and potatoes of our sanctification - putting to death the deeds of the body rather than trying to make the body not desire wickedness. We learn that we are not slaves of our own desires, but that alongside our sinful desires, we also have godly desires - and that we are called to obey those above our own. We learn that it is the Holy Spirit that gives us these new desires, and we learn not to grieve the Holy Spirit by giving into the flesh.
It is a struggle, but we must persevere. The knowledge that God's love towards us is not diminished by the fact that we continue to have sinful desires, strengthens us in that we come to understand that we do not stand before God in our own (failed attempts at) righteousness - but rather are the recipients of all of God's blessings because we are in Christ whom God is obligated to bless with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places.
Immature Christians do not live there.
They do not count on God's love and sure blessings, because they either aren't aware of all God has done for them and is doing for them, or they simply can't believe it. They can't see past their own unworthiness - and the idea that God is obligated to bless them is something that sounds arrogant or crazy. They don't understand what Christ's keeping of the Mosaic Covenant did for them - they only know that they are saved - and even this is something they often doubt.
Here is where the author of Hebrews begins to address those people who have come to Christ, but are burdened by their own ignorance into trying to be Christians in their own strength. There is a danger however, because some of them might not yet be Christians - they believe that Jesus is the Messiah, but they are still Jews who haven't entered into the New Covenant.
This (in part) is who the author of Hebrews is addressing in Hebrews 6:4-8. These Jews would have been convinced on some level that Jesus was the Messiah, and even this much they could never have achieved apart from the Holy Spirit revealing that truth to them; but it is possible that some of these were not yet saved. They had been enlightened and had tasted of the heavenly gift and had been made partakers of the Holy Spirit. They had been exposed to the good word of God and experienced (through the church itself) the powers of the age to come - but while these things always accompany salvation, they can be experienced apart from salvation. Judas is a prime example of someone who experienced all these things - and more, yet Jesus says plainly (c.f. John 6:64), "'But there are some of you who do not believe.' For Jesus knew from the beginning who they were who did not believe, and who it was that would betray Him." Only six verses after our Lord makes is clear that Judas did not believe, and had never believed, but, goes on to day, "Did I Myself not choose you, the twelve, and yet one of you is a devil?" (c.f. John 6:70). Judas did not lose his salvation - he never believed in the first place, according to our Lord. He was in fact an adversary (devil) to the gospel from the very beginning - even though he had experienced all of Hebrews 6:4-6 and more.
The warning the author gives in verse 6 is illustrated in verse 7 and 8:
For ground that drinks the rain which often falls on it and brings forth vegetation useful to those for whose sake it is also tilled, receives a blessing from God; but if it yields thorns and thistles, it is worthless and close to being cursed, and it ends up being burned. [NASB]
The soil pictures the heart, and the rain and the tilling picture the enlightening/enabling work of the Holy Spirit. But if instead of producing vegetation (i.e. salvation) that work produces thistles (a false faith that ends in apostasy), the soil (the heart, or more accurately the person with that heart) is cursed and ends up being burned (that is they condemn themselves to hell).
Salvation is not yet apprehended when you assent to the facts necessary for your salvation. You certainly must assent to the facts in order to be saved - but assenting to the facts is not enough. You must also stop rebelling against God's right and expectation to rule over you - that is you must repent of your formerly settled rebellion against God's rule, and begin to subject yourself to God willingly.
We are saved when we believe (assent to the facts) and repent (turn away from doing our own thing, and instead willingly subject ourselves to doing what God commands us to do in the scriptures). You won't be saved just by assenting to the facts, nor will you be saved by doing the good works God expects of His children, if you reject the facts while doing them. You need both. Repent and believe - salvation requires both.
So we see in this little passage the author's consideration of those Jews who may have still been thinking of Christianity as a Jewish sect which recognized Christ as the Messiah, but continued to look to the trappings of the Mosaic Covenant for their deliverance from sin - either out of ignorance or unbelief. The author gives the warning in case the problem is unbelief, and he gives instruction in the chapters to follow in case of ignorance.
One of the reasons people flub up on Hebrews 6:6 is because they have a wonky understanding of sin. Sin, in a nutshell, is pursuing your own will instead of pursuing God's will. God as your Creator has the right to command your obedience, and you sin when you ignore God's rule, and pursue your own desires. That is what sin is - a rejection of God's rule. Repentance means that you turn away from this rebellion against God, and accept His right to rule over you by obeying His commands. His will is not something we intuit - His will is revealed in the scriptures. There is no mystery or secret to doing God's will - for the scriptures describe clearly enough how we ought to live, and what we should and should not do.
Consider the Jew who has been exposed to Christian doctrine, and has been made aware of who Christ is, what He has done, and what He expects from each of His followers. Consider that Jew rejecting this teaching and returning to Judaism. It is impossible for the Jew who knows of Christ to obey God (i.e. repent) by clinging to the Old Covenant. To reject the blood of Christ, and embrace the blood of bulls and goats, is to put Christ to an open shame.
I think this is (in part) what is being described in Hebrews 6:6 - the impossibility of "choosing to do God's will" (i.e. repenting) in returning to Judaism once you've come to believe that Christ is the Messiah.
In general, this verse tells us that once a person knows and understands who Jesus is, if he or she thereafter develops a settled opinion that these truths are not true - that person effectively makes it impossible for himself or herself to thereafter repent.
We could say this another way: as long as you deny the Christ, you can never repent.
I think the author was concerned about Jews who knew enough to commit to Christ, but were remaining on the fence, as it were, with regards to committing themselves fully to Christianity. They didn't want to join themselves to something that would cost them dearly in this world - and so they hedged their bets, just to be safe. But in fact they were becoming thistles and thorns as their indifference was hardening them just as surely as outright denial would.
So if you're one of those people who doesn't go to church, doesn't read your bible, but you (more or less) believe yourself to be a Christian - even though you sin daily (giving into lust, greed, and slaking every desire you can get away with), but have been putting off "getting right with God" - let me pass along some wisdom - if you can begin to deny your own will today, and start obeying God's will (i.e. repent) - then do it. The longer you're indifferent, the more likely you will find it impossible to repent in the future. Here's a hint too. If you read this, and thought I should do that, then immediately found an excuse to put it off until another day? Then you're probably not going to ever repent if you don't repent today.
Put that in your pipe and smoke it.
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