You cannot go anywhere these days without running into a warning label. From “caution, coffee is hot” to “no smoking” while fueling your vehicle we are surrounded by them. So much so that they often become ignored because of over-saturation. But even though these labels are common sense and we often tend to mock them and those who abuse them, they are there for our benefit. And when we ignore them, we do so at our own peril.
The Bible is also full of warning labels. So much so that we often gloss right over them and completely miss the message they convey. But we often don’t take seriously these labels either, despite the fact that the consequences are much more perilous.
One such warning label is found in Hebrews 6:1-8. This passage has received numerous commentaries and each one seems to approach the subject from their own theological position on salvation. I think we need to proceed with caution when doing so because the danger of falling into a state perceptional bias or reading into the text what we want to see is very real. So, I think the best option we have to read it and allow scripture to comment on itself.
Hebrews 6:1-8 - 1Therefore leaving the principles of the doctrine of Christ, let us go on unto perfection; not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works, and of faith toward God, 2Of the doctrine of baptisms, and of laying on of hands, and of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment. 3And this will we do, if God permit. 4For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost, 5And have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come, 6If they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance; seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame. 7For the earth which drinketh in the rain that cometh oft upon it, and bringeth forth herbs meet for them by whom it is dressed, receiveth blessing from God: 8But that which beareth thorns and briers is rejected, and is nigh unto cursing; whose end is to be burned.
This passage is coming on the heals of the writer of Hebrews (we’ll just refer to him as the author) telling the recipients at the end of chapter 5 that they should be growing to a point of being teachers, and not just dwelling on the basic principles of their salvation but moving on to the deeper things of what it is to be a Christ follower. He equates this to eating meat vs drinking milk. This then leads into chapter 6 where the author continues the thought in verse 1-2.
1Therefore leaving the principles of the doctrine of Christ, let us go on unto perfection; not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works, and of faith toward God 2Of the doctrine of baptisms, and of laying on of hands, and of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment.
The author tells the readers “now that you are saved” you need to move beyond the basic concepts of repentance from sin, faith toward God, baptisms, laying on of hands, the fact that there will be a resurrection (or possibly he’s referring to the fact that Christ was indeed resurrected), and the truth of eternal judgement. It’s important to note that these things are never referred to in a negative sense. They are referred to as the principles of the doctrine of Christ. Or maybe we would say, the foundational principles of what it is to be a Christ follower/Christian.
3And this will we do, if God permit.
Then the verse of sovereignty. This little verse may seem insignificant or even a parenthetical statement, but it really denotes who is responsible for this transition from the basic principles of Christ on to our growth to being able to digest meat. The author clearly says, ‘we will do this (make this transition), if God permits.’
The next passage is our warning label. It describes the negative aspects of not growing, of becoming stagnant, or no longer abiding.
4For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost, 5And have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come, 6If they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance; seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame.
Now before we go much further let me just say that I have been through this passage for years. I have read and listened to as many commentaries as I can find on it in the hopes of finding a loophole or deep theological escape route that somehow offers up a different meaning than one that seems to be presented here. I have entertained the picking apart of the word “enlightened” and “tasted”. I have looked into “partakers” and attempted to dive so deep into the Greek that somehow, I come up with something other than what it says. But in the end, I cannot maintain my integrity and perform the type of theological gymnastics that are required.
The passage states (keeping in mind the context in which it was presented), that we are to continue to grow in our understanding and our walk. We are to proceed beyond the basic concepts of salvation and repentance, which are foundational, not optional or insignificant in any way, and move on toward sanctification. The author here actually seems to intimate here that to ride that line back and forth between the world and Christ is to repeatedly crucify the Son of God over and over. He seems to dispel this notion that we can presume upon God’s grace and walk in a manner contrary to growth to which He’s called us to “because we’re already saved”. It seems to be a warning that he who falls away in this area, falls away entirely. This should be a sobering warning for us all.
The author then gives an example to help illustrates these two dynamics using an agricultural metaphor that Jesus himself used.
7For the earth which drinketh in the rain that cometh oft upon it, and bringeth forth herbs meet for them by whom it is dressed, receiveth blessing from God: 8But that which beareth thorns and briers is rejected, and is nigh unto cursing; whose end is to be burned.
