Pressing on To Maturity

For the last two weeks I’ve been preaching a message from Hebrews 5 and 6 to several different churches.  Below are my notes on this passage and I hope you enjoy them!  I would just add a disclaimer that they are my raw preaching notes.  So not every thought is written long-form, there are several footnotes with other thoughts at the bottom, and everything is in bullet form.  It this doesn’t turn you off, then I hope you are able to enjoy the study!

PJW

Press On Toward Maturity

Hebrews 5:8-6:3

Personal Note and Background

This series of verses has had an outsized impact on my own life and walk with the Lord. It was these verses that God used to spur me on to learn more, to read more, to draw closer to the Lord and to teach what I learn to others.  When I read this passage several years ago I thought  (rightly) that “I can’t teach anyone now”, but realized that my inability wasn’t God telling me not to teach, but rather it was Him calling me to learn and grow closer to Him in obedience in order to teach when the time presented itself.

The hallmark of this text is a warning to believers not to live their lives as introverted and covetous people.  We are to be people marked by inward heart transformation and a mind renewed in the knowledge of God, which we can readily share with others.

As Moses says, this Word of God is our “very life” – surely it is worthy of our attention today.

The Text: Hebrews 5:8-6:3

 Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered. [9] And being made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him, [10] being designated by God a high priest after the order of Melchizedek. About this we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. [12] 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, [13] for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. [14] But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil. 6:1 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. [3] And this we will do if God permits.

I want us to focus on 3 Key Points we must take away from this passage, which we will see rise up again and again in our reading today:

  1. God’s desire and purpose for His image bearers is that we know Him. This call is especially so for believers who have been united to Christ
  2. Our growth in maturity is blocked not merely by intellectual issues, but by sin and love of the world, indicating a serious heart issue
  3. God calls us to press on toward maturity in the strength He has given: in prayerful reading and studying of His Word, asking for and depending on God’s help for our increased spiritual growth

The Biblical Theology

What the author of Hebrews says here, is not an isolated teaching, but reflects what we see throughout the Scriptures from the immutable plans of God for his image bearers, namely that God desires for us to know Him more intimately and to repent of the sin that hinders us from doing so:

And when Moses had finished speaking all these words to all Israel, [46] he said to them, “Take to heart all the words by which I am warning you today, that you may command them to your children, that they may be careful to do all the words of this law. [47] For it is no empty word for you, but your very life, and by this word you shall live long in the land that you are going over the Jordan to possess.” (Deuteronomy 32:45-47 ESV)[i]

One generation shall commend your works to another,
and shall declare your mighty acts.
On the glorious splendor of your majesty,
and on your wondrous works, I will meditate.
They shall speak of the might of your awesome deeds,
and I will declare your greatness.
(Psalm 145:4-6 ESV)
 

“For I know their works and their thoughts, and the time is coming to gather all nations and tongues. And they shall come and shall see my glory, [19] and I will set a sign among them. And from them I will send survivors to the nations, to Tarshish, Pul, and Lud, who draw the bow, to Tubal and Javan, to the coastlands far away, that have not heard my fame or seen my glory. And they shall declare my glory among the nations. (Isaiah 66:18-19)

***Isaiah clearly has an eschatological purpose here, and I will talk later about how Paul sees God’s glory as currently mediated through the Bible (2 Cor. 3:18)

It is written in the Prophets, ‘And they will all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me— (John 6:44-45)

***Jesus connects knowing God soteriologically and says it’s the results of His Spirit’s work within us

When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. [14] He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. [15] All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you. (John 16:13-15)

***The work of learning from God the Spirit ultimately brings Him glory, and is His plan for us

And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, [10] so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, [11] filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God. (Philippians 1:9-11)

From the law, wisdom literature, the prophets, our Lord Himself, as well as the Apostle Paul, there has been a call to deepen our knowledge of the Almighty, His ways and His Son, and to lean on His Spirit’s power in order to shine that light[ii] of knowledge to all nations[iii] as well as with our own families and friends.

The Situation/Context – 5:8-10

Now as we look again to the context of today’s passage, let’s once again examine verses 8-10.  The Author is expounding on some deep Christological truths – mostly pertaining to the Priesthood of Jesus – that required a foundational understanding already in place.  We just need to glean a few things to understand the context…

    1. That Jesus, though divine, was fully man and “learned” obedience – vs. 8
    2. That Jesus was perfectly righteous and that righteousness enabled him to be our source for righteousness and salvation – the very fountainhead from which we would derive our right standing before a holy God – vs. 9
    3. That these things contributed to the fact that Jesus is a priest, not an ordinary priest, but one “after the order of Melchizedek” which is an order both eternal and personal in type. There are many OT types but Melchizedek was the only type who represented not simply the offices of Christ (Messiah, King, Shepherd etc.), but also his person (eternal, and without father or mother).

