The people that actually go to the gym after paying for a membership might be familiar with muscle atrophy. Athletes know they have to stay at the top of their game and continue to train, regardless of how uncomfortable it might be, or they literally lose what they don’t use. Skip doing lats for a week? Good luck.
If we lay around long enough, we actually start to decay, in a way. We have to move.
The writer of Hebrews is upset because the church he’s writing to isn’t moving. They’re starting to suck — if you want to be literal to a graphic degree, they’re back on “milk” instead of “meat”. Yeah, that kind of milk. The work that the writer did to help the church get healthier is now being wasted, because the Hebrews aren’t doing anything. They are slowly decaying.
So he establishes a tall order to remedy the situation: be perfect.
This isn’t the first time the Bible commands us to be perfect. Jesus told us to do it in Matthew 5:48. But the context is loving enemies, so it’s likely a hyperbole.
Really, the Hebrews guy asks us to move toward perfection. Verse 3 qualifies it with, “If God permits.” If you did your reading and noticed that yourself, you’re awesome. But you’re still not perfect.
The writer has the audacity to tell us how to go about becoming perfect. It’s very simple, actually: don’t do what’s already been done. And he makes a list of those things:
1) You don’t need to repent of stuff you’ve already repented of. Sometimes we carry the guilt of past transgressions and assume we’re not forgiven, so we keep saying sorry to God. We’ll never have peace if we keep doing that, and He wants us to have peace. If we hold onto our guilt, we step all over Jesus’ gift of grace. (v. 6)
2) You don’t need to have “more faith.” This is a common misunderstanding, especially when people that earnestly trust God don’t have things going their way. God is faithful, even when we’re not. If we’ve been saved, we’re still saved.
3) You don’t need to redefine religious rites. Over the centuries, we’ve tarnished a lot of Christian tenets and made them idols — the one mentioned here is baptism. There are three kinds of baptism: water, the Holy Spirit, and fire. The first two are good. The last one is bad. There aren’t any other ones, and they cannot be augmented or diminished.
4) Don’t re-establish the act of “laying hands”. Another misinterpreted/abused discipline, the laying on of hands is used in a lot of contexts in the Bible, primarily blessing and healing. To start, laying on hands is not a magic formula — people are not more likely to be healed, for example, if you put your hands on them as opposed to praying independently. God hears and sees both. Because this is a letter to a church, this might have to do with promotion of apostles. Regardless, we should be familiar with this, according to the writer, and we shouldn’t be redefining it.
5) Have a good understanding of eternity. In itself, this is a paradox, because we’re asking limited, mortal beings to contain the concept of eternity — but we only need to have a understanding of our own destiny, really. And there are only two choices: life in heaven, and life in hell. The world has done a fantastic job screwing this one up. Why complicate something so simple?
A lot of this appears complicated in nature. All of these concepts probably have several books written about them. So it looks like God is being hypocritical, because He wants us to simply come to repentance, but we should have a good understanding of all this stuff — and what if we don’t?
Well, take a deep breath and be relieved that verses 9 through 12 exist. In (very) short, God just doesn’t want us to be lazy. He notices when we work hard for Him, when we’re faithful, diligent, and loving toward others. “Do not become sluggish,” we’re told. In what way?
1) Faith. Are you trusting God with all things, recognizing that Jesus is actually Lord and in charge?
2) Patience. Do you exercise patience with people, insisting on love and compassion at any cost?
If you’re doing these things, you’re doing it right.
Christians have a high standard: perfection. But, being human, this is impossible to achieve. However, we should be constantly striving toward perfection — and not for ourselves, by any means. I’ll let Colossians 3:23-24 do the work explaining that one.
Are you perfect yet?