Pilgrims Should Make Progress

Bible Book: Hebrews  5
Subject: Growth, Christian; Progress; Christian Living; Discipleship
[Editors Note: Scripture for this sermons is from Hebrews 5:11 through Hebrews 6:20]

One of the most popular brands of TV commercials out there these days advertises Geico insurance—and in my opinion their commercials are usually very entertaining. Does anyone agree? I mean, I don’t use Geico but I love their commercials!

The one they are playing these days features Peter Pan who “flies in” to attend his 50th high school reunion. Have you seen this one? After showing his immaturity in the way he treats his aging classmates—the commercial ends with him hovering above their heads singing:

“You make me feel so young—you make me feel like spring has sprung…” And then the tag line is: “If you’re Peter Pan you stay young forever. It’s what you do. If you want to save 15% or more on car insurance, you switch to Geico. It’s what you do.”

I think one reason this commercial hits home is the fact that many adults embrace a “Peter Pan” outlook on life—in that they resist growing up. In fact, social scientists and psychologists have noticed a trend in our culture—they’ve seen an increasing difficulty that twenty-somethings are having—in making the transition from adolescence to adulthood. It’s even been given a name. It’s called: “The Peter Pan Syndrome.” Maybe this is where the Gieco script writers got their idea.

I share this because in today’s text the writer of the book of Hebrews addresses a spiritual version of the Peter Pan Syndrome seen in the lives of his first century readers—many of whom had obviously not grown up spiritually.

Take your Bibles and turn with me to Hebrews 5 as we read about this. We’ll begin with verse 11 and go through verse 20 of chapter 6:

“11 – We have much to say about this, but it is hard to make it clear to you because you no longer try to understand. 12 – 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! 13 – Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. 14 – But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil. 6:1 – Therefore let us move beyond the elementary teachings about Christ and be taken forward to maturity, not laying AGAIN the foundation of repentance from acts that lead to death, and of faith in God, 2 – instruction about cleansing rites, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. 3 – And God permitting, we will do so. 4 – It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, 5 – who have tasted the goodness of the Word of God and the powers of the coming age 6 – and who have fallen away to be brought back to repentance. To their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting Him to public disgrace. 7 – Land that drinks in the rain often falling on it and that produces a crop useful to those for whom it is farmed receives the blessing of God. 8 – But land that produces thorns and thistles is worthless and is in danger of being cursed. In the end it will be burned. 9 – Even though we speak like this, dear friends, we are convinced of better things in your case—the things that have to do with salvation. 10 – God is not unjust; He will not forget your work and the love you have shown Him as you have helped His people and continue to help them. 11 – We want each of you to show this same diligence to the very end, so that what you hope for may be fully realized. 12 – We do not want you to become lazy, but to imitate those who through faith and patience inherit what has been promised. 13 – When God made His promise to Abraham, since there was no one greater for him to swear by, He swore by Himself, 14 – saying, “I will surely bless you and give you many descendants.” 15 – And so after waiting patiently, Abraham received what was promised. 16 – People swear by someone greater than themselves, and the oath confirms what is said and puts an end to all argument. 17 – Because God wanted to make the unchanging nature of His purpose very clear to the heirs of what was promised, He confirmed it with an oath. 18 – God did this so that, by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled to take hold of the hope set before us may be greatly encouraged. 19 – We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain, 20 – where our forerunner, Jesus, has entered on our behalf. He has become a high priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.”

As we just read, the writer says he wants to present some of the deepest spiritual truths found in the New Testament—he wants to get deeper into things like this Melchizedek deal—but he realizes his readers are not up for the challenge. They’re still in the “Peter Pan” stage when it comes to spiritual growth. And in the verses that follow he cites the REASONS by reviewing the symptoms of spiritual immaturity.

I’d like us to focus in on them this morning as a way of evaluating our own spiritual growth—our own level of maturity—as God’s sons and daughters.

I. Lethargy

The first symptom he mentions is LETHARGY. Look at verse 1 where it says, “…it is hard to make it clear to you because you no longer try to understand.” Another translation puts it this way, “…you are SLOW to learn.” Literally it says, “you have become SLUGGISH in the ears.” Now—understand—these Christians weren’t intellectually DEFICIENT—but they HAD become spiritually LAZY. They listened in church—but with the attentiveness of a bored sloth. They had become lethargic and unreceptive.

