Studies in Hebrews Part 6: The Falling Away

Hebrews 5:7-6:20

Last time we spoke about God’s response to Adam’s disobedience. We saw God executing justice in His garden by punishing Adam for his disobedience.

We saw that God had to punish Adam, because God is just. He could not ignore Adam’s disobedience. He could not sweep Adam’s disobedience under the rug, so to speak. God had told Adam in the day you eat of it you shall die. If Adam doesn’t die, then God lies. We saw that it is not God who lies, but rather the serpent. After all, it was the serpent who had promised Adam he would not die.

We also talked some about Christ’s temptation. I want to point out something more about that temptation. When I was an Arminian, lost and dead in my sins, I was taught that the temptation was all about turning stones into bread. I was told that Jesus had come to earth as man’s covenant representative, and that He therefore had to act in every way as a man or else He would forfeit His right to represent man in covenant. Had He acted as God by turning those stones into bread, then He would have forfeited His right to represent man in covenant.

This is nonsense. Not that Jesus came as a covenant representative, but that He was required to never act as God. Jesus is God first off. But secondly, He did lots of things that only God can do. He forgave sins, for one. Remember the paralytic who found himself being lowered down through the roof of a house by his friends in the hope Jesus would heal him? Jesus saw him and said, “Your sins are forgiven you. Rise, get up and walk.” He even told some of the self righteous who were there at the time He did it to show them the fact that the Son of Man has power on earth to forgive sins. Only God can forgive sins.

The Scriptures also say He needed no man to tell Him what was in their hearts, because He knew what is in all men’s heart. Only God knows all men.

Jesus’ temptation did not hinge upon turning stones into bread. Turning stones into bread was just the bait. It was the bait just like the tree of the knowledge of good and evil was the bait. The temptation was for Jesus to agree with Satan that God is a liar and therefore declare Himself independent of God, another God like God.

This is always the temptation. It is the lie found in all temptations. God cannot be trusted, therefore, it is just and right of you to declare yourself independent. Go ahead, sleep with that woman, do that drug, drink that booze, steal that car. After all the things you’ve been through, you know God cannot be trusted.

Jesus obeyed His Father precisely because He did trust His Father. He trusted the Father implicitly. Jesus took everything the Father said as absolute, unquestionable truth.

Nevertheless, He suffered temptation. He suffered liars telling Him God could not be trusted. It seemed every time He turned around there was either a Pharisee telling Him He was a sorcerer, or there was a disciple urging Him to take up arms to conquer Rome.

This is what the demons were after every time He cast one out. “Have you come before the time, Jesus?” Have you declared your independence? Have you come to make the kingdoms of the earth your own?

But Jesus obeyed the Father. He obeyed in every instance. He learned obedience through what He suffered. And He was heard because of His reverence. That is, God hearkened to Him, because He obeyed. Or as the text says, He offered prayers and supplications to Him who was able to save Him from death, and He was heard because of His reverence. That is, because of His obedience.

This is the reason why God raised Jesus from the dead. God did not raise Jesus simply because Jesus is God’s Son. The text even says that even though He was a Son, even though, He still learned obedience through what He suffered. That is, even though He was the Son of God, even though He was the eternal second person of the Trinity, yet even so He still had to suffer and He still had to learn obedience.

The reason why God raised Him from the dead was because He had obeyed. He obeyed even to the point of death on a cross. And it was for this reason that God raised Him from the dead.

What does this part about obeying Him mean though? He became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey Him. Does this mean we too must earn a reverence by our obedience if we are to be heard?

God forbid! That would nullify grace!

This doesn’t mean there is anything wrong with the law. Far from it. Do not kill, do not steal, do not worship any other God besides Me. There is nothing wrong with these commandments. The problem instead is with me. I’ve disobeyed the commands. We all have.

Jesus did not come to give us a new way of obtaining a reverence of our own that will make God forget about our disobedience. We cannot earn reverence no matter how hard we try, nor God can forget our disobedience. And the reason for both is because we are lawbreakers. As a sinner (a lawbreaker), we cannot obtain a reverence of our own anymore than a leopard can change its spots.

