called by God as High Priest “according to the order of Melchizedek,” 11 of whom we have much to say, and hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. 12 For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the first principles of the oracles of God; and you have come to need milk and not solid food. 13 For everyone who partakes only of milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, for he is a babe. 14 But solid food belongs to those who are of full age, that is, those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.
The author of Hebrews has some strong words in today’s passage, telling the Hebrew audience that they have “become dull of hearing” and that they are babies who need milk because they can’t handle solid food. Ouch! What is the reason for this? (By the way, if you are curious about the Melchizedek references in chapter five, hang in there; they are unpacked in chapter seven.)
Remember that the letter to Hebrew believers is intended to clarify that Jesus fulfilled the law and has established a New Covenant. If they understood this clearly already, this letter wouldn’t be necessary. The traditions of the law were always calling out to them, just like they do today. The performance-based mindset is in continual warfare for our souls. That’s why walking in grace demands bravery and determination.
Because of their tendency to wander back to the law, the Hebrew readers are corrected to understand that doing so is a childish move. The Apostle Paul explains clearly in Galatians 3:24-25 that the law was a tutor to bring us to Christ. Once we received Him, we graduate from needing a tutor. This can be confusing because the law is so vast and detailed, it seems that it would be considered solid food. Grace is so simple, it seems that it would be considered milk. Yet we find the opposite to be true.
This concept is summarized by verse 13 of today’s passage. “For everyone who partakes only of milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, for he is a babe.” Telling these Hebrews that they are unskilled in the word is a big statement. These folks belonged to a culture that prided itself on knowing the law. Boys were required to memorize the first five books of the Bible. Religious teaching was the central element of Jewish culture, and debating Scripture was a pastime. But notice that verse 13 doesn’t simply say that they are unskilled in the word; it says that they are unskilled in the word of righteousness.
Righteousness isn’t something that can be earned. It is a gift, according to Romans 5:17. The word of righteousness speaks of the gift that is available only through the grace of God that is manifested in the finished work of Jesus. We can know and pursue all of the religious performance that we want but without grace, we will still be spiritual babies. Galatians 2:21 states plainly that “if righteousness came through the law, then Christ died in vain.” Clearly, the law is not the word of righteousness.
Spiritual maturity comes through the gospel of grace. It is through grace that our senses are “exercised to discern both good and evil.” The Holy Spirit is the One who leads and guides us into all truth according to John 16:13, and we receive the Spirit through faith, not through the law. If we want to move from milk to solid food, from being babies to having spiritual maturity, from having knowledge to having discernment, then religious, performance-based thinking must be replaced with focus on Jesus and His finished work. You might say that skill in the word of righteousness comes from braving grace.