–       Needless to say these great truths – these are deep truths – and they aren’t going to make a whole lot of sense to someone still stuck on the basics.  One cannot understand or appreciate the need for Christ’s imputed righteousness, the importance of His being fully man, the significance of Christ’s non-Levitical (and eternal) priesthood, or the typological significance of this enigmatic character Melchizedek if one is still learning the basic truths upon which these are built.[iv]

And so he stops and levels this charge against them (read verses 11-12) 

CHARGE #1 – Dull of Hearing – 5:11-12

–       As we read in verses 11 and 12 its almost as if the author stops mid course as he extolls the virtues of these great truths pertaining to Christ, and has to stop and say, ‘you know, I’d go on here, but its obvious that you aren’t ready for it – even though I have “much to say” still!’   He’s stymied by the stagnation of these church members.

–       They ought to be teachers but instead they need someone to still teach them the basics. They come to church every week and never apply their minds past the elementary truths.  They have regressed.[v] They have become “dull of hearing.” (nōthros – “no-thross” – slow, sluggish[vi], indolent, dull, languid)

–       This is not saying they ought all to be teachers in the sense we have today as one called to preach, but rather they must be able to convey their beliefs to others – this is at the heart of “making disciples” (Matt. 28).

–       John Owen rightly explains that this charge against them isn’t aimed at their being slow mentally, or having a learning disability.  His charge is a moral charge “you treasure not them up in your hearts, consciences, and memories, but let them slip out, and forget them” says Owen.  He continues “The natural dullness of our minds in receiving spiritual things, is, it may be, included; but it is our depraved affections, casting us on a neglect of our duty, that is condemned.”

–       Therefore the principle problem here is not primarily an intellectual one, nor is it a communication problem on the part of the Apostle, rather it is primarily a problem within the hearts of these Hebrews, and within our own hearts as well.

–       “By nature the hearts of all people are dull and insensitive to the things of God, nor are people genuinely interesting in hearing and seeing what God has to say to them (Matt. 13:15). Mark emphasizes that the same malady afflicts the disciples.  They suffered from hard hearts that resisted the revelation of God in Jesus (Mark 6:52; 8:17, 21). They failed to grasp the significance of Jesus’ teaching, and their failure cannot be attributed merely to intellectual incapacity.” – Thomas Schreiner[vii]

–       In short, the sins of pride, covetousness and possibly laziness are to blame.  We love the world more than we love God.  We love Monday night football more than we love reading the Scripture. We love our hobbies more than our conversations with the Lord.  And where we spend our time and money is an accurate reflection of where our affections truly lie.

–       Matthew Henry says, “It is a sin and shame for persons that are men for their age and standing in the church to be children and babes in understanding”

–       This is why James rightly says, “Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.” (James 1:21 ESV)

–       We must also not misunderstand and think that the “elementary truths” are not precious, that is not what the author is stating.[viii]

–       The basics of the gospel are the foundation for understanding greater mysteries appertaining to the gospel, and to what the author is getting at here, namely the person and work of our Lord Jesus Christ, and in this context, His priesthood.

–       Thus to be “DULL OF HEARING” is to have hearts loaded down with other matters – worldly matters, and minds that are clouded with other priorities. These are sins that block the blood flow and clot the arteries of our faith, causing our thirst for the knowledge of God to dry up.

–       We need hearts whose desires are to follow hard after Christ, not spend endless years on spiritual life support!

And why is this?  Because you are “unskilled in the word of righteousness”

CHARGE #2 – Unskilled in the Word of Righteousness – 5:13-14a

–       Philip Hughes writes, “The author is now seeking, as it were, to wean them from the debility of the milk-stage, into which they have sunk back, and bring them on to the solid diet of the doctrine of the high priesthood of Christ, who, as their Melchizedeck, is the King of Righteousness (7:1).”

–       When the author describes the “mature” the Greek word is teleios (tel-ay-oss), which has the idea of something brought to its end, completeness, it is perfect, it is fully grown, it is consummated.

–       The immature are “unskilled” in the word of righteousness.  They don’t know how to handle their Bible, and consequently they are not living a life in accordance with God’s will – they aren’t pressing on toward “completeness” (Phil. 3:12)[ix]

–       This admonition comes in the context of learning, therefore the call is for God’s children to have discernment about sound teaching and a developed taste for the sweetness of God’s Word.

o   Children have a taste for simple foods, simple drinks, and simple deserts.  Adults, however, desire couscous, cappuccino, and Crème Brulee – not peanut butter, apple juice, and popsicles.

