Christian Maturity in the Epistle to the Hebrews


The book of Hebrews has much to say about Christian maturity.  As maturity is something which is appropriate for Christians to strive for[1], an examination of what this book has to say should be helpful in attaining the goal of maturity.  There are a series of connected words used in Hebrews: make perfect; perfecter; perfection; maturity; and mature.  To become complete is another way of saying to become mature.  Keeping in mind the connection between these various words and the interchangeable meanings of perfect and mature will make it easier to understand what the book is saying about Christian maturity.  The letter to the Hebrews speaks of maturity or perfection in many different contexts: in the life of Jesus, in worship, in action and through discipline.

In keeping with the idea that the Christian life and must be a reflection of the life of Jesus and that Christian experience is a participation in the experience of Jesus[2], I will first consider what the book of Hebrews has to say about maturity in the life of Jesus before looking at what it says about Christian maturity.

The maturity of Jesus

Jesus’ maturity through suffering

Hebrews 2:9 but we do see Jesus, who for a little while was made lower than the angels, now crowned with glory and honour because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.  10 In bringing many sons to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the author of their salvation perfect through suffering. 11 Both the one who makes men holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers. 12 He says, “I will declare your name to my brothers; in the presence of the congregation I will sing your praises.” 13 And again, “I will put my trust in him.” And again he says, “Here am I, and the children God has given me.” 14 Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death– that is, the devil– 15 and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death. 16 For surely it is not angels he helps, but Abraham’s descendants. 17 For this reason he had to be made like his brothers in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people. 18 Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.

This passage makes the surprising claim that “the author of their salvation” needed to be made perfect.  The writer to the Hebrews has already made the claim that Jesus is the divine Son of God in chapter one.  Jesus is the exact representation of God’s being (1:3), is worshipped by angels (1:6) and is expressly called ‘God’ (1:8).  Having read these statements in chapter one about the divinity of Christ, we can only be surprised when in chapter 2 the writer tells us that Jesus, who is we now know eternally God, needed to be made perfect.  However, reading further in the passage makes it clear that it is not that the divine nature of Jesus Christ needed to be perfected, but that his human nature needed to be perfected in the same way that our humanity needs to be perfected.  The Son of God shared in our humanity in order to destroy the devil, who holds the power of death.  It is as a partaker of our humanity that Jesus suffers and is thereby brought to maturity.

There are several references in Hebrews to Jesus suffering, all of which are centred on the experience of the cross.  In the above passage there are two things mentioned about Jesus’ suffering.  The first is to do with fear of death.  14 “Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death– that is, the devil– 15 and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.”  Human beings fear death and the judgment which comes after death.  The Gospels record that Jesus experienced that fear as well.

Matthew 26:36 Then Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to them, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.” 37 He took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee along with him, and he began to be sorrowful and troubled. 38 Then he said to them, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.” 39 Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.”

In the Garden of Gethsemane Jesus knew that it was time to go to the cross and he began to experience the anguish of what it is to be a human being undergoing the judgment of God, being condemned as a sinner and cut off from the life-giving presence of the Father.  He suffered the fear of death in the place of humanity, because he was made like us in every way (v 16).  By experiencing this fear he freed humanity from the fear of death.

Verse 18 sheds more light on this suffering.  18 “Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.”[3]  This is literally ‘he suffered being tempted’ or ‘suffered by being tempted’.  The suffering in the Garden of Gethsemane was not simply about the fact that Jesus experienced the fear of death, but that he was also tempted to take the easy road and avoid the cross altogether.  After this scene in the Garden, soldiers come to arrest Jesus and one of the disciples tried to defend him with a sword.  It is here that the temptation in the garden is revealed for what it was.  Matthew 26:52 “Put your sword back in its place,” Jesus said to him, “for all who draw the sword will die by the sword. 53 Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels? 54 But how then would the Scriptures be fulfilled that say it must happen in this way?”  As the eternal Son of God, Jesus had the entire armies of heaven at his disposal.  He could have called upon these to rescue him from the cross which lay ahead of him.  Jesus was fully aware of a possible way out of the suffering which he feared, and feared greatly.  But in the Garden of Gethsemane, as he prayed, he came to the settled place in which he prayed, “Yet not as I will, but as you will”.  This prayer of surrender to the will of God is the place where the temptation to walk away from the cross is overcome.