God did not give the ten commandments to an innocent people. Rather, He gave them to a bunch of idolatrous heathens who had already broken every one of them. We cannot say then that He gave His commandments to them in order to give them an opportunity to make Him forget the fact they had already disobeyed every one of them. Rather, He gave them His commandments to prove to them that they had already broken every one of them and so now needed a savior, someone outside of them who was not guilty like them.

I tried to put together a bookcase once. Simple enough task, right? At least I thought so. Of course, I didn’t look at the instructions though because . . . well, you know, I’m a guy and it was just a bookcase.

By the time I was finished assembling the pieces of that bookcase what I had was not a bookcase. What I had instead was some kind of wobbly looking thing with a handful of extra nuts and bolts that I didn’t know what to do with. That’s when I found myself forced to look at the instructions.

Now, when I looked at those instructions, you know what they showed me? They showed me everything I did wrong! They showed me that what I had assembled was not a bookcase.

In the case of the bookshelf I could go back and fix what I had done wrong. In the case of God’s law though, I can’t. It’s too late, because God’s law demands my death for having disobeyed.

That’s what the law does. It shows me that I have disobeyed, and then it demands my death for having disobeyed. By demanding my death, it drives me to cry out to God for a savior. Not just for someone who will fix it, but for someone who will die the death the law now demands from me for my disobedience.

And that is what Jesus did. He died the death that was demanded of His elect for their disobedience.

If that’s the case, then what is this obeying Him part about? The text says, “He became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey Him.” If obeying Him is not about obeying commandments, then what is it about?

This is what we have been working up to. This is the heart of our lesson for today. What does it mean to obey Christ?

It means believing that He has told the truth about the cross, about what His death has accomplished for His people, and about what His death means for them on that day He returns to punish all those who have disobeyed Him. This is what the entire epistle has been about so far. Christ’s testimony is trustworthy. It is a testimony more trustworthy than the testimony of angels.

Christ has said that He is the radiance of God’s glory, the exact imprint of God’s nature, that He upholds the universe by the word of His power, and that He, who is God’s Son,has made purification for His people’s sins. Do you believe this? Do you believe He is telling the truth?

Or do you believe the serpent? After all, I mean, look at you. Call yourself purified? After what you’ve done?

This is always what the temptation is about. Do you trust the Son has told the truth when He said He has fully and forever redeemed His people from their sins? Or would you feel better, more secure, more assured of your salvation if you added something of your own to what He said has already been done?

None of this means though, that they are saved because they obey. Rather, their obedience, which is their faith, is a result, a consequence of their salvation. Keep this in mind, because we will see it again shortly.

Our text continues. Chapter five, starting with verse 11.

Hebrews 5:11-14
About this we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of god. You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.

About Christ’s testimony we have much to say, but the reason it is hard to explain is because you have become dull of hearing.

Frightening words. We have much to say about the Son’s testimony, about what it means, about its implications, but we find it difficult to explain this testimony to you, because you have become dull of hearing.

Who is he talking about? Is he talking to Christians? Is he telling us that Christ can indeed lose His elect, and that they can indeed become dull of hearing?

We get a clue further down, beginning with verse 4 of chapter 6.

Hebrews 6:4-6
For it is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding Him up to contempt.

If we believe the Son’s testimony is true, then we agree with God that it is impossible for those He has redeemed to ever fall away. These people though, have fallen away. Who then are these people?

These people are the self righteous, the unbelieving, the unrighteous, the unconverted hypocrites who are members of this church whom our author is addressing. They are, as the apostle John puts it, those were with us, but who have gone out from us, thus proving they were never with us to begin with.

You see, not everyone in these New Testament churches were truly gospel believing, born again, imputed righteous converts. Some, maybe even many, were people who had simply found themselves liking or even agreeing with one or two aspects of the gospel they had heard, and then perhaps from curiosity, or from an emotional desire to belong to a group, or from the desire for personal gain, or some other psychological or personal reason, they had joined the church, they had gone on to hear the good news of the heavenly gift of the cross, they had shared in the believer’s fellowship with each other, they had tasted of the goodness of God’s word and of the powers of the age to come, and yet they have now fallen away, or are encouraging the brothers to shrink back with unbelief in the testimony of the gospel.

