The Growing Christian – Hebrews 5:11-14

Spiritual Checkup for 2021

2021 is over. So it is a good time to take a spiritual checkup.

Take a couple of minutes and right down answers to the following questions (yes or no):

  • Have I grown in my prayer life?
  • Have I grown in my devotional life?
  • Have I grown in zeal for witnessing?
  • Have I grown in conquering temptation?
  • Have a I grown in Christian character?

Also, write down one specific area you have grown in 2021.
Write down one specific area you have not seen growth (but wish you had) in 2021.

As we are entering a new year, the sharing topic today is about the growing Christian. If you want to grow in the new year, raise your hand. Great, but even though we want to grow, not everyone does.

The Growing Christian

Hebrews 5:11 – 6:1 – About this we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil. 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.

I. The Lethargic Christian

“it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing”

The listeners were not very sharp spiritually. They had a hard time understanding and grasping biblical concepts. The author is rebuking them for their dull hearing. He wanted to teach them important and deep truths about God. But it wasn’t really possible. If he tried, they would have stared at him with blank looks on their faces.

For those of you who are teachers, you may have had similar experiences in class. You prepare a topic and excitedly start teaching it. But soon you realize the class is not paying attention. Yawns, absent-minded expressions, or even sleeping students can be seen. When I taught in middle school, I faced this. A couple of times students slept in class. Other times they played on their phone (hiding them under their desks). Other times they played Wu Zi Qi (a game kind of like tic-tac-toe). At times I would ask a question and only get blank expressions in return. It is very difficult to teach a person who is lethargic and dull of hearing.

Dull hearing/lethargy is not a normal or proper state for believers. No outside forces cause a person to be this way. The author rebukes them. If this was a result of external factors, perhaps their IQ, or their environment, then it wouldn’t be their fault. The fact that he rebukes them shows us that it was their own choice. It was their own choices that made them this way. They just weren’t interested in putting the time forth to study and understand the Word. Because of their own lethargy and laziness, they don’t understand the weightier principles of God. Instead of progressing, they have either stayed on the same spiritual level or have regressed.

Illustration: The image is something like that of a piano student. The student goes to lessons regularly and sits through “listening” to his teacher. She gives him homework and asks him to practice during the week. The next week she finds that he hasn’t improved at all. Not only has he not improved, but he doesn’t even seem to remember the previous week’s lesson. This happens over and over and over. Eventually the teacher feels like teaching the student is just banging her head into a wall repeatedly because no matter how hard she tries, he is not paying close attention and he is not practicing and he is not improving. In this case it was necessary to teach them the basic principles (milk) again because they weren’t doing it. Perhaps when they heard these principles they thought it was good to do and even planned to it. But they didn’t obey. They are like the man in James 1 who hears the word, but does not do it.

What are some marks of a lethargic Christian?

  • They find it hard to concentrate during a Bible study or sermon. The message is just too long and too boring. Symptoms of this might include sleeping, daydreaming, texting, or checking social media and the internet during sermons/church/Bible study.
  • They find it boring to open and read the Bible. It is a burden for them so they often skip it. Even while reading, they may be absent-minded and not remember what they read.
  • They find it difficult to pray for even moderate lengths of time. They are easily distracted and many other things invade their minds.
  • They seldom have questions about the Scriptures. When they do have a question, they don’t put the energy into researching and finding the answer. Instead they may think, “meh, I will study that later” or “it is not that important, never mind.”
  • They likely don’t take initiative in spiritual things to: memorize Scripture, share the gospel.
  • They may show up late to Christian activities. Perhaps they were asleep.
  • They likely remember very little about the content of the message.

In short, the lethargic Christian is lazy spiritually. And that is by choice. My parents always told me growing up, “God has given you a brain. Use it!”

What will happen to a Christian who is lethargic? He never grows. The lethargic Christian remains a baby Christian. The lethargic Christian probably has to write “no” on most of those questions I asked at the beginning of the sharing.

II. The Baby Christian

These people were still drinking milk. They never moved on to solid food. They had to have the basic elements of the gospel explained to them again and again.

Verse 13 says that they were “unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child.”

