Be Fearful of Immaturity

This article is based on the sermon ‘Fearing Immaturity‘, given on December 7, 2014 from the Hebrews series, which can be found in its entirety here.

God has prepared us to face the ever changing, ever challenging, ever glorious expedition with Christ, by giving us His Word and His Spirit. I am not sure if there is a book in the NT that deals with the potential and the pitfalls of life’s journey – the way that Hebrews does. This sermon / letter builds upon the biblical mandates that teach us to ABIDE, WALK in and OBEY Christ, by giving us promises of rewards IF we do these things (see 3:6, 3:14 and 4:11). and Hebrews challenges us to these mandates by giving us warnings (see 2:1 and 3:12).

When I was 19 years old, I found myself in the midst of one of the deepest spiritual crises of my life. I had professed Christ with my mouth as a seven year old, and has spent many of my early years growing up in that profession. As a teenager, I fell into a trap of immorality that would consume my thoughts, behaviors and heart for the next 10 years. I spent several of those years with no signs of spiritual life, no interest in God apart from times of want or need. But at 19, I fell under a cloud of great conviction knowing my life was no longer lined up with His word; and that sin had consumed me. And I fell under great despair and fear about my own soul. So I began reading my bible and praying – begging and seeking for God and His assurance. And I remember one day in particular before work, I was trying to read my bible – and as I thumbed through my eyes fell to a passage of scripture – Hebrews 6:

‘1 Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity…And this we will do if God permits. 4 For it is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, 5 and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, 6 and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt. 7 For land that has drunk the rain that often falls on it, and produces a crop useful to those for whose sake it is cultivated, receives a blessing from God. 8 But if it bears thorns and thistles, it is worthless and near to being cursed, and its end is to be burned’.

In the midst of great concern about your salvation – THIS is not the text you want to come across. Because this passage – at face value – indicates there can be people who experience Christ and His Kingdom, yet fall away from it with no opportunity to return. THIS is frightening. And reading this passage that day, I cried my eyes out; I cried harder at reading this passage, than I cried over the death of my father.

Many people, good people who love Jesus, have different interpretations of this text. My intention is not to go through all of those interpretations; nor answer all of the questions surrounding it. 17 years after reading this passage for the first time, I still wrestle with what it says. But I do want us to make some observations that I pray will be beneficial for our souls & that will point us toward truth:

Observation 1: God is Greatly Concerned with Our Spiritual Maturity

More than any other aspect of our life – God is concerned with our growth in Christ. This section really begins back in Hebrews 5:11, where the writer tells the readers that He has many deep things to teach them about Christ, and the Gospel – but He has ran into a difficulty, the readers have become dull of hearing; This literally can mean ‘LAZY in UNDERSTANDING the message’ or SLUGGISH in INSTRUCTION. 5:12: 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. Surrounding this text then is the issue of spiritual immaturity: which is a failure to grow in learning and applying the Gospel; these people were bored, uninterested and lazy in the things of God – which is why 6:1 starts off with a cry, imploring them to ‘GO ON TO MATURITY’.

Observation 2: You Will Mature in Christ or You Will Fall Away from Christ

Immediately following this cry to go on to maturity, is the warning beginning in verse 4, of the impossibility of restoring someone who falls away to repentance. So, implicit in the text is that there are 2 options: Maturity or Destruction. You go on to maturity, or you risk falling away. To become a disciple of Christ is the most glorious, gracious gift of God. And it is a pathway that will be filled with ups and downs; Times of intimacy and seasons of trial. God is kind and compassionate and patient with us. But your discipleship is purposed in your salvation. You will be a maturing disciple or you will be a child of destruction.

