Distracted from the Real Warning?
Hebrews 5 and 6 has to be among the most controversial passages in the Bible. The controversy is mainly between Calvinists like me who argue that you cannot lose your salvation and…well, everybody else.
However, as is sadly the case with any Bible passage that has become caught up in controversy, we often get distracted and miss the point.
Slug-ianity and Apostacy
The point is that the Hebrew church had become sluggish. The idea of sluggishness is mentioned in 5:11 (translated as “dull of hearing”) and 6:12, like bookends at the beginning and the end of this section. When this happens, it is the author’s way of letting us know that everything happening in between the “sluggish” bookends is connected to the idea of being slug-like.
Why is that important to know? Because what comes in between is a warning about falling away. The connection between sluggishness and apostacy is particularly clear in 6:11-12.
11 And we desire each one of you to show the same earnestness to have the full assurance of hope until the end, 12 so that you may not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises.
Being sluggish is not how we persevere. It is the very opposite of earnestness, faith and patience. It is a big problem for professing Christians who are seeking to make their calling and election sure.
Theology Not Activity
So we know that being sluggish is dangerous but what does it actually mean?
Our initial instinct will be to assume it has something to do with activity. The opposite of being slug-like is that we are industrious; the kind of Christian who is tireless in their service to the Lord. This may be true in other cases but it isn’t what the author to the Hebrews had in mind. The sluggishness he was thinking of was a kind of theological laziness or apathy.
Listen again to how he begins his rebuke in chapters 5 and 6…
11 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 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.
The Hebrew church had so much exposure to biblical teaching that they should have been able to teach others. They should have had a firm grasp of the truth. In the author’s mind, however, they were babies…too immature to enter the pulpit.
Attitude is the Problem, Not Intellect
The problem is not that they should have graduated on from the gospel to more obscure or sophisticated elements of theology. The problem is that they weren’t training themselves in their understanding of the gospel. They should have become sharper and clearer and deeper and more confident in their understanding of the good news about Jesus Christ. But they hadn’t been putting in the work. They were lazy about doctrine and they were in danger not only of being shamed but of actually giving up on the gospel altogether.
Theology matters. It matters more than you think. In fact, doctrinal development is essential for Christians who desire to inherit the promises of the gospel. You don’t need a degree in theology but you do need to put the effort in, eat some solid food, and grow into maturity in your faith. You need to train yourself to run the race with perseverance…and that means leaving a sluggish attitude behind.