Why then doesn’t the author just come right out and say his message is just for the hypocrites? The answer is, because he doesn’t need to, nor is everything he says only for the hypocrites. His threats, like all the threats of condemnation for disobedience and of promises of reward for obedience are, for the person who has the righteous of Christ imputed to them, simply a reminder of their need for that imputed righteousness. These threats and promises merely drive them to keep resting their faith and hope upon His righteousness alone.

However, for those who have not had the righteousness of Christ imputed to them, for those who are trusting in their works for righteousness, these very same threats and promises become for them opportunities for their flesh. They become opportunities which these people believe they can use to prove God cannot be trusted, but that they themselves can be. The end result is they fall away.

The author mentions dead works. What is a dead work?

A dead work is anything you do in order to make yourself righteous, or to keep yourself in a state of righteousness. A dead work is always motivated by a distrust of Christ’s testimony.

Christ has testified that He has made purification for His people’s sins. But these hypocrites are certain that if the Spirit doesn’t make them more Christ-like in their behavior, or if they don’t at least commit themselves to cooperating with the Spirit to become more Christ-like, then they will prove that they may not have been one of those whose sins He has made purification for. I wonder whether they want their stones toasted or plain?

If this is the motivation behind a person’s service to God, then everything that person does is a dead work.

These people overlook the fact they have already disobeyed God. They overlook the fact that they cannot obey Him like Jesus obeyed Him, which was perfectly. By ignoring these two facts, they represent God as less than perfect, less than holy, because they have God accepting them as righteous for their obedience even though their obedience is less than perfect, less than sinless.

They also overlook the fact that all of the elect’s sins have already been imputed to Christ, and when He died for those sins, it means He died also for all the sins His elect hadn’t even committed yet.

Consider something with me. When the elect are born, as babies, can we say all of their sins have already been imputed to Christ even before they were born? Has Christ already died for all of their sins, even the sins which they will not sin until after they reach adulthood? Yes to both questions.

Then how on earth can that baby’s law obedience in any way serve to assure that baby of its salvation after it reaches adulthood and is converted? It cannot. The only thing that baby can look to as proof of its righteousness and evidence of its salvation after it grows up and is converted is the cross of Christ.

Then what are these men talking about? I will tell you what they are talking about. They are talking about the lie.

These men are the mouthpieces of the serpent. They are Satan’s mouthpieces. They are the ones Satan uses to tempt God’s people to believe the lie that God cannot be trusted.

But let me not be misunderstood. Those on the far left are no better. Jesus does indeed have a testimony. He has a very precise, very logical, very Scripturally based testimony. And agreeing with only a very tiny sliver of that testimony without any mention whatsoever of His justice, without any mention of the accomplished atonement He made for His people’s sins, without any mention of election and of sin does not constitute faith in that testimony. Just because Adam believed God would punish him does not mean he did not still believe God had lied about the tree.

It wasn’t the Hebrew gospel believers in this Hebrew church who kept drawing back in doubt. It was the hypocrites. They were the ones tempting the Hebrew believers to distrust Christ’s testimony.

But Dave, you might say, the author does say in verse 9 that in their case he feels certain of better things.

He does indeed. Which leads me to say this. We don’t know this church’s situation. No one does, because the author doesn’t tell us. Therefore, we have no idea what kind of political or religious pressure and persecution this church was under, or whether they were even under any. And this is not me making excuses for them. This is just me stating a fact.

I would remind us that if every time a person drew back in doubt they were to be counted as unbelievers and thrown out of the church, then Jesus would have ended up without any disciples, because they every single one of them drew back in doubt at times. Peter even made sure to do it years after Jesus had ascended and the Holy Spirit had come.

My point is that the author himself tells us that in their case he feels certain of better things. He says this under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Therefore, that is good enough for me.

Having said this though, let me quickly add that he doesn’t say every single one of them were on the up and up. It is true that some people in these early Christian churches were false brothers. We have the epistles of Galatians and Colossians to prove this. And keep in mind, the author does chastise them for their doubt, meaning their doubt is not to be treated lightly. Verse 12 of chapter 5 does say, “For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God.”