There are some other passages in Hebrews which give us insight into Jesus’ suffering and therefore his maturity.  Hebrews 5:8 Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered; 9 and having been made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him, 10 having been designated by God a high priest according to the order of Melchizedek.

Jesus was the Son of God, both a divine Son of God and a human son of God.  Indeed he is the only begotten Son of God.  He is the holy Son of God from his conception.  Luke 1:35 “The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God.”  Yet the holy Son of God learned obedience through what he suffered.  Suffering is the means by which the holy Son of God learned to obey God the Father no matter what the cost.  He learned to submit his will to the will of the Father even when that meant going to the cross.  This is in contradistinction (opposite to) what Adam and Eve did in the garden.  Although Adam was a son of God (Luke 3:38) he did not learn obedience and, instead of being willing to suffer in order to obey the word of God, he gave in to the lies of the serpent and ate of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, which was forbidden and which brought death in the eating.  This obedience in suffering made Jesus perfect, or mature.  This means that the way to maturity is obedience in the face of suffering.  But notice that after being made perfect Jesus then became the source of eternal salvation for others.  More about this later.

The third passage about Jesus’ suffering is Hebrews 13:12 “Therefore Jesus also suffered outside the city gate in order to sanctify the people by his own blood.  13 Let us then go to him outside the camp and bear the abuse he endured.”  Again this suffering is the suffering of the cross, and the writer to the Hebrews connects this suffering with what is happening in the lives of the readers.  To be outside the city gate is to be excluded from the holy community of the people of God and from the presence of God in the midst of those holy people.  It is exclusion from the holy sphere which is one of the causes Jesus’ suffering.  But this suffering was necessary in order for the Son of God to sanctify, that is to make holy, the people by his own blood.  In other words the Jesus was excluded from the holy sphere that his people might be made holy.  The Hebrews were also suffering exclusion and could bear this suffering because Jesus has gone before.

The maturity of Jesus is complete

Jesus has come to complete maturity or perfection.  Hebrews 7:28 “For the law appoints as high priests those who are subject to weakness, but the word of the oath, which came later than the law, appoints a Son who has been made perfect forever.”  The end to his maturing came with his death on the cross.  He does not need to mature further, nor does he need to suffer again.  Hebrews 9:25 “Nor was it to offer himself again and again, as the high priest enters the Holy Place year after year with blood that is not his own; 26 for then he would have had to suffer again and again since the foundation of the world. But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the age to remove sin by the sacrifice of himself.”  This has significance for believers in that the experience of Jesus is our experience.  If Jesus has reached a place of maturity without the need to suffer further, then this will be the case for us when we see him face to face.  Hebrews speaks about both the end of suffering and the perfection of Jesus.

Christian maturity

Before beginning this study, I would have said that Christian maturity came through suffering, because that is the way in which Jesus was brought to maturity (see above).  However, the book of Hebrews has more to say about the subject than simply that.  It is evident that the original readers of the book were going through some persecution (Heb 10:34) and that they may have considered giving up following Jesus and returning to Judaism (this is the argument of the whole letter).  The writer exhorts then to continue in the faith because the old covenant is but a shadow of the reality which is Christ (Heb 10:1) and there is no backward path (Heb 6:4-8).  It is not simply that Christians suffer and thereby are brought to maturity.  There is a work of God in which the maturity of the Son of God enables us to become mature Christians.  As we are participants in his experience of coming to maturity, he is the one who brings us to the place of maturity.  This should be no surprise as the Christian life is one lived by grace and not by works.  There is no part of the Christian life, from new birth to resurrection of the body, which the believer does alone.  All this takes place in the power of the Holy Spirit, on the basis of the finished work of Christ.  Christian maturity is no exception.

So, having looked at the process whereby Jesus came to maturity, we can look again at the letter to the Hebrews to see how he helps us also come to maturity.  Heb 2:16 “For surely it is not angels he helps, but Abraham’s descendants. 17 For this reason he had to be made like his brothers in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people. 18 Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.”

Because Jesus has been matured as a human being through the suffering which he experienced (see 2:10) he is now a faithful high priest in the service of God.  This high priest is one who has been through temptation without sin and is therefore able to help others who go through temptation.  It is not that simply that Christians must mature through suffering, which is true because we are of the same family as Jesus (2:11), but Jesus is our helper when we are tempted.  Jesus suffered in temptation and Christians also suffer when tempted if they do not give in to the temptation.  But with the help of the one who overcame temptation by his perfect obedience and uncompromising submission to the will of God we too can overcome temptation, even if this involves suffering.  Christians do not mature on their own but with the help of Jesus.

