Warning Against Spiritual Sluggishness
Radiant Church’s Lead Pastor Keith Welton continues our series on the Book of Hebrews with a sermon entitled, “Warning Against Spiritual Sluggishness” on Hebrews 6:1-12. Below, you can listen to his sermon, watch our whole service, and use the outline below for a reference.
Missed last week’s sermon from Director of Worship and Discipleship Dan Webb entitled, “Listen and Eat”? You can listen to it and watch the whole service here.
Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, 2 and of instruction about washings, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. 3 And this we will do if God permits. 4 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, 5 and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, 6 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. 7 For land that has drunk the rain that often falls on it, and produces a crop useful to those for whose sake it is cultivated, receives a blessing from God. 8 But if it bears thorns and thistles, it is worthless and near to being cursed, and its end is to be burned. 9 Though we speak in this way, yet in your case, beloved, we feel sure of better things–things that belong to salvation. 10 For 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 have the full assurance of hope until the end, 12 so that you may not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises. (Hebrews 6:1-12 ESV)
The Hebrews are to stop being stagnant and pursue the Lord with speed.
In this passage, we are warned against the dangers of spiritual sluggishness, falling away, and how we are to serve God with earnestness and confidence.
Warning Against Spiritual Sluggishness
We live in a secular age. Many don’t believe in spiritual needs, hungers, thirsts, yearnings, and also spiritual hurts, spiritual loss, and spiritual weakness. We need to reclaim that. We need to take it seriously. Our secular age knows all about mental health. Depression. Loneliness. Sadness. Medication and education. Never repentance and faith. But it is real and you need to be on guard of spiritual dangers.
This week I got back to work after being on vacation. I read this passage and realized there were some difficult sections. I read a commentary and had some questions. So I read another commentary. Then another. Finally one of them said these are some of the hardest verses in the Bible. I thought, “That’s great, just what I needed.”
One of the great dangers in churches today is the disappearance of God’s word. It is not present, and if it is it is used as a proof text for the author’s ideas like a sermon about six tips for a better life, four ways to successful dating relationships. That can be helpful in certain situations, but I believe as a main diet in the church you need to hear God’s word and wrestle with what he is saying to you. That makes you deal with hard things, themes of judgment, rebuke, sin, and other things we would rather not deal with.
The particular passage we have today, though difficult, is also extremely informative and encouraging, to be sure. It continues a theme in the book of Hebrews. This church is not paying attention to Jesus nor is it pursuing growth the way they should. If I could sum up my main concern for the church today, and even our church particularly, it is that people are not pursuing Jesus with the intensity they should.
Dan spoke last week about the church being “slow to learn” (5:11). They ought to be teachers but they need someone to teach them. They are babies… in Christ.
1. Danger of Sluggishness
“11 And we desire each one of you to show the same earnestness to have the full assurance of hope until the end, 12 so that you may not be sluggish,“
These people are slow to learn. They are sluggish. Lazy. Not willing to expend much effort. Like four-year-olds on a hike, teenagers with chores, parents being asked to play Candyland, again. They are sluggish, not eager like they believe it is going to change and enrich their lives.
They have not made much progress. They’re slow to get moving. Slow to start. Slow to progress.
“1 Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, 2 and of instruction about washings, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment.”
Leave elementary school and get on with college, at least highschool. Look at what they are called to do and get moving forward. He lists some elementary doctrines here in three couplets.
-not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God.
This is foundational in being a Christian. If you are not serving Christ your works are dead. You can be a billionaire business person with this big title, nice car, but your works are dead because they are not done for Christ. You can be a priest, high priest in the temple but if it is not done for Christ, it is a dead work. Your works will never justify you before God. This is why you need to repent.
Faith in Christ is what is needed. The Christian life begins with a turning away from an old way of life and embracing a new one. It is trusting in Jesus as your Lord and Savior, submitting to him.
-instructions about baptism and the laying on of hands.
This one is difficult because baptism is in the plural. Some translate it as “washings,” which makes sense. Jewish people had many different washing and ceremonial cleansings, but in Christ there is one cleansing and it comes through faith in Jesus. Baptism is the act of initiation into the church. It is a way to identify with Christ and proclaim that you are following him. If someone has not been baptized they have not identified with Christ. It’s an act of submission to Jesus. To say “I am following Jesus but I am not willing to be baptized” is a contradiction. It’s like saying, “I want to join your dance team but I refuse to pay the initiation fee.”
