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A Warning to Pretenders

Hebrews 5:11-6:8 August 20, 2000 80-219

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My life is usually filled with rather intense preparation but for these weeks, it was just a wonderful time to step back and to read some books that I otherwise wouldn't be able to read but wanted to read, to spend time talking and walking with Patricia and to spend just time enjoying what God has given us together. And also, to just think with sort of a clear mind about ministry and about the church which is really, as you know, my life. And as I thought about the church over these days and as I was refreshed physically and spiritually and mentally, thinking about the church I found that I never thought about programs. I really never thought about facilities. But I thought often about the spiritual issues in peoples' lives. The Lord was bringing to mind individuals who are struggling, individuals who are suffering. I did have the opportunity to be with some folks who are going through some very difficult times. I was able to go by the hospital and pray with Nancy Baker who has terminal cancer and to speak to other folks who are struggling with issues, a pastor friend of mine whose wife has decided to leave him.

My life, I found, was really swept up with the spiritual needs of people. And that's really as it ought to be. And I, as I began to think about what I might share with you at the Lord's table, this morning, there's one thing at the top of my list that is a spiritual concern to me. And it really has to do with people who are in the church but not in the Kingdom. And I know there are people who go to Grace Church, I know there are people who are part of this church visibly who are here, who are here this morning, who have heard it all but don't know Christ. That is really the most serious of all contemplations for a pastor.

Now there are some of you, of course, and I suppose all of us to some degree, who aren't what we ought to be. We're Christians but we aren't what we ought to be. And that is a concern. But frankly, some day we will be what we ought to be even if it going to take our death to accomplish it because some day we'll be in glory and the Lord will make us perfect.

A greater concern than Christians who aren't what they ought to be is people who aren't even Christians who are in the church. It...it's overwhelming to think about going to hell from Grace Community Church. This is not a good place to go to hell from because to whom much is given, much is required. And Hebrews 10 says, "Of how much more severe punishment shall he be thought worthy who has trodden under foot the Son of God and counted the blood of the Covenant an unholy thing?" Far worse eternal punishment falls to the one who has heard the truth and rejected it. And if you've been in this church any length of time, you should have really heard it. And the more you have heard it, the more responsible you have become. Better off that you should have been a pagan and never heard the gospel, go to hell from that point, suffer far less.

So I guess the list of concerns on my heart is topped by that reality of people being a part of this church and not knowing Christ, not ever coming in true repentance and saving faith to embrace Jesus Christ. The Lord's table is a perfect place to address that because one of the things that we're commanded to do at the Lord's table, according to 1 Corinthians 11, is to examine ourselves, to see our spiritual condition before we partake of the bread and the cup. And, of course, in 2 Corinthians 13:5 the Apostle Paul said, "Test yourselves whether you be in the faith, examine yourselves." Certainly self-examination starts with, "Am I really a Christian? Have I genuinely repented and savingly embraced Jesus Christ as Lord?" And again, the great concern that I have is that there are people in this church, been in this church for some time, who are on their way to hell...and a severer hell, by far, for having heard the truth, understood the truth and not embraced Christ. And that's what leads me to the passage that I want to draw to your attention this morning as we prepare for the Lord's table.

Open your Bible to Hebrews chapter 5. I want to take a little bit lengthy passage and just give you an overview of it, this morning, in preparation for our time at the Lord's table. This passage is a warning to someone who knows the truth, the truth about Jesus, the truth about His death, the truth about His resurrection and the truth of the gospel, but will not let go of his sin or her sin and come to the Savior. I know there are people in this church like that, I know some of them personally, and certainly there are many that I don't. This is the ever-present danger of being close to salvation and being unsaved. And no passage is more dramatic in addressing this issue than the passage before us. Let's begin reading in Hebrews 5 verse 11.

