In the book of Hebrews, the writer tells his readers they have become “dull of hearing.” They should be teachers, but they haven’t yet grasped “first principles of the oracles of God.” He wants them to move forward, while standing strong on the foundation they have developed as mature Christians (Heb. 5:11-14). We should do that as well, but we can’t go on until we’ve checked that we actually have the foundation we need.
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. And this we will do if God permits. (Heb. 6:1-3)
Author of Repentance
One very important foundation isn’t on this list, possibly because He is the prerequisite for everything here, and the main subject of the preceding chapters in Hebrews. It almost goes without saying that Jesus is the Foundation of our foundation, but we’re going to say it anyway.
For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. (1 Cor. 3:11)
All our foundational understanding begins with Jesus. Without Him, we have nothing to build on and no reason to build. In reference to this first principle, Zodhiates writes, “If repentance means to change from the self-centered life to the God-centered life, then Jesus is the Author and Inspiration of repentance. No other was ever able to reach down deep enough into human nature to effect this change” (G3342).
Him God has exalted to His right hand to be Prince and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. (Acts 5:31)
John the Baptist and Jesus Christ both began their ministries with a call to repentance (Matt. 3:1-2). As one of the first things Jesus preached, repentance is a “principle of the doctrine of Christ.” Turning away from our sins is, along with faith, a prerequisite for walking with Christ toward His kingdom.
From that time Jesus began to preach and to say, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Matt. 4:17)
In the Greek, repentance involves turning away from something (metanoeo, G3340, and metanoia, G3341). Here in the book of Hebrews, the writer is specifically talking about “repentance from dead works.”Repentance involves a true change of heart toward God and a transformation “from evil to good” or “from worse to better.” By adding that we’re turning away from dead works, the writer makes it clear that foundational repentance involves leaving the old life behind.
That you put off, concerning your former conduct, the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, and be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and that you put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness. (Eph. 4:22-24)
Before we can move on, even to the next foundational principle, we have to repent. We have to realize that we are flawed, sinful human beings with no right to stand before God. Then, we turn away from dead works and turn to God in faith (which is the next foundation listed in Heb. 6).
What fruit did you have then in the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death. But now having been set free from sin, and having become slaves of God, you have your fruit to holiness, and the end, everlasting life. (Rom. 6:21-22)
Because Jesus, our Foundation and Cornerstone, has saved us from sin, we can start building with His doctrinal principles. With a good grounding of repentance and turning away from sins that lead to death, we can start moving toward “perfection.”
More posts in this series:
- Part Two: Faith Toward God
- Part Three: The Doctrine of Baptisms
- Part Four: Laying on of Hands
- Part Five: Resurrection of the Dead
- Part Six: Eternal Judgement