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Theory Versus Practice

I would like to direct your attention to the 6th chapter of the book of Hebrews beginning with verse one.

“Therefore, leaving the discussion of the elementary principles of Christ, let us go on to perfection, not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, of the doctrine of baptisms, of laying on of hands, of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment. And this we will do if God permits.” (Hebrews 6: 1 – 3)

The suggestion here, let us go on to perfection, is troublesome to some Christians. Indeed the concept of perfection as given in the scriptures oftentimes causes discomfort, as they see it (perfection) as some unattainable goal. Yet if you work in corporate America, you might find the same sentiment or suggestion in your company vision and the same folks don’t think twice about that. And certainly the sentiment here, let us go on to perfection, is applicable to any company or organization whose intent it is to accomplish some higher purpose be that business or benevolence.

The Bible is a wonderfully simple book in so many respects, and especially in those parts that have to do with the duty of mankind. From first to last, every phase and condition of life is presented to us using storied explanations or examples demonstrating two points for our study. The King James Version quotes the apostle Paul as calling these “examples and ensamples.” We know that examples are as the dictionary tells us: “patterns or models, as of something to be imitated or avoided.” And by example we find patterns to either the good or to the bad. Ensamples is a word that has fallen out of common usage, and while it was used as a synonym for example, it had a finer distinction of being a type for modeling behavior – indicating a pattern that comes by way of example. So we have examples and ensamples — that is, forms and types. The examples come in many ways and with a variety of lessons attached.

But in fact, in the final reduction of themes concerning the complexities of our existence here, there are but two issues that should really challenge us. I suggest them for your consideration: one is the proper conception — this form or type — what well call the right theory, and the other: the correct practice.

Some people launch into the activities of life without so much as a moments concern over the manner in which they might live or then to the practice of any form of living that might be most productive. Others guide themselves strictly through the laws of economics and day-to-day living. And in the complexities of our existence here we are all caught up (some more than others) to some extent in these things. But some seek no further examination of things. They have no real concept of truth or of Gods desires, nor do they seek any truth to be the guiding pattern to their existence while in this feeble frame.

Now, you probably wouldn’t be reading this if that were your idea of how things worked. And to those who would be godly, to you we recommend this thought. That when the principles and theory that God has given us to guide our passage are carefully studied and applied, we can have a complete life here and also the reward of a fuller one in time in the presence of God. Further, when the word of God is studied and diligently applied and completely comprehended, there remains but a single duty that will then fill the obligations, and that is to put those principles into practice, and thereby to discharge the solemn duty given to us by God. Therefore we have the statement and obligation to follow the right theory and to form the correct practice of that theory.

Now, this is not just a principle of religious thought and discipline, but is true of every occupation and endeavor of life. If you want to become a farmer, you must first learn about agriculture in both its theory and practice. You may learn that successfully from your family and friends over the years or you may attend a university and study agriculture. But this one thing is sure; you must first learn and understand the elements that go into successful production of crops. You need to understand the nature of plants and seasons, germination, and the proper care and cultivation of plants. Once this line of study is completed, you would then have to learn to rise with the song of the birds and earnestly and carefully cultivate and till the earth in practice of these things. Right theory and correct practice must be followed.

If you want to be a lawyer, I know that the same things are true. First, you need to follow the curriculum developed in the study of jurisprudence, becoming acquainted with the common principles of law and the foundations of the republic in which we live. After that you need to pass the state bar exam and begin to apply those things to which you had attended to so diligently. Again, you bring the right theory in with the correct practice. We can say the same of any craft, vocation, and endeavor. That it must be studied and taken first as to theory and then it must be polished by practice and application.

It is just the same my friends in the proclamation of the word of God. I need to first make a careful study of the word. I need to know the way, the path, and the outline that has been left to us by the Son of God. When these things are thoroughly learned, I should then set about to teach them, to contend for the faith, and to not shun to declare the whole counsel of God.

Now, by my count, although I am not a “full time preacher,” I have delivered some 1000 plus public sermons and more than that in lessons in the last several years, and I would be ashamed to speak now if I had failed in any way to tell anyone of the story of the cross. I have tried to insure that each of these talks, lessons or articles involved at least one of the following three things: first, that I make known to you the gospel plan of salvation as taught in the scriptures. Second, that I make known the Kingdom of God, its establishment and importance to the worship of God and to our salvation. The last is to provide points and considerations to encourage Christian living. In all three of these I have tried to teach Christ and him crucified, that the learners might not want for any spiritual thing; as all teachers are instructed by the apostles to do. I know that this has been the same guide to the others who have ventured in this same space. We have not been swayed by a fad, by any false issue, nor by anything not given from the mouth of God. And so it has been the giving of the right theory and the admonition to correct practice of these things and to follow the examples set.