–       NOW there are consequences to being “unskilled” in the Word of God. When you are lazy in your learning, you hurt the body of Christ and cause other people (and yourself) pain in at least two ways:

1. You use the Sword of the Word in an unwieldy way and lead others astray, therefore causing great pain and spreading sour milk (to use the author’s dairy term) around the church.

2. You are completely impotent as a comforter to those who are hurting, in need of wisdom, or exhortation.  This means you cannot effectively correct and guide your children, encourage your wife, lead others in a Bible study, or share with those in pain. You’ve essentially benched yourself

–       The “mature” have a right knowledge of God resulting in the ability to discern between good and evil in all things. This “discerning” is shorthand for living in such a way that reflects God’s work within you – it means loving others and God, and is the result of a renewed mind and transformed heart.

–       Being able to discern between good and evil, then, is the fruit of a life transformed by God.  It is the evidence of faith, and the outward reality of a changed heart within us.[x]   And it is God’s prerogative to use the instrument of His Word and Spirit to do this.

But how is that achieved? How is it said that we obtain this discernment?

The Remedy: Discernment Attained by “Constant Practice” – 5:14b

–       Here we learn how this discernment is achieved: by constant practice.  This means, no doubt, that we must be continually abiding in the Word of God if we’re to grow closer to God, and live out lives transformed by God’s Spirit.

–       We would do well to examine what Paul says about the nature of “renewing our minds” and the close connection between being “renewed” and the ability to “discern the will of God.”

o   “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.” (Romans 12:2)

–       Therefore, the discerning Christian/growing Christian is marked by time in Scripture and prayer. We must immerse ourselves in Scripture Reading, Scripture Memorization, Scripture meditation, and prayer.[xi]  We must inculcate His truths into our minds and lives.

–       This means a real application of our time, energy, and even finances to learning the deep things of God. [xii]

–       Let me suggest then that you do a few practical things:

o   Read the Word Daily: spend time taking in several chapters of the word each day.  This is more than simply one or two verses.

o   Memorize Scripture:[xiii] Chuck Swindoll says, “I know of no other single practice in the Christian life more rewarding, practically speaking, than memorizing Scripture. . . . No other single exercise pays greater spiritual dividends! Your prayer life will be strengthened. Your witnessing will be sharper and much more effective. Your attitudes and outlook will begin to change. Your mind will become alert and observant. Your confidence and assurance will be enhanced. Your faith will be solidified”

o   Extended Times of Prayer: Praying for 30-60 min. greatly increases our love of time with the Lord and grows us in unexpected ways.

o   Read Good Christian Authors: Many of us spend our time reading all fiction, or all one field or another.  We need to be diverse in our reading, but first and foremost we need to read good Christian authors (I’m not talking TD Jakes or Joel Olsteen), slowly working our way up to deeper more mature reading.  Start with the modern day Christian classics: Packer’s ‘Knowing God’, Sproul’s ‘Holiness of God’, Piper’s ‘Desiring God’, Lewis’ ‘Mere Christianity’, and Schaeffer’s ‘True Spirituality’.

–       Furthermore, it is the universal witness of Scripture that calls attention to ITSELF as the instrument by which God changes us and blesses us with a closer knowledge of Him: Consider just a few examples…

o   David begins the Psalms with this important exhortation, “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; [2] but his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night. [3] He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers.” (Psalm 1:1-3)

o   And Paul writes in 2 Corinthians the following, “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.” (2 Corinthians 3:18)

–       We behold that “glory” today by reading the Word of God.  The glory of God is mediated through the written Word of God and effectively applied to our hearts by the Spirit of God. This is what transforms us by “constant practice.”

–       Matthew Henry rightly states, “The word of God is food and nourishment to the life of grace: As new born babes desire the sincere milk of the word that you may grow thereby.

–       And yet again, we must read as much with our hearts as with our minds, applying both to the task.  As C.H. Spurgeon says:

o   “If you had a New Testament in Greek it would be very Greek to some of you, but it would do you as much good to look at that as it does to look at the English New Testament unless you read with understanding heart.”[xiv]

And so now you see the thrust of what we’re getting at here.  We have a heart problem when it comes to learning about God and it is only through the implanted Word and by the power of the Holy Spirit that we are changed and transformed. And that leads the Apostle to his final exhortation…

The Exhortation – 6:1-2

–       “Leave” here does not mean “forsake”, for the author clarifies by stating “not laying again a foundation”, in other words you need to start building on the foundation.