For though by this time you ought to be able to explain the gospel, you ought to be able to sit down with someone and go over why Christ’s testimony is trustworthy, you instead need someone to keep going over this fact with you.

They needed milk, not solid food. And no, milk is not the gospel. Milk is the fact they needed someone to keep explaining the gospel to them, because them keep shrinking back in doubt from what Christ said is true about it.

Milk is for people who every time a mouthpiece of Satan threatens them with law obedience they start quivering in their boots. Rather than training themselves to distinguish between the testimony which God says is good from the serpent’s testimony which Satan says is good, they keep drawing back in fear and doubt instead. It’s true I’m not what I ought to be. Maybe that friendly little snake was right, after all.

What happens though, when a hypocrite does fall away? We have seen people who once attended church with us right here fall away, haven’t we? We have watched people taste of the grace of God, then turn right around and tell us later that we need to start devoting ourselves to getting better results from God’s law or else we’re not really Christian.

Why is it impossible to renew such people to repentance? Because the cross is not enough for these people. They don’t trust what Christ has said about the cross, and so they are in need of another way of salvation, another crucifixion if you’d like. But they aren’t going to get another crucifixion. Jesus is not going to die again. If His death once and done wasn’t good enough for them, then dying again isn’t going to be good enough for them either. All they are doing is making themselves guilty of trying to crucify Him again.

But as for our Hebrew believers here, the author tells us, “Though we speak in this way, yet in your case, beloved, we feel sure of better things—things that belong to salvation.”

Things that belong to salvation. What things belong to salvation? What things is the author talking about?

Here again, the mouthpieces of Satan pipe up. They tell us the author is saying law obedience. We feel sure of better things for you because you have committed yourselves to better law obedience, unlike those people over there.

No. This is not what the author means at all. Look at the entire text.

Though we speak in this way, yet in your case, beloved, we feel sure of better things—things that belong to salvation. 10 For (because) God is not unjust so as to overlook your work and the love that you have shown for his name in serving the saints, as you still do. 11 And we desire each one of you to show the same earnestness to . . .

Same earnestness to what? Have better law obedience? No!  The same earnestness to have the full assurance of hope until the end, so that, for this reason, you may not be sluggish . . .

Sluggish about what? Sluggish about law obedience? No!  Sluggish about imitating those who through faith and patience, not better law obedience, but who through faith and patience inherit the promises.

In other words, the better things that belong to salvation are all the things Christ effectually wrought and purchased for His people by His death.

Recall a few moments ago I mentioned the fact that faith does not save His people. Rather, faith is the result of their salvation. Faith is one of the better things of salvation. That is, it is one of the things Christ purchased for His people by redeeming them with His death.

You see, the law gives us things. It does. I don’t know if you’ve thought about it in those terms, but it’s true. The law does give us some things. These things the law gives us are condemnation, fear, shame and the promise of death for disobedience. These are not good things for the recipient.

But the promise of the salvation of God’s elect also gives things to those who have been redeemed by Christ’s death. These things are imputed righteousness, the promise of resurrection, the Holy Spirit, rest, faith, hope and yes, even love. These are the better things of salvation. See the author’s point?

Faith does not belong to the law. The law is not of faith. The Bible says this in Galatians 3:12. The law is not of faith, because the only way a man can receive life by the law is to perfectly obey every last word of the law. This rules everyone of us out right from the start, because we all begin life as lawbreakers imputed with the disobedience of Adam’s lawbreaking.

The law is not good news. The law is terrible news. The law tells us we are condemned. There is no effectual salvation in the law to rest our faith upon.

Salvation in Christ brings us rest from our works done for righteousness. Romans 10:4 tells us Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes. He is the end of our weary, restless toil of trying to be right with God. Being imputed with His righteousness gives us better things than the things we get from trusting in our performance for righteousness, because our performance is never going to measure up to God’s righteousness.

Here is the ironic part. These better things that belong to salvation, they do inspire and lead us to love the brothers. Last time I mentioned some of the reasons why a church exists. I mentioned a church exists to edify and equip the saints. Well right here it is.

