I am sure that somewhere in the television series “Doctor Who” (BBC) the doctor turns to the lovely Clara or another of his female time travelers and says, “Just because something is in plain sight does not mean it is not a secret.” Some keys to the secrets of Christian maturity are plainly outlined in the sixth chapter of Hebrews. This does not mean that many Christians have recognized these for what they are. There is good reason for this.
Verses 4 to 6 can appear to be a warning about Christians losing their salvation and the passage is commonly interpreted that way. However, it also can be understood as a statement that it is impossible for Christians who experience certain spiritual realities ever to fall away from their Christian faith because that would be like they were crucifying Christ again. These five spiritual experiences are the mark of a mature Christian. How do we know this?
The writer of Hebrews tells us at the beginning of chapter 6 that we are going to leave behind “the elementary teachings about Christ and go on to maturity.” Some of the elementary things to be left behind are: “repentance from acts that lead to death, and of faith in God, instructions about baptisms, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment.” Most Christians hardly regard these as elementary teachings so what are the ones that lead to maturity.
The first one is to “have once been enlightened.” This does not mean a onetime experience but that enlightenment comes to mature Christians and remains with them. Paul, in his letter to the Ephesians, prays that their eyes might be enlightened so they would know the hope to which they were called, the glorious inheritance of the saints and God’s incomparably great power for those who believe (Ephesians 1:18-19).
The second part of Christian maturity is to have “tasted the heavenly gift.” It is possible to think of this heavenly gift as God’s grace. However, it is more likely to be a taste of eternal life. We cannot fully experience eternal life now but we can taste it sometimes and know it is surely promised to believers as a gift of God (Romans 6:23).
Sharing in the Holy Spirit is the third experience related to Christian maturity. What Jesus told Nicodemus about the mystery of the action of the Holy Spirit in regard to rebirth (John 3:8) is illustrated by two events described in Acts, as well as in other instances that are described in the New Testament. The first instance was when Phillip went to Samaria. There he preached the good news of the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ. Those who believed were baptized with water but the Holy Spirit had not come upon them. This happened when Peter and John arrived and laid their hands on them (Acts 8:12-17). The second example was when Peter preached in the house of Cornelius. The Holy Spirit came upon those who believed and then they were baptized with water (Acts 10:44-47). It would appear that there is no fixed way that the Holy Spirit comes to believers yet it seems that Spirit must come to any who would be spiritually mature.
The fourth part of Christian maturity is to have “tasted the goodness of the word of God.” Faith comes through the hearing of the word of God (Romans 10:17) but Christian maturity is found by tasting its goodness. And at the end of the list, we find Christian maturity is also shown by the believer tasting the “powers of the coming age.”
I think the writer of Hebrews meant by the coming age the era of the kingdom of God that arrived with the manifestation of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost. Peter quoted the last days prophecy of Joel (Acts 2:17-21) to the crowd who had gathered as the result of the presence of the Holy Spirit. From this passage we can see that the powers of the coming age that will be tasted by mature Christians include prophecy, visions and dreams. However, this is not the end of the promised abilities. We read throughout the New Testament of disciples having the ability to perform signs and miracles. Presumably people of Christian maturity will also have the power do signs and miracles when and if it suits God’s purposes.
In all these descriptions of Christian maturity there are none that are obtained through physical acts or by sacraments. They are all pictured metaphorically which means they must all be received spiritually. In other words they all come about through the work of the Holy Spirit in us. Paul told the Galatians in Galatians 5:16-26 a number of things about living in the Spirit. Toward the end of the passage (Galatians 5:25) he writes “Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.” It seems that the keys to Christian maturity involve learning to walk in several ways in the awareness and power of the Holy Spirit.