The Elementary (First) Teachings of Christ: Hebrews 6:1-2

In Hebrews 6:1-2 is a list of the foundational teachings of the Christian faith. These are the “first things” of the teachings of Christ, and from these we “go on to maturity.”

The six foundational teachings listed by the writer of Hebrews are:

  1. repentance from dead works
  2. faith toward God
  3. teaching of baptisms
  4. laying on of hands
  5. resurrection from the dead
  6. eternal judgment

As a young Christian, I was not taught a proper biblical foundation, so this list was confusing to me. Now that I am settled on a proper foundation, I know that these teachings are a simple outline of the Christian faith.

Repentance from Dead Works

We have looked at the judgment, and we know that the promise of God is that those of us who turn from wickedness and give ourselves to righteousness can count on God to forget all our wickedness and give us life (Ezek. 18:21-30). It is natural, therefore, that the first step is that we repent of the sin and wickedness that has been in our life before we encountered Christ.

The reason we repent from dead works is because formerly we were dead in our sins. Even our good works were performed in death and apart from God, so we leave the whole of our previous life behind when we repent and follow God. We turn away from the good, the bad, and the ugly, and we turn to follow King Jesus into a brand new life.

Faith Toward God

This could just as well have been first on the list. Finding out about God, his power, his majesty, and the glory of his Son who was born on earth as Jesus the Messiah … it is these things that generally cause us to want to repent. It is faith—our belief in God and awareness that Jesus is his Son—that causes us to fear and repent.

Our faith in God must be through his Son. No one comes to the Father except through him (Jn. 14:6). There is no other name given under heaven by which we can be saved (Acts 4:12). What we must believe about the Son is that God raised him from the dead, thus proving that he is Lord, Messiah, and Son of God (Rom. 10:9-10; Matt. 16:16-18; Jn. 20:31).

Teaching of Baptisms

When you properly understand “God’s sure foundation” (2 Tim. 2:19), there are very few verses in the Bible that are difficult. This is one of them, though the only difficulty is why “baptisms” is plural. I am going to give what seems the obvious answer to me, but the plural here is legitimately puzzling.

Baptisms, plural, are a reference baptism in water and in the Spirit (John 3:5). In the letter to Titus, Paul refers to these as “the washing of regeneration and the renewing of the Holy Spirit” (3:5). The only confusion on my part is wondering why baptisms need to be plural when the next teaching listed is the laying on of hands, which addresses the baptism in the Holy Spirit.

We need to understand that baptism is not magic, nor does anything happen at baptism unless it is combined with the faith of the one being baptized. Water baptism is, though, the proper response to believing. If you read through Acts, you will see that the apostles did not pray a sinner’s prayer with those who believed the Gospel, they baptized them. They also laid their hands on them to receive the Spirit. The “teaching” of baptism is that we are buried and raised with Christ (Rom. 6:3-5; Col. 2:12), enter Christ (Gal. 3:27), are spiritually circumcised (Col. 2:11-12), and have our sins washed away (Acts 2:38; 22:16; Tit. 3:5) in the water. This is rejected by many evangelical churches, but there are no verses on baptism that contest the ones referenced in this paragraph.

We will discuss the baptism of the Holy Spirit in the next section.

The Laying on of Hands

Though the laying on of hands was used by the apostles and their churches to ordain men to authoritative positions in the churches and to impart spiritual gifts (1 Tim. 4:14), the primary meaning of this foundational teaching has to be the laying on of hands to receive the Holy Spirit simply because it is called a foundational teaching.

The testimony of history is that after the time the apostles, the baptism of the Holy Spirit was not always accompanied by the same miraculous signs that we read about in Acts (8:18; 10:44-46; 19:6). This does not mean, however, that the churches had stopped laying hands on the newly baptized so that they would receive the Holy Spirit. The churches continued to do so, often including an anointing with oil.

The Resurrection of the Dead

A lot of time has passed, and we often take this teaching for granted. We make a bold claim when we say that Jesus will raise us from the grave and clothe us with new bodies. Paul tells us that we are wasting our time as Christians if we do not believe this (1 Cor. 15). It is truly a foundation doctrine.

Not only we, but all of creation, lives in hope of this resurrection (Rom. 8:19-23). A teaching does not get any more central than this!

Eternal Judgment

The final foundational teaching is eternal judgment, for there our eternal destiny will be determined (Matt. 25:31-46; John 5:28-29; Rom. 2:6-8; Rev. 3:4-5; 20:10-15). This judgment will be according to works (2 Cor. 5:10; 1 Pet. 1:17).

This, too, is often rejected by evangelical churches. Evangelicals would not reject these verses if they could get over the teaching that God will send a person to hell for even one sin. This is horribly insulting to God, who has always been a merciful God (e.g., see Ex. 34:6-7 and Ps. 136). God rewards life to those who patiently continue to do good, not just to the perfectly sinless (Ezek. 18:20-30; Rom. 2:6-7). The idea that God punishes for one sin comes from James 2:10, a verse that tells us not to judge one another. God’s judgment is not mentioned there, but is instead described in the passages I have given you here.

If you accept the foundational traditions of evangelicalism, you are not going to understand Hebrews 6:1-2. You have to hold to biblical foundations, where “the sure foundation of God” has “let those who name the name of Christ depart from unrighteousness” written on it (2 Tim. 2:19). Jesus died so that we would be redeemed from iniquity and become zealous for good works (Tit. 2:13-14), so that he would be our Lord (Rom. 14:9), and so that we would no longer live for ourselves, but for him (2 Cor. 5:15). (My blog post on aphesis gives a great picture of what Jesus’ death accomplished for us.) By the Spirit, we no longer live according to the flesh, and thus we do good and are rewarded with eternal life at the judgment (Gal. 6:7-9).

Going on to Maturity

What does the writer of Hebrews mean by going on to maturity? He explains this in the verses right before Hebrews 6:1-2. We have a chapter break there, but was no chapter break when Hebrews was written. “Solid food belongs to those who are mature,” the writer says in the last verse of chapter 5, “those because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil” (NASB).

In other words, to go on to maturity is simply to being turning away from evil and doing good. We “practice” this.

2 Peter 1:5-7 also gives an excellent description of going on to maturity:

Now for this very reason also, applying all diligence, in your faith supply moral excellence, and in your moral excellence, knowledge, and in your knowledge, self-control, and in your self-control, perseverance, and in your perseverance, godliness, and in your godliness, brotherly kindness, and in your brotherly kindness, love. (NASB)

“For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they render you neither useless nor unfruitful in the true knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ” (v. 8).

At Rebuilding the Foundations.org, you can download my Rebuilding the Foundations PDF for a fuller explanation of all these points.

About Paul Pavao

I am married, the father of six, and currently the grandfather of two. I run a business, live in a Christian community, teach, and I am learning to disciple others better than I have ever been able to before. I believe God has gifted me to restore proper foundations to the Christian faith. In order to ensure that I do not become a heretic, I read the early church fathers from the second and third centuries. They were around when all the churches founded by the apostles were in unity. I also try to stay honest and open. I argue and discuss these foundational doctrines with others to make sure my teaching really lines up with Scripture. I am encouraged by the fact that the several missionaries and pastors that I know well and admire as holy men love the things I teach. I hope you will be encouraged too. I am indeed tearing up old foundations created by tradition in order to re-establish the foundations found in Scripture and lived on by the churches during their 300 years of unity.
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