Now, in the pictures presented in the New Testament, Christian life has been portrayed by two powerful scenes: for instance, in the sixth chapter of Ephesians, Paul pictures our Christian life as part of a great warfare.

“Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might. Put on the whole armor of God that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.

“Therefore take up the whole armor of God that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. Stand therefore, having girded your waist with truth, having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace; above all, taking the shield of faith with which you will be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one.”

That is the theory: that is the preparation. Then what?

“And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God; praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, being watchful to this end with all perseverance and supplication for all the saints.” (Ephesians 6: 10 – 18)

In the practice of things we must prepare for the use of the word. Unsheathe the sword of the Spirit: that is the word of God. Take it out of its cover and prepare for its use. It does no good sheathed and stored. March under heavens flag, true to the commander of the faithful, and fight the battle until bidden to stack arms, in a fairer region among the angel throng (as the song says).

In the second of these, in the 12th chapter of the book of Hebrews, life is pictured as a great race, in which we as Christians can run without impediment, if we will. For we have been washed; we have been sanctified; we have been justified. This is the preparation, the right theory.

“Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12: 1 – 2)

And then we must so run – that is the practice of it. To run in the strait and narrow path that leads to the pilgrims home, until we at last pass under the wire in the final home stretch and receive the crown of righteousness that fades not away.

(Returning to the text we began with in the 6th chapter of Hebrews)

But the picture and view to which we first placed to your attention and read of in your presence when we began this talk is not of warfare, not of a race, but of a great building of which there are two parts. The first part is a foundation laid deep and sure: a safe and secure rock of ages. There is no greater comfort than this thought. Which of us would spurn a secure foundation? Having said this, the apostles then says; let us go on to perfection. The idea of perfection means completion: to become complete. And in so saying he implies that more remains to be done. Let us build then on this foundation, erecting the corner posts and the sides and roof, and finish it off by making it ready for Gods acceptance in the great by and by.

Now, when the writer said, therefore, leaving the discussion of the elementary principles of Christ, I am confident that he did not mean that the things he mentions could be denied, repudiated, or discarded. That would run contrary to the rest of the scriptures. But he simply meant that once accomplished that we should move beyond the application of the foundation principles and into the higher issues and problems of this existence — that we should grow and progress into fullness as Christians. Notice that he calls the doctrine of baptisms one of those elementary principles. I’ll bet that youve probably not thought of it that way. It is a bone of contention to most of the world, but here the apostle says, “Move on to more pertinent things.” He doesn’t mean for you and me to ignore it, and he certainly didn’t mean that it is done away with (that would also be contrary to the rest of the New Testament), but he notes that once accomplished it’s time to get up and go onward with the rest of the things that will ensure your salvation. Let us go on to perfection.

When children first come to school, most are unlearned, untaught in most disciplines, and untutored. We begin the education first by laying the foundations of reading, language, and arithmetic. Over the years, when these are thoroughly mastered we have them leave these things to move on to the things of higher learning. That does not mean that they will no longer read, or do vocabulary, or not practice penmanship. That does not deny or make less of multiplication, fractions, or whole numbers. But we let them go on to learn of compound sentence structure, onomatopoeia, of imaginary numbers and polynomials, of calculus, of interest, of debits and credits. So when the writer said, therefore, leaving the discussion of the elementary principles of Christ, he surely meant for those Hebrews, and all those that would follow, to go on and to apply those principles to the duties and obligations of life. Think on his suggestion: let us go on to perfection.

Let us go on to perfection.

We all respond to a little encouragement. Look at the writers language; let us go on to perfection. He is offering an encouragement, an admonition, and an exhortation. When I say “brothers and sisters, let’s do it,” I mean that I’m in it for the long and short of it.

We are just like the pets we own in that with a little encouragement we may gain a lot. No dog ever pulled the sled without a little encouragement. No bird has learned to whistle or to mimic speech without a little. All trainable animals respond to encouragement – guess what? So do people.

I am sure that there are those in this room who have made mistakes and who have regrets for things that they have done. I fall into that category. Don’t you need some encouraging words from time to time? Paul says let’s move on brothers and sisters. Don’t forget the foundation principles but lets put a little practice to the theory.

Let us go on to perfection.

Sometimes we display the wrong philosophy of life. We wait till our brother or sister, friend or family has ceased to walk this frame and then we sing their praises and cover the casket with flowers. When we can no longer obstruct and hinder, we sing praises.

My friends, not one of us will need encouragement then. Not one word of that will reach our ears by then. We need to be encouraged while we still walk this vale, while we still linger with the living.

