Well, I don’t know about you, but I truly enjoyed going through the book of Jonah. We saw some of the most important themes of the Bible played out in a story line that puts Hollywood to shame. But now, we have finished the book of Jonah, and we are moving back to our study of the book of Hebrews. If you remember, we had been going through Hebrews, and we had made it all the way to the end of chapter five. But then, I felt as if God was leading me to have a four-week intermission into the book of Jonah. So that’s what we did. But now, our intermission is over, and we return to one of my favorite books in the New Testament, the book of Hebrews.
As a pastor, there is both a blessing and a curse that comes from preaching through books of the Bible. The blessing is that it allows me to preach on a variety of topics, and it allows the word of God to speak for itself. But sometimes, there is great difficulty associated with preaching through books of the Bible. It is very exciting preaching a sermon on grace, faith, and love. But then sometimes, the Bible talks about things that we don’t like to think about very much. The Bible talks about tithing, confessing sin, and fasting. Not quite as easy. And out of all of the topics in the Bible, the one that rises to the top as being the hardest one to preach about is apostasy. You heard about this concept of apostasy when we studied Hebrews three about two months ago. But church, the writer of Hebrews doesn’t just write about apostasy once. No, he talks about it twice. And so, as your pastor, I had a difficult decision to make. Should I gloss over Hebrews chapter six because it was a hard sermon to preach? Or should I go ahead and preach it, knowing that it is my mandate to preach the whole counsel of God? Well, when I thought about it like that, I really didn’t have a choice. But as you are going to see for yourself, while this passage talks about apostasy, it doesn’t focus on apostasy. In fact, the focus is on the exact opposite of apostasy. It’s all about growing in the faith. To see what I’m talking about, please turn in your Bibles to Hebrews chapter six, and we’re going to be reading the first twelve verses. Again, Hebrews 6:1-12.
“Therefore 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, of the doctrine of baptisms, and of laying on of hands, and of resurrection from the dead, and of eternal judgment. And this will we do, if God permit. For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost, and have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come, if they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance; seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put Him to open shame. For 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: but that which beareth thorns and briers is rejected, and is nigh unto cursing; whose end is to be burned. But, beloved, we are persuaded better things of you, and things that accompany salvation, though we thus speak. For God is not unrighteous to forget your work and labour of love, which ye have shown toward His name, in that ye have ministered to the saints, and do minister. And we desire that every one of you do show the same diligence to the full assurance of hope unto the end: that ye be not slothful, but followers of them who through faith and patience inherit the promises.”
The title of this morning’s sermon is “Being fertile ground for Christ.” And remember, this is not a sermon on apostasy. It’s actually a sermon on growing in the faith. So if you are the kind of person who benefits from taking notes, I would encourage you to do so today. Because in this chapter, the writer of Hebrews gives us three awesome ways to grow closer to God, (and by the way, apostasy is only mentioned in one of his three points). All right, let’s get started.
Way #1 to grow closer to Christ: Have a solid foundation
To see what the writer of Hebrews has to say about developing a solid foundation, look at what he says in verses one through three. “Therefore 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, of the doctrine of baptisms, and of laying on of hands, and of resurrection from the dead, and of eternal judgment. And this will we do, if God permit.” Essentially, the writer of Hebrews declares that it’s time to move on to some really difficult doctrines in Christianity. But before he moves on, he wants to make really sure that his audience understands the fundamentals of Christianity. Because he knew full and well that you cannot have a growing relationship with Jesus Christ unless you have a solid foundation in the basic principles of Christianity. It would be like declaring yourself the world’s foremost theologian, and yet not knowing what happens to people after they die. So the first step in growing closer to Christ is mastering the basics, and this is something that each and every one of us must do in our personal lives. You know, there are some things in Christianity that it’s okay for a baby Christian not to know about. It’s okay if you don’t know all sixty-six books of the Bible in order. It’s okay if you haven’t memorized the Romans road to salvation. It’s even okay if the Trinity is still a confusing topic to you. (Guess what, it’s a confusing topic to me, too.) But church, there are some things that we cannot afford to be confused about.