How does a person become skilled? My boys are part of a soccer league. The skill difference in the players is very large. A few of the players are amazing. They can dribble up and down the field and go through 5 defenders for an easy score. Others have a difficult time kicking a moving ball. Why is there such a difference?

The skilled players practice. When you practice you gain skill. But the lethargic Christian does not hone his spiritual discipline. He remains a baby.

Babies are supposed to grow up. This is a natural part of life, a natural progression. Sometimes babies do not ever grow, perhaps physically or mentally. In 100% of those cases there is a problem. Perhaps a disease or birth defect. Either way, it is an abnormal condition. Spiritually speaking, it is also abnormal, like a disease, to be stuck as a spiritual baby. There is no shame in being a baby spiritually. Everyone starts off that way after they just receive Christ. However, no one should be a baby forever.

I read a news article about a 31 year old man who still acts like a toddler. He wears nappies, sleeps in a crib, eats in a high chair, and has people feed him. He seems to be perfectly fine mentally. When we see this, we think, “Wow, there is a serious problem here. This is not normal.”

In the same way, it is not normal if a believer stays as a baby drinking milk and doesn’t grow.

God does not want us to remain as immature Christians. We should not drink milk forever. God wants every believer to grow.

Ephesians 4:13-14 – Until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head.

It is God’s desire that you continue growing and don’t get stuck anywhere along the way. We shouldn’t get stuck as a spiritual baby, a toddler, a child, or a teen. Instead we press on to full maturity. And that is a lifelong process. No matter where we are on that spectrum, we can move forward to become more mature.

We are not perfect yet. We won’t be perfect at the end of 2022 either. But we should be growing. Each year we should be able to look back on our lives and see clear growth in target areas.

Philippians 3:14 – I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

We have to press on. Though we learn from them, we do not dwell on the failures and successes of 2021. Instead we press on to growth in the coming year.

That brings us to the third type of Christian.

III. The Growing Christian

A. Eats The Solid Food Of the Word

The first step to grow to maturity is to eat solid food. When my four babies were moving on from the milk stage you could see their desire to eat solid food on their faces. We would be sitting at the table, perhaps holding them in our lap. Suddenly their hand would flash out and they would grab food from our plate, perhaps a chicken leg or bread. It didn’t really matter. They just wanted food. And they would immediately put it in their mouth.

That is the type of attitude we should have toward the Word. We should eagerly seek to consume it. And there are five basic ways to consume God’s Word.

  • Hear
  • Read
  • Study
  • Memorize
  • Meditate

5 Ways to grasp God's Word

The important thing is the attitude we approach each of these with. When you desire to understand God’s Word, you will listen with an eager heart to learn. You will read carefully and remember what you read. You will ask lots of questions about the Bible and then study to find the answers. You will enjoy memorizing and reciting Scripture. And you will often think about what you are learning. And as you think about it, you will often talk about it with others.

Psalm 119:15 – I will meditate on your precepts and fix my eyes on your ways.

The mature Christian is not complacent with what he knows. He is always digging deeper and deeper. Imagine you visit the ocean for the first time. It is so big and beautiful. Are you content to touch the end of your finger into the water and then go home? Neither should we be content to just learn a little bit about God and then call it a day.

B Practices the Word

Hebrews 5:14 – But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.

This shows us that practice makes perfect. We have to train ourselves to chew on the meat of the Word. A baby is not born knowing how to chew meat. The first time it is a bit difficult, but after doing it several times it becomes second nature. When we are adults we don’t even think about how to chew (do you?), we just do. Almost every learned ability is like this including: language learning, walking, riding a balk, math, etc.

We can challenge ourselves mentally. Listen to sermons. Read books. Meditate on Scriptures (even ones that seem tough to understand.) Engage in each of the five ways we can use to understand the Bible (hear, read, study, memorize, meditate).

Are you skilled in studying the Scriptures? Are you skilled in answering questions that people ask about them? Are you skilled in leading family devotions? Are you skilled in leading a Bible study? Are you skilled in sharing the gospel? Giving a teaching or sermon?

At the beginning, you won’t be. You have to practice. You have to open yourself up to get feedback from others. You have to be teachable and humble.

