In my previous article, I discussed symptoms of a spiritual disease that has swept the Church: Laziness. However, since not much is more frustrating than a doctor saying, “Sorry, can’t help ya. Just figure it out,” I want to go back to Hebrews and unpack the treatment plan for our battle with the “slug bug.”
WARNING: In Some Cases, This Disease May Be Fatal (6:4-8)
The writer of Hebrews recognizes that the churches he’s addressing are in our same boat, and he’s doing his best to rouse them from their lethargy. And lest we think that this issue is no big deal, we have to recognize that this disease—or, let’s drop the metaphor and call it what it is: sin—can be fatal. That’s exactly what Hebrews 6:4-8 tells us.
The writer describes four types of people, who, we would assume, love Jesus:
- Those who have once been enlightened
- Those who have tasted the heavenly gift
- Those who have been made partakers of the Holy Spirit
- Those who have tasted the good word of God and the power of the age to come.
But these four have “fallen away.” The warning goes on to say that those who fit this bill cannot be renewed to repentance. This is a notoriously difficult passage to interpret, and I’m not going to do justice to it here (that’s beyond the scope of this discussion), but let me give you the bottom line as I see it.
Here’s what we know can’t be true. It cannot be true that the writer is referring to people who have been genuinely saved being somehow “unsaved” and then unable to come to repentance. That would contradict numerous clear passages on the security of our salvation, not to mention throw a doctrine of salvation-by-works into the mix. So then, what type of person is the author referring to? I believe that he’s describing a person who has had every opportunity to hear and receive the Gospel and has claimed to believe it. From all appearances, this person has seemed to be a genuine believer, but then falls away, leaving his faith behind. This person has traded the hope of the Gospel for the hope of this world. This is the most extreme end of the disease of laziness. However, if you want treatment (please note that terminal patients will not accept treatment), it is available to you.
The Treatment Plan (6:9-20)
Our writer, apparently realizing the gravity of the warning he just issued, hopes to avoid undue consternation from his readers; so he wisely assures them that he’s not accusing them of being in the camp he just described. His goal is to wake them up. He recognizes that they have done good work for God in ministering to the saints (vv. 9-10). However, that good work is not enough to keep them from sluggishness. He wants them to apply “the same diligence so as to realize the full assurance of hope until the end.”
Here I must ask: What motivates you to persevere in the faith? Is it doing good Jesus-stuff every day? According to this passage, that’s inadequate. Being busy for Jesus and doing all the “church things” just won’t cut it. It’s good. The writer commends his readers for their work, telling them that God won’t forget what they’ve done. But they need more. Remember that one of the symptoms of laziness is focusing only on externals. This goes for ministry as well.
We struggle with this idea of hope because, as Romans 8:24 says, hope, by definition, isn’t seen. I can see all of my good works. I can check a box for every time I read the Bible, go to church, or throw money in the offering plate. I like quantifiable things, and hope just isn’t that. It’s hard to work for something that I can’t see. Thus, I become lazy. The Hebrews’ good works had left them unfulfilled—as ours will. The writer,then, points them to something better, and to do so he begins with the great patriarch, Abraham.
He uses Abraham as an example of faithful diligence in waiting for the fruition of the promise. Just typing that makes me want to wrinkle my nose. I hate waiting. But how did Abraham do it? We need to understand that in order to imitate him.
Abraham received arguably the most important promise in Scripture in Genesis 12:
Now the LORD said to Abram,
"Go forth from your country,
And from your relatives
And from your father's house,
To the land which I will show you;
And I will make you a great nation,
And I will bless you,
And make your name great;
And so you shall be a blessing;
And I will bless those who bless you,
And the one who curses you I will curse.
And in you all the families of the earth will be blessed."
The author of Hebrews alludes to this familiar passage to point out the difference between a promise from God and one from humans. Why does a witness in a courtroom swear their oath with one hand on the Bible? To lend stronger credence to what they’re swearing. They’re, as the writer of Hebrews says, appealing to a higher power, as if to make the oath a little “truer” than if they hadn’t had a hand on the Bible. However, there is no power greater than God. What He says has all the power in the universe behind it. He doesn’t need to swear on the Bible, His mother’s grave, or on His life. (How absurd!) He doesn’t need to swear an oath at all. If He says it, that settles it. So then, why did He, according to Hebrews, make the promise to Abraham and swear an oath? Verse 18 says exactly why:
“So that by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have taken refuge would have strong encouragement to take hold of the hope set before us.”
There’s that idea of hope again. And we learn what exactly it is in verse 19:
“This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, a hope both sure and steadfast and one which enters in the veil.”
The question shouldn’t be “What is this hope?” But “Who is this hope?” Our hope is a Person. The Person whom all the promises of Abraham point to. The One who has entered within the veil as the great high priest able to sympathize with every weakness, and inviting us to come receive mercy and find grace at His throne (4:14-16). The Person in whom we have taken refuge (6:18) and to whom we desperately cling. He is the reason we persevere and push on to maturity.
But I don’t just look back at what He has already done (as great as that is). According to v. 18, the hope is set before me. Put succinctly, this hope is the glory that has been promised us in all three tenses of salvation: Because Christ—the fulfillment of God’s promises—in the past, paid the penalty for my sin on the cross and imputed His righteousness to me, I look forward to the eradication of the presence of sin and the fullness of joy in the presence Christ for all eternity . To this hope I cling as I presently press on to maturity as long as God leaves me in the sin-cursed world and in my sin-cursed body to conform me to the image of His Son.
The writer of Hebrews clearly restates the treatment plan in chapter 12:
…Let us run with endurance the race that is set before us,
fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith,
who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself,
so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. (Heb 12:1-3)
Let’s face it. We don’t like hard things. And here in the freest country in the world, we don’t often have to do hard things—at least not when it comes to our spiritual lives. We can cling to our possessions, our talents, our jobs, our kids, our families, our good deeds—anything besides Jesus—and see more reward. We work hard to have a nice life, but we cling to our own abilities rather than the Savior. And we end up sluggish. The writer of Hebrews implores us to realize that Jesus alone is the only hope that we have—past, present, and future. Only by clinging to Him will we defeat the laziness that dwells within us!
 I cannot finish a discussion of this topic without saying that it is never our job to assign people to the category of Hebrews 6:4-6. We don’t know who cannot be renewed to repentance. I believe it is always our duty to pray and evangelize those who are living as unbelievers. The point of this passage is for us to examine our own hearts, not to do the examining of someone else’s.