“Therefore, leaving the discussion of the elementary principles of Christ, let us go on to perfection, not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, 2 of the doctrine of baptisms, of laying on of hands, of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment. 3 And this we will do if God permits. 4 For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted the heavenly gift, and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit, 5 and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, 6 if they fall away, to renew them again to repentance, since they crucify again for themselves the Son of God, and put Him to an open shame.
7 For the earth which drinks in the rain that often comes upon it, and bears herbs useful for those by whom it is cultivated, receives blessing from God; 8 but if it bears thorns and briers, it is rejected and near to being cursed, whose end is to be burned” (NKJV).
Paul is writing to Jews and Jewish believers, and he is telling them that Jesus is the only way to salvation. They cannot save themselves, and there is no number of righteous deeds that can make them saved. They need Jesus as Saviour.
As we work our way through these verses, we spoke about spiritual maturity last week and the idea that we need to be able to handle the troubles that come with being a believer. These Jews were in a tough position, and it became easy for them to resort back to their Jewish practices and still believe in Jesus, never having to suffer the persecutions that came with following Jesus. Paul lays out 3 sets of pairs that these Jewish believers need to deal with. On the surface, they appear to be Christian practices, but if we dig a bit deeper in the context of the passage, we can maybe find a clearer path.
- Repentance and Faith, verse 1
The Jews were accustomed to this kind of language; they were brought up in the Torah, and there are countless passages about repentance and faith in God. In fact, in many of the world’s religions, there is some insistence on repentance and faith in something or maybe a Higher Power. I recall having discussions with a person in our church many years ago, and they would often speak of a Higher Power, but not of Jesus as God. This person was not saved at the time; I pray that they are now. There is repentance in the world that is acceptable; we see it often with tears and crying. People come to the altars in our churches and weep for their sins, then we see them next week and the week after that, and soon that is all they have. There is no true genuine repentance. Not just turning from our sin, BUT turning to God.
In 1 Thessalonians 1:19, Paul gives us an account of genuine repentance:
“For they themselves report what kind of welcome you gave us, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and TRUE God” (Berean Study Bible).
These folks in Thessalonica turned from idols to God. They did not just turn from idols; they put their faith in God. All too often, people put their faith in the act of repentance and not in Jesus alone. True Christians need to be saved by faith, yes repenting of our sins and trusting Jesus as the ONLY means of salvation approved by God. It is important then to define what you mean by repentance and faith. A lot of religions have this, and one can get caught up in the spiritual jargon and miss the truth.
- Baptisms and laying on of Hands, verse 2
The baptism here is not the one that we normally deal with. In the Christian world, we see the word ‘baptizo,’ which means to dip or immerse, often used for washing dishes. Thus, we understand from multiple examples in the Bible, like Acts 8:36-37 and others, that there needs to be enough water to dip (or better to immerse) the person being baptized completely. But the word used here is ‘baptismos,’ and it refers to ceremonial washings. It is used only a few times in the New Testament, twice in Mark 7:4 & 8. This is not the Christian idea of baptism. We need to be clear and define the terms we are using so as to speak the truth and not to just blend in for the sake of blending. We are not to be like these other religions; we do not have ceremonial washings, we do not ‘sprinkle’ children, and we baptize only those that make a public declaration of faith in and believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God.
- Resurrection of the dead and Eternal punishments, verse 2
Most religions all have some belief in resurrection, as did the Jews from Judaism. One can get into a conversation and be fooled by terms like resurrection. ALL of the dead will be resurrected, and ALL of us will come back from the grave. Some will rise to eternal life in Jesus, and others to eternal life in Hell. See Revelation 20: 11-15,
“Then I saw a great white throne and Him who sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away. And there was found no place for them. And I saw the dead, small and great, standing before God, and books were opened. And another book was opened, which is the Book of Life. And the dead were judged according to their works, by the things which were written in the books. The sea gave up the dead who were in it, and Death and Hades delivered up the dead who were in them. And they were judged, each one according to his works. Then Death and Hades were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. And anyone not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire” (NKJV).
The ones without Jesus are seen in the verses above. The thief on the cross was in Paradise that same day. In the above verses, there are two classes of people: those whose names are in the Book of Life, and those whose names are not. But many religions believe that goodwill resurrects but the dead just decay and are never seen again. Some think one can be reincarnated into some other form, and others have the idea of soul-sleep until the end. But they all call it some kind of resurrection. We need to be clear that we do not mean the same thing.
It is hard for many to believe that a loving God will ‘send’ people to Hell. The truth is that you are born on your way to Hell, but God has provided the WAY out; genuine repentance from all other dependence, true faith in Jesus and His finished work on the cross. And those of us who do that have the guaranteed resurrection to eternal life with Jesus, full immersion baptism follows salvation; all others will be resurrected to the Lake of Fire.
Mature and maturing Christians learn and use Biblical terms properly, in context and not as a way to hide or cover our faith for fear of persecution or being outcasts. Here is a hint: in Jesus, you are an outcast from this world; Peter calls you a ‘sojourner,’ another word for ‘alien.’ Just accept it and live it.
God bless you,
Dr. Sean Gooding
Pastor of Mississauga Missionary Baptist Church
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