The help of Jesus in Christian maturity is a continued theme.  Hebrews 5:8 “Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered; 9 and having been made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him,”.  There are two forms of the word obedience in this short passage.  The first is applied to Jesus and the second to believers.  Jesus learned obedience to the Father by suffering within the will of God.  By this obedient suffering he became perfect, or mature.  Because of this he is now able to pass on eternal salvation to others.  The recipients of this eternal salvation are those who obey Jesus.  This obedience to Jesus may well involve suffering, as other parts of this letter make clear.  What is pertinent to my point is that there is something which is passed on from Jesus to believers – eternal salvation.  We do not acquire salvation by working hard to endure suffering or even by working hard to obey Jesus.  This has been given to us because Jesus, as our forerunner has become mature by his own obedience and suffering.  The relevance of this to Christian maturity is that eternal salvation involves this perfection of the believer.  Christian maturity has as its source the maturity of Jesus.

Perfection/maturity cannot come through the Old Covenant

Some have mistakenly sought to become mature Christians through the pursuit of Christian rules, such as compulsory church attendance, obligatory devotional reading, abstaining from certain things etc.  This is not the picture which the writer to the Hebrews gives about maturity.

Hebrews 7:11 “Now if perfection had been attainable through the levitical priesthood– for the people received the law under this priesthood– what further need would there have been to speak of another priest arising according to the order of Melchizedek, rather than one according to the order of Aaron?” 

Perfection is not something which can be attained through the old covenant with its priesthood and sacrifices.  The old covenant gave laws, and, if those laws were broken, there were prescribed sacrifices for sin so that the member of the covenant would be forgiven.  These sacrifices did not make the worshipper perfect or mature because these sacrifices did not actually deal with sin and the root of sin, although they did cleanse the conscience temporarily.  But no perfection was attainable with this priesthood and these sacrifices so a new priesthood has been instituted.

Hebrews 7:18 “There is, on the one hand, the abrogation of an earlier commandment because it was weak and ineffectual 19 (for the law made nothing perfect); there is, on the other hand, the introduction of a better hope, through which we approach God.”

The law made nothing perfect.  It is weak and useless according to verse 18.  This is a strong statement about the law which God himself gave to Moses.  But Hebrews is the Word of God.  If the law cannot make Christians mature then we must take care that we do not revert to attempting to use the law to gain maturity.  If we use the law or a set of manmade regulations, which can only be even less effective, as a basis for Christian maturity then this can only result in many weak, immature Christians.  Christian maturity cannot be the result of self-effort as we try to be good people and to please God in our own strength.  This only results in legalism because in order to appear mature we must stick to a list of rules of our own making.  If we don’t have the right list then it will become immediately apparent to all that we have failed.  The right list can make us believe that we are able to keep the rules.  I am sure that God is not actually fooled. 

The mature conscience

The letter to the Hebrews is clear that the sacrifices prescribed by law do not bring maturity but Jesus Christ does.  Hebrews 9:9 “This is a symbol of the present time, during which gifts and sacrifices are offered that cannot perfect the conscience of the worshiper,”  and Hebrews 9:14 “how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to worship the living God!”

Since chapter 9 talks about the ineffectiveness of the law and the effectiveness of Christ, verses 9 and 14 are connected in significant ways.  Both speak of conscience and of worshippers.  Only verse 9 speaks of perfection/maturity.  However, I believe that the idea of maturity is implied in verse 14 due to the other obvious and clear parallels between the old and the new covenant.  Why does the conscience remain immature under the old covenant?  The reason is given in the following verses.  The sacrifices and offerings of the old covenant were simply a matter of external regulations.  As the conscience is internal, external ceremonies and washings cannot have a lasting effect on it.  However, the blood of Christ affects the conscience and cleanses it, allowing the worshipper to abandon dead works in order to serve the living God.