It is often the first thing new believers are said to do in the early church. They believed and were baptized. I also want to mention that in Acts 2 after being baptized they were devoted to the church, to reading the word, and to making Christ known. Baptism stands at the beginning.
Laying on of hands was done at baptism. It’s been neat for me reading this and seeing that at baptism it was a time to pray for people. That they would feel the church around them and that the Spirit would fill them. But laying on of hands was also done in other times, praying for healing, praying for the spirit to fill people, praying for and commissioning elders. It’s interesting that this is mentioned. I think this reminds us that maturity is what we believe but it is also how we live. Are we praying for people, believing God to work in their lives and to empower them for his purposes?
-the resurrection of the dead and eternal judgment.
The basics of the faith. Resurrection is about the physical resurrection of Jesus. He triumphed over the grave. But resurrection also pertains to us. He is the author and perfecter of our faith, the pioneer who goes ahead of us.
Eternal judgment. This is something debated in churches today. But that’s not because it is not clear. It is debated because people don’t like to hear it. **There are eternal consequences for our present decisions.**
People don’t like to hear that. We’re in a culture that says, “Don’t tell my son he is not good at basketball.” “Don’t tell him he is doing something wrong.” Growing up, I remember doing something wrong, and half the neighborhood would yell at me. Now you see a kid making poor decisions and people just sit there and watch. There are consequences to poor decisions in life. Parents, help your kids learn that at a young age. It will serve them well. It is never fun, but I would rather my kids learn that at a young age. I would rather them learn it on the playground than in the boardroom. I would rather them learn it now in this present life so they don’t learn when they stand before the judgment seat of God.
God knows all that you do, and he will hold you accountable. There is too much lying, double talk, and just self serving in today’s society. What cuts through that is knowing no one gets away with it. God will bring them, and you to account. This helps me keep my sanity.
These are the basics of the faith and they need to go on to maturity. If you don’t know this well you need to grow. Doesn’t really mention what the topics of maturity are. May be what he writes later in the book. May be having a deeper understanding of the basics which he expands on. Should look at this and think I want to better understand. I think it is meant to stir us.
He warns against sluggishness, but next he will say something very surprising. He will deal with those who have gone beyond just being sluggish and have now fallen away.
2. Danger of Falling
The next person talks about a more severe failure than not maturing. It is not those who have grown stagnant but for those who have fallen away.
–fall beside or aside, go astray, become lost; figuratively in the NT of abandoning a former relationship turn away, commit apostasy
They have abandoned their relationship with Christ. Those who have turned from his ways, no longer showing up to meetings, nor following Christ. Now note some of these may still be in the church!
The words for this are strong…
“4 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, 5 and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, 6 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. 7 For land that has drunk the rain that often falls on it, and produces a crop useful to those for whose sake it is cultivated, receives a blessing from God. 8 But if it bears thorns and thistles, it is worthless and near to being cursed, and its end is to be burned.”
They have been enlightened, they have tasted the heavenly gift, shared in the Holy Spirit, tasted the goodness of the word and powers of the age to come. They have had real and genuine experience of this.
It is not a deficit in their experience of God. They have seen, tasted, felt his power and work, but they turn from it. To know all these and still fall, turn away is to slap the hand that created you. It’s sad!
All you have to do is be involved in a church community long enough and you will see those who turn away. Seeing this has caused me to struggle at times. People turning away. Seeing this has also strengthened my faith, because what often comes out on the other side of turning away is falling apart.
The doctrine of the perseverance of the saints comes from texts like this. Those who profess faith must persevere in their faith.
So what does it mean that it is impossible for people who have experienced the truth of Jesus and fallen away? It certainly shows the hardness of heart that when a person turns away it is as though crucifying him again. Is it saying those who have fallen and turned from Christ cannot ever come back to Jesus?
What do we make of this? What about the assurance of salvation? What about “once saved, always saved”?
- There are times where people fall away and are not brought back to repentance. That is sad. It is sobering. We see it.
- There are times people fall, or perhaps stumble, and do come back in.
“Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted.” (Gal 6:1 ESV)
“Restore us to yourself, O LORD, that we may be restored! Renew our days as of old–” (Lam 5:21 ESV)
We often do not know where people are. God knows those who are his. There is the visible and invisible church. God knows. Don’t live in the gray. Get out of it. Go hard after Jesus!
Perhaps we should be more animated on this. But it also seems to be the culture we live in. We need to be a church that is stirring people to stop sleeping through their walk with Christ. We need to be a place where people see what it is like to go hard after Jesus.
