Presented to the Free Grace Alliance National Conference, Arlington, Texas, October 11, 2016.
The Letter to the Hebrews is theologically rich, and is both informative and practical. The writer of the letter explains the superiority of Christ and our need to respond to Him properly, and warns readers in eight passages of the consequences for failing to walk properly with Christ (2:1-3, 3:12-13, 4:1-11, 6:1-8, and 10:19-31, 12:14-17, 12:25-29, and 13:4-6). But are these warnings related to the position, practice, or destiny of believers – or all of the above? Considering these passages together in context helps us think through what God expects of us and what we should expect of Him.
THE CENTRAL ISSUES
The so-called warning passages of Hebrews have been understood historically in a number of ways, four of which are considered here: (1) the evangelistic view – as warning unbelievers of positional consequences of unbelief, specifically eternal condemnation, (2) the loss of salvation view – as warning believers of positional consequences of post-salvation sin, namely loss of salvation, (3) the loss of status view – as warning believers of practical consequences of post-salvation sin, specifically loss of access to certain benefits in the kingdom and eternity, and (4) the loss of progress view – as warning believers of practical consequences of post-salvation sin, specifically loss of progress in their growth.
The differences between these views are very significant for at least two important reasons. First, the hermeneutic and theological methods used to derive the conclusions are different. To prefer one conclusion over another requires preferring one interpretive strategy over another. In my estimation this is the most significant issue at stake, because the interpretive approach will go a long way in determining how one understands Scripture, and ultimately the character and work of God. Second, the conclusions drawn regarding the warning passages of Hebrews impact fundamental aspects of salvation – namely justification, sanctification, and glorification.
Methodology and Hermeneutic Implications
How should we approach passages that present apparent challenges to central tenets? The simple answer is we should handle them the same way as we would handle any passage of Scripture. Adjusting methodology to make Scripture more palatable has historically had abysmal results. For example, the Alexandrian theologian Philo modeled this reparative approach by allegorizing much of the Hebrew Bible to make it, well, less Hebrew, and to help it correspond more with Greek thought. Philo understood Genesis 2:10-15 as not referring to four literal rivers, but rather as representative of four virtues. Philo viewed the Genesis creation accounts more as moral metaphor than as literal history. The motivation of redeeming or repairing the text from uncomfortable literalities moved Philo to usher in a longstanding era of reader-centric interpretation that did not waver until the Reformation, and has since come back into vogue. In Philo’s approach the reader is at the center, and the author’s communicated meaning is no longer the central issue. In this approach, the ultimate authority over the text’s meaning is not the author, but the reader.
Imagine an artist who paints a beautiful seascape, using a great variety of shades and colors, with articulate detail. As the artist proudly presents the painting to the public, he offers a narrative of the meaning and significance of the painting. One aficionado attending the presentation raises his hand and begins to correct the artist, suggesting that the artist is mistaken – the painting is not a seascape at all. Clearly, it is simply a metaphor of the psychological struggles of the post-modern, post-colonial, south-central, middle-class, disenfranchised, not-yet-unionized, millennial, gluten free, retail workers community.
A child standing nearby peers at the painting with squinting eyes, then looks at the dissenting interpreter, then back at the painting, then back at the interpreter. And she doesn’t say what she is thinking, though it is written all over her face: “Are adults really this dissociative (because all children use the word dissociative)? Clearly this is a painting of wind-driven water and a distant coastland.”Further, the little girl intuitively knows that the painter gets to determine meaning, not the pompous art interlocutor (because, of course, all children use the word interlocutor, too). What that girl intuitively understands is sometimes lost on us. If we recognize divine authorship of Scripture (as I do), then we must understand that the Author of Scripture communicated meaning, He intends to be understood, and He used human languages to communicate. Our job as readers is to understand what He has communicated, not to attribute meaning.
One particular interpretive device often employed in understanding of challenging passages like the warning passages of Hebrews is called the analogy of faith. In the analogy of faith, the reader compares a difficult passage with other related passages that might be easier to understand. The reader concludes that the difficult passage must essentially agree with the simpler ones. While there is merit to this approach, as we would certainly expect Scripture to agree with Scripture, the danger inherent in the approach is to think topically rather than contextually. Each passage, in its own context, stands alone, with respect to communicating meaning. It is important to look at broader contexts and even topically related passages, but if our understanding of those other passages is flawed in any way, it creates a domino effect, as we reproduce our misunderstanding with each passage we consider through the lens of analogy of faith. If we are not careful, we bring too much preunderstanding to the study of a passage. So our approach should be, first and foremost, concerned with the immediate context of any passage.
