Question:

I do have a question about Hebrews 6:1-2, "Therefore leaving the elementary teaching about the Christ, let us press on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, of instruction about washings and laying on of hands, and the resurrection of the dead and eternal judgment." What is repentance from dead works and faith toward God? I can't figure out if this is a generic dead works referring to worldly ways or from Judaism or both. I see they both go together, but I am trying to figure it out. Tried to find similar terms in the Bible but could not find any for repentance from dead works. There is James and works, but that seems to be talking about something different. In Romans 7 Paul talks about the law deceiving him comes to mind. Also faith in God means leaving your old life behind (dead works), turning away from them (Ephesians 5:3-14) . Are baptisms or washings referring to all the different type of baptisms (Holy Spirit, John's, Moses', and Christians)?


Answer:

"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, of the doctrine of baptisms, of laying on of hands, of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment" (Hebrews 6:1-2).

"Therefore" brings up a conclusion based on the arguments prior. Thus, to understand this passage, we must also consider what came before it.

"For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the first principles of the oracles of God; and you have come to need milk and not solid food. For everyone who partakes only of milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, for he is a babe. But solid food belongs to those who are of full age, that is, those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil. 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, of the doctrine of baptisms, of laying on of hands, of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment" (Hebrews 5:12-6:2).

The writer of Hebrews is arguing that the Christians he is addressing haven't properly grown, instead they have regressed and needed to review the fundamental teachings of Christianity. Those first principles that they should have solidly known and gone on to other topics are:

  • Repentance from dead works and of faith toward God
  • The doctrine of baptisms
  • Laying on of hands
  • The resurrection of the dead
  • Eternal judgment

These are subjects that the writer believes every new Christian should be taught and understand well.

Repentance from dead works and of faith toward God

In order to become a Christian, a person must change; yet, this often seems to be a difficult concept to grasp. People often are sorry about their sins, but actually leaving those sins is hard to accomplish. "For godly sorrow produces repentance leading to salvation, not to be regretted; but the sorrow of the world produces death. For observe this very thing, that you sorrowed in a godly manner: What diligence it produced in you, what clearing of yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what vehement desire, what zeal, what vindication! In all things you proved yourselves to be clear in this matter" (II Corinthians 7:10-11). It is common to find new Christians slipping back into old ways. "What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it?" (Romans 6:1-2). Certainly sinful works are dead works. "How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?" (Hebrews 9:14).

Remember that Hebrews was written to Jewish Christians who thought salvation came by works of the Law of Moses. "We who are Jews by nature, and not sinners of the Gentiles, knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we might be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law; for by the works of the law no flesh shall be justified" (Galatians 2:15-16). The works of the Old Law could not save. No one by the works of the Law could earn salvation from God. These works were dead.

But change alone is not enough, we have to change to a new direction, specific direction. It is the direction of faith toward God. "Testifying to Jews, and also to Greeks, repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ" (Acts 20:21). Without faith, we have nothing. "But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him" (Hebrews 11:6).

Can anyone truly claim to be a faithful Christian and not understand the importance of repentance and faith?

The doctrine of baptisms

There is only one baptism applicable to Christians today (Ephesians 4:4-6), though the New Testament refers to several that had limited application and are no longer in effect (see: Baptisms of the New Testament). It is important that Christians understand the role the various baptisms played because many false doctrines are promoted in regards to baptism. For example, many groups teach that no baptism is necessary. Others say that the baptism of the Holy Spirit is the one baptism or that it is needed in addition to Christ's baptism in water. Baptism is not a rite to be done to place a check mark on a list of requirements. Baptism has significant and essential meaning to becoming a Christian. A faithful Christian needs to understand these things.

Some refer to Hebrews 9:10 where baptismos is used to refer to the cleansing rites used in Judaism. However, cleansing rites in Judaism is not an elementary teaching of Christ, so this interpretation does not fit the context.

Laying on of hands

Many see this phrase and assume that the writer is referring to the miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit. However, "laying on of hands" has a much broader application. See: What is the doctrine of laying on of hands? "Laying on of hands" is at its core what you approve or who you fellowship. Much space is used in the New Testament concerning the need to fellowship Christians and avoid false teachers. For example, Timothy was told, "Do not lay hands on anyone hastily, nor share in other people's sins; keep yourself pure" (I Timothy 5:22). What you accept or reject is core to defining a person as a Christian.

The resurrection of the dead

As Paul pointed out: "For if the dead do not rise, then Christ is not risen. And if Christ is not risen, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins! Then also those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men the most pitiable" (I Corinthians 15:16-20). Salvation is the offer of eternal life. Since we all die (Hebrews 9:27), then without the possibility of a resurrection, that offer would be meaningless. Every faithful Christian ought to understand that the dead will be one day raised.

Eternal judgment

Finally, we have to understand that how we live our lives matters. A faithful Christian understands that Judgment is real. "And as it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment, so Christ was offered once to bear the sins of many. To those who eagerly wait for Him He will appear a second time, apart from sin, for salvation" (Hebrews 9:27-28). We must face judgment regarding the things we have done. "For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad" (II Corinthians 5:10). The choices we make each day of our lives really do matter.

We never want to lose sight of these basic concepts, but Paul's point is that we also don't need to continually rehash these same topics repeatedly. These topics are the foundations for other topics. When we discuss sin, we do so in the light of the fact that we know that we will be judged and that we were called to repent from dead works. When we discuss the treatment of our fellow Christians, we do so knowing why we are in fellowship.