But how is the blood of Christ not something external to the worshipper?  Heb 9:14 is a wonderful trinitarian verse which gives us an understanding of how the blood of Christ is something which affects the worshipper in an internal way.  The writer has earlier explained that Jesus is a high priest chosen from among human beings (5:1) in order to represent us and to sympathise with us (5:2).  Here he has not forgotten this significant statement.  Heb 9:11 calls Christ the high priest of the good things that are already here.  My point is that Jesus had to offer himself to God as a human being.  He does this through the Holy Spirit.  A human being has given himself as a holy, unblemished offering to God, through the power of the Holy Spirit.  This, then, is not something external to humanity but something absolutely internal to the human conscience.  The human conscience is cleansed by the blood of Christ as the Holy Spirit applies the blood of Christ to those who, in union with our high priest Jesus, have been offered to God as an unblemished offering.  This is how the conscience is matured. 

Under the old covenant the blood of bulls and goats had to be repeatedly offered for sins.  The conscience could not be perfected because a perfected conscience does not need to offer another sacrifice.  Repeated sacrifices simply demonstrate that the conscience is not cleansed but must come over and over to offer more sacrifices in order to be forgiven.  A mature or perfect conscience is aware of the once for all nature of the sacrifice of Christ, who has shed his own blood on our behalf (6:20 and 9:24).  Chapter 10 continues this theme.

Hebrews 10:1 “Since the law has only a shadow of the good things to come and not the true form of these realities, it can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered year after year, make perfect those who approach.  2 Otherwise, would they not have ceased being offered, since the worshipers, cleansed once for all, would no longer have any consciousness of sin?”

Christian maturity, then, involves a conscience that it no longer conscious of sin.  Having no consciousness of sin means that the worshipper is only aware of forgiveness and not of guilt.  If there is guilt then there is a need for another sacrifice to take away the guilt.  But when the worshipper is cleansed once for all he/she is no longer aware of guilt but only aware of the purification of the offering.  This suggests to me that Christian maturity requires that the worshipper understands that there has been a sacrifice for sins once and for all.  If there is still lingering guilt and no understanding of sin as forgiven sin, and the Christian as a cleansed person who is a son of God, then Christian maturity is lacking.  The latter half of chapter 10 makes this clear.

Hebrews 10:14 “because by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.  15 The Holy Spirit also testifies to us about this. First he says: 16 “This is the covenant I will make with them after that time, says the Lord. I will put my laws in their hearts, and I will write them on their minds.” 17 Then he adds: “Their sins and lawless acts I will remember no more.” 18 And where these have been forgiven, there is no longer any sacrifice for sin. 19 Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, 20 by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water.”

By one sacrifice Jesus Christ has perfected forever those who are being sanctified.  This is an objective statement which is given practical application in the verses which follow.  If we take perfected to read matured, as I have been doing throughout the book – since the words are the same, even if the nuances may change – then verse 14 is a statement not unlike the one which Paul makes in Rom 8:29 that those who are predestined are justified and glorified.  Glorification has not occurred, yet Paul can think of it as having already happened because he is certain of its future occurrence.  The writer to the Hebrews does not imagine that the church is actually mature in their day to day lives and actions.  If that were so then he would not spend so much time speaking about maturity.  Instead he is making the important point that maturity is the result of the sacrifice of Christ once for all.  There is no need for further sacrifices or rituals.  The sacrifice of Jesus is all sufficient for the perfection of the worshipper.  His sacrifice is both the guarantee of eternal perfection and the means by which Christians come to maturity in their daily lives, actions and relationships.

What follows in verses 15-18 says that the sacrifice of Christ means total forgiveness of sins.  It is the fulfilment of the word of the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament that the new covenant would involve forgiveness of sins.  Therefore, Christians no longer need to offer sacrifices for sins because the one sacrifice of Jesus Christ is eternally enough.  Australian Christians would not even consider offering a bloody sacrifice for sins when they feel guilty over some action or thought.  However, the actions of guilt-ridden Christians belie the reality that Jesus Christ has offered the perfect, once-for-all sacrifice.

The writer to the Hebrews then offers a practical set of instructions for demonstrating Christian maturity in their worship.  Heb 10:19 “Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, 20 by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water.”

Mature Christians are confident to enter the most holy place.  This does not require a ritual of any kind in order to do this.  Although Australian Christians would not think in terms of animal sacrifice, there are many versions of a ritual to enter into the holy place.  For example the three fast songs, three slow songs standard which was once popular in Pentecostal churches.  Other examples include cringingly asking God to make us worthy to speak to him or taking communion so as to be “covered by the blood”.  Our guarantee of entry into the holy presence of God is that we have a great High Priest who has shed his own blood in our behalf.  Therefore, we can enter with confidence.  Confidence in prayer is characterised, according to verse 22, by a sincere heart, faith, and knowledge of a cleansed conscience.  The conscience has been (this is a perfect participle) sprinkled with the blood of Christ and, therefore, the conscience is clean.