Observation 3: This ‘Falling Away’ is Characterized by an Inability to Repent

I believe this is a key observation for us, because I think it is fairly common for people to read this passage and wonder ‘Have I fallen Away’? That was my fear 17 years ago when I mourned over this passage; And it is not my point to smooth over a Godly-fear, a Godly-sorrow that leads to repentance. But, so many of our testimonies involve a struggle with flesh; and seasons of our lives where we leave church; or leave intimacy with Christ; or find ourselves drowning in immorality. And so, is that the falling away described here? Notice verse 4, It is impossible in the case of those who have once been enlightened..go to verse 6, and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance. This falling away ends with this individual unable to bring them self to repent. Repentance is a turning from sin; toward God. It is more than sorrow (feeling bad over what you have done) – it is sorrow that leads you to seek God’s presence. The individual who has Fallen Away in the Heb 6 sense, has lost the ability, maybe even the desire, to seek God and His forgiveness.

Observation 4: Maturity is Characterized by the Fruit of the Holy Spirit

Jesus teaches in Matthew 7, that you can distinguish the godly from the ungodly by the fruit of their lives – what their lives produce. ‘You will know them by their fruits. Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes. Every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit’. Later in places like Gal 5, this good fruit is called the fruit of the Spirit and examples of it are listed out. And in Eph 4, we are given more insight, when maturity is defined as ‘attaining the the fullness of Christ’. So the maturity we are being compelled toward is Christ-like character (which is the fruit of the Spirit); So see this in Heb 6:7, ’For land that has drunk the rain that often falls on it and produces a crop useful to those for whose sake it is cultivated, receives a blessing from God. If it bears thorns and thistles, it is worthless and near to being cursed, and its end is to be burned’. This compares and contrasts the spiritually mature from the immature. The mature OFTEN hear the Gospel (the rain), they receive it continually in their life (drinking it in) & the result is Christlikeness, spiritual fruit (which is the crop). The immature, don’t produce fruit. There’s no crop, just thorns.

Observation 5: There is No Mention of the Mature in Christ Falling Away

In Matthew 13 Jesus tells a parable of a farmer spreading seeds (the gospel) that he throws or rains down if you will, on the soil – the land. Same picture as in Hebrews 6. In this parable, the good soil receives the gospel and indeed bears fruit and yields a crop. That is obviously the mature in Heb 6. But Jesus says there will be those who hear the word and immediately receive it with joy, 21 yet he have no root in themselves; they endure for a while, and when tribulation or persecution arises they fall away. So here is the spiritually immature. The gospel comes down, they joyfully receive it; they start a journey with Christ. Maybe they join a church; maybe they start serving; maybe they attend or host bible studies; go on a mission trip, – experience community, see miracles – raise their hands in worship – as Hebrews 6 says – taste the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come. Maybe they do this for YEARS and YEARS. But what they never do is mature in Christ-like character; they do not bear the fruit of the spirit. And at some point a trial will come, something will happen – they have no root to hold them into place and they fall away; just as Jesus says they will and just as Hebrews 6 describes. I believe these passages show us that it is possible to have an experience with the Gospel; a tasting of Heavenly things – that falls short of true saving faith. And when these people fail to move to maturity, at some point (maybe years and years down the road) they fall away – and based on Heb 6 may find it impossible to come to repentance. But the mature in Christ, those who have been drunk in the gospel, producing Christ-like character, Gospel-fruit – they are saved, and I believe they are persevered by the Lord; there is no mention in this text of the mature falling away; not in the Heb 6 sense of being unable to come back to repentance.

I realize that passages like Hebrews 6 are not on the surface encouraging and hopeful; but, we do not always need encouraging – sometimes we need to be warned. When I was 19 years old, failing to move to Christ-like maturity; steeped in sinful immorality; uninterested in the Christ I claimed – I did not need someone to pat me on the back and say IT’S ALL OK. DON’T FEAR HEBREWS 6. I needed the Spirit of God to take Heb 6 & warn my soul with the fear of judgment to GO ON TO MATURITY. A good, loving Father encourages His children & warns His children; & today I am so grateful for the blessing of the fear of the Lord, which is the beginning of wisdom.