For example, you might conclude as I do that when we consider collectively passages like John 14:1-3, 1 Corinthians 15:50-58, 1 Thessalonians 4:13-17, and 2 Thessalonians 2:1-10, that the Bible plainly teaches a return of Christ to the atmosphere of earth to resurrect believers who have died and to remove believers who are alive at that time, prior to the beginning of Daniel’s 70th week. So, having that theological understanding, when we read Matthew 24:31 we might think topically and read our rapture understanding into that passage. In doing so, we would completely miss the immediate context’s clear indications that Matthew 24:31 has nothing whatsoever to do with the event we call the rapture. Yet there are enough thematic points of similarity between the rapture passages and Matthew 24:31 that we might incorrectly infer thematic sameness.
Another interpretive device that can come into play in considering Hebrews is what we might call metaphor matching. It is an approach to understanding figures, illustrations, and parable by trying to find a one-for-one match of the metaphorical components in the reality that is being illustrated. Metaphor matching stretches the limits of metaphor, trying to find comprehensive correspondence beyond what might have been intended by the author. Just as the Gospels record many parables intended to communicate kingdom characteristics, Hebrews employs many Old Testament citations to illustrate truths pertaining to church age believers. In both contexts we need to be careful not to understand the illustrations as the primary vehicle for didactic content. They aren’t the point. They are, however, intended to help us understand the point.
To put it plainly here is the caution I offer: as we seek to understand the meaning of any passage, we need to follow the normative (literal) grammatical-historical rules for understanding written communication. We need to avoid reading any theological pre-commitments into any passage, even if metaphor provides ample opportunity to insert those pre-commitments. In short, I cannot bring a free-grace position to any passage. I must submit to the text in its context, allowing God to say what He has said, and I must adjust my theology to fit what the text says.
Consequently, I hold to a dispensational understanding, because after examining all of the Scriptures, I find them to represent a dispensational understanding. Further, I hold to the position that God’s grace is freely offered and freely received through faith in Jesus Christ alone, and I hold to that position because, after examining every passage of Scripture, I find them to represent that position on grace.
For the purpose of this present discussion, as we approach the warning passages in Hebrews, we must not read them as dispensational thinkers or as reformed thinkers, nor as free grace, ultra-free grace, or lordship thinkers. We must read them as submissive learners, ready to listen to what God has communicated, and ready to change our minds accordingly.
Justification, Sanctification, and Glorification Implications
It is evident that in the New Testament salvation from sin has three basic applications: (1) the positional aspect, otherwise known as justification, (2) the progressive or practical aspect, otherwise known as sanctification, and (3) the ultimate or eschatological aspect, otherwise known as glorification. If in any mention of salvation we do not parse correctly which of the three is in view, we will likely have a flawed view of all three. In the four interpretive perspectives on the warning passages considered here, there is understood an emphasis on motivating to action. The distinctions evident between the four views are most obvious in comparing the bases for the action.
The first (evangelistic) view understands the calls to action as motivating change to positional salvation. The second (loss of salvation) view understands the calls to action as motivation to practical or progressive salvation by threatening the loss of positional salvation. The third (loss of status) view understands the calls to action as motivation to practical or progressive salvation by threatening loss in ultimate or eschatological salvation, and thereby changing the believer’s final destiny. The fourth (loss of progress) view understands the calls to action as motivation to practical or progressive salvation by focusing on what has already been accomplished in position and what is assured eschatologically. In a general sense, two views motivate to action by denying or questioning positional salvation. Another motivates to action by questioning eschatological or ultimate salvation. A more balanced approach (in this writer’s estimation) motivates to action not by questioning either the positional or eschatological, but by appealing to both.
INTRODUCTION TO HEBREWS
We don’t know the identity of the author of Hebrews, though we can discern from 2:2-3 that it was not an apostle. The author speaks of the gospel as being spoken through the Lord and confirmed through signs miracles, wonders, and gifts to us by those who heard. Though not an apostle, it is likely that the author worked closely with one or more of the apostles, and with Timothy (13:23). It is also evident that the writer possessed a thorough knowledge of the Old Testament, as the epistle makes frequent reference to and application of the Old Testament.