But that leaves the question, “What are the principles that we need to master?” Well thankfully, the writer of Hebrews gives us what he considers to be the six main principles of the faith in these little verses. So let’s quickly look at these six things. The first thing he mentions is “repentance from dead works.” Repentance is another one of those things that we don’t like to talk about very much, but it is a crucial subject that we need to master. In short, repentance means that we try to stop doing sinful things, and to start doing the good things that God commands us to do. We cannot afford to not understand repentance, because repentance is what sets us apart from the world. If nothing changes in our lives after we accept Christ, then we have not truly accepted Christ. I’m not saying that we will become overnight-Mother Teresas, but I am saying that God will begin a transformation in us the moment we accept Jesus Christ. We have to know that with all of our hearts.
The second principle is also in verse one, and that is having faith in God. This makes sense, doesn’t it? By definition, every Christian has faith in God for salvation. That’s what being a Christian is. But I think the writer of Hebrews is going beyond just faith for salvation. I think he’s saying that we need to have faith in God in every aspect of our lives.
The third principle kicks off verse two, and that is baptism. Baptism is something that every believer is supposed to go through after they accept Jesus Christ. The Bible teaches that baptism will not save us from our sins, but it is something that we have to do in to be obedient to Christ. Baptism is how the early church made public their decision to be a Christian, and it holds the exact same purpose in our church. For the writer of Hebrews, baptism was an absolute fundamental part of Christianity, and many modern churches do great damage when they try to sweep baptism under the rug. So, if there is anyone here who has accepted Christ, but has not yet been baptized, I would love to talk to you more about this. Baptism is a wonderful privilege, but it is also a command straight from our Lord and Savior.
The fourth principle is the laying on of hands. This is something that has really fallen out of practice in most churches. In the early church, any time a person faced an important decision, or any time they were sick or beginning a new ministry, the church would lay hands of them and ask God to help them. At times on Wednesday nights we do lay hands on people. This is a practice that so many have forgotten, but it is one that we were never meant to forget. But I think the idea behind this principle is that we are supposed to uplift each other in prayer. So church, to the writer of Hebrews, praying for one another is one of the six main principles of the Christian faith. And obviously, the Holy Spirit agreed, because He helped him to write it. So it is of the utmost importance that we pray for one another.
The fifth principle is the resurrection of the dead. And while obviously believing that Jesus Christ rose on the third day is a fundamental for salvation, that’s not what the writer of Hebrews is talking about here. The word “dead” in the Greek is in the plural. So what is he talking about? He’s talking about our resurrection when Christ returns! For the Christian, it is absolutely essential that we realize that there is life after death. Paul said that if there was no resurrection, then we would be of all men the most miserable.
The sixth and final principle is the promise of eternal judgment. So the hope of Heaven is a fundamental for us, but the reality of hell is also a fundamental. So many people that call themselves Christians have tried to get around the concept of hell. But in this verse, acknowledging the reality of an eternal hell is one of the primary principles of the faith.
So there you have it. Six principles that every Christian needs to master in order to grow in Christ. You know, back in the 1600s, there was a Baptist denomination that founded themselves on these six basic principles. They were called “Six-principle” Baptists. In doctrine, they were essentially identical to Free Will Baptist, except Free Will Baptists hadn’t come into existence yet. These forefathers realized that there are some essentials that every Christian needs to master. I’m not suggesting that we should change our name to “First Six-Principle Baptist Church.” But I think that we would do well to master what the writer of Hebrews calls our foundation.
But, as we’re about to see, we can never stop growing after we’ve laid the foundation. You don’t hear me quote John Calvin much, but John Calvin once said that it would be very strange if the builders of a house stopped building after they laid the foundation. A foundation is entirely crucial to any sound structure, but it cannot be the whole structure. So remember, we must master these principles, but if that’s all we accomplish as Christians then we have really missed out. Let’s move on.
