Producing a Useful Crop
Key Verse 6:7
“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.”
The last thing he was telling them was a subtle rebuke about them remaining as babies in the faith. He had hoped they would be more mature in the faith, and by now even becoming teachers of this glorious faith to others. Christ, as the Sacrificial Lamb had been sacrificed once for all, and Christ as the High Priest had presented the sacrifice before the Holy Throne of God on behalf all who believe. Now our High Priest was at the right hand of God mediating for all his saints and helping them in their sufferings and temptations on their pilgrimage of faith. All their hopes are in him and in his coming and eternal heavenly kingdom. For this, they were ready to stand their ground in faith, and renounce the world and since their Prophet, Priest and King and Son of God had gained victory over the world, over sin and over death. As such their responsibility was to grow in his image, to share his gospel of grace and serve his invisible kingdom at any cost. These were the things that they should have matured in, and been teaching. But they were still infants needing to be taught the basics of the faith. They still needed to be taught good from evil, right from wrong, error from truth.
In the passage we are looking at this time, the author continues his exhortation to them regarding leaving behind their childish behavior and going on to maturity. Once again he tells them to leave behind the kindergarten teachings, and moving on to higher grades. Read verses 1-3. “Therefore let us leave the elementary teachings about Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again the foundation of repentance from acts that lead to death, and of faith in God, instruction about baptisms, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. And God permitting, we will do so.” In regards to this short section here, the author is simply telling them that we ought to move on from the elementary teachings of the faith, and mature in the faith, so that eventually we might become productive. (6:7) This as simple as it gets. But we cannot deny that it is not as simple as that. In his description regarding the elementary teachings about Christ, he describes 6 fundamental things. Yet we are not entirely certain whether what he is describing are Old Testament rituals or New Testament practices. I am inclined to believe that they may be New Testament practices or fundamentals that the author wishes for them not to become mired in but to strive to mature past.
For example, one of the fundaments teachings is what he mentions first. He says: “Not laying again the foundation of repentance from acts that lead to death, and of faith in God.” The ESV or the KJV say: “From dead works”. All works are dead works, and all are acts that lead to death. He’s talking about the works or acts we do to gain favor with God. The Jews gloried in their rituals and ceremonies which they considered to be their righteous acts or works, and which they though would give them life. But none of their works gave them life. They rather gave them death instead. One of the most fundamental of Christian teachings was that we ought to repent of all our acts or works, as well as of all our sins, and put our faith in the Lord who alone can give us life. And all the other fundamentals he mentions in these verses are similar in a way, if taken in a New Testament light. What he may be saying then is that we ought to not remain in the basics and be content that we have turned to Christ, nor ought we teeter tooter going back and forth between doing righteous works for merit and then repenting and putting our trust in the Lord— this is baby stuff. We ought to mature, and grow in faith and go past this stage of one day feeling self righteous and one day feeling self condemning. Let us move on!
Now we come to one of the most troubling and difficult passages to deal with in the Bible. Read verses 4-6. “It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age, if they fall away, to be brought back to repentance, because to their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace.” This passage has truly caused a lot of anguish to many genuine Christians who have trembled at the prospect of ever belonging to this category of unfortunate people, because in reading it they wondered if they themselves have lost or would one day lose their salvation. But before we try to understand what the author means, it’s important to know what you believe about your salvation. Is your faith Biblically based, or is it a faith that leans on the interpretation of others? Or is it a faith that rests on your own understanding or interpretation! Can a born again Christian lose their salvation or not? Unless we answer this question first, I feel that it might be hard to effectively reflect on this passage.
Here’s what the Bible tells us. “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” “Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies … Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? For I am convinced that neither death nor life … Will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:1, 31-39) Consider also what Jesus himself said: “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life.” What kind of life does Jesus give them? Eternal life. And if it’s a life that can be lost, then it cannot be Eternal. He continues to then to say: “And they shall never perish; no one can 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.” (John 10:27-29) When it comes to eternal life, it’s never an issue of your ability to hold on to him, or whether you have the strength to hold on to him or not; it’s always an issue of his ability and promise to hold on to you. Well, in the Scripture here, in the full power and authority of the Lord, it tells us that Jesus holds on to his own, and with tenacity. So once again, we leave that question open again, can a genuine Christian, (and by genuine I mean a Christian born again of the Spirit and Word of God), lose his salvation? Once we have answered this question and settled it in our hearts, we can soberly begin to reflect on the following passage. And you will be surprised!
But the question is this: Is the author talking about confessed believers who knew Christ or not? Many Christian authorities say no, that we in good conscience cannot contend that the author is talking about a true believing Christian here. Other Christian authorities contend that the author is talking about true Christians but that the words in verse 6, “who have fallen away” are merely hypothetical, meaning that Christians can’t lose their salvation, but should such a situation ever arise, then it would be impossible to restore them to life. They claim that the author is simply using an example that would never happen just to make a point. We might agree if it were not hard to imagine that the Holy Spirit would mince words and waste them to make an example as critical as this! But there is a satisfactory explanation, an interpretation that seems not to conflict with the author’s intent in writing these Hebrew Christians.