–       Imagine a home where the builders laid the foundation, got the plumbing and electrical set in, built the cement blocks structure and decided to take a break…for a few years!  The structure is exposed to the elements until the rest of the house can be built upon it. Rain hits it. Snow sits upon it in winter…and the heat of the sun bakes it in the summer.  Left as it is, water creeps into crevices and freezes, thereby expanding and cracking the cement blocks. The process repeats itself over and over, until finally decay starts to take place.  So the construction crew has to come and rebuild the foundation again.  What the author of Hebrews is saying is that these men and women in the church had let that foundation rot and deteriorate over and over and over.  They just kept on rebuilding!  The outline was already in place; they’d done it before.  No problem, just replace those blocks!  We need to build upon the foundation, not become so complacent in our learning that that we’re stuck in a perpetual process of groundbreaking!!!

–       This is not to say that we don’t cherish the foundation, of course. For we continually point people to the foundation points of the gospel – and we too need to be continually reminded about them and revel in their glories![xv]  However, we build upon this foundation in order to plumb the deeper mysteries and glories of Christ.[xvi] 

–       At the heart of the Spirit’s work within us is His desire for us to know Christ more. Not to move on from the Gospel, but to better understand and appreciate the profundity of it glory.

–       We are called to “go on toward maturity”, to bring to fullness that which God has started within us.  We do not do this in our flesh, but in cooperation with His Holy Spirit who applies the Word we read to our hearts (which I will mention more in just a minute)

–       Therefore we must be continually putting ourselves in a position to learn more, to hear the Word more, to pray more.  These are the meat and potatoes of the Christian life!  It is in these things that “solid food” is apprehended and consumed.

Finally, the Apostle does not stop with this exhortation, but goes on to deliver a comforting reminder (read verse 3)

 

The Reminder: God is Sovereign – 6:3

–       Along with the exhortation, the author delivers an indicative statement about the character of God.  You see, God never gives commands (imperatives) without first laying the foundation for the ability to obey those commands.  This ability, this foundation, is always grounded in the work of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the power of God the Spirit working within us.

–       Verse 3 reminds us that all we do, all we strive for, is done by both the permission and the power of God.  He is the one who is cleansing our hearts and renewing our minds and He will give us the faith to press on, and the discernment to do His will. For as Paul says:

o   “Finally, then, brothers, we ask and urge you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received from us how you ought to walk and to please God, just as you are doing, that you do so more and more. [2] For you know what instructions we gave you through the Lord Jesus. [3] For this is the will of God, your sanctification…” (1 Thessalonians 4:1-3a)

–       Furthermore, we can rest in the fact that it is God – the all powerful – who is working within us.  Yet we are exhorted to obey, and held responsible as new creations to work toward holiness.  For as Paul says elsewhere:

 o   Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, [13] for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.  (Philippians 2:12-13)

–       Therefore we note once again that God desires for us to know Him.  And it is His working in and through us that will help us do so.  Yet we as Christians are responsible to seek His face, to confess our sins, to pray and ask the Lord to change the desires of our hearts and conform our will to His in order that we might be able to discern what is right and that from a changed heart and a renewed mind, we will please and honor Him.

 

Conclusion

And so in all of this we again see the three things I mentioned above:

  1. God’s desire and purpose for His image bearers is that we know Him. This call is especially so for believers who have been united to Christ
  2. Our growth in maturity is blocked not merely by intellectual issues, but by sin and love of the world, indicating a serious heart issue
  3. God calls us to press on toward maturity in the strength He has given: in prayerful reading and studying of His Word, asking for and depending on God’s help for our increased spiritual growth

My message today has been mostly aimed at those who profess the lordship of Jesus Christ and are followers and believers in His name.  However, if you have been listening to this message and feel a stirring in your heart to know God, then I would implore you to seek Him while He may be found.  Act on that conviction and surrender your heart to His call.  We are all sinners, we have all acted against the law of God which has been emblazoned on our consciences.  We know right from wrong, yet we have spurned the Lord and Creator of all that is right.  All men will one day give account for their behavior during this life.  Only in repentance and faith in Jesus are you able to be saved from the consequences of your sin.  Jesus not only promises (and delivers) forgiveness, He promises and gives a healed heart and transformed life to those who call on Him and believe in His name.  You must trust yourself, your heart and your soul and your entire life to His command.  If you have come to a point where you realize the condemning nature of your sin, and the need for salvation, then I urge you to surrender and be forgiven and receive eternal life in the name of Jesus.