"Concerning Him...that is Jesus Christ, subject of the prior verses...concerning Him, we have much to say, but it is hard to explain since you have become dull of hearing. For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you have need again for someone to teach you the elementary principles of the oracles of God and you have come to need milk and not solid food. For everyone who partakes only of milk is not accustomed to the word of righteousness, for he is a baby. But solid food is for the mature who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil. Therefore leave the elementary teaching about the Messiah, let us press on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and a faith toward God, of instruction about washings and laying on of hands and a resurrection of the dead and eternal judgment, this we shall do, if God permits. For in the case of those who have once enlightened and have tasted of the heavenly gift and have been made partakers of the Holy Spirit and have tasted the good Word of God and the powers of the ages to come, if then have fallen away, it is impossible to renew them again to repentance since they again crucify to themselves the Son of God and put Him to open shame. For ground that drinks the rain which often falls upon 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."

No passage, as I said, is more dramatic than this in warning a person who is in the church, who has heard the truth, knows the truth and has rejected the Savior. This is the severest of all dangers because if you fall away, you cannot be renewed to repentance.

Now let's identify, first of all, the problem here, and it comes in the end of chapter 5. Here is the problem unfolded in those four verses that end the chapter. The problem is, people have become dull of hearing. They have become babies. They lack discernment. That's what is basically stated there. Now let me give you the context a little bit.

The writer of Hebrews has some profound things to say. I daresay that the book of Hebrews is as profound as any book in the Bible. It has depth to it. In fact, I suppose for many Christians who are not well taught, the book of Hebrews may have mysteries that they find very difficult to comprehend. It is a book of great profundity, it is a book of great transcendence. It is a book that demands a rather extensive knowledge of the Old Testament. It is a book which reaches down very deeply into profound truths concerning redemption, concerning the gospel, concerning the person of Christ, concerning the meaning of the Old Testament, as well as the New. Nothing is more profound than the relationship of Jesus Christ to everything past...the relationship of Jesus to the Law, the relationship of Jesus to God, the relationship of Jesus to creation, the relationship of Jesus to angels, the relationship of Jesus to the sacrificial system, the relationship of Jesus to the priesthood, the relationship of Jesus to the covenants. It's a book of great profound truth regarding Jesus.

And in chapter 5, really at the end of chapter 4, the writer has begun to address some of the most profound elements regarding Jesus. He is identified in chapter 4 verse 14 as the great High Priest, Jesus the Son of God. And then the writer of Hebrews goes on to talk about Jesus. Down in chapter 5 verse 5 he refers to Christ again as a High Priest, as the Son of God...in verse 6, as a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek. It goes on to talk about Him as one who learned obedience from the things He suffered in verse 8 and verse 9, became the source of eternal salvation. So he has started in to this great section on the priesthood of Jesus Christ, which is the most profound of all the sections of Hebrews. And he is far from done. Chapter 7, chapter 8, chapter 9, chapter 10 continue this discussion of the profundities of the priesthood of Jesus...greater than the priesthood of Melchizedek, greater than the priesthood of Aaron and all the priests that followed in the Aaronic priesthood.

But he stops just after starting the discussion and he says in verse 11, "Concerning Him," that is concerning the great High Priest, the Son of God, the Lord Jesus CHrist, "we have much to say." But really he's saying...I cannot go on because it's so hard to explain to you since you have become dull of hearing...I have a problem, I'm about to plumb the depths, I'm about to go into things that are profound and I have to stop and say there are some of you for whom this is not going to be comprehensible. You are so dull of hearing. Which is a gracious way of saying "stupid, sluggish." This is very tough to get across to you in your condition. You once responded to the message of the gospel with interest and you understood it. You understood Jesus, the incarnate God coming into the world, living a perfect life, dying a substitutionary death, rising from the dead, providing salvation by grace through faith, you understood that. But you didn't respond to it.

Well what had happened was, the letter to the Hebrews was written to a Jewish church. We don't know who wrote it but we know to whom it was written, it was written to the Hebrews, to Jewish believers. But on the edges of that church were Jews who had acknowledged the truth intellectually but never embraced the Savior and they were there, they were attending, they were a part of it...maybe for social reasons, maybe for reasons of relationships, maybe because they felt that it drew them closer to God some way. For whatever the reasons, they were there and periodically through the epistle to the Hebrews which is addressed to the believers, there are warnings to these non-believers sitting on the edges mingling with that congregation. The writer says, "I have so many profound things to say but I have to stop and acknowledge that there are going to be some of you who are not going to get it. The reason is, you have become sluggish, thick, stupid, dull of hearing."

