NOTES on Hebrews
6:7-12 (click here for study)
This passage in Hebrews follows two of the most disputed verses in scripture. In verses 4-6 the author discusses the consequences for those who know the gospel and have experienced the power of the Holy Spirit and the word of God yet do not allow the Holy Spirit to change their hearts and deepen them in a relationship with Jesus.
He turns in verses 7-8 to illustrating his point with a metaphor. His metaphor echoes many other prophetic passages in the Bible including some of Jesus' parables. This illustration describes land drinking in the rain that falls on it. Lands that takes in the rain and produces "a crop useful to those for whom it is farmed receive the blessing of God." (v. 7)
But land that drinks in the rain but produces only "thorns and thistles is worthless and is in danger of being cursed. In the end it will be burned." (v. 8)
This image is reminiscent of the curse after Adam and Eve sinned in Genesis 3:17-19. God cursed not only Adam and Eve but the ground because of their sin. He told Adam he would have to do "painful toil" all his life in order to eat, and the ground, though Adam tilled it, would "produce thorns and thistles for youBy the sweat of your brow you will eat your food"
The curse on the ground was ultimately a curse on Adam and Eve. They suffered because of it. The curse of sin, as illustrated in this passage in Genesis, is not merely physical and spiritual death. It included also a twisting of natural life so that otherwise fertile and well-watered land would produce perversions of crops-thorns and thistles which not only would not sustain life but would actually harm those who came in contact with or tried to use them.
That twisting of natural life extended beyond literal land to include the symbolic land of the human heart. Isaiah refers to apostate Israel as a vineyard. In Isaiah 5:1-7 he characterizes Israel as a vineyard that has been cleared and planted but still bears bad fruit. In Isaiah 27:2-11 he again compares Israel to a vineyard, only in this passage God says he wishes the vineyard had thorns and thistles in it so they "could make peace" with him. The picture in this passage is of desolation.
"For this is a people without understanding," says verse 11, "so their Maker has no compassion on them, and their Creator shows them no favor." They are cut off from God, and their hearts have become desolate, unproductive, and twisted. Even with the blessings of God raining on them, they are incapable of producing good fruit in their natural, unregenerated state.
Matthew 21:19 also recounts Jesus using a metaphor to illustrate this same principle. Coming upon a fig tree filled out with healthy leaves, he searched for fruit on its branches. Finding none, he cursed it, and immediately it withered and died.
The parable of the sower illustrates this same principle. Some seed landed among thorns and thistles, and the weeds choked the life out of the tiny seedlings and killed them. Other seed landed on rocky ground, grew quickly and flourished, but because the plants had not developed deep roots, they never bore fruit, and they died in the heat.
Now, in Hebrews, we find another metaphor of cursed land. Nature, including the human heart, is perverse and bears twisted fruit when it is in its natural state. Unless the heart is connected to the regenerating power of the Holy Spirit, it can only yield the curse of destruction. Those who do not choose to allow Christ to give them a new heart when they hear the gospel will continue to bear the curse of twisted fruit and death.
What Is Good Fruit?
When a person is reborn, he or she is no longer a natural person. He is a new creation, and the life in him is eternal-it is the life of a spirit being connected to God by the indwelling Holy Spirit. The old laws of sin and death no longer apply to that person, because he or she is no longer a natural person. He or she is a spiritual person.
While the natural person yields twisted fruit-thorns and thistles that are not merely worthless but outright destructive, the spiritual person bears fruit generated by the Holy Spirit. The reborn person will yield the fruit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control (Gal. 5:22-26). He will bear the "fruit of righteousness from love abounding in knowledge and depth of insight" (Philippians 1:9-11). He will have "fruit in every good work, knowledge of God, endurance, patience, giving thanks" (Colossians 1:10-12). He will have wisdom, be full of purity and peace, be considerate, submissive, and full of mercy and "good fruit" (James 3:17-18). The reborn person will bear "fruit that will last" (John 15:16) and will continually offer sacrifices of praise. (Hebrews 13:15)
Many people appear to belong to God but still bear twisted fruit or none at all. Israel, God's chosen people, were considered to be a fruitless vineyard, and they possessed the promises of God, the law of the Old Covenant, and the presence of God in the temple. Many will say to Jesus, "Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?" but they will not enter the kingdom of heaven. Jesus will tell them, "I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!" (Matthew 7:22-23)
The Greek word for "knew" is a word for intimacy. The way God is intimate with us is by his indwelling us with his Holy Spirit. When we accept Jesus as our Savior, we receive the Holy Spirit and become one with Christ as Christ is one with the Father. Piety, miracles, and all types of good works are possible without an intimate relationship with the Holy Spirit. But without that intimate indwelling of God himself, all our good works are the products of our natural selves. They are "bad fruit". Only fruit that results from the Holy Spirit in us is the fruit of righteousness.
What Keeps People from Bearing Fruit?