For those of you who have heard this message and are followers of Christ, I urge you to take this calling seriously and work out your salvation with fear and trembling. Realize that God is calling you not to a life of intellectual boredom, but to a renewed mind and transformed heart — a mind which sees terrors as joys and trials as blessings.  A mind and heart that look through the gray havens of today to the eternal riches of His presence in heaven.

We can do this, as Christians, by prayerful meditation on the Word of God.  By asking God to change our hearts’ desires to match that of His Son’s.  By continual “hearing of the Word” and submitting your lives joyfully to its teaching.  This will bring you both peace and joy and give you great strength when all else seems to fail.

None of this can be done alone, can it?  That is why we have the fellowship of the church.  And so I admonish you to stir up one another toward good works, toward meditation on the word, toward times of prayer together, and apart.  That you will together as a congregation seek the face of the Lord with all diligence.

We will do this with His great help, and with David we say:

Oh give thanks to the LORD; call upon his name; make known his deeds among the peoples! [9] Sing to him, sing praises to him; tell of all his wondrous works! [10] Glory in his holy name; let the hearts of those who seek the LORD rejoice! [11] Seek the LORD and his strength; seek his presence continually! [12] Remember the wondrous works that he has done, his miracles and the judgments he uttered, [13] O offspring of Israel his servant, children of Jacob, his chosen ones! (1 Chronicles 16:8-13) 

 

[i] This is also seen in Exodus 33:11, 17 and 18.  Moses is talking to God and God says, “This very thing that you have spoken I will do, for you have found favor in my sight, and I know you by name” (vs. 17). This follows close on the heels of verse 11 which stated, “Thus the Lord used to speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend…” So what we see is that God has initiated a personal relationship with Moses (keep in mind this is in the Old Testament, for those of you who think God has somehow changed and is more loving and personal now because of Jesus).  Moses’ reaction is what our reaction ought to be when God changed our heart, “Please show me your glory” (vs. 18b).  Moses’ reaction is “I want to know you more!”  That is the proper reaction toward a God who has entered into a personal relationship with us!

[ii] (Is. 49:6, 60:3)

[iii] Matthew 5:16; Acts 13:47

[iv] Owen is right to cite 1 Corinthians 2 which says, “It is written in the Prophets, ‘And they will all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me—[46] not that anyone has seen the Father except he who is from God; he has seen the Father.” (John 6:45-46).  Paul then goes on to say, “ [10] these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God.” (1 Corinthians 2:10)

[v] Hughes makes a wonderful point that the fact that they have “become” dull of hearing means that at one point they were not dull, they have regressed.  Therefore it is not a mental, or intellectual issue he’s dealing with, nor is it a communication problem with what the author is saying to them, rather it is a problem of the heart.

[vi] In the Reformation Study Bible R.C. Sproul says, “The Greek word translated “dull” reappears in 6:12 (translated as “sluggish”), suggesting that the danger of spiritual laziness is in view throughout this section.

[vii] This quote from Schreiner is from his New Testament Biblical Theology, Page 512.

[viii] These are foundational truths, as John MacArthur says, “the phrase is equivalent to the gospel of salvation by faith rather than works.

[ix] Again we see the call to Spiritual maturity, which is more than simply “intellectual sophistication” (Sproul). And while none of us will reach our “completeness” in this life, yet we agree with Paul who says, “Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own.” (Philippians 3:12)

[x] As Paul says, “the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life.” (2 Cor. 2:15-16a)

[xi] I like what Tony Reinke says on reading through the Bible in a year, “Reading the Bible from cover to cover in 2013 is a noble goal. And it’s a goal that positions us well to commune with God. Keep communion as your aim, and remember the words of Scripture are there for us to know God’s heart, to commune with the Living Christ, and to respond appropriately to his beauty and to his voice.”  The thing this passage really stresses as a result of diving deep in the word of God is the ability to have discernment between what is good and what is bad (vs. 14).  But there are obviously many other benefits to spending time in God’s word, which flow from a renewed mind, and a transformed heart.  Here’s the link: http://www.desiringgod.org/blog/posts/why-we-read-the-bible

[xii] I don’t know where to put this, or if it really even fits in, but there is such a stark contrast between our own affections and those of the angels in Zechariah 3.  Here we see that they are completely obsessed with adorning Joshua (the High Priest at the time) with the best robe etc. in order that God will be pleased.  Their minds are continually thinking “how can I please God in my actions?”  They are obsessed with that!  So also was the Apostle Paul.  When you take the entire corpus of his work, his writing, you’ll see a man so transfixed on Jesus that in order to summarize his entire mission to the Corinthians he says that he resolved to know nothing else but Christ and Him crucified.  Christ permeates Paul’s writing to such an extent that it would be impossible to read around it.  Paul’s entire lens of thinking was seen through the Lordship prism of Jesus.  Jesus was all to him.  So should it be with us – but this means we must have hearts that are desirous of this and not simply our own obsessions and hobbies.  Everything must play the servant to Christ. All desires and all hobbies, all people and all family must be His second fiddle.

