On To Perfection
by Michael Barrett
As we survey the current condition of the Body of Christ, it is easily apparent to the one who is discerning how weak, immature and yet very religious Christians everywhere are. Across the board we see sin and defeat as the common denominator for the average believer rather than joy and victory. Now, these things are not presented to accuse or judge, but the purpose of this article is to awaken us all to the condition and to the responsibility of our lives.
The scripture teaches us that Jesus is going to return for His own bride. We are further taught that the bride of Christ will be found in the condition of being without spot or wrinkle, that is, perfect. There has been much speculation over time as to exactly how the bride would come into this state, again, perfection. Some believe that the only way that the bride can possibly be found in the state of perfection will result from a sovereign, supernatural work of God's grace. In other words, that in a moment of time, or perhaps even over time, not based on anything we do as God's people, the Lord will perfect us sovereignly. Others believe that the entire burden of perfection is the responsibility of the body itself. I believe that the truth lies somewhere in between these two extremes. In order to go on to perfection and be found as the bride of Christ without spot or wrinkle, we must learn to "co-operate with the operation" of the Word and the Spirit.
Let Us Go On
In the sixth chapter of the book of Hebrews, in verses one through three, we are instructed to go on to perfection. The scripture, however, gives a negative instruction as a prerequisite to going on. Let's look at these verses together. "Therefore leaving the principles of the doctrine of Christ, let us go on unto perfection; not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works, and of faith toward God, of the doctrine of baptisms, and of laying on of hands, and of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment. And this will we do, if God permit."
I want to point out a little phrase in verse one that I believe to be the hinge that the truth of these verses swing on. The scripture says for us to "not lay again" the foundation of repentance from dead works and so on. In other words the instruction is critically clear. The truth of this passage rests on our obedience to this little instruction. "Don't lay again." The New Living Translation says, "So let us stop going over the basics of Christianity again and again." The Peterson's Message says, "let's stop finger-painting, there's a grand work of art to do." So we can clearly see that the instruction is to leave the basics and go on to maturity.
However, the instruction to "not lay again" presupposes that something has indeed been laid! Herein is contained perhaps the largest travesty in the history of the body of Christ. The writer obviously assumes that every believer that would read the instruction of this letter would have had the personal experience of having the major doctrines of the Christian faith taught to him or her. The very nature of the instruction to "not lay again" speaks to the assumption of existing fundamental truths. These truths should, according to the writer, be a natural part of the life of every believer.
Unfortunately, this is not the case in the contemporary body of the Lord. The state of the body in this hour is as a general rule far below the standard or vision presumed in the thought of the writer of Hebrews. As a matter of fact, every New Testament writer held as a standard the vision of mature believers. There never really was any other vision among those writers. How is it that we have allowed the vision to pale? This vision was birthed by the Lord Jesus Himself and passed along through discipleship to the apostles and then to others. At what point along the way did we allow ourselves to receive something other than the "heavenly vision" of Paul and others?
What Kind of Foundation?
In Matthew 7:24-27 Jesus puts forth a contrast between two very different kinds of foundations. This scripture says, "Therefore whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock: and the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell not: for it was founded upon a rock. And every one that heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them not, shall be likened unto a foolish man, which built his house upon the sand: and the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell: and great was the fall of it." These two types of foundation are what every believer will build their "house" or life upon. You will either build your life on a rock or on sand. The true test of every life will come during trials and storms. I think it's interesting that Jesus said the rain, floods and wind would come to those whose house is built on the rock as well as to those whose house is built on sand.
The basic nature of the two kinds of foundation Jesus spoke of is very different. Sand is, by nature, a very tiny particle, or the accumulation of many, many small particles. The nature of sand is that it has no strength. Because it is the accumulation of many particles, each of which has it's own individual identity, there is no adhesion or genuine coming together resulting in strength. Let me suggest to you that many Christian lives are being built on particles of experience, particles of doctrine, particles of worldly security and even particles of natural relationships.
The other kind of foundation Jesus spoke of is the foundation of a rock. Notice that Jesus didn't say "rocks" but "a rock." If the foundation of our lives and the building thereon would stand the test being built on "rocks", we would simply build on larger particles. Larger successes, larger areas of security, larger relationships and so on. The only firm foundation is the foundation of the Rock! Our lives must be built on the Way, the Truth and the Life! Jesus is the one true, living foundation that is secure for all time and eternity. I can assure you that the time is coming when the rain, floods and wind will truly test every foundation and prove what it is made of.
The Need For Remediation
Let's go back now to the thought of going on to perfection. As we have already discussed, the instruction for the body is to go on and "not lay again..." As stated earlier, the idea of "not laying again" presupposes that the foundation has, in fact, already been laid. If a solid doctrinal foundation has not been firmly laid in your life, you cannot, indeed, must not attempt to go on to maturity until you have had remediation in these areas.
For a moment, let's examine what Hebrews considers to be the "foundation." The scripture in Hebrews 6:1-3, lists six fundamental components, which make up a good foundation. These components are repentance from dead works, faith toward God, the doctrine of baptisms, laying on of hands, resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment.
There is much talk today among believers about these fundamental components of a good foundation. My experience oftentimes, however, is that many have learned the rhetoric of these fundamental doctrines, but the actual fruit being borne from their life shows something far less than victorious Christian living.
Let's look at repentance from dead works for instance. What are "dead works?" We obviously need to know how to identify what would qualify as a dead work before we would sense a real need to turn from it, or repent. There is much confusion today, as there has been through time, regarding the issue of faith and works. It should come as no surprise to us that the first two components of a good foundation are, in fact, works and faith.
Will God love me more if I read the Bible more? If I spend twice as much time in prayer as I have in the past, will the Lord pay more attention to me or hear me more readily? Is my acceptance by God based on anything I do, once I am in the family of God? How does one actually become a "son of God?" These are questions that must be answered if we are expected to, and genuinely have the ability to go on to perfection.
My wife recently tutored a young fellow who was having some serious problems in school. What we observed within the first few weeks was: 1) there were some very obvious "gaps" in the fundamentals of this child's learning experience and 2) there was absolutely nothing lacking in the child's ability to learn. This child did, however, need remediation in those areas of lack. With some attention given to those specific areas, in a very short time this child grew to be a much more successful student. The transformation that occurred in just three months was remarkable.
Going On To Maturity
There is another side to this very important truth, which bears some attention. That is, that once the foundation has been laid, we are under a mandate to go on! Many pulpits continue to be the source of basic Christian truth, when the hearers have long been ready to go on to new levels of maturity.
To leaders: be very sure that the approach you take to God's people doesn't insure their immaturity. Don't call them back when it is time for them to go on. Don't "lay again" what has already been laid. It is time for many members of Christ's body to be released into higher levels of function. Don't allow fear, or worse, a control spirit, to bind up the potential in the saints.
Let's stop finger-painting, there's a grand work of art to do! It's either time for remediation or it's time to go on to maturity. The harvest fields are white. The saints must be deployed in the work of the ministry more and more. Seek the Lord. Ask Him to show you how you are to respond to His invitation to "go on to perfection."