The identity of the initial audience is a very important factor in understanding the calls to action in Hebrews. There are viable arguments that Hebrews was written to a mixed audience of believers and unbelievers, but this commentator suggests that the nine references to the audience as brethren, including one as holy brethren, along with the call that the readers should not lay again a foundation of faith in God (6:1) – these are suggestive that the writer is talking to believers. Of course, if this view is correct, then the perspective that Hebrews is evangelistic, and that the warning passages are for the exhortation of unbelievers is not tenable. However, this study of the warning passages will not presuppose the salvation of the audience, but will try to determine that key component from those particular contexts.
The writer identifies the writing as a word of exhortation, and urges readers to hold up under it (13:22), challenging them to maturity and endurance in light of the supremacy of Christ. That summative characterization of the writing as a word of exhortation is fitting, as the letter vacillates between two main literary devices. First, the author describes the supremacy of Jesus Christ, and then second, prescribes that the readers respond to Him. In those sections that include calls to action, some of the passages include warnings of negative consequences and some do not. Considering both the descriptions (of Christ as supreme) and the prescriptions (to respond properly to Him), readers have a clear picture of what is expected from them.
1-2 – Christ is Superior to Angels, Exhortation: Pay Attention
3 – Christ is Superior to Moses, Exhortation: Guard Your Hearts
4 – Exhortation: Fear, Draw Near With Confidence
5 – Christ is a Superior High Priest (Perfect)
6 – Exhortation: Press on to Maturity
7 – Christ is a Superior High Priest (Eternal)
8:1-10:18 – Christ is a Superior Mediator
10:19-39 – Exhortation: Don’t Throw Away Confidence
11 – Examples of the Faith
12-13 – Exhortation: Walk With the Author and Perfecter of the Faith
OBSERVING THE WARNING PASSAGES
There are eight passages in the Epistle to the Hebrews that contain three signature elements: (1) a call to action, (2) a connective “for” or “so that,” and (3) a statement of negative consequences if the call to action is not heeded. Because these three elements together constitute a warning for the reader, these are the passages counted here as warning passages: 2:1-3a, 3:12-14, 4:1-11, 6:1-8, 10:19-31, 12:14-17, 12:25-29, 13:4-6.
2:1-3a and 12:25-29
The call to action in 2:1-3a is based on the previous truths about the superiority of Jesus Christ, and the Father’s speaking through Him: readers should hold more emphatically (perissoteros prosechein) to that which was spoken, in contrast to having a neglected salvation. If the reader doesn’t heed this call, there are two implied negative consequences. Neither are explicit. First, by heeding the call to action, we might not alongside-drift (pararuomen). The second negative consequence is that we shall not escape (ekpheuxometha), but there is no direct indication of what it is that will not be escaped. The writer of Hebrews uses this term also in 12:25, with no specific mention of what is not being escaped. There are significant contextual parallels between 2:1-3 and 12:25-29 in this regard. The call to action in 12:25-29 is to not refuse (paraitesthesthe) the One speaking. This is similar to 2:1, which calls the reader to hold more emphatically to the word. Both passages are encouraging the reader to value that which had been spoken (about the Christ). Both question how one failing to heed can escape. Neither context specifies what will not be escaped, though it seems clear by contrast what will not be escaped. In 2:1 the escape seems to be from drifting away. If the word is held to, there will be escape from drifting away.
The escape in 12:25 is not any identified any more specifically than that of 2:1. The exhortation is to not refuse the one who is speaking. In the immediately preceding context (12:18-24) there is a reminder that Christ’s blood was superior to the sprinkled blood of the Mosaic Covenant, and even to the blood of Abel, and that it is His blood that is speaking (12:24), and consequently, Jesus Himself is speaking. Israel refused God at Mt. Sinai and did not escape the promised consequences for disobedience (Ex 32), though God was merciful, and did not extend the judgment to the point He would have violated His word regarding Israel’s future blessing. God demonstrated grace even in His judging of Israel. It is important to understand that God tempered His own wrath in light of His word (Deut 9:19-29). The writer of Hebrews warns readers not to refuse Christ as Israel had refused God.
That the author uses we (2:1, 2:3, 12:25, 12:28), and that the author adds that we are receiving an unshakeable or enduring kingdom (12:28), would seem to support an understanding that these passages are speaking only of believers, as believers have already been transferred to His kingdom (Col 1:13). Because we are receiving that kingdom, and because it is enduring, there is no change in what we are receiving. This concept would not support the idea that believers lose position or status in this kingdom. These warnings seem practical rather than positional or eschatological, and are rooted in the character of God and the present-tense walk of believers with Him.
