The Advance to Perfection
By Dean Boelt
"Leaving the doctrine of the first principles of Christ, let us go on unto perfection [maturity) (Heb. 6:1, ASV).
The Hebrew saints of the first century, like the masses of "fundamentalist" churchmen today, were content to settle down on the foundational truths of the gospel. Because spiritual effort was required to advance to maturity (Jn. 6:27), and that state provoked greater friction with their adversaries, they preferred to continue as mere babes in Christ (Heb. 5:11-14).
The Apostle censured them for their indifference, and sought to prod them out of it. He reminded them of its grave jeopardy. One either goes on from his baptism to "grow up" into Christ "in all things" (Eph. 4:15), or incurs the extreme danger of being overcome by the world, the flesh, and the Devil (Heb. 6:1-6). There just is no other safeguard against that very-present threat (cf. II Pet. 1:2-12).
The Objective's Nature. A word of clarification concerning the urged objective's nature is needful. It is not experienced moral and spiritual perfection, though that, too, is a goal set before us (Mt. 5:48; I Jn. 2:1). As a matter of fact, no one but Christ ever attained to that state while in the earthly body. Rather, as the RSV renders the term in the text of Hebrews, it is "maturity," or fullgrownness (ASV). As in nature with the normal child, so it is in grace. We are to progress from the state of infancy to adulthood. To fail to do that, in either case, is abnormal.
As regards our full acceptance by God in the Son, we are already "complete" (Col. 2:10; cf. Eph. 1:6). So has Christ, by His vicarious sacrifice, "perfected forever them that are sanctified" (Heb. 10:14; cf. Acts 26:18). As, being identified with Him, we continue to cleave to Him, we, thus, are counted by God as already perfect. It is in consciousness of that state of justification that we, by grace, strive to advance to personal attainment of perfection, or maturity.
In that respect—the one of individual attainment—the perfection or maturity to which we are urged includes becoming discernment of Christ and the things concerning the divine kingdom. The possibility held before us at this point is both challenging and intriguing. It is that of apprehending "what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height," and of knowing "the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge" (Eph. 3:18-19; cf. Phil. 4:6-7). Surely, here is a summons for today's church, which, by and large, is abysmally ignorant of these spiritual profundities.
It needs to be observed that immature preachers and teachers cannot themselves adequately minister the things of the kingdom to the church. The ministry, as set forth in Ephesians 4:11 and First Corinthians 12:28, has its work assigned to it. The end of its function is "the perfection of the saints," or to bring them to "the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ" (vv. 12-13). So Paul labored: that he might "present every man perfect in Christ Jesus" (Col. 1:28). Obviously, the discharge of that ministry requires full-grown men, not novices in the faith.
The Essential Nourishment. As "newborn babes," regenerated people are to "desire the sincere milk of the Word." That is so that they "may grow thereby" (I Pet. 2:2-3), not so that they may continue indefinitely as babies. God does not intend that they go on confining themselves to the milky diet, as many, both then and now, want to do. Rather, as the demands of the new life require, they are to begin to feed upon the "strong meat" of divine verity.
Both milk dispensers and milk consumers in the kingdom are "unskillful in the Word of righteousness," says the Apostle (Heb. 5:13). Except as it is served to legitimate infants, such ministry constitutes a hindrance to its recipients, rather than a help. That is because it tends to confirm them in their state of arrested development, and encourages them to continue therein. We call that circumstance to the attention of the milk dispensers of today's church.
The church's ministry is commissioned to "feed the flock of God" (I Pet. 5:1-2; cf. Acts 20:28), it will be recalled. "Feed My sheep," was Jesus' charge to Peter (Jn. 21:15-17), and the Apostle faithfully passed that commission on to the congregational overseers (I Pet. 5:1-4).
Of course, the diet must be commensurate with the needs of the flock. Good nourishment and the required growth in the grace and knowledge of Christ are conditioned on that necessity. Those who occupy the position of preacher and teacher today will be held strictly accountable to God for the faithful discharge of that responsibility (cf. Heb. 13:17).
The Necessity of the Case. The necessity of maturity, both as regards the teachers and those who are taught, needs to be stressed. As has been indicated, he who seeks to minister the Word certainly cannot do it, if he himself is but a babe, with only juvenile insight into the things of God. He must be "of full age" in the Lord, to properly feed the church of God, as he is commissioned to do (Acts 20:28).
Those who know only "the first principles of the doctrine of Christ," being foundation cleavers, are disqualified to nourish God's flock up in "the words of faith and of good doctrine," as its necessities require (I Tim. 4:6).
The Pressing Demand. There needs to be more awareness of those necessities. Obliviousness to them cannot but be attributed to the alarming degree of world-conformity that prevails in the church. So much of the essential issue has been conceded to the world, that the remaining conflict requires very little of the church by way of spiritual stamina.
The situation of those who truly are identified with Christ—that of being dead to the world and alive unto God through Him—is quite different, however. The warfare between them and the world is fierce, crucial, and incessant. Ungodly and anti-godly philosophies and practices abound on every hand, being proclaimed with vigor and persistence.
In other words, the challenge to the saints is strong and constant. There, thus, is much and continuous hard spiritual labor to be done, in resisting and combating the world. The maintenance of their own spiritual lives is involved in this situation, as well as the saints' effective witness for Christ to the lost world.
In order for them to adequately cope with this situation, the brethren must be properly fed. "Strong meat" not only belongs to the mature; it is essential for all of God's people, in their striving against sin and the sinful world, and their adequate "holding forth" of "the Word of life" (Phil. 2:16). They cannot otherwise either keep themselves "unspotted from the world," as they are required to do (Jas. 1:27), or "show forth the excellencies" of Him who called them "out of darkness into His marvelous light" (I Pet. 2:9, ASV).
To expect these things of the church while it is being administered a milk diet, is spiritually absurd in the extreme. It is like calling upon a manual laborer to subsist on a fare of soup.
"Your adversary the Devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour," cautions Peter (I Pet. 5:8, RSV). He can only be effectively resisted "firm" in the faith (v. 9). But for that faith to be equal to the demand thus made upon it, the faith must be strong; and that requires nourishment. The "loins" of the saint must be "girt about with truth," he must have "the shield of faith," as well as being clad with "the whole armor of God" (Eph. 6:11), if he is to "withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand" (vv. 12-13).
The church's assignment by God, as "the pillar and ground of the truth" (I Tim. 3:15), is clear and exacting. It is to equip the brethren to "stand against the wiles of the Devil," as well as to bear telling witness to the gospel of His saving grace. That function and its fruitage are involved in the perfection to which we are to press on.