“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, instruction about baptisms, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. And God permitting, we will do so.” (Hebrews 6:1-3 NIV).
This verse of Scripture appears amidst a warning against falling away from the Christian faith. The author of Hebrews recognized that there was a constant danger. Christians could drift away from their relationship with God. So, he peppers this letter with warnings. He writes: “We must pay more careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away.” (Hebrews 2:1 NIV).
Christian growth is necessary to the maintenance of our faith.
Christians sometimes settle down and stop growing in their faith. Maybe that was the danger that the author of Hebrews sensed here. Prayer is laid aside. The Bible is left on the shelf to gather dust. Soon, fellowship and worship may be laid aside as well. Faith and hope and love start to atrophy.
Some people grow a little too comfortable in their faith. Their faith no longer challenges them. It is a comfortable Christianity, kept in it's place in the background of their life. But, a faith that no longer challenges us no longer serves as a source of deep inner peace and strength either.
The picture of the Christian life which we find in the New Testament emphasizes growth and personal development. It is an active picture. It is called “walking in the Spirit” or “walking in the light.” It is sometimes portrayed as a fight or a struggle. Sometimes it is pictured as an athletic contest: a race. The Christian life is something active, ongoing, challenging and growing.
But, growth always means change. This is where things get difficult. As I grow in my faith my habits and decisions and values need to grow along with it. And, change is hard. Some people never grow because they are unwilling to change. Some churches do not grow because they do not want to change — and the acceptance of new people into their midst (for example) will mean change for them. The desire to stay with the same — with the comfortable and secure — can actually stunt our Christian growth.
Growth in the Christian faith (according to our Scripture text in Hebrews) will mean leaving “the elementary teachings about Christ... not laying again the foundation of repentance from acts that lead to death, and of faith in God....” But, obviously, we cannot leave that foundation and begin to build upon it until it has been laid in the first place. We cannot move on to more advanced reaches of faith if the elementary lessons have not been learned first. And, what are they? “Repentance from dead works.” “Faith toward God.” Without this, we have nothing upon which to build! There is no foundation.
Yes. But, once the foundation of repentance and faith has been laid, once we have put our faith in Jesus Christ, we are to go on to greater things. “Therefore let us leave the elementary teachings about Christ and go on to maturity....” The verb translated “go on” here (φερώμεθα pherometha) is interesting. It means “let us be carried along” to maturity.
And, he says: “the thought is not primarily of personal effort, 'let us go on,' 'let us press'..., but of personal surrender to an active influence.” Thus, Christian Perfection is ever the work of God's grace in our lives. It is not a “maturity” or spirituality or holiness that we create by our efforts. We strive to open our lives to God's influence through consecration and sacrament and prayer and service and worship and study of the Scripture. God's grace carries us forward.
Christian growth is not a matter of working and struggling so much as it is a matter of letting God's Spirit carry us forward and onward. As we open ourselves to God's grace and God's Word, that grace moves us forward. That grace continually transforms us. “And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” (2 Corinthians 3:18 NIV).
Christian growth is not simply a matter of learning more. It is growth in Christian character. The final proof is in our lives. As we live lives of compassion and faith and hope and integrity, then the validity of our spiritual growth is seen.
It were well you should be thoroughly sensible of this, —'the heaven of heavens is love.' There is nothing higher in religion; there is, in effect, nothing else; if you look for anything but more love, you are looking wide of the mark, you are getting out of the royal way. And when you are asking others, ‘Have you received this or that blessing?’ if you mean anything but more love, you mean wrong; you are leading them out of the way, and putting them upon a false scent. Settle it then in your heart, that from the moment God has saved you from all sin, you are to aim at nothing more, but more of that love described in the thirteenth of the Corinthians. You can go no higher than this, till you are carried into Abraham’s bosom.
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