And yes, we have to remember that they were Christians who have made the good confession and acknowledged Christ to be both Lord and savior. We have seen throughout the book that among them were some who in their weakness were contemplating a return to Jewish religious rituals and ceremonies. They wanted to escape the tremendous persecution they were receiving and end the suffering associated with Christ. They wanted to identify once again with the visible glory of the temple worship and the sacrificial system. They did not know that by doing so they would be betraying the faith. They were infants who never matured from milk to meat. Yet we can’t deny that those who were being tempted were in every way still Christians who had been born of God. They were just immature and needed rebuking and discipline to turn away from temptation and sin. That’s why the apostle rebukes them often in this letter to stand firm in the faith. And in the last passage we hear him rebuke them about being like babies when they should have matured in the faith by now. But who could deny that they were genuine Christians in every way! Which brings us to who are the people listed in verses 4-6? They were from among them, that much we know. But were they Christians? That is the question. And that is what troubles so many people. Especially when they think that in this passage, if they were actually Christians, then how can they possibly lose their salvation!
Let’s answer one question at a time then. When we read verses 4-6, we know that many respectable Christian authorities really try hard to interpret these words such that what is being described is close to a Christian experience but not quite Christian. I know I did on many occasions because I thought that if the description was for a genuine Christian, then the author is talking about losing salvation and I can’t accept that, and therefore I concluded that he is not talking about a genuine Christian. But perhaps the author is not talking about losing ones salvation but about something else! Then that changes everything. When we look at these verses, in all honesty, it’s hard not you see a truly genuine Christian experience. They had once been enlightened. They had tasted the heavenly gift. They had shared in the Holy Spirit. They had tasted the goodness of the word of God. The had also tasted the powers of the coming age. All these are the experiences of a genuine Christian!
Did some of them fall away? Yes, that is what he says. Was it bad that they did? Of course, it was in fact a great sin that some weakened in their faith and may have returned to some old covenant practices, or may have given in to worldliness, or may have fallen away from the Christian community— only the Lord knows what caused them to fall away. But did they lose their salvation? From what the author says, not really! He says that if they fall away, but he does not say that if they fall away from grace. He says that it’s impossible for them to be brought back to repentance; he makes no mention of being brought back to salvation, because salvation is not in question here. It seems that the author may after-all be talking to Christians about Christians. Furthermore, on a positive note, let us remember what the Lord Jesus himself said that what’s impossible with man is ever so possible with God! What I’m saying is that this passage is far too mysterious and sublime for even the giants to faith to agree upon an understanding of it, let alone simple humble folk like us to understand it. But whatever insight we offer, we offer in humility of heart. But to fully understand the apostle’s purpose in writing these particular verses, we have to look at verses 7-8, 9-. They really hold the key.
“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. But land that produces thorns and thistles is worthless and is in danger of being cursed. In the end it will be burned.” We, God’s people, are the land, and the rain that falls on it are all God’s blessings whatever they are, whether they are listed in verses 4 through 6, or the daily blessings which God in his mercy showers on all people, or especially the gifts and talents and special graces that each of his children have received. So the land is you and me and the rain is God’s blessing. And apparently the land that’s rained on is rained on for a purpose, that it may be farmed and that it may produce a useful crop for the one for whom it is farmed. And the one for whom it is farmed is the Lord God himself. But among the lands that receive the rain or the blessings of God, there are two kinds of results. One land produces a useful crop for God, and the other is useless and produces nothing but thorns and thistles. This analogy gives us an understanding of what the author is talking about in verses 4-6. He’s clearly talking about fruit— the fruit that Christians produce in their lives to the Lord God. The whole argument and warning here is about the fruit that some of these people were in danger of producing. Let me explain.
First of all, there’s an impression that the author isn’t talking about salvation here at all, even though many people who read it get stuck on the subject and lose the focus and purpose of what the author is really trying to say. The impression is that the author’s intention is to warn these Christians about their fruits, their influence among other Christians, and of course their ultimate rewards in the end upon salvation. Blessed is the man or woman who is saved to eternal life. But surely salvation isn’t the only thing in a believer’s life, nor is it in any way the end of the road for the Christian believer. The Bible, for those who study it, surely talks of salvation, and every human being must be absolutely concerned with salvation. But the Bible talks about other crucial things as well. Fruit, influence, and heavenly rewards— all of which were on the apostle’s mind when he wrote these words here. To live your life in a way that’s worthy of the Lord; to let the rainfall of God’s blessings in your life produce a crop useful to God, that you in turn may receive the blessing of God and enjoy the heavenly rewards. Otherwise, if the rainfall of God’s blessing in your life produces nothing, no fruit for the Lord; if your life is a stumbling block to others; if all you care about is yourself; your present and future rewards are at risk. How important then it is to take this warning to heart— the warning about fruits, influence and heavenly rewards.
