Thursday, June 17, 2021

Outgrowing the ABCs (Hebrews 6:1-3)

"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" (Hebrews 6:1).

The author of Hebrews now tells his congregation that they should leave behind the elementary teachings and press on to maturity (compare Hebrews 5:12). He does not mean that they should forget the basics, but rather that they should build on what they know. They should stop reciting the alphabet as it were and learn to put letters together into words.

He lists six elementary doctrines. It is interesting to note what he thinks these six fundamentals are. First, repentance from dead works. These are works done in the sphere of death, apart from God. Even if such works are morally good, they are still spiritually dead, because they are done from a wrong attitude. For these Jews, dead works might include their old practice of offering sacrifices as bribes to God instead of offering them out of a spirit of gratitude. They have turned from corrupt Judaism to Christianity, which is the true fulfillment of what the old covenant really taught. Second, faith in God. They now no longer trust themselves or their works to achieve a right standing before God. They trust in Him alone.

Third, instruction about baptisms. This is something many modern believers don’t think is all that important. The Old Testament, however, is full of baptisms. The world was created out of water in Genesis 1. Noah’s Flood and Israel’s Red Sea crossing were baptisms. Each time someone crossed the Jordan into the land it was a baptism. There were many baptisms in the Levitical system. Moreover, in the New Testament there were a variety of baptisms: the baptism of John, the new covenant baptism of Jesus, and the baptism of the Spirit.

Fourth, the laying on of hands. In the old covenant, the offerer laid his hands on his sacrifice, identifying it with himself. In Acts, the Spirit is sometimes transferred by the laying on of hands, and some associate this with what later came to be the rite of confirmation in the church. Others associate it with the rites of healing and of ordination. This doctrine shows us that God channels His grace not only directly but also through believers to one another.

Evangelicals are at home in the areas of doctrine and emotional experience, but they are strangers to ritual. The Bible, however, has a lot to say about rituals like baptism and “manual imposition” (the laying on of hands). If you don’t know much about these “elementary things,” make a study of them.