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. – Hebrews 5:11-14 ESV
The author of Hebrews admits that what he has been writing about is difficult to explain and just as difficult to understand. But it doesn’t help that his audience has “become dull of hearing.” The Greek word the author used literally means “slow” and was used in the figurative sense to refer to someone as “stupid.” The Hebrew believers to whom he wrote had become unaccustomed to hearing difficult doctrine and deeper truths.
These Christ-following Jews had begun to question their faith and were considering a return to their former way of life as Law-abiding Hebrews. But the author wants them to understand that they run the risk of abandoning the only true way of achieving a right standing with God. According to the apostle Paul, any attempt to return to a life of law-keeping would end in a curse, not righteousness.
…those who depend on the law to make them right with God are under his curse, for the Scriptures say, “Cursed is everyone who does not observe and obey all the commands that are written in God’s Book of the Law.” So it is clear that no one can be made right with God by trying to keep the law. For the Scriptures say, “It is through faith that a righteous person has life.” This way of faith is very different from the way of law, which says, “It is through obeying the law that a person has life.” – Galatians 3:10-12 NLT
…we know that a person is made right with God by faith in Jesus Christ, not by obeying the law. And we have believed in Christ Jesus, so that we might be made right with God because of our faith in Christ, not because we have obeyed the law. For no one will ever be made right with God by obeying the law. – Galatians 2:16 NLT
Righteousness cannot be earned; it must be received. It is a gift given to those who place their faith in the redemptive work that Jesus accomplished on the cross and through His resurrection. Once again, the apostle Paul, a former law-abiding Pharisee and a self-proclaimed “Hebrew of Hebrews” (Philippians 3:5) provided a stark distinction between the role of the law and the saving work of Jesus.
…no one can ever be made right with God by doing what the law commands. The law simply shows us how sinful we are.
But now God has shown us a way to be made right with him without keeping the requirements of the law, as was promised in the writings of Moses and the prophets long ago. We are made right with God by placing our faith in Jesus Christ. And this is true for everyone who believes, no matter who we are. – Romans 3:20-22 NLT
In his letter to the Hebrews, the author has been trying to remind his audience of the importance of their faith in Christ. The righteousness they had received was not available any other way. All his talk about Jesus’ sonship, deity, priesthood, suffering, sacrifice, and glory were designed to remind his readers of the righteousness that is found in Christ alone. He didn’t want them to fall back into their old habits of trying to gain a right standing with God through the keeping of the law. Their heritage as Hebrews, while a blessing, could become a curse if they let it lead them back into a works-based form of righteousness. Paul made it clear that this path was futile and a waste of time.
The law simply shows us how sinful we are. – Romans 3:20 NLT
The law could convict and condemn, but it couldn’t save because no one could keep all of God’s laws perfectly. That’s the whole reason God accompanied His law with the sacrificial system. He knew His people would fail to live up to His holy standards, so He provided them with a way of receiving forgiveness and atonement for their sins.
But the author of Hebrews knew that his readers had regressed. He told them, “you have gone back to needing milk” (Hebrews 5:12 NET). Their lack of knowledge regarding the things about which he had been writing revealed that they were “unskilled in the word of righteousness” (Hebrews 5:13 ESV). They were tempted to fall back on the old truths associated with Moses, the Law, temple worship, and all that was associated with their old way of life.
Their problem was that they had not progressed in their faith. They were like infants who had failed to move on to adolescence and were still surviving on milk rather than moving on to solid food. They had become stuck in their spiritual maturation process, remaining in a state of perpetual infancy and dependency upon “the basic principles of the oracles of God” (Hebrews 5:12 ESV). As a result, they stopped learning and growing in their faith, and their lack of progression had led to regression.
For the Christian, there really is no middle ground. You are either growing in maturity or you are regressing. These people had known the Lord long enough that they should have been ready to teach others, but instead, they were unprepared and unequipped for the job. They were stuck on the basics and were unskilled when it came to the message regarding the righteousness found in Christ alone. They knew the elementary truths of the faith, such as how one is saved, but they had failed to go deeper in their knowledge. Peter provided his readers with this word of encouragement:
Like newborn babies, you must crave pure spiritual milk so that you will grow into a full experience of salvation. Cry out for this nourishment. – 1 Peter 2:2 NLT
In his second letter, Peter writes, “you must grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18 NLT). There is no place for stagnancy or complacency in the life of a believer. As we grow in Christ, we become increasingly aware of the value of the gift of righteousness we have received. We become increasingly more cognizant of our sin and just how great a salvation we have received. Spiritual growth requires spiritual food. We must develop a hunger for the deeper truths found in God’s Word and we must rely upon His Spirit to make those truths understandable and applicable to our lives. We can’t remain on spiritual pablum and expect to grow in maturity. The old adage “Jesus loves me this I know for the Bible tells me so” is true, but it is not a sufficient source of spiritual sustenance for the growing Christian.
There comes a time in all of our lives when we must become givers, not just receivers. The author of Hebrews scolded his audience, telling them, “by this time you ought to be teachers” (Hebrews 5:12 ESV), but they were still having to be spoon-fed. They had become comfortably content with their current status as believers in Christ. But one of the non-negotiable realities regarding faith in Christ is the fact that God expects His children to grow. Again, the apostle Peter provides some strong words regarding this matter.
Supplement your faith with a generous provision of moral excellence, and moral excellence with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with patient endurance, and patient endurance with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love for everyone. The more you grow like this, the more productive and useful you will be in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But those who fail to develop in this way are shortsighted or blind, forgetting that they have been cleansed from their old sins. – 2 Peter 1:5-9 NLT
Coming to faith in Christ should result in our growing increasingly more like Him in character. The apostle Paul told the believers in Ephesus that God had provided leaders for the church whose primary responsibility was to equip the members of the body of Christ so that they could build up one another in the faith. And then he told them…
This will continue until we all come to such unity in our faith and knowledge of God’s Son that we will be mature in the Lord, measuring up to the full and complete standard of Christ. Then we will no longer be immature like children. We won’t be tossed and blown about by every wind of new teaching. We will not be influenced when people try to trick us with lies so clever they sound like the truth. Instead, we will speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ, who is the head of his body, the church. – Ephesians 4:13-15 NLT
Spiritual maturity is not a solo sport; it is a group activity. We grow in Christ-likeness as we share with one another, as we encourage one another, and as we use our spiritual gifts on behalf of one another. As we grow in our knowledge of God’s Word, we receive insight into His will. As we share what we are learning with others, they are encouraged and our faith is strengthened. Growth requires interaction with others. Isolation is deadly to spiritual maturity. Complacency is as well. The message of righteousness is not just that we have been made right with God through faith in Christ, but that we are being made righteous in our attitudes and actions as we grow up in our salvation and in our dependence upon the body of Christ.
New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.