Way #2 to grow closer to Christ: Don’t abandon God
While this point may seem extremely obvious, the writer of Hebrews tells us in verses four through eight that if we want to be fruitful for Christ, we must not abandon God. As you well know, there are many, many well-meaning Christians that do not believe in the possibility of apostasy. They say that the verses in Hebrews chapter six are not talking about Christians, but are just talking about church-goers that abandon God. But look at how the writer of Hebrews describes these people in verses four and five. He says that they were enlightened. He said that they have tasted of the heavenly gift. The gift he’s talking about is having our sins forgiven. He said that they were made partakers of the Holy Spirit. Only Christians can have the Holy Spirit. They tasted the good word of God. And finally, they had tasted the powers of the world to come. What is that talking about? That means that they experienced the power of God in their lives. Church, the writer of Hebrews is definitely talking about Christians. And after he establishes that fact, he says something extremely painful in verse six. Look at what verse six says. “If they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance; seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put Him to open shame.” I know this verse is kind of confusing because it starts mid-sentence, but the writer is saying that it’s impossible for someone that he described (a born-again Christian) to come back to Christ once they’ve left the faith. This is one of those principles of apostasy that we studied a couple of months ago. If a person truly leaves the faith, then they cannot come back to Christ, because denying Him was doing the same thing that the Roman guards did to Him on the cross. It puts Him to shame. Jesus died once. We can get saved once.
Because we talked about this recently, I don’t want to talk too much about it now, but remember that apostasy is not something we should be in constant terror about. The Bible says that apostasy is a very deliberate act that you cannot enter into half-heartedly. An apostate is someone who makes a well-informed decision to turn their back on Christ. And Hebrews six teaches us that if a person makes that decision, there is no turning back from it. And because the Holy Spirit will not work with that person anymore, there will never be a desire to come back to Christ.
And after the writer of Hebrews talks about this grim possibility, he uses a great illustration in verses seven and eight. He essentially paints the picture that we can be one of two types of Christians. The first type of Christian is seen in verse seven. Verse seven talks about a Christian who is fruitful for God. His end will be blessing. Verse eight talks about a Christian who commits apostasy. His life is characterized by sinful habits and no fruit. The Bible says that his end will be burning. And while this concept should put the fear of God into us, we should not think that in some way we have to do a bunch of good works to not go to hell. In verse seven, notice what it says causes good ground to be fruitful. Can anybody tell me what it says causes growth? Yes, it’s the rain! So, as we’re thinking about how we can be more fruitful for God, let me ask you this: Can you make it rain? If you could, you would be a very popular person right now. You know as well as I do that only God can send the rain. And that applies to growth in our lives, as well. The writer of Hebrews clearly lays out that a true Christian’s life is characterized by good fruit, and an apostate’s life is characterized by sin. But what he says in verse seven is that the good fruit comes from God! Church, make sure you understand clearly what I am about to say. Good deeds are not a necessity of salvation. They are a result of salvation. God the Holy Spirit brings about growth in our lives. That’s why I say that apostasy is a very deliberate decision. While it doesn’t always feel like it, growing closer to Christ comes very naturally to Christians. It’s not always easy, but because of the Holy Spirit, it’s a part of our new nature. But someone who commits apostasy is someone who continually denied the Holy Spirit’s transforming power, to the point that they eventually denied Him altogether.
I know this is extremely difficult, both to accept and to understand. And please, do not leave today wishing you knew more about this. If you have questions about this doctrine, please don’t leave until you’ve talked to me or someone else about it. I know it’s difficult, but it is crucial. But the point the writer of Hebrews is making is not that we should be in constant dread of apostasy. Far from it! He wants us to realize that the Holy Spirit is already working in our lives. As a born-again Christian, we don’t have to do a 12-step program to ensure God will transform our lives. He’s already promised to do it, and we just have to not get in His way by carrying on a sinful lifestyle! So way number two to grow closer to Christ: Don’t abandon God!
