Hebrews 5:11 We have much to say about this, but it is hard to explain because you are slow to learn. 12 In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! 13
A tourist once asked a local, “Were any great men born in this village.” The man replied, “No, only babies!”
Of course we are all born as babies, helpless, dependent infants. But we are not supposed to stay as babies all our lives. It was Cardinal Newman who said “Growth is the only evidence of life”. The natural way of things is that human beings grow. People are born as babies. They start to toddle, and before we know it they are off to primary school, then secondary school and those troubled teenage years. Then they become students and finally, we hope, responsible adults! As human beings we are all meant to grow and develop and this should be equally true in our Christian life. Sadly it is all too possible for a person to get stuck as a spiritual baby, or a toddler, or with a faith which is not beautifully childlike but instead merely childish. We can sometimes be content to stand still in our faith. We can sometimes become too comfortable, and feel that we have already arrived where God wants us to be. But surely there is always more about God to discover, more riches in the Bible to explore, more depths in prayer to enjoy. Maturity of Christian character does not develop overnight either. Our minds can keep on developing, and so too should our characters. We will never “arrive” but we should all work and pray to continue to grow to Christian maturity. You are young only once, but you can stay immature indefinitely.
A survey once asked, “What are the characteristics of mature Christian faith? Results included, “Trusting in God’s saving grace.” “Seeing the whole of life, work, family and social life, as parts of our Christian life.” “Seeking spiritual growth through study, prayer, reflection and discussion.” “Being part of a supportive witnessing community of believers.” “Serving God and neighbours through acts of love and justice.”
Mature Christians look at the world very differently from immature Christians. In particular, maturity or immaturity are revealed when we face problems or difficulties.
Immature faith thinks that Christians won’t have any pain or disappointments. Mature faith accepts that God will bring good out of our pain and disappointments. Immature faith thinks God just wants to make Christians happy. Mature faith knows that God is transforming us into the image of Christ. Immature faith thinks things will always work out. Mature faith trusts that God is still in control even when things don’t work out. Immature faith expects to have all the answers. Mature faith wrestles with the tough questions. Immature faith thinks we always have to be strong. Mature faith admits our weaknesses.
God wants us all to grow up in our faith. It isn’t enough to believe in Jesus. God wants us to follow Jesus in every part of our lives. God wants us to be disciples. God is in the business of turning atheists into believers and believers into followers and followers into missionaries.
God wants us to be mature in our faith. Growing up as Christians involves many things. It involves study and prayer and worship. It involves fellowship and service and witness and lifestyle. Christian maturity is about knowing what God wants us to do and doing it obediently and faithfully and passionately. That is what Hebrews 5 says that Christian maturity is all about.
13 Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. 14 But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.
Maturity is about righteousness. In Hebrews that word refers to right living – living in a way which pleases God. Maturity is about knowing the difference between good and evil and doing what’s right and not doing what’s wrong. As one writer put it, “Our safety does not lie in perfecting our knowledge of the will of God, but in our sincerity in obeying the light we have, and then in seeking for more.”
The proof of Christian maturity is in right living.
But what then should we be doing?
6 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, 2 instruction about baptisms, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment.
Hebrews says we should be moving on from Christian basics, leaving the milk behind and going on to solid food. But on first glance we may be surprised by the things it calls “elementary teachings.” Some things on this list you might think will always be essential for Christian faith, and they will. But actually all the things in this list are in one sense elementary and basic and foundational because they are the starting point for Christian faith. We may never leave behind these truths, but if we get stuck on them and never think about anything else, our growth as Christians will indeed be stunted.
Repentance from acts that lead to death
We will always need to keep on repenting from sin. Coming to God for forgiveness and seeking His grace to live a new life. But if all we are ever doing is focussing on our failings we will never make progress in the Christian life. We need to look onward and upward. We need to increase in holiness and if we are still stuck on the same sins we were committing before we were saved that is not healthy!
Faith in God
The message of Jesus all the way through was “repent and believe.” That was his message to Peter and Andrew and James and John. But that wasn’t the only thing Jesus taught his apostles in the three years they were with Him. We start the Christian life with saving faith, and we will always need saving faith, but there is much more we need to learn if we are to make progress in the Christian life.
I know of people who have gone forward at Billy Graham rallies or other evangelistic events to show they are repenting of their sins and that they believe in God. And that is fantastic when somebody does that! But I also know of some people who have gone forward at every Christian event they have ever been to. Whenever there is an altar call they go forward. And that is not healthy. Because their first profession of repentance and faith is meant to be the start of a brand new life. They should understand that. They should understand they don’t need to keep on starting – what they need is to move on and keep growing!
Baptism as a believer is the start of the Christian life. I have known Christians who have asked to be baptised again because they feel they have made a mess of things and they want a fresh start again. But it doesn’t work like that. Baptism is the start. It is the outward sign of the inward reality of new birth. We don’t need to keep on being born again, and again, and again. We just need to grow up!
Laying on of Hands
Laying on of hands as a way of passing on blessing has many parts to play in Christian experience.
Filling of the Holy Spirit
Here I think Hebrews is referring to the act of Laying on of Hands to mark the beginning of the Christian life. We will do it next week immediately after Shilpi’s baptism. In Roman Catholic and Anglican churches the laying on of hands is separated from baptism and takes place at the act of Confirmation. Again this is something which happens in that sense at the beginning of the Christian life. Although Laying on of Hands has significance at other times, Christians don’t need to keep starting over and over again. They just need to grow!
The resurrection of the dead
There have been all kinds of arguments about what will happen at the resurrection of the dead. Paul talks about some of these in 1 Corinthians 15. We shouldn’t get hung up about those details. Arguing about what will happen when we die and what heaven will be like is not a sign of maturity.
In the same way there have been all kinds of arguments about the end times. Will Jesus come first, or will there be a rapture? Who are the 144,000? Will some be “left behind?” It is not a sign of maturity to argue over these things. These are not deep truths to fight over. The facts of the resurrection of the dead and the reality of eternal judgment are the elementary foundations of the Christian faith. We need to move on from these basics to the serious business of righteousness and holiness and mission and love.
“Repentance from acts that lead to death, and of faith in God, 2 instruction about baptisms, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment.” These things are indeed the elementary truths, the foundations of the Christian faith. We need solid foundations, But a building needs more than foundations. If we get stuck or hung up on these elementary and basic things, we will never grow. We need more than milk. We need solid food!
We live in an age of instant everything. We expect to have whatever we want, whenever we want, wherever we are. But there are no shortcuts to Christian maturity. Some Christians are like school children doing their homework by looking up the answers to their maths problems in the back of the book, or copying from their friends, rather than working out the answers for themselves. It doesn’t work like that.
At the same time our western world is facing a crisis of obesity. Children are not growing up healthily. They are just getting fatter. And a major cause of this is our fast food culture of takeaways and ready meals. And for many people this is a problem in their spiritual lives as much as it is in their bodies. Too many Christians and too many churches are fed a diet of ready meals and takeaways and even of spiritual baby food, rather than the meat of the gospel! As a result many Christians are not growing, they are just getting fatter!
Some people don’t want to go any deeper with God. That would take them out of their comfort zone. They are afraid of change. They are afraid of greater commitment – that would take work, and time and dedication and sacrifice. They are afraid of God’s refining fire.
Hebrews warns us, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! Therefore let us leave the elementary teachings about Christ and go on to maturity, …. And God permitting, we will do so.