I know the problems of this life – I have stared some of them hard in the face. I have been against the difficulties, hit the rough waters, gone to ground, and journeyed to some places that I hope that you will never have to pass through. Not all has been so easily encountered and dealt with. In passing this way I need some of life’s sunshine and the sweet scented flowers of encouragement from those who want to see me succeed and to accomplish what is both the greatest and the best. And you know what? You are no different. You need the same things too.

We all need some encouragement from time to time — someone to hold us up when we arent holding our own selves up so well. A gentle word, a kind thought or deed goes a long way.

The writer of Hebrews comes as a friend to them, some who were almost ready to give up the fight, who were longing for the old ways of worship. He says, “Therefore, leaving the discussion of the elementary principles of Christ, let us go on to perfection, not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, of the doctrine of baptisms, of laying on of hands, of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment. And this we will do if God permits.”

In the body of Christ we need the same encouragements and admonitions that we need within the circle of family and friends. And we need to freely be ready to dispense these encouragements as much as we should be ready to receive the admonition when we have made the wrong choices.

Paul said,

“If anyone else thinks he may have confidence in the flesh, I more so: circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of the Hebrews; concerning the law, a Pharisee; concerning zeal, persecuting the church; concerning the righteousness which is in the law, blameless. But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ.

“But indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith; that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death, if, by any means, I may attain to the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me.

“Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

“Therefore let us, as many as are mature, have this mind; and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal even this to you. Nevertheless, to the degree that we have already attained, let us walk by the same rule, let us be of the same mind. Brethren, join in following my example, and note those who so walk, as you have us for a pattern.”

There is then no social distinction, no class, but we are all journeying together, and must, because we hold the same course and compass, seek to help to guide one another through the swells and currents till we all land on the other shore. The song says, “I am a poor wayfaring stranger.” There is no rabbi to cling to, no reverend, and no mother superior — there is Jesus Christ and him crucified, and then there is the family of God.

We need the aid and help to make it through first from the careful application of the word of God — the right theory. And then the help and aid from one another to maintain the right practice.

Let us go on to perfection.

In this phrase, the apostle said, “Go.” He did not say let us drag on to perfection, because I don’t think that we’d ever get there at that rate. It is not drag, or poke along, but let us go on to perfection.

We like to feel the wind in our face when we drive. We like to get done with it and the admonition to do speed limits falls far short in the practice, but we’ll move at a snails pace when it comes to offering up something to aid someone else.

Further, the apostles said we are to go “on.” This indicates direction. We are to go onward, not sideways — not backwards. No slipping and sliding. We’re to leave the slippery slope. And let us go on to perfection. That means we’re to see the course, to persevere – a word indicating tenacity. Once a firm hold is fixed, we don’t let up until the goal is reached.

If indeed Paul penned these very words, he was likely at the time in prison in Rome . His case was then undecided. His destiny was then not yet known. And yet he said, “Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”

Friends, this is the sentiment that must be ours if we are to be successful in gaining the crown of righteousness.

The apostle closes this phrase by saying that we should go on to “perfection.” Well then that is the goal. Do you suppose that the Lord and his apostles set upon us some unattainable goal? That the prize is so remote and so distant that we will never close the deal?

Now, I don’t really know what it fully means to go on to perfection. But I do know it’s heavens high goal for you and me. It is superior to the things on the earth, and it is the objective and end to which we ought to be moving toward in our daily lives. It will summon all of our strength and power, and the concentration of the intellect. It will be the ideal that determines my success or failure, and to which all other things will become subsidiary and supplemental to.

Far away on the distant horizon, like some bright and shining star far out upon the moving waters of life; the light of perfection shines. And for its final and full realization all of us would do well to labor and toil patiently. After we lay aside this earthly form and launch out upon the stream of death, if we have sought to so his will, and lived in harmony with the word of God, giving life to the right theory with the proper practice – we will find ourselves to be clothed in white raiment, where rust and moth does not corrupt and where thieves do not break through and steal. We will then have entered into that home of the soul.

Let me leave you with this thought. Unto you Christians, members of the body of Christ, that have laid the foundation according to Gods terms that have believed the gospel with all your hearts; you who have genuinely repented of your sins, and have confessed that Jesus is the son of the living God. You who have been baptized in his death to walk in newness of life — you, who have laid this sure foundation, friends, then let us go on to perfection.

God will help those who bear fruit, and will purge and cleanse them that they will bring forth more fruit — rich, ripened, golden grain, after the sheaves of the earth have been gathered in.

I ask in conclusion – are there any reading this? Will you stand on the foundation of Christ through obedience to his will? Those that have gone off in the wrong direction, won’t you right those things? Those who stand firm: let us go on to perfection.

(Based upon a sermon by N.B. Hardeman)