Here he uses the earth or soil as an example. The soil that drinks in the rain, the life-giving water that it receives from heaven, produces herbs. These herbs refer to the fruit produced by a crop, which in turn feeds the one who dresses the garden, the gardener. This rain is a blessing from God. But the ground that instead bears thorns and briers is rejected. Jesus spoke of this in His parable of the sower in Mark 4:1-20. In it He described 4 instances of the seed of the gospel being presented.
The first was taken up the birds as it didn’t penetrate the ground. He equates this to Satan taking the seed away. The second seed fell on stony ground and was able to penetrate quickly, but only superficially. As a result, the root system never developed, and the plant withered away under the heat of the sun which he equates to persecution. The third seed fell in and among thorns and were ultimately choked out by the cares of this life. I think it’s important to note here that the thorns are living plants too. But they don’t share the same root system as the seed which was planted. Instead they actually compete for resources within the soil with the seed. This too should be a warning for new believers that separating yourselves from the influences of worldly friends who will compete for your attention is often a necessary thing. But Jesus’ explanation of this seed doesn’t stop there. He actually includes numerous other things that compete for our attention and focus as well. The deceitfulness of riches (in pursuing our own gain) and the desires of things to come (worldly ambition) are specifically mentioned as competitors. All of which ultimately rob the soil of the resources necessary to allow the seed to flourish and result in barren soil with no fruit yielded.
Then there is the good soil on which the seed landed. This soil allowed for depth of penetration of the seed. Although it didn’t progress as quickly, there was more going on below the surface, as is often the case with budding seeds. The root system is started and begins establishing itself before stalked is pushed up through the soil. Before there are any outward manifestations of an inward change. But the soil is free from competition as well and the change that is occurring is taking place in rich soil that seems almost singularly focused on the growth of the seed.
The author of Hebrews 6:7-8 is calling upon these examples to illustrate the same point. More specifically the difference between the good soil and the other examples. Although the seed budded in each of the soils it penetrated the ability to flourish was related to the where the resources were directed. Jesus also expanded on this further is a later parable he told in John 15.
John 15:1-7 - I am the true vine, and my Father is the husbandman. 2 Every branch in me that beareth not fruit he taketh away: and every branch that beareth fruit, he purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit. 3 Now ye are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you. 4 Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me. 5 I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing. 6 If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned. 7 If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you.
In this passage Jesus equates himself to be the vine, the root. His father is the Husbandman, vine dresser or the gardener. He states that every branch that produces fruit, is purged. The purging is the taking of fruit as it ripens that allows for the resources of the soil to be directed toward new fruit being produced. But here is the pivotal statement in all this. “The branch cannot bear fruit of itself EXCEPT IT ABIDE IN THE VINE… He that abides IN ME, and I in him will bring forth much fruit.”
So, lets tie it all together. The author of Hebrews is telling his readers not to become stagnant in their growth. Not to presume on the grace of God as if to say, I have checked the box for salvation and need not go any further. He is admonishing them to strive on toward eating meat and growing stronger. Not by replacing the foundational principles of Christ but by building on them and staying rooted in them. But just as we, as soil, lack the ability to produce anything without the seed of the gospel, so we too as soil lack the ability to continue to grow without abiding in the root of Christ. We do, however have the potential to offer resources to other roots. Other roots that will in turn yield weeds and other such growth that offers no fruit unto the Father.
We see in all these passages an element of both sovereignty and responsibility. In one sense we are soil, and God knows in the end what the outcome will be as to our endurance. But on the other hand, we are never given a warning label for something that is beyond our capacity to perform. You will never see a “No U-Turn” sign on a train track. Because a train is locked into a set movement that prevents its ability to do so. By the same token we have been given a warning that we are to abide in Christ. To remain rooted in Him and focused on growth. He in turn will produce the herb/fruit that the dresser (the Father) seeks in us as described in Hebrews 6:7.
But the author completes this thought in verse 9 with the encouragement that:
Hebrews 6:9 – But, beloved, we are persuaded better things of you, and things that accompany salvation…
Growth is not an option for the believer. It is an evidence of abiding in Christ. There are not super believers, and nominal believers. There are just those who are abiding and those who are withering. Take care that you wither not away. Take care that you abide in Christ that He is the primary focus of your life and seek to walk in His Spirit as He leads. This is the encouragement offered up by the author of Hebrews in this passage.
John 15:8-13 8 Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit; so shall ye be my disciples. 9 As the Father hath loved me, so have I loved you: continue ye in my love. 10 If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love; even as I have kept my Father's commandments, and abide in his love. 11 These things have I spoken unto you, that my joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full. 12 This is my commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you. 13 Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.