Way #3 to grow closer to Christ: Be diligent in your faith
I simply love what the writer of Hebrews tells his readers in verse nine. Look at what he says. “But, beloved, we are persuaded better things of you, and things that accompany salvation, though we thus speak.” After he tells them about the grim possibility of apostasy, he tells them that he’s not worried about them, because he knows they are doing well. Frankly, I can strongly echo his sentiment as I stand before you today. I mean yeah, there is this grim possibility of apostasy, but as I look out among you today, I don’t see this as an imminent threat. Basically, apostasy was something he had to talk about, even though he didn’t think his readers were in danger of it. I feel the exact same way. This is something I had to talk about, but you guys don’t worry me, and I praise God for that.
In verses ten through twelve, the writer of Hebrews gives us one more way that we can grow closer to Christ. He has already told us to build a strong foundation. He has already told us to never abandon God. And now, he tells us to be diligent in our faith. And in these two verses, he gives us two distinct reasons why we should always be diligent. The first reason is found in verses ten and eleven. Notice that in these verses we see that we should be diligent because God notices the fruit we show. Isn’t that nice to know? I know that sometimes doing good is difficult, but it helps so much to know that God notices the things we do, and He has promised to reward us.
And while doing good for God’s sake should always be enough of a reason, the writer gives us one more reason in verse twelve. Look at what he says. “That ye be not slothful, but followers of them who through faith and patience inherit the promises.” He’s telling us to not be lazy, but instead follow the faithful men and women who went on before us. So, our motivation for being diligent should be the glory of God, but we often find our example in the people who have gone on before us. Maybe your example in the faith is the Apostle Paul, who wrote almost half of the New Testament. Or maybe your inspiration is William Carey, who left everything behind to become a missionary in India. Maybe your inspiration is your mother or your father, who always made sure you knew the right way to go. Or maybe your inspiration is someone who is still alive, like Sister Naoma, who has been faithful to God for many years, and who still makes every effort to serve Him. The point the writer is making is that we should notice their example, and follow their example. In Christian history, in our church’s history, and in your family’s history, God has provided us with a wealth of good examples. Men and women who were more concerned with pleasing God than with pleasing man. Men and women who were diligent in the faith. They weren’t perfect, but they desired to follow God with all their heart. Let us follow their good example.
And that’s the end of this morning’s passage. In these twelve verses, the writer of Hebrews has given us three amazing ways that we can grow closer to Jesus Christ. And that’s all of our goals, isn’t it? The first way we can grow closer to Christ is by mastering the fundamentals of the faith. There are some concepts and doctrines that we really have to know like the back of our hands. We can’t grow closer to God if we don’t understand the necessity of things like prayer and faith, and if we don’t acknowledge the realities of Heaven and hell. The second way we grow closer to Christ is by refusing to abandon our salvation. The Holy Spirit is constantly working in our lives to draw us closer to Christ, and our job is to simply not mess Him up by constantly denying Him. And the third way we can become fruitful ground for Christ is by being diligent in our faith. Never give up. Never grow complacent with where you are now. Because, as my favorite commentary said, “Standing still is a sure recipe for falling back.” Keep striving to know Jesus more and more and more. Keep striving to do good deeds. Not because good deeds will save you, but because good deeds glorify the God that died for your sins.
And as the pianist and song leader come forward, I just want to challenge each and every one of you to grow closer to Christ. Whether you have been a Christian for five minutes or for fifty years, you should not be done growing. If you feel as if your Christian life is in some sort of holding pattern, and you would like to make the commitment to grow closer to Christ, then the altars are open for you this morning. And if you have never accepted Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior, then I urge you to make that decision today. That Bible says that because of our sin, we are utterly lost, and we deserve a death in hell. But Jesus Christ died so that He could take your punishment from you. And the Bible says that the only requirement for accepting this gift is faith. When you place your faith in Christ, the Holy Spirit will begin a long transformation in your life. The transformation is not always fun, but the result is an absolute masterpiece.
In a minute we’re going to open the altars, but before we do that, let’s pray.
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