[xiii] Dallas Willard, professor of Philosophy at the University of Southern California, wrote, “Bible memorization is absolutely fundamental to spiritual formation. If I had to choose between all the disciplines of the spiritual life, I would choose Bible memorization, because it is a fundamental way of filling our minds with what it needs. This book of the law shall not depart out of your mouth. That’s where you need it! How does it get in your mouth? Memorization” (“Spiritual Formation in Christ for the Whole Life and Whole Person” in Vocatio, Vol. 12, no. 2, Spring, 2001, p. 7). http://www.desiringgod.org/articles/why-memorize-scripture

[xiv] He says a ton of great things here.  Just a few sentences later Spurgeon goes on to say, “It is the spirit, the real inner meaning, that is sucked into the soul, by which we are blessed and sanctified. We become saturated with the Word of God, like Gideon’s fleece, which was wet with the dew of heaven; and this can only come to pass by our receiving it into our minds and hearts, accepting it as God’s truth, and so far understanding it as to delight in it. We must understand it, then, or else we have not read it aright.”   http://www.spurgeon.org/sermons/1503.htm

[xv] Peter O’Brien says it well, “the author is not suggesting that they should leave behind the gospel for some form of deeper or fuller instructions for initiates. There is no proposal here that the listeners should abandon these basic truths. Indeed, the author reminds them of some of the essential elements of the foundation by immediately listing them. His point is that they are not to lay again the basis of elementary teaching, but to make progress by building on it. The solid food they need is a development of the themes of repentance and faith, resurrection from the dead and eternal judgment’, in the light of the author’s exposition of the high priesthood of Christ.”

[xvi] In the context of Hebrews 5 the call is to understand better the mystery of the priesthood of Christ.

Christ’s Intercession for His Bride

Below are my notes from Sunday School almost two weeks ago.  I list several reasons why I believe that the doctrine of Definite Atonement is the best way for us to understand Christ’s mighty work upon the cross.  I left off a reason that has since been brought to my attention by Dr. Stephen Wellum, namely that in His role as our High Priest Christ is interceding for the church alone, not for any outside the church.  One might think of how the priests of the Old Covenant never made sacrifices for sin for gentiles outside their nation – they were making atonement for a specific group of people, or individuals. It would have been preposterous for them to make sacrifices “for the whole world” when the point of such sacrifices was to point forward to an Ultimate Sacrifice for the elect, namely the blood shed by Christ at Calvary.

I hope you enjoy the notes!

17:9-10 I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours. [10] All mine are yours, and yours are mine, and I am glorified in them.

Jesus says three really profound things here – some of which we’ve already talked about, but because they are being repeated by Jesus I think we can assume that means they’re important, so, we’ll discuss them again.

Jesus is praying for an exclusive group of people and not praying for another group. He’s also saying in His prayer that that ownership over these people is shared between Himself and the Father, and lastly, that He’s “glorified” in these people.

First, I think that verse nine is probably one of the best proof texts for the doctrine known as “limited” or “definite” atonement. The doctrine is a divisive one for us Baptists – so much so that its very difficult to hold the view that the doctrine is indeed reality without getting at least some grief from church and lay leadership.

The doctrine of Definite Atonement, simply stated, espouses that while the atonement Jesus offered on the cross is so valuable that its meritorious for the whole world, yet, that atonement has not been done for the whole world, but only for those whom God has chosen out of the world.

J.C. Ryle puts it this way, “It is true that Christ loves all sinners, and invites all to be saved; but it is also true that He specially loves the ‘blessed company of all faithful people’, whom He sanctifies and glorifies. It is true that He has wrought out a redemption sufficient for all mankind, and offers it freely to all; but it is also true that His redemption is effectual only to them that believe.”

This doctrine is rooted in love.  It is for love that we are called, and for the glory of God that He chooses to intercede for some and not others.  Paul says, “In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will…” (Eph. 1:4b-5).

D.A. Carson notices that though God loves the world in the broader sense of His creation, yet there is a specific sense in which He loves His elect unto salvation, “However wide is the love of God (3:16), however salvific the stance of Jesus toward the world (12:47), there is a peculiar relationship of love, intimacy, disclosure, obedience, faith, dependence, joy, peace, eschatological blessing and fruitfulness that binds the disciples together with the Godhead. These themes have dominated the farewell discourse.”