By the way this kind of thing had happened before. The prophet Jeremiah talked about this and wrote, “Behold, the Word of the Lord is a reproach to them; they have no delight in it.” (Jeremiah 6:10)

You know, when people FIRST put their faith in Jesus they ENERGETICALLY listen to Biblical truth. You might say, they are “all ears.” They have a desire to grow and learn. They hunger for more and more spiritual truth. Their Bibles quickly become dog-eared from constant use. Verses are high-lighted and hand-written notes fill the margins. Like the Christians in the church at Thessolonica, in the beginning they hungrily receive the Scriptures, “…not as a human word, but as it actually is, the Word of God, which is indeed at work in you who believe.” (1st Thessalonians 2:13)

In my study this week I came across an excerpt from F. R. Webber’s book, The History of Preaching in Britain and America. He says that during the revivals that came as a result of The Great Awakening in the late 19th century, there was a sudden interest in shorthand. He writes: “Men and women studied shorthand in order that they might take down the sermons that were stirring the English-speaking countries. This had happened once before in Scotland, and it made its appearance once more in all countries where the influence of the Awakening was felt. It was not at all unusual to see men with a portable inkwell strapped about them and a quill pen thrust over an ear, hastening to join the throng assembling on the village green.”

This reminds me of something I remember seeing in a Billy Graham crusade broadcast from Russia—back in the days before the fall of the Iron Curtain. The people living in that atheist nation were so HUNGRY for the Word that they crowded into the church by the thousands—and the entire time they all held up tape recorders so as to catch every word. I mean, they didn’t just sit and yawn as many immature believers do here in the U.S.—they energetically stood—and held up those boom boxes the entire service.

I share this because—if we are not careful—that hunger—that eagerness goes away. Like these Hebrews we become dull in the ears—lazy—we lose our zeal for the Word. When it’s read we let our attention drift—we cease to listen. We no longer STUDY it to show ourselves approved, workmen who rightly divide God’s Word of truth.

It’s kind of like me and the ICC. I mean, it’s in the backyard of the homes across the street from us. We watched it being built. I can see the “sound wall” from my front door. And when the ICC first opened it was obvious that sound wall did not work. I mean we always heard the sounds of the cars speeding by—especially when it rained. Now—we don’t even notice it anymore. Our ears have grown dull to those traffic sounds. And—whereas that kind of auditory deficiency is a good thing for those of us who live on the ICC—it’s a TRAGIC thing when it happens to our spiritual ears. It’s terrible when a Christian becomes lethargic in response to the Bible being read—taught—preached.

Well, how do you measure up to this first symptom? Are you LETHARGIC when it comes to spiritual truth? The great Puritan writer Richard Baxter offers these words of advice: “Make it your work with diligence to apply the Word as you are hearing it. Cast not all upon the minister. You have work to do as well as the preacher and should all the time be busy as he. You must open your mouths and digest it—for another cannot digest for you. Therefore, all the while be at work, and abhor the idle heart in hearing.”

II. A Weak Stomach

This leads to the second symptom of spiritual immaturity the writer mentions: a WEAK STOMACH. Look at verse 13 of chapter 5: “You need milk, not solid food! Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant,is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness.”

As all parents know—babies drink ONLY milk for several months. Only after those months past can they begin to taste solid food—and they make this dietary change gradually until the day comes when they finally put aside the bottle. Their stomachs grow and mature so they can digest things like cereal and then vegetables and fruits and finally meat. Their grandparents can give them cookies and cupcakes and ice cream—when their parents aren’t looking. Well, it would be a terrible thing if a baby’s stomach DIDN’T mature—or regressed back to milk only. A diet like that would stunt their physical development. And that’s like what had happened to these Jewish believers. They were back to the point of only ingesting the elementary truths of our faith. You could say anything complex gave them spiritual indigestion—they just could not internalize it.