After demonstrating the superiority of Christ over Moses as faithful over His house in comparison to Moses’ faithfulness in his house, the writer warns readers to see to it that they do not have an unbelieving heart (3:12) to stand off (apostenai) from God. The outcome to be avoided is a heart hardened by the deceitfulness of sin (3:13). While there is no other specific consequence cited in this context, these verses bridge to the warning in 4:1-11, which names the negative consequence. Because this is a supporting warning passage, we move to the primary one in the broader context in search of specifics.
The calls to action are to fear (4:1) and to be diligent (4:11). The negative consequence in 4:1 of failing to fear is that one might think (doke) some of you might be lacking. Importantly, this passage does not say that if one does not fear, they don’t enter the rest. The negative consequence of failing to be diligent in 4:11 is to fall (pese), in following the example of disobedience. Verses 2-10 help make clear what verses 1 and 11 are suggesting.
Verse 2 introduces a contrast between those who heard the good news and did not believe, and (we) who have heard the good news and have believed. Verse 3 adds that we are brought in (eiserchometha) who have believed (pisteusantes). The remainder of verse 3 through 6 describes why God has a rest, and why those who had previously disobeyed (namely a particular generation of Israelites) did not enter His rest. The writer references Psalm 95:7 and the limitations of Joshua’s ministry (4:7-8) to help the reader understand that there remains a sabbath rest for the people of God (4:9). At this point it is important to recognize that when the writer of Hebrews refers to the people of God, Israel is in view. The writer is not specifying that there remains a rest of God for the church, but rather for those who have not yet believed but one day will (specifically in this case, Israel). Those who have believed have already ceased from works, and instead rely on faith.
The verse 11 call to action is an aorist subjunctive, as is the conditional result, but the prescription is in the first person plural, while the conditional result is third person singular – we must be diligent (spoudasomen) so that one might not fall (pese). The same is true of the 4:1 call to action: we must fear is aorist subjunctive, first person plural (phobethomen), while one might think (doke) is an aorist subjunctive, third person singular. The implications of the grammatical distinction is significant: this is clearly not saying that if an individual is not diligent they will not enter His rest. This kind of construction seems similar to Philippians 2:12 – it is an exhortation to “work out your salvation with fear and trembling.” That passage also does not warn of a consequence for an individual who fails, but motivates to action based on what has already been provided.
This context does not support the evangelistic understanding, as the we have already believed. It doesn’t support the loss of salvation view, for even the consequence of to fall is not connected with a change in position. Further, this passage doesn’t support the loss of status view, for there is no implication of what status might be lost, nor is there an implication that those who believe might end up with differing results. In fact, there is also no indication even of lost reward here. Instead, the message is simple: let us fear and be diligent, otherwise one might think they have fallen short, or one might even fall into disobedience. This is a much more general exhortation than it is a specific warning, and it seems to pertain to the ongoing walk rather than a change in position or eschatological destiny.
The call to action is that we might move toward the completeness (ten teleioteta pherometha), having already moved beyond the beginning of the word of Christ (by having believed), and not laying down again a foundation that has already been laid (of repentance, faith, and basic information). Verses 4-6 contain what in English appears to be a progression of unrelated states of being and action, but the Greek grammatical structure really makes this section very simple.
Having been enlightened, having tasted, having become partakers, having tasted, and having fallen alongside, are all plural aorist participles. The ones these participles describe cannot be renewed to repentance while they are in this condition because they are (present tense) crucifying Christ again to themselves. Simply put, when persons are in the condition of having all five characteristics, they cannot change their mind (repent), otherwise they would no longer be in that state. So if they remain in that state, they are thus useless for pressing on to maturity. Thus the readers, who in this context are most certainly believers, are to press on to maturity, and avoid the state of being fallen alongside (parapesontas). The use of this term sends us back to 4:11, where the readers are cautioned against falling.
This context is clearly speaking of believers (they have repentance, faith in God, and have begun the process of sanctification), so the evangelistic view is not supported here. The loss of salvation view doesn’t work with the grammatical construction. Grant Osborne, in support of the loss of salvation view (what he calls a classical arminian view), suggests that “Hebrews is describing a very real danger of apostasy that true believers can commit, and if they do so it is an unpardonable sin from which there is no possibility of repentance, but only of eternal judgment.” He is correct with the first part – only true believers can meet the five conditions, but I believe he is wrong on the second part: there is no possibility of repentance while being in the state of falling alongside, so one would have to stop being fallen alongside, and then they could again resume their process of a changing mind and their journey toward completeness.