IF today you are immature in Christ, yet hearing His voice, then do not harden your heart. Run to Christ. Run to Him right now. Cling to Him. And even if you are the most mature Christian reading this article – Run to Christ, cling to Him and ask for more maturity.

What the Bible Teaches about Race and Ethnicity

Whose Line Is It Anyway?
What the Bible Teaches about Race and Ethnicity
by Immanuel Marsh

Many believe that the racial, ethnic, and cultural lines that divide us have biblical origins.
Three things have contributed this fallacy. One, people simply do not know what the Bible says. Two, people lack an understanding on what Scripture means and how it works. And three, Christians, or those claiming to be Christians, have used the Bible to justify misguided ideologies and misdeeds. This essay seeks to dispel some of these fallacies by examining what the Bible really teaches about race and ethnicity. The first three sections provide a biblical foundation. The remaining sections deal with specific charges against the Bible and Christianity.

The Inherent Value of Humanity

The creation account in Genesis attests to humanity’s value. The Bible begins with God creating order from chaos, vegetation and animal from void, and man from dust. Mankind is created in the image of the Trinity, given dominion over the rest of the created order, and animated by the very breath of God. Man was created good. The psalmist provides further evidence of humanity’s significance, describing mankind as being created “a little lower than the angels” and being bestowed with “glory and honor.” Along with God’s desire to create, we see his desire to bless. God blesses the man and woman. This blessing extended to all of humanity, not just the first couple. Then follows the command to “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it.” Any discussion of the biblical position on race and ethnicity has to begin here with the divine image, the divine blessing, and the divine command.

Sin: the Root of All Division

If God created mankind in his image, and blessed mankind, and everything God created was good, then why do we treat each other so poorly? The answer to this question also resides in Genesis. Adam and Eve’s disobedience thrust all of creation into a state of sin and death. Sin separated man from life, man from each other, and man from God. Outside of Eden, sin wreaked havoc on human relationships. Cain kills his brother Abel. Lamech kills a man for hitting him. Sin spreads until “the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” Sin incites the creatures commanded to subdue the earth to subdue one another. Racism, tribalism, jingoism, and the like, are products of human sin, and not a biblical mandate.

The Rise of Nations

Genesis presents two events instrumental in the fracturing of mankind into people groups: the proliferation of Noah’s sons after the flood, and the confusion at Babel. Genesis records the genealogies of Noah’s three sons after the flood. Japheth’s offspring spread (ד ַרָּפ) to Asia Minor (Turkey) and Europe. Ham’s descendants inhabited Canaan (Israel and Palestine), Egypt, other areas of Africa, Mesopotamia (Iraq), and the Arabian Peninsula. Within Ham’s genealogy we have the first mention of a kingdom, established by Nimrod, Ham’s grandson. We are also introduced to the Canaanites who disperse (וץּפ) to their settlements. Shem’s descendants settle in northern Mesopotamia, Syria, and Arabia. In his genealogy we are told that Peleg lived in a time when “the earth was divided (גַלָּפ).”

Each genealogy concludes with the formula “by their clans, their languages, their lands, and their nations,” further evidence of cultural, ethnic, and national demarcations being developed. The genealogies end with the phrase, “from these the nations spread abroad (ד ַרָּפ) on the earth after the flood,” forming an inclusion with v. 5. The rise of nations is due in part to God’s command to Noah and his family to “be fruitful and multiply.”

Genesis 11:1 describes a world in which “the whole earth had one language.” The
picture is that of a people united by language and location, two prominent cultural markers. God thwarts the peoples’ sinful ambitions by interfering with those two markers. He confuses their language; and he disperses “them from there over the face of all the earth.” Essentially, a people (one language and locale) became peoples (many languages and many locales). The rise of nations is partly due to man’s sinful nature. So we see that people groups resulted from both God’s blessing and God’s judgment. Many people believe that the Bible teaches racial separation, or at least promotes it. This simply is not the case. The rest of this essay examines several prominent fallacies concerning what the Bible teaches about race and ethnicity.

