The other day a friend and I were discussing the rising tide of “gospel-centrality” among evangelicals. More and more voices are telling us that the gospel is not something we move on from in order to grow as Christians; instead, it should always remain the throbbing center of our lives and churches.
But, my friend asked me, what about Hebrews 6:1-2? “Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, and of instruction about washings, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment.”
Doesn’t it sound like the author of Hebrews is urging us to move on from the gospel? Doesn’t he tell us specifically to “leave the elementary doctrine of Christ” and go on to bigger and better things?
Well, let’s find out. What does the author of Hebrews himself “move on” to after giving this exhortation?
First, he warns his hearers not to fall away from the faith (Heb. 6:4-8), assures them that their faith is indeed bearing fruit (Heb. 6:9-12), and reminds them to hope in the steadfast promises of God which are an anchor for the soul (Heb. 6:13-20).
Then he spends an entire chapter explaining Jesus’ high priesthood by comparing him to Melchizedek (Heb. 7:1-28). This teaching on Melchizedek is, in fact, what the author wanted to get to earlier (Heb. 5:11-14), but had to rebuke his hearers first.
What do we learn from this comparison? Jesus holds his priesthood “by the power of an indestructible life” (Heb. 7:16). He is the “guarantor of a better covenant” (Heb. 7:22). He “holds his priesthood permanently, because he continues forever” (Heb. 7:24). Therefore, “he is able to save to the uttermost all those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them” (Heb. 7:25). Jesus doesn’t need to offer sacrifices for his own sins—the only sacrifice he needed to offer was for our sins, which he dealt with “once for all when he offered up himself” (Heb. 7:27).
Then the author spends three full chapters explaining how Christ, through his sacrificial death and resurrection, has inaugurated the new covenant promised by Jeremiah (Jer. 31:31-34; Heb. 8-10). Through his death Jesus secured eternal redemption (Heb. 9:12). His death purifies our consciences from dead works so that we can serve the living God (Heb. 9:14). Because Jesus is our mediator, we who are called receive the promised eternal inheritance (Heb. 9:15). Christ now appears before God on our behalf (Heb. 9:24), and one day he will return to save us (Heb. 9:28). By his will we have been sanctified through the offering of his body (Heb. 10:10), which has “perfected for all time those who are being sanctified” (Heb. 10:14).
So, when the author of Hebrews “moves on from the gospel,” what does he move on to? The priesthood of Christ, the sacrifice of Christ, the heavenly intercession of Christ, the new covenant mediated by Christ, the future return of Christ, and how all of that enables us to turn from dead works and serve the living God.
In other words, the author of Hebrews doesn’t move on from the gospel; he moves deeper into the gospel. He doesn’t leave the gospel behind, but instead claws his way into more and more of its riches.
So then, at least for the author of Hebrews, leaving behind elementary teachings doesn’t mean leaving behind the gospel. Instead, it means diving into the deep end instead of splashing around in the shallows.
(In next week’s post I’ll address the question, What does it mean to not move on from the gospel even when we’re dealing with other matters, like church leadership and structure?)