But what is meant here by a sincere heart?  This should not be confused with “just being yourself” or with demonstrating your sincerity with loud singing etc.  The word ‘sincere’ is used in several verses in Hebrews (Heb 8:2; 9:24; 10:22) and so is ‘heart’ (Heb 3:8-15; 4:7, 12; 8:10; 10:12;10:22; 13:9) and therefore the usage of the author must be our guide.  ‘Sincere’ or ‘true’ is used in contrast to the old covenant shadows.  The old covenant sacrifices and tabernacle were only shadows of the ‘true’ or ‘genuine’ sacrifices of Christ and the real tabernacle in heaven which we can now access through Christ.  Hearts in the old covenant were often hardened by sin and disobedience.  The new covenant heart is one which has the law written upon it and which is strengthened by grace, not by rituals.  Having a true heart and having full assurance of faith are not actually two separate matters but two ways of expressing the one thing.  Therefore, a sincere heart is one which approaches God in faith, knowing that this is the only way to do so.  A sincere heart knows that the blood of Christ has made the way open because this assurance is part of Christian maturity.

Jesus as perfecter of our faith

Hebrews 12:2 “looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.” 

Jesus is both pioneer and perfecter of faith.  “Our” is not part of the original Greek.  Elsewhere in Hebrews (2:10) Jesus is called the “pioneer” of our salvation.  The same word is used of Jesus in Acts to say that he is the “author of life” (3:15) and “leader and saviour” (5:31).  A similar word is also used in Rev 3:14 to designate Jesus as the “origin/ruler/beginning of God’s creation”.  We may conclude that Jesus is the one who originates both creation and all matters pertaining to salvation – life, salvation, and faith.  But he is also the one who brings these things to their predestined end.  Jesus has perfected faith.

Jesus is the perfecter of all faith because he has first perfected his own faith by enduring the cross.  The cross is the place where the faith of Jesus became a fully mature faith.  Mark 15:34 “At three o’clock Jesus cried out with a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?””  In this cry he expresses the fact that he felt utterly abandoned by his Father at that moment when he was bearing the sins of the world and enduring the curse of the law.  This is a genuine cry of dereliction.  This is the place where there was no indication of the presence of God or the pleasure of God.  This is the place where Jesus had to mature his faith by trusting God in the utter absence of reasons to trust.  Because of this trust in the face of the absence of reason to trust God, Jesus has been given eternal joy at the right hand of God.  Not only that but he has a fully mature faith.  Now he is able to be the perfecter of our faith.

Maturity through God’s fatherly discipline

The passage continues Hebrews 12:3 “Consider him who endured such hostility against himself from sinners, so that you may not grow weary or lose heart.”

It appears that the original readers were experiencing some persecution from sinners and perhaps they were thinking about going back to doing things the Jewish way in order to avoid this hostility (cf. Paul in Gal 5:11).  But the writer encourages them to consider Jesus who has gone before them and endured opposition from sinners.  The Hebrews, therefore, need to demonstrate maturity through perseverance.  This hardship which they were experiencing serves as discipline, because God is one who disciplines as a Father (Heb 12:5-11).

5 And you have forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as children– “My child, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, or lose heart when you are punished by him; 6 for the Lord disciplines those whom he loves, and chastises every child whom he accepts.” 7 Endure trials for the sake of discipline. God is treating you as children; for what child is there whom a parent does not discipline? 8 If you do not have that discipline in which all children share, then you are illegitimate and not his children. 9 Moreover, we had human parents to discipline us, and we respected them. Should we not be even more willing to be subject to the Father of spirits and live? 10 For they disciplined us for a short time as seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share his holiness. 11 Now, discipline always seems painful rather than pleasant at the time, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. 12 Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, 13 and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint, but rather be healed. 14 Pursue peace with everyone, and the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. 15 See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springs up and causes trouble, and through it many become defiled. 16 See to it that no one becomes like Esau, an immoral and godless person, who sold his birthright for a single meal. 17 You know that later, when he wanted to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no chance to repent, even though he sought the blessing with tears.

