How Can the Bible Relate to Us Today?

Grow Up! – A Surprising View of Christian Maturity from the Writer of Hebrews

At the Pacific Ocean

Hebrews 5: 11 to 6: 3

A fairly short time after a baby is born, it starts to feed on milk for its nutrition and growth. As the baby develops, there will come a time in which the baby will need to gradually be introduced to solid foods. At first, the solid foods need to be soft due to the baby’s still developing digestive tract. Later, the baby can eat whatever the adults eat.

As I was working with the book of Ephesians, the scriptures in the last several blogs contained a call to Christian maturity. I looked at this passage from the writer of Hebrews who laid it right out there:

“We have much to say about this, but it is hard to explain because you are slow to learn. In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.”  [Hebrews 5: 11-14.  NIV]

Boy! The writer of Hebrews sure called out a group of people in the church! The book of Hebrews is written to Jewish converts to Christianity who have been in the movement for quite some time. These followers were very familiar with the Scriptures, or what Christians call the Old Testament. They apparently were thinking of reverting back to Judaism, or they were leaning toward making this new movement of Christianity a subset of Judaism by enforcing the Jewish rules on new believers. Some of this controversy can be found in a reading of the book of Galatians.

The writer of Hebrews is disappointed that these Jewish converts aren’t studying the deeper teachings of Jesus Christ to better understand God’s plan of spiritual freedom for them. Instead of learning the meatier elements of Christian theology and how that influences their behavior and their thoughts, they seemed to be stuck on basic truths they learned when they first converted. In fact, the writer states that they have been in a relationship with God long enough that they should be teachers rather than still having to be fed basic theology and truths. The writer states that they should be spiritually mature by now and have come to a deeper understanding of distinguishing between good and evil.

What are these elementary teachings that the writer refers to? Surprisingly, these are principles taught from the pulpit and in Bible study classes on any Sunday and through the week at many churches.

“Therefore let us leave the elementary teachings about Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again the foundation of repentance from acts that lead to death, and of faith in God, instruction about baptisms, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. And God permitting, we will do so.”  [Hebrews 6: 1-3.  NIV]

What? Shouldn’t we be teaching these principles in our churches? Absolutely, but they are a starting point of when we first become believers. From there, we become ready for greater teachings to deepen our faith as we continue the road toward Christian maturity.

What are these basic teachings that are a part of our everyday faith?

  • Repentance from acts to lead to death. Repentance is to turn away from your life without God and embrace a loving relationship with God. This is the foundational elementary belief.
  • Faith in God. This is not just a belief that there is a God. Faith entails both belief in God and a trust in him to guide you in your journey of life and to accompany you through the difficult times that are bound to happen. Again, it is basic. Repentance and faith go hand-in-hand as one begins their spiritual journey.
  • Instruction about baptisms.  This has variously been interpreted by different groups. “Baptisms” in this verse is plural. And to be clear, the word “baptize” means to immerse; it was understood that to be baptized was to be immersed in water as a demonstration of commitment. What do you suppose the believers in those times who had a Jewish background understood this to mean? For one, there was the Jewish baptism of those who sought to convert to Judaism. There was also the baptism by John the Baptist (also known as “John the Baptizer”) and his followers who proclaimed repentance and a commitment to follow the ways of God. Further, there was the baptism instructed by Jesus in Matthew 28: 19, very much like the indication of repentance and commitment by converts to Judaism as well as to the message of John the Baptist. [It is noted that there are those of the modern day “Pentecostal” movement that believe it means being baptized by the Spirit. However, this latter definition is not one that the converts in the early church would have understood.]
  • The laying on of hands.  This was sometimes practiced after a water baptism. It was also a ritual in which individuals in the church were commissioned to perform a special work. This is often used in churches today to commission a minister of the Gospel, a missionary, a deacon or any important work or office within the church. Regardless, the writer still considers this an elementary teaching.
  • The resurrection of the dead. This is a teaching that upon Christ’s return to the earth at his Second Coming, the believing dead will rise and enjoy an eternal life with God.
  • Eternal judgment. There isn’t any dancing around this one as much as some believers would like to (including me). Jesus and others spoke fairly often that those who have rejected God would be subject to an eternal judgment. When the King James Version of the Bible or the Douay Version mention Hell, it is often the translation of the Greek word for Death or Hades. However, Jesus used the term “Gehenna” for his term for Hell. This was Jerusalem’s town dump that always had fires from the refuse and rotting gasses. This dump was located nearby in the Valley of Hinnom. This valley gained notoriety due to the sacrifices pre-Jewish people made to their god Moloch (2 Kings 23: 10). These sacrifices made to appease this god Moloch included the killing of children. Of course, this was abhorrent to the God of Israel. To make sure that the valley wouldn’t be used for such a thing again, Jerusalem (the Jewish capital) made that valley into their dump.

Some believers think that those who die at the end of their lifelong rejection of God will suffer burning and pain forever in a place called Hell (Gehenna) (see various references by Jesus in Matthew 5 in the Sermon on the Mount). Others think that at the Judgment by the Christ when God is making everything new again, people who are not believers will die a permanent one-time death rather than an eternal pain (Revelation 20: 11-15, for example). Still others say that a loving God would not have created a Hell or condemned people to it. If you feel this discussion is distasteful or is wrong, consider this:  suppose a person were to spend a lifetime rejecting the loving gift of God’s love and eternal life, would that person be comfortable being in the presence of the holy and pure God? Wouldn’t that be a kind of Hell?

Let’s move on. So if the teachings listed above are elementary teachings that we should consider as foundational for a mature Christian, what would more advanced teachings be? How about the Apostle Paul’s letters? In the first part of each of his letters, Paul writes in quite some depth of basic as well as advanced theological principles of Christianity. He follows this theology with practical instruction about what a believer’s life should look like. The book of James doesn’t have much in the way of theology, but he certainly nailed how a believer should behave and how they should live their life as it relates to the world. Peter and John discussed other principles to mark a mature believer.

To clarify, know that these elementary teachings must be taught in our churches and in our Bible studies. However, they should not be the focus of our teachings. They are merely the foundation for believers’ beliefs and practices. Too many churches are weak in their understanding of God, their knowledge of Jesus and his teachings, and the ministries in and through the church. In short, too many have difficulty seeing the abundant life available through spiritual maturity.

To close, let me leave you with this encouragement from the writer of Hebrews as we “grow up” together in spiritual maturity:

“Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise – the fruit of lips that confess his name. And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.”  [Hebrews 13: 15-16.  NIV]

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