Although this is a tricky doctrine to get our minds around, I believe it is easiest to understand to doctrine in terms of God’s intentions. Did He send Jesus to die for every single person in the whole world, or did you send Jesus to die for only certain chosen people that were predestined to salvation?

It seems to me that verses like 17:9, and others, when combined with shear logic and an understanding of God’s character and plan of redemption lead us unquestionably to the latter choice – that Jesus died specifically for His sheep, the elect, the chosen ones.

There are many reasons Biblically for thinking this, In John 5:21 we learn that the Son grants life only “to whom he will.”  In John 6:37-44 we learn that both the Father and the Son are working together to select and draw a specific group of people to themselves – a thought which so confused and offended the Jews (along with Christ’s claim to be “bread from heaven”) that many abandoned Him soon thereafter (John 6:66).  In John 10 we learn that Jesus laid down His life for His “sheep” – a specific group of people that were “His”, as distinguished from all people everywhere.

But there are numerous instances in Scripture outside of John’s gospel where the doctrine is assumed as an underlying principle of truth. In Ephesians 5:25 we learn of how men ought to love their wives as Christ loved the church and “gave himself up for her” – again, not for the whole world, but for “her”, for the church, the elect.

In Acts 20:28 Paul states the Jesus died for the church specifically, and that in His death He “obtained” her by His blood.  This is a theme throughout Paul’s writings.  In Ephesians chapter one Paul labors the point that a specific group of people were predestined to salvation from “before the foundation of the world.” This group was called according to a purpose and according to the power of God (which is what Ephesians 2:1-10 explains).

Paul appropriates this saving work to a specific group of people, and includes himself in that group when he says in 2 Corinthians 5:21 that Christ became sin “for our sake.”

Not only is this the clear teaching of Scripture, but there are also logical reasons for thinking this.  Let me offer a few of them that have helped me sort this out in the years I’ve studied the topic:

First, Ephesians 1:4 tells us that believers were predestined “before the foundation of the world.” If God knew whom He would save, why would Jesus not know those for whom He was dying? It doesn’t seem probable that in His incarnation He would suddenly forget His own plan and scope of redemption.

Perhaps you could posit that Jesus, in His humanity, didn’t know all of that information – as we see with His second coming in (Mark 13:32). However, Jesus doesn’t show any specific ignorance or underlying ignorance in this are in the gospels. Furthermore, we must remember that He never stopped being God. Infinite knowledge was at His disposal, and regardless of whether He tapped into that (so to speak), or had it conveyed to His humanity by the Spirit (as we see in other places like Luke 2:52), the preponderance of Biblical evidence seems to favor His knowing at a minimum that He was dying for a specific group of people, and probably exactly who those people were.

Secondly, even if you manage to believe that Jesus didn’t know everyone who He was dying for during His ministry on earth, you would still have to explain what the other Members of the Trinity were thinking. In other words, God the Father and God the Spirit still knew (and never stopped knowing) who would be saved by Jesus’ work of atonement. They never stopped being omniscient, did they? They didn’t suddenly get amnesia!  It wasn’t as if they looked down on humanity after the cross and said, “Now, who were we going to apply this to again?”

Third, Definite Atonement is called “definite” because it means that if Jesus died to save you, you will definitely be saved. This doctrine complies with God’s character and power and the spirit of Ephesians 2:1-10 and Romans 8:31-19.  There is a plan that’s been in place from eternity past and it involves you – a plan that cannot be thwarted! Similarly, God’s character is such that He desires all the praise and glory, and this is exactly what He gets when His precise plan of redemption is applied by the work of the Spirit in the lives of lost sinners. No credit goes to us, and there is no sense of uncertainty in this doctrine because God is faithful to His plan and is powerful enough to carry it out.

Lastly, if God didn’t know for whom Jesus was dying, then how would God the Spirit know who to regenerate to life? I believe that God is the one who sovereignly awakens Christians to spiritual life from spiritual death.  And because of this, I believe that God is the one who takes the initiative to regenerate us, which means that He must know who His “targets” are (so to speak)!  It’s not as if the spirit simply goes around “accidentally” regenerating people! No does He wait for some inkling of faith to appear in the heart of an unbeliever – for we know that faith is not something that is created apart from the work of God – it is a gift (Eph. 2:8-9)!

There are immense implications – especially for our comfort as Christians.  The first comfort is that the necessary result of believing that God is sovereign over salvation is believing that He will definitely finish the work He set out to do (Phil. 1:6), and that He actually knows who He’s saving – and has always known!

