Updated: Oct 8, 2021
is it both?
It is the crux of human salvation. It is our living hope. The good news. And yet, we consistently try to distance ourselves from it. As children or as newcomers to faith, we are taught the simplicity of the gospel: Christ crucified and resurrected for the sins of man so that we might be restored to the Father. Relationship, hardly religion.
As we progress in faith and grow, however, networking amongst other Christians, reading books, church dating, developing opinions on sermons, why do we think we need more? It’s no longer enough to drink the milk of “elementary truth”. As the writer of Hebrews seems to admonish, we see the need to move on from it, to read deeper theology, ingest more complex ideas. We crave a fresh perspective. We want to chew. If we aren’t reading Tozer or C.S. Lewis or St. Augustine’s Confessions, are we really as adept in Christian thought as we ought to be? If we aren’t critiquing the sermon, learning the Septuagint Greek, or studying Biblical Archaeology, can we effectively give a defense for our faith, we wonder? We spend less time focusing on the gospel itself, the Christ story, and more on what others have to say about it, or the minutiae of scripture. We read the Old Testament apart from the gospel and transcribe Paul’s letters for our own legalistic purposes.
And find ourselves further from our God than ever before.
But, the writer of Hebrews is clear: at some point in the Christian walk, set down the milk and take up the meat. So, then, what is the milk? And what is the meat?
Milk & Meat
Scripture is both milk and meat. Every word, every verse, every chapter, every book is nourishment for the Christian. There are no prerequisite books in scripture. The Lord can work just as mightily to bring someone to Christ with Habbakuk as He can with Matthew. It is all milk to the new believer. It is all meat to the mature Christian. The difference then, is not in content, but in consequence (depth of understanding?).
Milk is easy to digest. It does not spend much time on the tongue. It does not require chewing. But the body must first begin with milk in order to develop the digestive system and wait for the teeth necessary to macerate solid food. It is a process of development and maturation. Meat, however, does require chewing; it takes longer to digest and necessitates a developed digestive system to break it down and extract nutrients from.
The position of the Christian determines whether or not scripture becomes milk or meat. Their maturity, their foundation, their depth of dwelling.
“But solid food is for the mature,” the writer of Hebrew writes, “who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil” (5.14). There is clear language here of development. The mature Christian is one who has trained, is growing in discipline, not, one who, as the writer of Ephesians puts it, is being “tossed back and forth by the waves and, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching” (4.14), but planting themself firmly in the elementary truths, they are the seed planted in good soil, as Jesus parabolized.
The writer continues of Hebrews continues: “Therefore, let us leave the elementary teachings about Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again the foundation of repentance from acts that lead to death, and of faith in God, instruction about baptism, the laying of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgement.” (6.1-2)
The writer of Hebrews seems to contradict himself. He has just spent the first half of his letter emphasizing the importance of remaining rooted in the gospel. Indeed, the very verses wherein we find this odd contradiction fall under a section entitled Warning Against Falling Away. And yet, he’s telling the Hebrews to leave the elementary teachings about Christ!
He writes to the Hebrews, “let us leave the elementary teachings” [emphasis added]. but then extrapolates on what this leaving really means: “not laying again the foundation of repentance from acts, etc…”
The milk of the Christian is not the elementary teachings themselves, but the laying of the foundation of such elementary truths. Maturity in Christ is not moving on from the elementary truths; they are the foundation crucial for full maturity in Christ. The author is saying, “You guys keep having to go back to square one because you keep falling away, forgetting the elementary truths. How can we build faith if you’re unable to build a foundation? You’ve gotta grow, but you’re not even rooted!” Reminiscent of God’s words spoken through the prophet Hosea, “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge.”, the writer warns the Hebrews that a lack of knowing, a lack of growth, will make them fall away. But this is not information-based knowledge. This is an intimate, deep, marinating kind of knowing. Not knowing things, but knowing Him, Jesus. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge.
Milk vs. Meat
So here is the distinction between the meat and the milk: depth. Not more. Just depth. We go deeper into the gospel, deeper into knowing Christ and thereby the Father, never beyond. We learn to view every line of scripture, every bit of our lives through the lens of the gospel for as we grow in relationship with Him, we are sanctified to do so. We will gain more knowledge as we progress, we will learn more, but the knowledge and the learning that is profitable for the gospel and our good is only found in the depth of knowing the one who made us. Satan would love nothing more than for us to get caught up in knowing more, to take that scripture and twist it into thinking we need to forget the simplicity of the gospel, and graduate into studying theology, entering seminary, rubbing elbows with Christian intellectuals. If that’s where the Lord calls us, great. There is nothing wrong with any of those paths, but unless the Lord builds that house, we will strive in vain, moving away from the Name by which we are saved and putting ourselves in danger of the legalism, mysticism, and asceticism Paul warns against in his letter to the Colossians (2.13-23).
As Christians, we will never progress in thought, knowledge, or deed beyond the gospel. There is nothing beyond it. He is the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end. He hems us in behind and before. Satan might lead us to believe we’ve progressed or developed some new idea, but it is only a sidetrack. All that we need, all that we desire begins and ends in Christ, His death, and resurrection. We never leave the gospel behind, we never move on from it. The gospel is both the milk and the meat and forever will be. We can only grow more deeply rooted into it. And that means dwelling. That means stillness. That means humbling ourselves in the simple truth of scripture. It means retelling the gospel story over and over to ourselves no matter our intellectual level or biblical knowledge.
God gave us brains for a reason: to use them. He made us to question, to search, to understand.
But our nature runs to sin, even the best laid plans, the best intentions. We need to be on our guard in the pursuit of knowledge, in the zealousness towards the “meat” because like most things in the Christian walk, it’s our motive and the position of our hearts that determines the effectiveness and righteousness of our actions. Consume every book written, take every seminary class offered, but if at the last page, we don’t find ourselves at the feet of the cross in supplication and awe, we’ve gained nothing.
We should set ourselves to learning. But the second we find ourselves glossing over the gospel thinking, “Been there, done that,” we’ve lost the way.
Thankfully, we serve a God of great compassion and redemption. And in those moments when we realize we have fallen away, we can, as the hymn says, “Cast [our] eyes upon Jesus”, and, as another encourages, “look up, and see Him there/ the one who made an end of all [our] sin”.
God made you.
He knows you.
He wants you.
He loves you.