In verse 6 he says: “If they fall away, to be brought back to repentance.” In a way these words right here are monumental! How glorious is this truth in the Bible, and how dire and urgent it is for those who would live a life worthy of the Lord. In the book of Revelation, the Lord gives every one of the seven churches a command to repent because in repentance says the Lord is our salvation and our rest (Isaiah 30:15), and how few know this truth. In repentance there is salvation and life because the Lord blesses the humble of heart who repent and turn to him in faith and in surrender. And that’s what the Lord has decreed for those who would live a Christian life worthy of the Lord and bearing fruit and bearing influence, and then reaping the rewards of their salvation in heaven.
Look at verse 9 which we look at in our next study. He says: Even though we speak like this, dear friends, we are confident of better things in your case— things that accompany salvation.” In addressing them he really had in mind what comes alongside salvation— those things that are the fruits of one’s salvation. A person is not only saved, but a good tree, the Lord says, bears good fruit. A person who comes to know the Lord cannot live in selfishness any longer. He has to put out of himself for others and for the Lord. That is why the author wants them and us to bear the fruit which God has called us to bear when he poured down his blessings in our lives. Some day every believer will stand before the throne to be judged, not for salvation, because we who belong to the Lord forever belong to him. But we will be judged as to our fruits. What kind of fruit did we bear in our life for what we have been given of his blessings to serve his purpose and his glory. Have our lives counted for him? Have we been an influence of grace to others or a stumbling block? Have we grown in his knowledge in his character, or have we wasted time and blessings on ourselves? I am saved by grace and for that I am thankful. But I tell you that I myself am trembling that I have to stand before him on that day, for the fruit that I have to account for!
But I know that repentance is a blessing that has caught the hearts of many Christians since the beginning. As John the Baptist first taught us: “Produce fruit in keeping with repentance” he said (Luke 3:8) He calls us all to show the fruit or evidence of repentance— not once but in practicing a life of repentance. Then our Lord Jesus called us to remain in him saying: “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” And again he told us: “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit— fruit that lasts.” (John 15:5, 16) To remain in Jesus as he remains in us calls for a heart of repentance and submission on a daily basis. In that way one not only bears fruit but bears influence on the body of Christ and even on outsiders as well, as well as on one’s own hopes for heavenly rewards— since God really wants us to have that kind of hope.
I’m not sure what caused these Hebrew Christians who fell away to fall away, but whatever it was, they had lost sight of Christ and of repentance such that it was very difficult, almost impossible for them to repent and turn back. If they didn’t, it was a warning that they don’t fall away from the life of faith and repentance, but remain deeply rooted in it, so that their lives may remain fruitful and productive to the Lord. How careful we should be about our Christian lives. How we live. How we behave. Some Christians could care less about their attitude, their behavior, their words. As the Lord said: “But I tell you that men will have to give account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken.” (Matthew 12:36) But we have to be careful especially in this generation how we conduct ourselves as Christians. We cannot underestimate the power of the enemy and the pull of temptation and sin. The Lord cannot be mocked. We must make every effort to maintain a spirit of repentance and of faith. Then God on his grace works in us to help us bear fruit and influence. We will be like the land that produces a useful crop.
And we have to live for what is beyond and not for what is here and now. The here and now, even though a lot of it seems to be shiny and glittering and has a glory and magnetism of its own, is still temporary and perishing. In his letter to them we cannot ignore the many times he tells them to move on beyond what is here and now, to look beyond what they can see, to not get entrapped by the things that things that lure and trap and capture the heart and body. He repeatedly talks to them about the promises of God, his heavenly kingdom and the rewards that the ancients looked forward to. He encourages tem to work for the Lord, even at the cost of their lives. In chapter 12, he even talks to them about martyrdom. He tells them that they have not yet shed blood in resisting the sin that pulls them down and keeps them pinned down to this world; that even if they had to shed their blood to resist the temptation to sin, that they should die rather than to give in to it. That is a call to martyrdom. We Christians have had it very easy so far. We think that as long as we go to church and make a meeting or two and pray once or twice a week that we are alright, that we have salvation as long as our confession is in Christ. But we hardly think of the fruit that God demands, of the influence that he calls us to bear on each other and on the world, and of the day that we will have to stand before his throne to give an accounting for what we have done with the rainfall of blessings he has entrusted us with. But we cannot escape this truth! It’s in the Bible. Our comfort, is that in the midst of all this truth, the author still tells us that he is confident of better things for us— things that accompany salvation.