I’ve been going through the book of Hebrews and it never ceases to amaze me with each reading, some new insight is gained (why repeated reading of the word is a lifetime exercise). So here’s something that struck me recently and was kind of enforced in our Sunday School class where we are going through the book of Galatians.
The writer of Hebrews exhorts Christians who were Jews and wanted to return to life under the law of Moses because Christian life was so challenging. He issues a series of warnings regarding those who shrink back and don’t mature in their Christian life.
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 if for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good and evil. (Heb. 5:11-14)
A few observations: 1) There are basic principles of Christianity to be believed that these people have heard repeatedly; 2) moving from milk to meat having the basics so down pact that you can teach others and 3) this is intrinsically related to putting the word into practice such that the basics are lived out. And here is where I think a careful distinction should be made.
For years, I had considered moving from milk to meat as having more knowledge about what Christ did. For much of that time I unfortunately thought that meant that we needed more instruction from God than the Bible gives. In this regard, it’s easy to slip into a “beyond the gospel” mentality. But I think that misses the point. To be sure, meat does involve gaining more insight. However, the idea that we move beyond the gospel is contrary to what the writer exhorts through this epistle. The main focus is the supremacy of Christ and what that means for trusting in God’s promises. And we have to be careful to understand what those are. He begins his epistle with the exaltation of Christ as the ultimate expression of God’s work and word.
Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, (Heb. 1:1-3)
The writer wants these Christians to rest in the promises through Christ, which basically means to rest in the completed work of Christ (see chapter 10). And why he gives a host of all those who lived by faith, as an exhortation to do the same. (see chapter 11).
So when he chastises them for not being teachers yet, its not because they don’t have sufficient knowledge but because they have not exercised faith in the basics of God’s promises, which is to trust in Christ. It is living by the gospel. That’s why he says,
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, and of instruction about washings, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgement. (Heb. 6:1-2)
The moving beyond the basic principles in context of his epistle means they have put into practice what it means to live by the gospel so they are not tripping over themselves with the identity crisis that seems to have gripped them. And that was their problem. They had to keep going back to what it means to be a Christian because of the instability of where they were placing their faith, which was not in the completed work of Christ. They had issues living their life by the gospel. That’s why there were having the shrinking back issues and why the writer warns them.
Having the essentials down means living by the gospel. It means trusting in Christ for our righteousness. Whatever insights we gain that relate to meat have their foundation in the gospel. The mature who should be teachers have been so transformed by the gospel and what it means to live by it that they then can teach others how to do the same.