We ought to pray for another enlightenment for those people.
The word hapax is used here. It seems a temporal use in English. Once, as “in the past,” “Once upon a time,” “at some time in the past; formerly.” But it is not really a temporal marker. It is something that indicates it only occurs once. The Greek phrase “hapax legomena” means having been said once. Only once enlightened. We need to be enlightened many times. It is his grace and revelation that keep drawing us back. Peter messed up and denied the Lord, but he was brought back. Some disciples like Jon Mark abandoned the mission, but was later restored and found useful in ministry. If you are convicted you have not been following God, then that is a sign your are not dead yet, but you have to be willing to admit your failure. And admitting shortcomings is one of the surest signs of a change. Too many people don’t change because their pride won’t let them admit it. It’s like a person who needs advice or medical treatment but they are too proud to admit the doctor in and receive care.
“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Rom 12:2 ESV)
“So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day.” (2Co 4:16 ESV)
“7 For land that has drunk the rain that often falls on it, and produces a crop useful to those for whose sake it is cultivated, receives a blessing from God. 8 But if it bears thorns and thistles, it is worthless and near to being cursed, and its end is to be burned.”
Let me say this. There will be no excuse when we stand before God. No “buts” will stand. “But I had a rough day. But I went through some hardships.” Yes, those happen. Yes they wear on you. Yes, they withdraw from your emotional bank account. But look at what God has done for you. He sent his Son to take your place on the cross. He sent his Son to atone for your mistakes. He sent his Son that you would know the way to go. He raised his Son from the dead and sent his Holy Spirit to empower you to do the right things. He has held out his hands time and time again. He has helped you up, told you what to do and forgiven you over and over again. He has had mercy. He has fed you every day whether you acknowledge him or not. He has clothed you, provided for you, caused his son to rise and the rain to fall so you might live.
Stop blaming others…
He is saying this as a warning. He is also saying it in faith that these people are going to hear their shepherd’s voice and follow him. This is the hope you have for the church. That those who are his will respond and change.
We can ask him and say, “God open my eyes. Help me to see as you see. Help me to feel what you feel. Help me to do what you want me to do.”
There is a warning of a few things here. There is also encouragement towards others. We are encouraged to move toward a…
3. Certainty of Better things
The writer had concerns for these people, but he had also seen fruit in their life that brought encouragement.
“9 Though we speak in this way, yet in your case, beloved, we feel sure of better things–things that belong to salvation. 10 For 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 have the full assurance of hope until the end, 12 so that you may not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises.”
“We desire each of you to show the same earnestness,” the same speed. When you are sure of the need to do something, you do it. When you do not see the need for that then you are slow to make changes. Most of our world is slow in following Christ. Is it really that important? Should I really get baptized? Should I really commit to a church? Should I really be involved in a small group? Study the Bible with my family? Questioning everything is sluggishness to God. Inconvenience. Bothersome.
There are times we need to stand still and patiently work for God, resting in him and the fact that he can and will fight our battles. But the more common disposition that we ought to have in the Christian life is one of confidence, enthusiasm, and determined effort to move forward. Don’t just stand there praying for God to help you and change you but not being willing to apply yourself to things he calls you to do. If you want to get in shape, prayer is a great component. And God may answer your prayer miraculously. But you might ought to pray for help doing the things you need to do. Pray to get in the gym!
Follow their example. This is a repeated theme in the New Testament. Look at the example of others. Clearly we look to Jesus first and foremost. But look at the example of others. This requires knowing others. It requires more than knowing them on Facebook. It requires more than watching a service on YouTube. If the extent of your involvement in church is watching a service online, you have missed Jesus calling for you, and you have not read his word enough to know the difference. The church is a body of people and somewhere in that you should know others who are spurring you on in your faith.
Move forward in full pursuit and confidence of better things to come. Confident of encountering God’s grace.
-often wrong but never in doubt.
Sluggish, lazy. Mentioned in 5:11 and 6:12.
“10 For 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.”
Disappointment with church or God’s people is one of the things that often slows people down. Hands and feet get heavy and don’t rush to help. God is the one those things are for. God is the one who will reward you accordingly. There is a judgment. He can determine if people have wronged and taken advantage of you. He can also determine if you have wronged others by withholding yourself or your things from them. Trust God and seek after him.
11 And we desire each one of you to show the same earnestness to have the full assurance of hope until the end, 12 so that you may not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises.
For further reading on the church, take a look at Pastor Welton’s latest blog post, “Why Hanging at the Pool is Not the Church.”