Fallacy #1: The Bible Teaches Racial Superiority

Israel’s status as God’s chosen people has given many the impression that the Bible approves of racial superiority. While it is true that God chose Israel, this is only part of the story. God’s covenant promises to Abraham were for the benefit of “all the families of the earth.” God’s election of Israel does not represent a rejection of other nations; rather it is a means for the redemption of all nations. The Bible does not paint Israel as a superior nation. In fact, Scripture highlights Israel’s insignificance among the nations. Deuteronomy states that Israel was not chosen because it was a great nation, or because it was particularly righteous. Other nations were “more numerous and mightier.” God’s love and faithfulness alone secured Israel’s election. Israel is not a special nation; it is a nation that receives special grace.

For some, Israel’s brutal conquest of Canaan represents ethnic cleansing. A few things
must be understood to view these events correctly. First, the conquest of Canaan was an act of divine judgment against the wickedness of the inhabitants. Furthermore, these nations had over four hundred years to turn from their iniquity. It should also be noted that this was a unique judgment, carried out by a unique nation (a true theocracy), at a unique time. The Bible does not present it as a model. Second, Israel was not exempt from judgment. The potential existed for them to suffer the same fate as the Canaanites. They too could be “vomited” from the land and “devoted for destruction.” Third, deliverance was possible through allegiance to Yahweh, judging by the accounts of Rahab and the Gibeonites. The conquest of Canaan was not about the race of the inhabitants; it was about the righteousness of God.

Fallacy #2: The Bible Promotes Racial Segregation

Some charge that the Bible condones the separation of the races. They see Israel as a segregationist nation, hostile to foreigners. This belief appears to have merit. However, a careful examination provides evidence to the contrary. The truth is the Israel was never a homogeneous nation. When Israel was freed from Egyptian bondage, the Bible says that they left as a “mixed multitude,” meaning more than just the descendants of Jacob were represented. They lived in harmony among the Israelites. The Mosaic Law even contained instructions on how to treat the foreigners who lived among them. Israel was forbidden to “wrong” or “oppress” the foreigner. Not only was Israel instructed not to oppress foreigners, they were also told to love the foreigner because God himself loved them. Solomon even envisioned the temple as a place where foreigners would come to worship.

There are nations which the Mosaic Law specifically barred from the assembly of the
Lord, namely the Ammonites and Moabites. The exclusion of these nations was twofold. First, these nations were the product of an incestuous relationship between Lot and his daughters. Second, the Moabites had not treated Israel well after leaving Egypt. So the status of these nations had to do with behavior, not ethnicity. Even so, there were people like Ruth, a Moabite, and Rahab, a Canaanite, who displayed belief and trust in the living God. They became instrumental in Israel’s history, both being named in the genealogy of Christ. An oft-cited example of Israel’s segregationist tendencies is the Mosaic Law’s ban on intermarriage with other nations. The prohibition appears to validate this charge. But the truth is the commandment was intended to prevent the worship of foreign gods. Idolatry was strictly forbidden under the law, and had dire consequences. During the lawless time of the judges, Israel’s intermarriage among the Canaanite tribes caused them to “forgot the LORD their God and served the Baals and the Asheroth.” King Solomon began as a devout servant of Yahweh, but his love of foreign women eventually eroded that devotion. In his old age “his wives turned away his heart after other gods, and his heart was not wholly true to the LORD his God.” Solomon begin to worship the gods and goddesses of the Sidonians, the Ammonites, and the Moabites. The very man who built the temple of the living God built high places to the abominable gods of his foreign wives. Nehemiah uses Solomon’s exploits as a cautionary tale when Israel’s intermarriage in his day caused them to forget the Sabbath, an observance they were specifically told to remember.