Another viable understanding of Hebrews 6:6 is that if these five things have been done, not only can the believer not be renewed while being in that condition, but in fact, the believer cannot ever be renewed to repentance. This understanding is based on viewing the repentance (metanoian) as a change of mind from dead works, as in 6:1. In that case, because a change of mind has already happened (belief in Christ rather than belief in dead or ineffectual works), the believer who is fallen cannot go back and become saved again, just as Christ cannot be crucified again. Instead, the believer should press on to maturity, rather than going back in search of a change in position.
Neither the evangelistic view nor the loss of salvation view is supported here. The loss of status view is also not derivative from this text. It speaks not of the distant future – of life during the earthly coming of the kingdom or in eternity. Instead this is speaking of the believers’ current potential conditions: either they can be pressing on to maturity, or they can be fallen alongside. This context (and that of 5:12-14) is a parallel to Paul’s expression of the four types of people in 1 Corinthians – the natural man (2:14), the infant (3:1), the fleshly man (3:1), and the spiritual man (2:15). The natural man is not in view in Hebrews 6:1-8. The fleshly man is, practically speaking, in the same place as the infant, and should be pressing on to maturity as the spiritual man is. Incidentally, these terms are all used in the context of how one responds to truth. The natural man can’t receive truth, the infant hasn’t yet moved beyond elementary aspects of truth, the fleshly man won’t move beyond elementary aspects of truth, and the spiritual man is moving beyond elementary aspects of truth, pressing toward maturity.
The calls to action are that we should draw towards (v.22, proserchomai), hold fast the confession (v.23, katechomen ten homologian), and consider (v. 24, katanoomen) how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds. These things are contrasted to a continual purposeful sinning after receiving the full knowledge (epignosin) of the truth (10:26), for which the negative consequence are (1) there no longer for sin remains a sacrifice, but (2) some have a fearful awaiting of judgment. If considered on its own, this context could be understood to imply that only those who continue in sin expect judgment, however, the writer is building on a previous context in which judgment comes to all after death (9:27). The issue is what that judgment will bring. In the case of the one continuing purposefully in sin, there is no other sacrifice besides that of Christ, so if one continues in sin (or having fallen alongside, as was described in 6:1-8), there is no alternative path whereby one can pursue their walk with God. Instead, the behavior deserves a severe punishment (10:29). Severity in judgment is deserved because of God’s character, as illustrated in 10:26-31, but also because the person in sinfulness tramples the blood of Christ, and insults the Spirit of grace (10:29). The continually and purposefully sinning believer offends all three persons of the triune God. Note the parallel between this passage and Ephesians 1.
In Ephesians 1:4-6, the Father has predestined and chosen believers to be in Christ, yet in Hebrews 10:26-31 He is a terrifying judge. In Ephesians 1:7-12 the Son redeems through His blood, and in Hebrews 10:29 He and His blood are being trampled. In Ephesians 1:13-14 the Spirit seals and guarantees the believer’s position, and in Hebrews 10:29 that same Spirit is insulted. In Ephesians 1, all three Persons are acting to secure the position of the believer, in Hebrews 10, the continually and purposefully sinning believer is fighting God on all three fronts. While the writer reminds that it is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God (10:31), he also concludes this broad context by adding that we are not of a withdrawal unto destruction, but of a faith unto the possession of soul (10:39). No matter how we fight against God, because of His work, and because of the faith which He used to accomplish our position (Eph 2:8-9, 1 Pet 1:3-5), we will not become those of a withdrawal unto destruction, because we are of a faith unto life.
Nonetheless, the exhortation is clear: draw towards, hold fast, consider. These are all ongoing practical aspects of life in Christ, and the writer of Hebrews is careful to tell readers that while failure might result in deserving a different destiny, believers simply don’t have one. What is affected is the process of growth. This warning passage is not addressing unbelievers, nor is it warning believers of loss of salvation. There is no statement of loss at all, only a reminder to act in a way that does not throw away our confidence, which has in itself great reward (10:35).