That's what happens. When you hear the truth and you do not embrace the truth, you begin to lose it. You lapse into a settled state of sluggishness, a settled state of dullness, no longer interested in the gospel, no longer desirous of the truth, no longer wanting to know about this, not willing to embrace Christ, holding tightly to your sin. The small gleam of light goes out. He says in verse 12, "For though by this time you ought to be teachers," he uses the word chronos for time, clock time, calendar time, chronology. You have been in that church enough times to be a teacher. Length of time is sufficient that you should be a teacher. You've heard it, you've...this isn't talking about a one-time visitor, this isn't talking about somebody who dropped in and heard the gospel. This isn't talking about somebody who comes on Easter and Christmas. This is talking about somebody who's been there a long enough time so that they have been exposed to enough truth that they should be teaching it. The assumption we could make is, this is how it's going to be in the church...there are going to be tares that settle in with the wheat and they'll be around long enough that they ought to be teaching what they themselves don't really believe. But instead of teaching...he says...you have need again of someone to teach you the elementary principles of the oracles of God.

You have put yourself in a position where you've lost what you had, where the small glimmer of light that was there is out and you need somebody to come and take you back to square one with the elementary principles of the oracles of God, the Word of God. Somebody to take you back to square one again. This is a really frightening thought. Hearing the truth and rejecting the truth, you lose the truth. You lose the ability to discern anyone. You've had full instruction in the gospel but by indecision and by hard-heartedness, you have become stupid and sluggish and dull of hearing and you require basic teaching all over again. You're like somebody who needs milk and not solid food, you're like a baby. You've regressed to an infantile position where you have to be taught the way a baby is taught, the very most simple matters of truth.

He goes on in verse 13, "For everyone who partakes only of milk is not accustomed to the word of righteousness, for he's a baby." He is likening this non-believer in the church to a little baby who can't digest profound truth. The word of righteousness is the teaching of truth. The word of righteousness is the Word of God. It's primarily, of course, the gospel, it's the word about the righteousness of God in Christ imputed to the sinner, the great doctrine of justification, of imputation of righteousness. You don't get it. You've lost what you had, you've regressed. The god of this world has blinded your minds now so that the light of the glorious gospel can't shine to you. These are not Christians, these are not Christians. They don't understand the great Christian gospel doctrine of righteousness with God through faith in Christ. They should but they don't.

What happens is this, you come to the church, you're initially attracted by the gospel. You don't respond to it. You lose that initial attraction. You are unable to comprehend the great truths of salvation because of your unbelief. You keep coming, you keep coming long enough to be a teacher in terms of the duration of the time you've been there and what you've heard, but you couldn't not only teach, you could barely understand.

Verse 14 he says, "Solid food is for the mature." The mature, or perfect as some translate it, is a term describing believers. Solid food is for believers who by the practice of hearing the truth and believing it have had their senses trained to discern good and evil. You see, the characteristic of being an adult is that you have discernment. A child has to be protected because they can't make wise choices, they have to be made for them by adults. And the writer of Hebrews is saying you're like that baby, you don't know what to pick and choose in life, you are ignorant, sluggish, dull of hearing, lazy, you lack discernment, you can't protect yourself and you have lost the little glimmer of light that once was there. You're not like those perfect ones, those mature ones, those believers who in hearing the Word and putting it into practice have had their senses trained to grow into maturity and with maturity comes a discernment. And to the discerning you can present the book of Hebrews. To the discerning you can present the deep truths of the priesthood of Jesus Christ. And they love it. They relish it. They take it in. They embrace it. They glorify God for it. They apply it in their lives.

Now this is the problem in the church. And the more faithful the teaching of the Word of God in the church, the more the problem takes on the shape of Hebrews 5...people who come to a church where the Word of God is faithfully being taught, initially interested, but eventually dull of hearing, infantile, unable to understand the basics of righteousness. They are in severe danger, severe danger. They've listened, they've understood the truth, the way of righteousness, they heard it, they maybe believed it. They never embraced it. They lost it. They regressed back to some level of infantile understanding and they need the most elementary basic teaching all over again.