In terms of Christian maturity, the difficulties, hardships, sufferings, and persecutions which are part of the Christian life are used by our heavenly Father to discipline the children of God so that they will mature.  Children need to mature.  If children stay as infants and did not grow larger or develop in their capacities then this is a cause of great concern for parents.  Christians must also mature and exhibit growth.  Like children who need discipline to grow up into responsible adults, Christians need discipline in order to become mature Christians.  It is not simply that suffering intrinsically results in maturity and the one who suffers most is most mature.  There is more to maturity than this.  Suffering as discipline has a goal but it is quite possible to rebel against the suffering/discipline in which case it will not achieve its goal.  What must happen then is that discipline is applied again, because God our Father is not satisfied to abandon us as illegitimate children who do not grow into maturity.  He will not stop working in us because he desires that we grow into the likeness of his Son Jesus Christ.

Therefore v12ff gives instruction as to how to live under the discipline of God.  Strengthen weak knees, pursue peace and holiness, and seek after the grace of God.  Finally, don’t let a root of bitterness spring up.  If we become bitter then this excludes maturity.  These are all measures we must take in order to co-operate with God in his discipline.  As Jesus was a man who endured suffering but did so as in the will of the Father, and was obedient to his Father in that suffering, and thereby became mature, so we too must endure suffering in the will of God and do so in obedience to our Father, who loves us and is disciplining us in order that we might be people who are mature.  The instructions here are not ones which are intended for individuals but for the church.  As a body of Christian people we need to both be submissive to God’s discipline and encouraging to one another so that the whole body will become mature (cf. Eph 4:14-16).  Growing in Christian maturity is not an individual activity.  The readers have already been told to continue meeting together in order to encourage one another (Heb 10:25).

What does Christian maturity look like in action?

Maturity would be expected after a period of time, as in human growth.  When the writer says that by this time they ought to be teachers but they need to be taught the elementary truths all over again (Heb 5:12), he is making the claim that there was an expectation that the church would have matured after that amount of time.  However, as with children and adults in the natural realm, a certain length of time cannot guarantee maturity.  This apparently involves some co-operation on the part of the person concerned.

Hebrews 5:11 About this we have much to say that is hard to explain, since you have become dull in understanding. 12 For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic elements of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food; 13 for everyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is unskilled in the word of righteousness. 14 But solid food is for the mature, for those whose faculties have been trained by practice to distinguish good from evil.  6:1 Therefore, let us go on toward perfection, leaving behind the basic teaching about Christ, and not laying again the foundation: repentance from dead works and faith toward God,

The Hebrews seem to have gone backwards from where they once were in terms of maturity due to becoming dull of hearing.  They cannot receive what they need to hear.  They need the basics explained to them again instead of being able to teach others as befits Christians who have matured in their lives.  Those who live on milk are “unskilled in the word of righteousness.”  Becoming skilled in the word of righteousness is apparently not an intellectual exercise but an activity in which good is practiced and evil is shunned.  Therefore, they need to leave off teaching the basics again, because they need to act instead of simply hear.  What follows is an exhortation not to fall away.  Not falling away is the result of practicing what is taught.  It is not a matter of learning new truths but of applying what they already know.  They have tasted the heavenly gift and of the age to come, but they must practice what they know or they will lose all this.  Thus maturity is hanging on and persisting in what is known.  Only then can the Christian mature further.


The book of Hebrews gives us a great deal of instruction about Christian maturity.  Our lives as Christians are shaped and matured in union with Christ, who has been matured through suffering before us.  Christian maturity is the result of the work of Christ and our co-operation with the discipline of the Father.  Christian maturity is not a matter of time or self-effort but the result of grace, as in every other aspect of salvation.  As Christian maturity is of vital importance to the body of Christ and its ministry to the world, we need to pay attention to the message of the book of Hebrews.

[1] I say strive here in the sense that maturity is something of value which we must work towards.  I do not mean that Christians should in any way strive for this outside of the grace of God.  However, this is a goal which God desires and with which we must co-operate.

[2] See ‘Christian spirituality and experience’ for an explanation of this.

[3] Hebrews does not make reference to suffering in other temptations, but the Gospels mention Jesus’ suffering in his temptation in the wilderness.  This temptation and suffering is directed to the cross.  Each of the devil’s temptations asks “If you are the Son of God…”  If Jesus had given in to those temptations he would not have taken the way of the cross.


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