Therefore let us go on towards perfection, leaving behind the basic teaching about Christ, and not laying again the foundation: repentance from dead works and faith towards God, instruction about baptisms, laying on of hands, resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgement. And we will do this, if God permits. For it is impossible to restore again to repentance those who have once been enlightened, and have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, since on their own they are crucifying again the Son of God and are holding him up to contempt. Ground that drinks up the rain falling on it repeatedly, and that produces a crop useful to those for whom it is cultivated, receives a blessing from God. But if it produces thorns and thistles, it is worthless and on the verge of being cursed; its end is to be burned over.
The opening words of this chapter are very striking. Writing in a time of persecution, the author is keen to stress the need to hold fast to the truth. He even says it's impossible for those who abandon the faith after receiving the Holy Spirit to be brought back to repentance (verse 4). This is a solemn warning that our relationship with God goes two ways: he is always faithful and keeps his covenant with us, but we have a responsibility to keep our promises too.
But even in the context of a situation where it's likely some were abandoning the faith out of fear, the author is not just concerned to see believers survive – he wants to see them thrive. 'Let us go forward, then, to mature teaching and leave behind us the first lessons of the Christian message,' he says (verse 1).
Perhaps this has lessons for today. We might be tempted to think we can only really thrive spiritually when things are 'normal' – when we can go to church or home groups when we want, meet and pray with our friends, and go about our everyday business. But that's not always been the experience of God's people. Many live in challenging situations anyway, where just getting by is a struggle, and many are persecuted. But their faith is often far deeper than those with more comfortable lives.
Hebrews reminds us that personal hardship is no reason for spiritual indifference.
Let us Pray
God, help me to learn in difficult times. Keep my eyes fixed on you, and bring me to a mature and trusting faith.
This reflection was written by Mark Woods, Bible Society's Editor