Monday, December 22, 2014

Hebrews 6: Foundation for Enduring Faith


Heb 6:1-8 Therefore we must progress beyond the elementary instructions about Christ and move on to maturity, not laying this foundation again: repentance from dead works and faith in God, teaching about baptisms, laying on of hands, resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. And this is what we intend to do, if God permits. For it is impossible in the case of those who have once been enlightened, tasted the heavenly gift, become partakers of the Holy Spirit, tasted the good word of God and the miracles of the coming age, and then have committed apostasy, to renew them again to repentance, since they are crucifying the Son of God for themselves all over again and holding him up to contempt. For the ground that has soaked up the rain that frequently falls on it and yields useful vegetation for those who tend it receives a blessing from God. But if it produces thorns and thistles, it is useless and about to be cursed; its fate is to be burned. (NET)

Here the writer of Hebrews exhorts his readers to move beyond "elementary instructions about Christ" towards maturity. He describes these elementary teachings as foundational and necessary before a believer can move on to maturity. It is also necessary to prevent and protect believers against falling away from the faith.

What are these foundational teachings?
  1. Repentance from dead works: The first foundation stone to lay is repentance from dead works. By that we mean stop trusting self-efforts ("dead works") for acceptance before God and to start trusting Christ's atoning works at the Cross as sufficient for our salvation. We can easily revert back to work-righteousness even after we become believers by trusting in certain spiritual disciplines and practices rather than in Christ. 
  2. Faith in God: The second foundation stone is faith. Having turned from self towards God through Christ, we have to learn to walk by faith and not by sight -- and on a daily basis. In everything we do, we commit them to the Lord, trusting Him to be our co-partner to work out His plan for our lives. Our faith journey involves our new identity as royal priesthood--to reign with Him in this world and to turn every we do into worship to God. 
  3. Baptisms: The third foundation stone is baptisms (ESV/NASB: washings; revised NIV: cleansing rites). Translators are divided over how to translate the Greek word baptismos used here but the consensus of KJV, NKJV, NET, NLT and NIV (1983) is "baptisms." These translators followed the same translation convention for baptisma by Anglicizing the Greek word to English as "baptism"; so baptismos is Anglicized as "baptisms." Both words (baptisma and baptismos) carry the same meaning of washing or cleansing by immersion, dipping, pouring, and sprinkling and even soaking (as in dyeing). So, in Acts 22:16, Paul was exhorted to be baptized to wash away his sins: "Rise and be baptized and wash away your sins, calling on his name.'" My personal understanding is the writer of Hebrews uses the word baptismos to refer to all ceremonial baptisms/washings -- whether with water (as in the baptisms by John and Jesus' disciples) or with the Spirit (as the baptism by Jesus alone). The purpose of all baptisms goes beyond just superficial washing towards the spiritual truth of death to the old self and resurrection to the new Spirit: "I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit." (Mark 1:8). Titus 3:5-6 contain this two-dimensional truth associated with baptism: "he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing (water baptism) of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, (Spirit baptism) whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior.
  4. Laying on of hands: The laying on of hands is the fourth foundation stone for the new believer. The act of laying on of hands is to impart the Holy Spirit: it symbolizes the transfer of the Spirit to the new believers that is dwelling in the Church through the human agent baptizing the believer. The laying of hands also symbolizes the consecration of the new believer as member of the royal priesthood--to reign with God and to worship God. It is usually done in liturgical churches immediately upon water baptism, following the patterns in Acts 8:14-18; 19:1-6. 
  5. Resurrection of the dead: The resurrection of the dead is the fifth foundation stone to be laid for a new believer. The future hope of the Gospel is not just some disembodied "heaven" but a physical resurrection from the dead with new resurrection bodies to live, work and play in a real physical down-to-earth fusion of the New Heaven/New Earth reality (Rev. 21:1-4). The new resurrection bodies will be like Jesus' own resurrection body. His is the Prototype of what is to come for all believers. Heaven is not just endless worship around God's throne-room. It's more like Eden 2.0, far better than Eden 1.0. But like Eden 1.0, it's not a place of idleness but creative worship, work, rest and play. On this new Earth, we will "reign forever and ever" (Rev. 22:5). All our earthly life will be lived in anticipation of this hope of resurrection to this new New Heaven/New Earth reality.
  6. Eternal judgment: The final foundation stone of eternal judgment needs to be laid to warn believers the consequence of falling away. While believers who endure to the end will be saved and experience resurrection to life with God, the rest of humanity who have rejected God's offer of salvation through Christ will have to face the judgment of God for their deeds done with their lives. At that time, there will be no more room for repentance. Those who have rejected Christ and God will be rejected by Him and will share the same fate as the devils and his angels--in the lake of fires--because in their sinning, they have aligned themselves with the devil and will therefore be where he will be. 
The writer of Hebrews concludes this section with a warning to believers against backsliding and apostasy: we can slide so far back into sin that there is no more repentance left. We should not take God's grace for granted. Some OSAS preachers have refused to accept this passage as referring to believers. But the context is quite clear who the writer of Hebrews have in mind: "For it is impossible in the case of those who have once been enlightened, tasted the heavenly gift, become partakers of the Holy Spirit, tasted the good word of God and the miracles of the coming age, and then have committed apostasy, to renew them again to repentance, since they are crucifying the Son of God for themselves all over again and holding him up to contempt (Heb 6:4-6, NET). Only believers are "partakers of the Holy Spirit" and have "tasted the good word of God and the miracles of the coming age." Only believers can be "crucifying the Son of God for themselves all over again." 

So, we should interpret Scripture inductively (based on textual evidence), not deductively (based on our preconceived theological position). Many who hold to the OSAS position refuse to read this passage inductively because it says quite obviously what contradicts their theological position. 

May God help us to be faithful to Scriptures.

Father, open our eyes to see Your Word as it stands. For we have no other foundation for our faith. Amen.

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