In this context, the call to action is to pursue peace (with all) and holiness (12:14), and the first negative consequence is that without (at least) that particular holiness no one would see the Lord. That the definite article precedes the term holiness helps readers understand that this isn’t holiness in general, but a specific component or kind of holiness that is necessary in order to see the Lord. What would that be? In 10:10 the we were made holy (perfect tense, hegiasmenoi), and in 12:10 He disciplines the we so that we would share or take with us His holiness (hagiotetes). It is important to recognize that the holiness required in 12:14 (hagiasmon) is already possessed by the we. Thus the pursuit of that holiness is either the same kind of pursuit as is evident in holding more emphatically to what is already held (as in 2:1-3), or the we who have that holiness are to pursue that holiness for those who don’t have it as part of strengthening hands that are weak and knees that are feeble (12:12). In either of these understandings, the practical progress or lack thereof has no implications effecting the position or destiny of the believer.
On the other side of the argument, if a person has that particular kind of holiness, the implication is that they will indeed see the Lord. There are no degrees of quality or location in seeing the Lord. One either sees the Lord, or doesn’t, and the determining factor is the holiness – which the we already have. It is because of that possession of holiness that 12:12 assumes the audience had the ability to strengthen others.
Now, if the pursuit of holiness is in the same sense of holding to it more emphatically, then the issue might be a personal practice that reflects the believer’s position. But if the pursuit of holiness is to pursue positional holiness in those who don’t have it, then part of that pursuit may include overseeing (or seeing to it) that some are not lacking in the grace of God (12:15).
The illustration in 12:16-17 portrays a person (Esau) who traded something cheaply and couldn’t get it back, regardless of how much it was desired. That negative consequence is analogous to the negative consequences mentioned in 12:15 – lacking or coming short in God’s grace in the present tense (husteron), and root of bitterness sprouting in the present tense (phuousa). This analogy does not extend far enough for the reader to textually conclude that the negative consequence is an eschatological one.
The evangelistic view would not work with this passage in light of the we having holiness. The loss of salvation view could be supported if the holiness needed to be pursued because it could be lost. Neither this context nor the broader cumulative case being made by the writer provides any exegetical evidence that holiness can be lost. Likewise, the loss of status understanding seems untenable in any case here. Either one does or does not see the Lord. If there is any loss of status here, it would seem to be necessarily a loss of salvation, and that seems incompatible with the broader case the writer of Hebrews is making.
This passage is not typically counted as one of the warning passages, but because it contains the three warning passage ingredients (exhortation, connective, negative consequence), it is included here. The call to action is that marriage is to be considered as honorable, and the sexual relationship undefiled. Those who do not fulfill this (immoral ones and adulterers) God will judge (krinei). Because this passage doesn’t specify what the judgment entails, this passage doesn’t support or eliminate any of the four views, though 13:1-2 make it fairly clear that the antecedent of the second person plural in 13:4-6 is believers, and ultimately includes the we of previous contexts.
It seems evident that in each case, these warning passages are addressed to believers. If this observation is accurate, then the evangelistic interpretation of these passages is not viable. It also seems evident that in none of these passages is positional or eschatological salvation in danger. If that is accurate, then the loss of salvation and loss of status views are not viable. Further, it seems evident that cumulatively these warning passages focus on believers who may at times be deserving of judgment, but are instead met with God’s discipline (12:7-11), which results in the peaceful fruit of righteousness.
While 1 Corinthians 3:12-15 speaks unmistakably about believers’ loss of rewards in a future judgment, that theological truth does not seem to be the focus of the writer of Hebrews. Believers’ loss of rewards is a real possibility, but it seems to not be advocated (or addressed at all) in the warning passages of Hebrews.
Instead of motivating believers to progress by loss of position, or by loss of future status, the writer of Hebrews seems to motivate believers to progress by describing what the loss of progress looks like. The device is similar to that invoked by Paul when he challenges believers to “not be conformed to the image of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good, acceptable, and perfect” (Rom 12:2). Such progress is only reasonable (Rom 12:1), and it is the expectation for every believer. Without that progress, we will find ourselves walking as fleshly believers (1 Cor 3:3).
The exhortation of Hebrews is to believers who “should be teachers by now” (5:12), but who have need again of the basics and of milk. The Hebrew believers need, once again, the food of infants (5:13), as they have not advanced to the point of being able to stomach food for the mature (5:14). Their need is not to fix their position or to protect some aspect of their future standing with God, but rather it is to grow up – to mature in Christ. Likewise, as we seek to grow to maturity ourselves, let us not motivate ourselves or others by placing upon any a yoke of fearing the loss of what God has already guaranteed. Instead, perhaps we can challenge ourselves and others to simply grow up – for that is ultimately what children are designed to do.