From the problem, there's a plea that follows. Look at chapter 6. He says, "Therefore leaving the elementary teaching about the Messiah, about Christ, let us press on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and a faith toward God, of instruction about washings and laying on of hands and the resurrection of the dead and eternal judgment. This we shall do if God permits."

What is this? This is really a call to salvation. He says to these people...Look, you've got to get on pass this elementary stuff. You've got to leave it.

He carries on the analogy of the baby and the mature. Let us move on to maturity, let's become adults. And again I say, mature or perfect means saved. Leave the elementary things, separate yourself from the basics, come all the way to salvation, come all the way.

These people, of course, were holding on to their Judaism. He says you can't lay again that foundation. You can't just hang on to the Old Testament. You can't just hold on even to the Word of God in the Old Testament. You have to go on. You can't just hold to the elementary teachings about the Christos, about the Messiah. That's referring to Old Testament teaching, not New Testament teaching about Christ. You can't hang on to those things.

And he tells us what they are. There are six of them mentioned here. You can't just hold on to repentance from dead works. Repentance is a critical part of salvation but by itself it can't save you. Repentance is not enough, it's not enough to repent of your sin and to repent of your self-righteous dead works. It's not enough. It's not enough to say you're sorry for your sin and you're sorry for thinking you were righteous...not enough.

Furthermore he says, it's not enough to just hold on to faith toward God. I mean, it's right to have faith toward God but it's not enough...not enough. Jews believed in the true and living God, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of creation and the God of redemption. They believed in the true God but that wasn't enough. It wasn't enough to be sorry for their sins, even their sins of self-righteousness. It wasn't enough to believe in the true and living God.

Furthermore, you can't just relay the foundation of instruction about washings, certain Old Testament purification rites and ceremonies. That's not enough. Those were only symbols.

It's not enough for you to hang on to the laying on of hands. What's that? Well, according to Leviticus 1:4, when they brought a sacrifice to be offered, the person who brought the sacrifice put his or her hands on the sacrifice. Put the hands on the sacrifice as a way of identifying with that substitute that was dying, as it were, in their place. So it refers to the sacrificial system. You cannot hold on to your own repentance, hold on to believing in God even though He's the true God, you can't hold on to your purgings and washings and Old Testament ceremonies, you can't even hold on to the sacrifices.

It's not enough, furthermore, he says, to just hold to the resurrection of the dead. The Old Testament taught the resurrection of the dead. Job said, "Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him." Why? "Because though worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God." Job had the hope to see God. David's little baby son died. David said, "I'll go to him." He had the hope of eternal life. David even said that God would not allow His holy one to see corruption but would show him the path of life. The Old Testament is clear about eternal life, about a future life, about a hope. Daniel 12:2 talks about that same hope.

But that wasn't enough. It's not even enough to fear eternal judgment, he says. You can be holding tightly to your Judaism, that's the foundation, that's the elementary things. That's not enough. You can't just lay again that foundation.

Repentance from your dead works, faith toward God, washings, sacrifices, believing in the resurrection and fearing eternal judgment, that's not enough. What do you mean it's not enough? Repentance from dead works must become repentance toward Jesus Christ who is life. Faith toward God must become faith in the Lord Jesus Christ who is God, the Savior. Ceremonial washings for cleansing on the outside must be replaced by the washing of regeneration that washes the soul through faith. Laying hands on an animal sacrifice must be exchanged or laying hold of the Lamb of God to take away the sin of the world. Believing in the resurrection from the dead becomes full when you believe in the hope of eternal life and resurrection through faith in Jesus Christ. Eternal judgment, that's not enough, you must believe that Jesus Christ has taken the full penalty for your sins, satisfied the just, eternal judgment requirement of God who grants salvation and forgiveness to the one who comes to Him in faith.

What he's saying is, Christ is better than all of these things. You can't get stuck on the elementary aspects of the Messiah in the Old Testament, you've got to move on. The problem is, they weren't moving on. And because of that, they were falling back into deeper darkness. That's a very serious, serious situation. So the writer says...Please, leave those things, leave those things, those elementary things and come to salvation in Christ. That's his plea.