In the New Testament, Paul’s admonition for Christians, “Do not be unequally yoked
with unbelievers,” carries a similar sentiment, although not expressly dealing with marriage. Paul explains this partnership would be just as irrational as the antithetical relationships of righteousness with lawlessness, light with darkness, Christ with Satan, and idols in the temple of the living God. Just as in the Old Testament, race is not an influential factor. The ban on intermarriage was a matter of religious purity, not racial purity.

Fallacy #3: The Bible Endorses Racial Subjugation

Perhaps the most heinous perversion of Scripture relates to the issue of slavery. The belief that the Bible advocates racial slavery arises from two interpretive issue. The first issue involves the “Mark of Cain.” The earlier description of Cain’s countenance, “and his face fell,” was translated as “and his face became sad” in the Syriac language. The Syriac word for “sad” is related to the word for “black.” Thus Cain’s mark become associated with blackness. It must be noted that Cain’s mark was given to preserve his life. It was an act of God’s grace.

The association of blackness with slavery arose from a tradition that erroneously saw Ham as black. Noah’s curse of his grandson Canaan (Ham’s son) to be a “servant of servants” became the “curse of Ham;” thus linking blackness with slavery. Since some of Ham’s descendants settled in Africa, the black Africans were seen as a cursed people. This amalgamation of unfortunate interpretations was used to justify slavery for centuries.

The references to slavery in the Pentateuch cause many to think that the Bible endorses slavery. Several things must be understood about slavery in the Bible. One, slavery in the ancient world was not akin to North American slavery. Slavery in the Bible was not based on race. Slavery in the ancient world was primarily the result of indebtedness or being conquered by another nation. In fact, the Bible forbids what would be analogous to modern slavery. For example, kidnapping a person (referred to as man-stealing) and selling him was forbidden under the Mosaic Law, and punishable by death. Also, the Law required slaves to be treated well; mistreatment of slaves had consequences. For instance, killing a slave resulted in death. Gouging out a slave’s eye or knocking out his teeth resulted in the slave’s freedom. The New Testament also decries slavery of the modern variety, listing “enslavers” in a vice list. Some consider Paul’s desire for Onesimus, a runaway slave, to return to his master, Philemon, detestable. But they miss the point that he calls for Philemon to receive Onesimus as a “beloved brother” in Christ, not as a slave. Slavery in the Bible, especially as it related to the people of God, was the result of economic factors, not ethnicity.

Conclusion: Unity, Diversity, and Division

To say that there are no divisions between people groups in the Bible would be untrue. In fact, the Bible very early on makes a distinction between two groups of people. Genesis 4:26 tells us that at the time of Seth’s son, Enosh, “people began to call upon the name of the LORD.” The prophet Joel says that in the coming day of the Lord, “that everyone who calls on the name of the LORD shall be saved.”Paul affirms this by saying no distinction exists between Jew and Greek “for the same Lord is Lord of all…for everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” There is a line drawn between those who are holy unto God, and those who are hostile toward him. This is the only division than can be thought of as truly biblical. All other partitions are the result of being conformed to the sin-stained pattern of this world.

In the New Testament, we see the Gentiles formally grafted into God’s covenant people
through Christ. We see people of diverse backgrounds and cultures become followers of Christ: the Roman centurion, the Samaritan woman, the Ethiopian eunuch, Lydia from Thyatira. Paul’s epistles often concern themselves with preserving Christian unity in the midst of cultural differences. In Christ, Jews, Gentiles, men, women, slaves, free men, Scythians, and barbarians come together to worship the triune God. The kingdom of God is marked by diversity and unity; all nations and ethnicities are welcomed. The scene in Revelation 5:9 depicts a throng ransomed by Christ “from every tribe and language and people and nation.” Believers are baptized by one Spirit into one body, and worship one Lord, and one God. This is the unity the Scripture foreshadows in the Old Testament and fulfills in the New Testament. But this unity is not at the expense of diversity. Notice how the Revelation verse still mentions those factors we divide over. Why does the verse not erase those ethnic and geographical markers? It is because Christ does not remove our ethnicity – he redeems it.