“Come to mommy. What a big boy. You can do it!” We cheered and praised our son as he took his first tentative steps. One…two…plop. He was on his bottom.
Learning to walk inevitably involves failure. But we don’t chastise toddlers for not making it across the room because we understand they are acting their age. However, if two years later they still cannot walk without falling, that would be a problem for babies are supposed to mature.
The author of the letter to the Hebrews equates physical growth with spiritual growth. While it is right and good for new Christians to crave spiritual milk (1 Peter 2:2–3), they should move on to a diet of solid food.
We have much to say about this, but it is hard to make it clear to you because you no longer try to understand. In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness.Hebrews 5:11–13 NIV
Infants depend on their mothers to feed them one source of nourishment that is easy to digest. They put everything in their mouths. They sleep a lot. And they are helpless without their parents to take care of them. The author describes them like this:
- too lazy to even try to understand the Bible
- dependent on a teacher for instruction
- consume only the basic elementary truths—things related to salvation—over and over
- unskilled in applying the message of righteousness—how to be right with God
More specifically, milk is:
The elementary teachings about Christ…not laying again the foundation of repentance from acts that lead to death, and of faith in God, instruction about cleansing rites, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment.Hebrews 6:1–2 NIV
This foundational food—all things related to getting saved, staying clean1, future events, and judgment—is not enough to produce growth. They need to be nourished on solid food.2
But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.Hebrews 5:14 NIV
The point of Hebrews is to prove to the readers that Jesus is far better than their old way of getting right with God. He begs them to leave behind Judaism and embrace Jesus. Therefore, in this context, solid food is the teaching about righteousness: understanding how and why Jesus is better than the angels; Moses, and the high priests; realizing that he’s like Melchizedek; knowing how to be right with God, and how to live accordingly.
Therefore let us move beyond the elementary teachings about Christ and be taken forward to maturity…And God permitting, we will do so.Hebrews 6:1, 3 NIV
On a diet of such food, baby believers can become mature. According to the author, spiritual maturity is evidenced by:
- familiarity with the teaching about righteousness—that Jesus is the better way to get right with God
- teaching others the basics of the faith
- training oneself so as not to be reliant on others
- constantly using Scripture to know the teaching about righteousness
- discerning between good and evil doctrine
- choosing the good on one’s own—without outside guidance
The author exhorts the reader to move beyond the elementary teachings about Christ. The verb translated “let us move beyond” means “to be conveyed or borne” like a ship at sea is borne by the wind.2 While we must do our part by diligently training toward maturity, we are also carried along by the Holy Spirit who helps us and empowers us (1 Corinthians 2:14).
As I have pressed on to maturity in these past few years, I now see some things that I used to consider “good” in myself as actually a form of idolatry. And what I considered “evil” as rather a way of love and service. What sounds like certainty and confidence I recognize as pride and arrogance and what appears to be uncertainty and wishy washy as humility.
What “elementary teaching” are you repeating over and over?
Are you dependent on spiritual teachers or can you teach the basics of the faith to others?
Are you still relying on others to tell you what to do? Or can you make discerning choices on your own?
How might you press on to maturity?
How long have you walked with Jesus? Act your age.
My Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, help me to grow in your grace and knowledge. To you be glory both now and forever! Amen (from 2 Peter 3:18). Help me to become mature, measuring up to your complete standard (from Ephesians 4:13).
1 Some commentators think the author is talking about baptism and ordination while others think he’s referring to the Jewish rituals of cleansing (Mark 7:3–4, Hebrews 9:9–10) and animal sacrifices (Leviticus 1:4).
2 When babies start to consume solid food, they enter into better rest.