Many people actively function in the church but do not bear "fruit that will last". Although they appear to be Christians, they have not allowed Jesus to know them. They have not accepted the power of the Holy Spirit (Matt. 3:11-12), and they're not doing the will of the Father. (Matt. 7:21-23). They have not put down spiritual roots, and the gospel is choked out of them by material worries and the deceitfulness of wealth. (Matt. 13:18-23). They refuse to respect the vineyard (God's people) and its owner, and they do not help the vineyard to produce good fruit. (Matt. 21:41-46).
Such people are not born again (John 3:3-8), and they're unbelieving, refusing to walk in the light (John 3:18-21). They are not dying to the law of sin and death which rules over natural people, and they're not born in Christ to serve by his Spirit. (Romans 7:4-5) These people are relying on the law (Gal. 3:10); they're living by the law and their sinful nature instead of by the Spirit (Gal. 5:16-18).
These people are also lovers of themselves and of money; they're boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient, ungrateful, unholy, slanderous, and they have no love and no self control. They are brutal, treacherous, rash, conceited, and lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of good. They have a form of godliness but deny its power. (2 Timothy 3:1-5)
Unless a person is born from above, the law and its curse of death still has jurisdiction over him or her. When a person is born of the Spirit, however, the law of sin and death no longer rules over him or her. That person is a new, spiritual person, no longer a natural person. The Holy Spirit now has authority over him or her instead of the law having authority.
Unless a person accepts the gift of a changed heart from the indwelling Holy Spirit, he or she cannot bear good fruit.
Reassurance for Friends
The author reassures the Hebrews, though, that he is "confident of better things in [their] case-things that accompany salvation." (v. 9) Significantly, he addresses them as "friends".
Friends are different from acquaintances or business associates. Friends, according to Jesus, are people who obey him and share in his life.
"You are my friends if you do what I command," he says in Matthew 16:14-15. "I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master's business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you."
When people are reborn in Christ, they become his friends, and the Holy Spirit also binds their spirits together among each other. The Holy Spirit brings unity of soul, purpose, and loyalty to Christ's followers. The love of Jesus enters their hearts, and as an overflow of God's love in them, they are bonded to each other in profound ways that exceed the bonds of relationships between natural, not-reborn people.
The author reassures them that God "will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people and continue to help them."
The work that God will remember is work that flows from the Holy Spirit within them. It is informed and nourished by the study of the scripture which "equips them for every good work". (2 Timothy 3:16-17) The work God remembers is prompted by the faith, love, and hope (1 Thess. 1:3) which the Holy Spirit plants in their hearts. This work is a natural result of the spiritual gifts which the Holy Spirit grants to each believer according to His will for the building up of the body of Christ. (Ephesians 4:11-12)
The author urges the Hebrews to remain diligent and not to become lazy, in order to make their hope sure. The hope they and we share is the surety of the grace in which we stand by faith. (Romans 5:2). It is the confidence that God's promises to Abraham for his descendants are still sure, that we have already received our Savior, and we're still receiving the ultimate blessing of living with Christ for eternity.
His admonition to be diligent is a reminder that persevering in a relationship with Jesus and in loyalty to him is the mark of a true believer. Diligence can become routine and exhausting. Diligence in following Christ will probably not bring recognition or power or wealth as the world understands those things. Diligence can even bring obscurity. But in God's heart no believer is obscure. Each one of us receives God's work for us to do, and each assignment is as important as the others. As we persevere in diligence, we begin to understand that we can trust God to appoint our tasks. We are to learn to wait before him and to trust that what he will bring to us the work he wants us to do. He will bring us to the people he wants in our lives. He will glorify himself through us in ways we would not think of.
God's Call to Us
God calls us to trust him. He calls us to open our hearts and to be vulnerable to him. He wants more from us than head belief. He wants our hearts to open before him.
Many of us have deep heart wounds that have crushed our spirits. We feel dead inside from the wounds and offenses of our pasts. We feel deep shame and an inability to love or be loved. We feel lonely and isolated, but we mask those feelings with arrogance, accomplishments, and cleverness.
Jesus knows each moment in your life when your soul was wounded. He saw each violation of your heart and mind. He knows who hurt you, and he knows how you learned to defend yourself by shutting out reality. He understands that you had no choice when those things happened to you.
But now Jesus is pursuing you. His love is around you and is pulling you toward himself. He stands before you now, and he tells you that those who hurt you have lost their right to control you. He will take care of you now. He reaches out his hand to you and touches your face, wiping away the tarry blots of shame that have clung to you all these years.
"I love you," he says. "I have chosen you, and you are mine."
Will you love him back? Will you let him know you? Will you let him into those secret places even you have trouble recalling, letting him bring them out of the dark and into the light of his love so he can heal them and make your heart whole?
Jesus stands before you now. Take the risk of experiencing love. Let him wash away your shame. Let him reveal reality to you. Let him give you a new identity.
Praise God for his mercy and justice. Praise Jesus for his sacrifice that saves us from our sin. Praise the Holy Spirit for living in us and for giving us new birth.
"Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was, and is, and
is to come." (Revelation 4:8)
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Studio, Redlands, CA USA. All rights reserved. Revised January 4, 2001.