And then comes the warning. This is one of the most familiar and strongest of all the warnings in the book of Hebrews, and there are a number of these warnings. This one stands out. Here's why. Four...verse 4, "In the case of those who have once been enlightened," speaking of these people who knew the truth, "and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and have been made partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good Word of God and the power of the ages to come, and then have fallen away...here's the key...it's impossible to renew them again to repentance. They again crucify to themselves the Son of God and put Him to open shame."

Here's the warning. And what the writer says is...Folks, if you don't come to Christ and you fall away, you're forever damned. Serious. That's why I say it's better to go to hell from a pagan environment than from Grace Church, much better, because you're going to have less punishment than one who has heard the truth well enough to be able to teach it and reject it and lapsed into darkness and fallen away.

People who are intellectually convinced can be immunized, they can be vaccinated by a mild and deadly form of Christianity. And he defines that here with five expressions of the advantages that this kind of person has. If you were in this congregation, or you're in our congregation, you've had these advantages. They perhaps even to a greater degree, I'll explain why, he says in verse 4, "In the case of those who have once been enlightened," that's the first advantage. These are privileges that do not accompany salvation, by the way. These are privileges that do not accompany salvation.

The first one is to be enlightened. It means simply to be taught, that's all it means...you've been taught. If you come to Grace Church, you've been taught. If you went to the assembly of these Hebrews, you would have been taught. It means to understand something by hearing it or reading it. That's essentially what it means. It means to be instructed in the gospel, to have an intellectual knowledge. They had that, you've had that.

He adds, secondly, that you have tasted of the heavenly gift. The heavenly gift, what's that? Salvation, Christ. Tasting is not consuming, tasting is not drinking. Drinking is taking it all in. This idea is to experience something. They experienced the gospel. They experienced that in the messages that were preached. They experienced it in the worship of the people as they celebrated their love for Christ, as they sang hymns and songs together. They experienced it in the life of other believers. They saw the power of Christ in the salvation of others. They saw their transformed lives. They tasted the heavenly gift of salvation in Christ. It's that unspeakable gift of Jesus Christ, the Savior. They tasted it.

If you're in this church, you've tasted it. Maybe you're married to a believer, maybe your children are believers and you've tasted it in the home. You have been sanctified, as 1 Corinthians 7 says, by the presence of a believer in your home. The blessing that God pours on them splatters on you.

So you've had the knowledge in your mind and you've experienced the gospel glory around you in the message, in the worship, in the ministries, in the transformed lives of believers. "You also," he says, "have been made partakers of the Holy Spirit." Not possessors, but partakers. How? By association. You see the power of the Spirit of God. There's no other explanation for the growth of the church. That would be true of the assembly of Hebrew people as the Spirit of God was converting people to Christ, as the Spirit of God was drawing sinners to Christ, lives were being transformed, the church was flourishing, the church was growing, spiritual gifts were being manifest. The work of God was going on in its supernatural way through the energizing of the Holy Spirit and non-believers were experiencing that. They were partakers of the Holy Spirit by association. They were fellowshipping with Spirit-filled believers.

Then he adds in verse 5, "You've tasted the good Word of God." Pure truth, gospel teaching, you've tasted it. Quite different to take it in and consume it, but they tasted it. Whenever they assembled in the early church it was for the teaching of the Word of God. Whenever they came together they read the Scripture, explained the Scripture and applied the Scripture. And those people who were associated with that church came and they experienced that. They experienced the good Word of God. They got a taste of what it was like.

If you come here you have the same thing. You're getting a little taste of it this morning. You've been going with us through the gospel of Luke, you have tasted the power, the grandeur, the glory, the wonder, the majesty of the Scriptures.

And he adds, "You've also tasted the powers of the age to come." What are the power of the age to come? What's the age to come? The Kingdom, the Kingdom of Christ. You've tasted the powers of the age to come. Well this in some ways was unique to them because the Apostles were still alive at this time, they had experienced some of the powerful ministry of the Apostles. Hebrews chapter 2 verse 3, "How shall we escape if we neglect so great salvation after it was at the first spoken through the Lord, it was confirmed to us by those who heard?"