By the way, a literal translation would go like this, “You have become having need of milk not solid food.” In other words, these guys and gals had started “eating solid SPIRITUAL food.” They had begun learning the deeper truths of the Christian faith but for some reason they had regressed to the point where they were “back in the crib—back on the bottle.” It’s like they had gone back to kindergarten and all they wanted to do was review their A, B, C’s. They were spiritually malnourished—they weren’t growing—because they could only handle baby food.

The Christians in the church at Corinth had this same problem. Paul said “I could not speak to you as to spiritual people but as to carnal, as to babes in Christ. I fed you with milk and not with solid food; for until now you were not able to receive it and even now you are still not able.” (1st Corinthians 3:1-2)

Major Ian Thomas, the famous missionary and founder of Torchbearers once said, “You know I have discovered an interesting thing about American Christians. They do not usually come to church to learn anything. Whatever they do not yet know themselves they think is heresy. What they want to hear is the same old stuff so they can say, ‘Amen brother, amen!”

Sad—but true of many believers!

All this brings to mind a time about 30 years ago when I led the music in a revival at a church where a friend was pastoring. I wanted to teach the choir some new anthems to share at the services and brought along some Lifeway publications for that purpose. They came in magazine form. It was called Glory Songs—and I remember one of the choir members saying, “Listen, we’re glad you are here—but we don’t want to sing any of this ‘magazine music.” He went on to say—they just wanted to sing the old stuff—and he pointed to a few worn and well-used favorites. He wasn’t interested in learning any new songs. Well as sad as that is when it comes to music—it is even more tragic when it comes to Biblical truth. I mean, if all we ingest as a Christian is basic “spiritual milk” we will never grow beyond spiritual infancy.

Think of it this way—what if CC Day and Bob Michael’s Sunday School Classes only used the curriculum we give to our preschoolers? What if that’s the only thing they studied every week? I suppose we’d have to extend Peggy Peek’s responsibilities to cover our Adults as well as our children! One of the sad things about all this is immaturity makes people susceptible to false teaching. The writer warns his readers then and now of this in the later part of our text. He says because of their immaturity it’s like they had no anchor of belief to hold on to. Let me put it this way. They believed the “elementary truth” that Jesus died for our sins. They had asked Him into their hearts and lives. But they had not matured to the point that they had developed a deepening relationship with Jesus. They hadn’t gone very far “behind the veil” so to speak. They didn’t live with a constant awareness of God’s presence and power. And because of that they had no anchor to grip in the storms of life.

Look at verses 19 and 20 where he writes, “We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain, where our forerunner, Jesus, has entered on our behalf. He has become a high priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.”

My New Testament professor in seminary was Dr. Roger Omanson. Dr. Omanson had been a Bible translator in a central African nation before coming to the faculty of Southern Seminary. The African nation where he served was land-bound. It had no lakes—no real rivers—so the people who lived there had no boats and therefore no understanding of the word “anchor.” So, when they came to this verse in Hebrews Dr. Omanson worded it like this, “We have this TENT PEG—firm and secure.” Well, we need this TENT PEG—the ANCHOR of a deep, growing, intimate relationship with Jesus. Otherwise, as Paul warns, we will be, “…infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming.” (Ephesians 4:13)

Well, how would you evaluate yourself on this one? Are you enjoying the “spiritual meat” of this book—or are you still on a bland, milk diet? Do you have a GROWING—ever-deepening—better every day—relationship with Jesus or are you still in spiritual infancy?

Do you know ABOUT Jesus—or do you KNOW Him—anchoring your life by that relationship?

III. Poor Vision

The third symptom of spiritual immaturity we SEE here is POOR VISION. As you probably know, babies are born with a full visual capacity to see objects and colors. But newborns are extremely nearsighted. Far away objects are blurry. In fact, they can only see things about eight to fifteen inches away clearly. Well, the writer is saying that the immaturity of his first readers was kind of like that in that they could not SEE good enough to discern the difference between good and evil. As verse 14 says, they had not, “…trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.” This problem stems from the prior two symptoms of immaturity. I mean, since they had grown lazy in Bible study—since they were only able to hear the elementary truths of Scripture—they were unable to see evil for what it is.