When I first started speaking from the front, a good friend of mine would count the number of times I said, “uh.” And it was quite a few! It takes practice to gain these skills. No one is born mature.

Do not think that you don’t know enough or are not skilled enough. Everyone has to start somewhere.

C. Learns Discernment From The Word

What is the purpose of this solid food? Of this practice and this training? The purpose is so that we can become righteous.

A mature believer is someone who obeys the Word. You know the simple Sunday School, “Read the Bible, pray every day and you will grow, grow, grow.” That is a good song, but actually missing one element. “Read the Bible, obey and pray, and you will grow, grow, grow.”

All of that study is not for head knowledge. It is not just to ace a doctrinal quiz. It is so that we will know God’s will, and then do it.

As we learn God’s Word, we grow in discernment. Discerning good and evil is not just a mind game. It is the way by which we make decisions. Discernment is like wisdom. It is seeing into the heart of a matter. A discerning person will discover the truth and then he will act on that truth.

Ezra 7:10 – For Ezra had set his heart to study the Law of the Lord, and to do it and to teach his statutes and rules in Israel.

When we study, we gain discernment. We know what we should do. Then the next step is to do it.

D. Teaches The Word

Hebrews 5:12 – For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God.

They had been listening to teaching long enough that they should have become teachers themselves at this point. This verse has a very subtle, but very important, point which we need to explore. The implication is that after a period of time every believer should become a teacher in at least some capacity. The author (inspired by the Spirit) says that at this point they should be teachers. They should be passing on what they have learned and modeling it for others. Yet instead they are stuck in first gear and need to keep learning and re-learning the same basic points.

Although there are certain people who have been blessed with the gift of teaching, it doesn’t mean that those without the gift of teaching are not supposed/required to teach. Deuteronomy 6 and Colossians 3:16 show that every believer should be teaching others.

What can you teach? You can start off by teaching others what Christ has done for you (Mark 5:19). God does want believers to merely be pew-warmers. His blueprint is not for a small select number of super-teachers who do all the teaching while everyone else listens. Our job is not just to bring people to the church to listen to others teach them. It is our responsibility to teach others what we have learned about Christ. This demonstrates the principle of reproduction found in 2 Timothy 2:2, which shows us that believers should disciple others to disciple still another generation.

It means that the world is reached by training people (or you could say teaching people) to train others to train others to train others. If anyone is surprised by this model, they shouldn’t be. Jesus followed this model when He taught the disciples and told them that the Holy Spirit would remind them of the things Jesus had taught them so that they could teach these things to others (John 14:26). It’s the model of apprenticeship. Each apprentice learns from his master. After a while he starts his own shop and takes on his own apprentice.

Conclusion

We are to be growing. The believers in Hebrews 5 had a problem. They weren’t growing. Their spiritual lives were cold, lethargic, and passive. They needed a spark. They needed to have be lit up. This passage teaches us that we should be HOT for Christ.

Are you a HOT Christian?

Hear – Set your heart to eagerly study the word. Be diligent, not lethargic.

Obey – Don’t be stuck as a baby Christian who needs to be reminded the same things over and over again. Grow into maturity by obeying.

Tell/Teach – We should make the habit to tells others about what we are learning in our daily life. Tell your roommate, friend, or family members about what you have learned in study today. Share your quiet times with others.

Practical applications:

Here are some ways you can be diligent spiritually and grow in 2022 (not lethargic!)

  • Take notes during sermons/Bible studies.
  • Start a journal to record thoughts of your own devotions.
  • Begin leading your family in daily devotions.
  • Start a Bible memory plan.
  • Commit to a large chunk of time in prayer once a week (for example, start at 30 minutes).
  • Discuss the sermon/Bible study with someone else after the service or during the week. Pass on what you have learned and ask them questions.
  • Write down a list of questions you have about the Bible or God? Pick one question on the list and study it in depth. (Then get ready to share a testimony with TB next time!)
  • Start a new Bible study group.

Write down

Write down three specific ways you hope to grow in 2022.

Reflection Questions

1. What is one way you sometimes have struggled with lethargy in your Christian walk?
2. Which of the letters of HOT (Hear, Obey, Teach) do you need to grow in?
3. What is one specific practical application you can make from the passage today?

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