Why are we instructed to regularly attend fellowship with other believers? One reason why we are to instructed to do this is so that we can be around and near brothers and sisters whose assurance is more firm than ours. That is, the more mature among us have successfully navigated the temptations to return to trusting in their performance. These are the very same temptations that young believers tremble at. These mature brothers and sisters serve as examples. They show the young in Christ how to overcome the temptation to believe the lie and to instead continue to rest in Christ’s finished work. And when someone is teaching you how to be more confident and relaxed in your salvation, it is far easier to love them than to not.

The better things of salvation.

Finally, our author gives us a parallel from Scripture to demonstrate the patience that is a better thing of salvation. Starting with verse 13.

13 For when God made a promise to Abraham, since he had no one greater by whom to swear, he swore by himself,14 saying, “Surely I will bless you and multiply you.”

This is a reference to Genesis 12. We’re not going to read it right now, because it would take too long, but basically what happened was that God called Abraham to leave his homeland, the country he was born and raised in, and to go strike out for another land that God would show him, for once there God would give him a son.

Abraham was seventy-five years old at the time God called him to leave his homeland. He and his wife left his homeland of Ur, and they traveled to the land God showed him. And there Abraham waited. And he waited. And he waited.

Twenty-four years he waited and still no son.

Finally, at ninety-nine years old, his wife seventy-four, God comes to him and says, “Abraham, by this time next year you’re going to have a son.” And that is exactly what happened.

For twenty-four years Abraham patiently waited for God to fulfill His promise. Twenty-four years.

Now, the promise God has made to His elect is not that they will have a son, but rather that His own Son will return one day to raise them from the dead and to grant them immortality. He has promised that He will also put them on a new earth and there they will live forever in His presence. Well, it’s been two-thousand years and still He hasn’t returned.

Patience. Hold fast to the hope set before us. After all, we have a forerunner, someone who has preceded us on our behalf and has gone into that inner place behind the curtain.

And there we are going to stop until next time, because the next time we meet to talk it will finally be to discuss those things which are hard to explain to the dull of hearing. Our Lord’s great and high priesthood.

Questions?

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About David Bishop

Gospel of Grace Church http://www.gospeldefense.com/about.html
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2 Responses to Studies in Hebrews Part 6: The Falling Away

  1. markmcculley says:

    Hebrews 6:9–”yet in your case, beloved, we feel sure of better things, that belong to salvation”. In principle, the Hebrew warnings are no different from those found in places like Galatians and Philippians. It’s not a warning about immorality, but about going back to another gospel, about not trusting Christ, but instead trusting Christ and also your “covenantal nomism” (for which nomists as good non-Pelagians thank their god!).

    Because if you trust Christ and your Spirit enabled obedience, then you don’t trust Christ! Galatians 2: 21–”If justification were through the law, then Christ died for NO purpose. (not for some purpose, not to provide a “plan” to get started!). Galatians 5:2–If you accept circumcision, Christ will be of NO advantage to you. So this is a serious warning. Although Paul does not tell the Hebrews that he thinks most of them are lost Judiasers, he does not discount the possibility that some who profess to trust Christ are in reality still in their sins, without grace, without propitiation.

    The danger was not hypothetical then, and it is not hypothetical now. “Legal preaching” does not mean not preaching the law and the seriousness of sin and the wrath of God. It means confusing the law of God with the gospel of God which is about Christ’s death as satisfaction of the law for the elect. Christ preached this gospel in John 5: 24. “As many as hear my word and believe him who sent me has the lasting life of the age to come. HE DOES NOT COME INTO JUDGMENT

  2. markmcculley says:

    God covers and hides the sins of the justified elect
    Isaiah 38: 17 Indeed it was for my own peace
    That I had great bitterness;
    But You have lovingly delivered me from the pit of corruption,
    FOR YOU HAVE PUT ALL MY SINS BEHIND YOUR BACK
    Isaiah 43: 25 “I, even I, am the one who wipes out your transgressions for My own sake, And I will not remember your sins.”
    Hebrews 8: 12 For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more.”
    Hebrews 10: “Their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more.”

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