You may remember my telling you a few years back about a man named Mickey Cohen. In the 1950’s Cohen was a famous gangster who ran Los Angeles much like Al Capone did Chicago. When Billy Graham came to LA to host a crusade Cohen was convinced to attend. In fact, many prominent Christian leaders had visited him in an effort to convince Cohen to accept Christ so he went to the crusade and then—afterwards after repeatedly being encouraged to open the door of his life to Jesus, Cohen did so. Well hopes ran high among his believing acquaintances. Cohen’s conversion got a lot of publicity: “INFAMOUS GANGSTER COMES TO JESUS!” But with the passing of time, no one could see any change in Cohen’s life. Finally, they confronted him with the fact that being a Christian meant he would have to give up his friends and his profession. Cohen said something like this, “There are Christian football players, Christian cowboys, Christian politicians—why not a Christian gangster?” Many doubt Cohen’s conversion to this day—and I can certainly understand—but if it WAS real (and only God can judge that)—he had certainly not matured to the point that he could see clearly. He couldn’t distinguish between right and wrong—good and evil. He didn’t realize that if anyone is IN CHRIST, they are a new creation—the old has passed away the new has come.

Listen, a growing Christian is a DISCERNING person. The longer we walk with Jesus—the more time we spend in His Word, the more often we follow the guidance of His Holy Spirit—the more discerning we become about everything in life. We develop a moral sense—a keen spiritual insight—that guides us and enables us to separate right from wrong. With the same Spirit Who guided Solomon living in us—we too can distinguish between right and wrong. With God’s help—when we acknowledge Him and lean not just on our own understanding we can make wise decisions.

Dr. Charles Ryrie writes, “A spiritual Christian will be able to tread his or her way carefully through the complexities of Christian living—so that they not only do what is right and spiritual but also what is useful and for the good of others.”

Well, how is your spiritual eyesight these days? Are you able to see sin as sin? As a recipient of God’s grace are you able to see beyond the sin of others—see them with eyes of compassion? Are you able to look at people on the other side—-people who VOTE against Biblical principles when it comes to human life—sexuality—Can you look at them not as enemies—but as victims of the enemy?

Okay—to review—the symptoms of spiritual immaturity are LETHARGY when it comes to spiritual growth, a WEAK STOMACH when it comes to Scriptural truth—and POOR EYESITE—or the inability to see clearly when it comes to right and wrong.

IV. Failure to Thrive

And then keeping with this theme, I’m calling the final symptom of spiritual immaturity mentioned in our text: a FAILURE to THRIVE—

—as a way of describing a Christian who is not making any real PROGRESS toward spiritual growth. Their spiritual infancy makes them like infants who haven’t yet learned to crawl—and because of that they don’t get anywhere.

Do you remember the writer’s words? He said they “ought to be teachers by now” but they still needed someone to teach them. They hadn’t THRIVED. They hadn’t grown. They hadn’t gotten anywhere. They were back at the starting line. We need to heed this text because there is no such thing as a STATIC Christian. You see, the Christian walk is an uphill climb. It’s going against the flow of this fallen world so if we stop forward progress—if we put it in neutral—we actually regress. I can’t help but think of the words of General Patton in WW2 who said, “In battle the greatest security is found in ADVANCING against the enemy.” Our enemy—the adversary—doesn’t want us to THRIVE. He wants churches filled with spiritual infants. Let’s just stop at this point and review the three basic stages in the Christian experience.

* First we need to be fed by others.

* Then we can feed ourselves.

* Finally, we graduate—or mature to the point where we can feed others.

That progression is the way the church—the BODY of Christ continues to grow and multiply itself. I’m not saying everyone has the gift of teaching—but everyone has the responsibility to grow and mature—such that whenever we meet together we can encourage one another to continue to grow—or as we read in chapter 10: “spur one another on toward love and good deeds.” (Hebrews 10:25)

Warren Wiersbe says that too many Christians are “in betweeners.” That is to say, they are “between Egypt and Canaan—out of the place of danger, but not yet into the place of rest and rich inheritance.” We show that we are not betweeners—we show our progress by our WORKS—be it teaching and encouraging others to grow—or by our diligence to improve and grow in other areas.

