The author of Hebrews has called us to Christian maturity, and also given us a description of Christian maturity. He follows these with an exhortation: “Therefore leaving the principles of the doctrine of Christ, let us go on again unto perfection” (Hebrews 6:1). Moving on from the basics of Christianity, the author is saying, let us keep progressing towards full Christian maturity.
If we are to move on in the Christian life, though, we do well to ensure that we are ready. Telling a builder to “move on,” when he hasn’t poured the foundation is foolishness. So, before these Hebrew Christians are to move on, the author describes for them the foundation they need in order to “go on.”
Modern foundations are made of concrete, which is a mixture of various ingredients. Here (6:1-2), the author gives a list of three pairs of ingredients that together will make for a strong foundation for Christian maturity.
The first pair of ingredients is “repentance from dead works” and “faith toward God.” The degenerate Judaism of the New Testament era was a religion focused on works. External obedience to God’s law was the centre of their religious life. These actions, though, were just empty, dead, useless attempts to please God. This is the problem with every false religion, from Islam to Roman Catholicism to Atheism: there is no life; only a struggle to please whatever God they profess to serve.
True Christianity starts with “repenting“—turning away from—these dead works, and placing our faith in God. By faith, we are united to Christ. By our union with Him, our sins are transferred (imputed) to His account, and His righteousness to ours. God then declares that we are righteous (justified), because, in union with Him, we really are righteous. By our continuing union with Him, we partake of His life. The Holy Spirit, in whose work this union consists, dwells in us and energizes us, enabling us to perform not “dead works” but living works of obedience to His law (a.k.a. the “fruits of the Spirit”).
The second pair of ingredients is “the doctrine of baptisms” and “the laying on of hands.” The inward life of the Christian begins with repentance and faith. This inward life is always accompanied, though, with outward life in a Christian community. Baptism is a public declaration of our personal faith in Christ, which marks the beginning of our membership in the Christian Church.
The “laying on of hands” seems to refer to other aspects of public Christian life, usually following baptism. This formality is connected in the New Testament with, among other things, a prayer for blessing (Matthew 19:13-5) and a separation for service (Acts 6:6, 13:3, 2 Timothy 1:6).
The third pair of ingredients is the “resurrection from the dead” and the “eternal judgement.” The first four ingredients are concerned with the beginning of the Christian life; these two are concerned with end of the Christian life. It lies at the heart and foundation of the Christian message that our dead bodies are not going to lie in the grave for ever. Rather, there is coming a day when our bodies will be brought back from the dead, either to enter into the joys of the new heavens and the new earth or the torments of hell.
Where our eternal destiny lies will be decided by the Lord Jesus, who will return to judge us all. These twin truths—resurrection and judgment—are at once the hope of the believer, who longs for the day of the Saviour’s return, and also the impetus for us to evangelize those who don’t know or don’t care about the coming judgement day.
This six-ingredient concrete is the only solid foundation from which to progress toward Christian maturity. Before we can think about our Christian growth, we must seriously consider whether we have the inward Christian life of repentance and faith, the outward Christian life of membership in a Christian Church, and the Christian hope of eternal life in our resurrected bodies.