In other words, these people first heard the gospel from somebody who heard it from Jesus. "And God bore them witness," verse 4, "by signs and wonders and various miracles and gifts of the Holy Spirit." So there must have been Apostles because those were the signs of an Apostle. So they saw apostolic ministry first hand with signs and wonders and miracles. They saw Kingdom power. When the Kingdom comes there will be signs and wonders and miracles and they got a taste of that.

So these people had full exposure. They were enlightened, that is they understood the truth. They tasted the heavenly gift, that is they experienced the power of salvation through Christ. They were partakers of the Holy Spirit in that they associated with people whose lives were being empowered by the Holy Spirit. They tasted the good Word of God. They were exposed to the pure powerful majestic truth of God. They even experienced Kingdom power in signs and wonders worked by the Apostles so that their minds, their consciences, their affections had been deeply moved by the truth.

By the way, I have to comment on what isn't there. None of those expressions that I just read you in verses 4 and 5 ever appears anywhere in Scripture to describe salvation. Not talking about saved people. None of those expressions is ever used anywhere to refer to salvation. You don't see the word "faith," you don't see that. You don't see conversion, you don't see justification, you don't see salvation, you don't see redemption. No terms familiar to salvation are there because these people aren't saved. They had all of this short of salvation. No mention of believing, no mention of receiving the truth.

Now he says to them in verse 6, "Having had all that, if you then have fallen away, if you walk away and don't come to Christ, if you continue in a persistent act of redemption, rebellion and disobedience to the gospel, it is impossible to renew you again to repentance." Whoa...what a statement, that's the warning.

Why? Why is it impossible? Because you can't have any more revelation. If you've sat there long enough to be a teacher and you've experienced all of these things and you turn and walk away, you'll never be saved. That is a classic definition of apostasy. That's it. Why? Because there's no more opportunity. You've heard it, you've seen it, you've experienced it, you could teach it, you've been there so long. Nothing left to say to you. You turn, you walk away, it's impossible to renew such a person again to repentance. Because in walking away, end of verse 6, "They have crucified to themselves the Son of God." Their little personal act of crucifixion. They have decided to stand with the crucifiers and put Jesus to open shame. "You are affirming that Jesus was not the Savior, you are standing with the crucifiers who said, 'We will not have this man reign over us.'" You are saying...Go ahead and kill Him, I want nothing to do with Him. You put Him to open shame. By walking away, you openly declare that Jesus was guilty as charged and deserved to die.

This is the verdict of any person who rejects the full revelation of Christ. If you would dare to do this, you will never be saved. This is the warning. This obviously is at the top of the list, I think, of any pastor who understands what's going on in the church. What a horrifying thought that you would be here in this church and from here you would go to hell. "Of how much sorer punishment shall you be thought worthy."

This interpretation is secured then by a closing illustration. Look at verse 7. Here's the illustration of this principle. "For ground that drinks the rain which often falls on it, and brings forth vegetation useful to those for whose sake it is tilled receives a blessing from God. But if it yields thorns and thistles, it is worthless and close to being cursed and ends up being burned."

Simple illustration. The rain falls. What is the rain? The rain is the gospel. It falls and it lands on ground that brings forth vegetation. And that's the blessing of God. That's the gospel falling on people who respond. But the same gospel, verse 8, falls on others and it brings thorns and thistles, worthless, cursed, burned...same gospel. This is the free blessing of gospel preaching, gospel truth, a free blessing of spiritual enlightenment.

One piece of ground reacts by producing vegetation that is good. And that's the blessing of God. That's the one who receives the gospel by faith in Christ. On the other hand, the ground the receives the same gospel produces thorns and briars, that's the one who receives the pre-salvation work of the Spirit but rejects Christ and is cursed and burned. What a great tragedy of all tragedies.

As we come to the Lord's table today, it is a time of self-examination and that's where it has to start. Second Corinthians 13:5, "Test yourselves whether you are in the faith, examine yourself." This is so serious. Let's pray.

Father, as we come to heart response to Your truth, we ask that the Spirit of God would reveal to us the true condition of our hearts. Even as I say that, Lord, I know there are people here who have heard it and heard it and who are right there in danger of falling away to be damned as apostate. Father, I pray that You would be gracious to them, that You would permit them to believe. Draw them to Yourself.