The second comfort is knowing that if Christ loves us enough to intercede on our behalf for salvation, certainly He continues to intercede for us as our Great High Priest every day and every moment.  He is seated at God’s right hand and is praying on our behalf – He is speaking to the Father for us. What an Advocate!  Not simply for salvation, but for our every need. I remember that fellow deacon Jim Dobbs devoted an entire year to praying for me as a new deacon – he told me this upon my ordination, and it blew me away.  I would get check ups from him every now and again, and he would remind me of his prayer for me.  This holiness, this love will always remain in my mind. How much more impressed ought we to be when the Son of God promises and does the same thing for us – not for the past year alone, but from before the foundation of the world!

Therefore, for all our difficulties with this doctrine Jesus doesn’t seem to share in our mental hardship. Jesus does it for us when He says, “I am not praying for the world.” He states that He has a certain group of people for whom He is interceding (John 17:9), for whom He is calling (John 6:44) and therefore for whom He is (be extension) living and dying for.

It’s as if He wanted to stop and say “by the way, not that you don’t already know this, but I’m not interceding on behalf of the whole world here, just the specific people I’ve mentioned above.”

Carson goes a step farther, “To pray for the world, the created moral order in active rebellion against God, would be blasphemous; there is no hope for the world. There is hope only for some who now constitute the world but who will cease to be the world and will join those of whom Jesus says for they are yours.”

Well the consequences of all of this ought to be joy for us.  We ought to really enjoy the fact that Jesus had a plan, stuck to the plan, succeeded in the plan, and is powerful enough to bring that plan to fruition and consummation when He returns.

The second thing we read in these verses (9-10) concerns ownership and this idea that within the Trinity we are cherished and “shared”, if you will, by the Father and Son.  A few examples:

For as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so also the Son gives life to whom he will. (John 5:21)

All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. (John 6:37)

If you had known me, you would have known my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.” (John 14:7)

Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority, but the Father who dwells in me does his works. Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me, or else believe on account of the works themselves. (John 14:9-11)

In Luke’s Gospel we read a series of verses that really sum up this passage in John – which simply shows the consistency of Christ’s teaching on this point:

All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows who the Son is except the Father, or who the Father is except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.” (Luke 10:22)

The upshot of this is that for many of us who long to belong to someone or something greater than ourselves, Christ is that someone. I wonder how many Christians miss out on the sweetness of these verses and the beautiful soul comforting truth that you belong to someone, not just anyone, not just the run of the mill guy or gal, or the Kiwanis or the Rotary, but to the most powerful, most loving Person in the world (and outside of it) and the most meaningful, most important cause in world history – the church of Christ.

If you are lonely, if you are unattached, if you are a lone wolf, then you now must realize the truth that Christ has not left you alone.  He has not left you unattached. You are His sheep, the “human sheep” of His pastor, and He cares deeply for you.  As we read in John 16:27, “for the Father himself loves you, because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God.”

Again, don’t miss this: God’s saving purposes may be mysterious to us, but one part of the mystery is not veiled, and that is the unmistakable mark of love that these doctrines are rooted in.  It is love for us, and most of all a love for His glory that underlies and drives this narrative.

The third thing Jesus says is that He is “glorified” in us.  This is very important because of what verse 11 says about Him leaving the world. He has left the world and has manifested His Father’s name to us, and now it is our mission, our life’s goal to manifest His name (His gospel) to the world.

We know as Christians that our end is often said to “glorify God”, and we also know from many church services and Sunday school lessons that we do this by obeying Him, and in so doing we’re bringing Him glory. But the fact that He is gone and we are here got me thinking about how much He has included us in His work.  It’s not that He’s left us alone – we know that much from this context especially – and we know He is the One working in and through us, yet He gets glory from our obedience.  He changes our hearts and we in turn obey. He is irresistibly good to us, is He not?

Perhaps I am not adding anything valuable that anyone else wouldn’t have thought of, but when I think that we are His instruments down here on earth to carry out His plan and that He is actually here using us, working through us, helping us to be like Him, remaking us in His image – that really puts the whole passage in an amazing light. He chooses us, He cares for us, He intercedes for us, He owns us as His own, and He finds glory in us. I love the fact that He is working in my life and the lives of those around me!  That gives me great purpose as I type out my notes, as I study the Bible, as I minister to others.  I know that all I do He is doing with and through me, and that He’s right here.  I cannot help but point to Him in all I do.  We Christians out to read verses like this, and reason through them with the truth that Paul came to when extolling the Corinthian church with what is our mission and our message as well:

For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, [23] but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, [24] but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. [25] For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.

For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. [27] But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; [28] God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, [29] so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. [30] And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, [31] so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord” (1 Corinthians 1:22-31).