This week I read about the USS Astoria—which was the first U.S. Cruiser to engage the Japanese during the Battle of Savo Island in World War 2. This was a nighttime battle fought in August of 1942. About two o’clock in the morning a young Midwesterner, Signalman 3rd Class Elgin Staples, was swept overboard by the blast—when the Astoria’s number one eight-inch gun turret exploded. Wounded in both legs by shrapnel and in semi-shock, he was kept afloat by a narrow lifebelt that he managed to activate with a simple trigger mechanism. At about six in the morning—after being in the water four hours—Staples was rescued by a passing destroyer and returned to the Astoria, whose captain was attempting to save the cruiser by beaching her. The effort failed and about noon Staples—still wearing the same lifebelt—found himself back in the water. He was picked up again a few hours later, this time by the USS President Jackson. He was one of 500 survivors of the battle who were evacuated to Noumea. On board that transport ship, for the first time Staples closely examined the lifebelt that had served him so well. He saw it had been manufactured by Firestone Tire and Rubber Company of Akron, Ohio, and it bore a registration number. Months later when he was given leave to go home, Staples told his story and asked his mother, who worked for Firestone, about the purpose of the number on the belt. She replied that the company insisted on personal responsibility for the war effort, and that the number was unique and assigned to only one inspector. Staples remembered everything about the lifebelt and he quoted the number. It turns out it was his mother’s personal code affixed to every item she was responsible for approving. That mother’s unheralded diligence in an anonymous wartime job made sure her soon-to-be shipwrecked son’s hope of survival. Well, how much GREATER are the stakes in eternal matters, and how much greater is the challenge to diligence. I mean OUR WORK in sharing the GOSPEL—is vitally important. People all around us are “shipwrecked—lost in their sin.” They need to hear the message of salvation we have been commissioned to share.

In verse 11 the writer says, “We want—we LONG—for each one of you to show this same diligence to the very end in order to make your hope sure.” And don’t misunderstand—the Bible does not teach that we are saved by our works. The writer is not saying our hope is made sure by our diligence. Of course not—but he IS saying that our works show we are saved. He’s saying that as James puts it, we authenticate our faith—we show that is ALIVE and THRIVING—by our works for God. When we help others with physical needs—when we tell others about the love of Jesus—with these works we show we are GROWING—making progress as believers.

Now—look at verse 5 and following where the writer talks about about people who have, “fallen away” not being able “to be brought back to repentance.” And if you read on it seems as if he is saying if a Christian doesn’t progress—if they regress—they will lose their salvation—and never be able to regain it. Well—this is NOT what he’s saying. Remember, the writer was addressing Jewish believers—Christians who were familiar with the LAW—and were tempted to go back to Judaism. These baby Christians were hung up with the law—they were regressing into thinking that if they didn’t obey the law they would be condemned.

Well, the writer is putting down that infantile kind of thinking. He’s saying they should be beyond this. They should understand the message of the Gospel better by now. In fact, he’s actually saying that a Christian CANNOT lose their salvation any more than Jesus could die on the cross again. And this fact that once saved we are ALWAYS saved is the clear teaching of not just this text but all of the Bible.

* For example Romans 8:38-39 say that “NOTHING can separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus.”

* Hebrews 10:14 says losing your salvation is impossible, “…for by one sacrifice He has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.”

* In John 10:27-30 Jesus says, “My sheep listen to My voice; I know them, and they follow Me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of My hand. My Father, Who has given them to Me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.”

* 1st Peter 1:3-5 says, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In His great mercy He has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time.”


So the writer is saying that we don’t need to worry about losing our salvation—we are in God’s hands—and as George Beverly Shea put it, “God’s grip don’t slip!” We don’t need to fear losing our salvation—we are free to move on—free to progress onward. We are no longer bound by the law—we are covered by God’s grace.

When our children were young, we took them for regular check-ups—and I remember the pediatrician would always gauge their growth. He’d weigh them—measure their height—check on how they were doing when it came to walking, speaking, seeing, hearing, etc. Well—think of our text this morning as sort of a spiritual check-up—and as we pray in a moment, use the four things we have focused on to evaluate YOUR growth. Then based on that exam—ask God to help you to mature in the ways you need to because pilgrims SHOULD make progress.