What does it mean to “go on unto perfection” (Hebrews 6:1)?
The Hebrew epistle speaks of things being made “perfect,” and it refers to “perfection” many times, yet in no case does it refer to what is often thought to be perfection, that is, attaining a state of sinlessness. It is first used with regard to the Lord Jesus, (Heb 2:10, 5:9), “. . . to make the captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings.” It is obvious that sinless perfection would not apply in this case, for He was eternally without sin in every respect.
This word, in its original meaning, describes something being brought to its intended goal, being finished so that it is complete, thus expressing what is expected of it, or what should be attained. So, our Lord, by becoming man, passed through the conditions of His humanity, and finally accomplished the work of redemption at the cross, completed the experiences of this life in the resurrection and exaltation that fully equipped Him for the work of representing believers as our High Priest before God.
In Hebrews 7:19, the writer declares that the “law made nothing perfect,” in that all that was connected with it was incapable of bringing in God’s completed purposes regarding His people. (This was because it depended on human ordinances and animal sacrifices.) Rather, it has yielded to “a better hope,” which involves all that is linked with Christ, His completed work, and His superior priesthood. The offering of those gifts and sacrifices under that Old Testament economy could never “make him (both offerer and officiating priest) perfect, as pertaining to the conscience” (9:9).
Again, he ends the epistle by expressing his desire that our Lord Jesus, Who is the “great Shepherd of the sheep,” would make them “perfect in every good work to do His will” (13:21). This clearly means that they might be brought to Christian maturity through the continuing work of our Lord Jesus, a condition that should be the desire of every believer in Christ,
In 6:1, he is telling the readers that, rather than holding to, or retaining, the basic teachings under Old Testament conditions that anticipated Christ, (those things that are listed in vv1-2), they needed to go on to “perfection,” or to the spiritual maturity that Christ desired for them to attain to. In the previous chapter, he has been reproving them for their immaturity, which prevented him from teaching them those truths that he desired for them. They were limited because they were yet holding the “first principles of the oracles of God” (5:12), which, as many writers have explained, refer to the teachings of the Old Testament that anticipated the coming and work of Christ. In 6:1 he resumes that subject, saying that they should now go beyond those teachings to develop as mature Christians. They were being hindered by their adherence to those teachings that were only shadows of “good things to come” (Heb 10:1). It may be difficult to see how the “principles” that he mentions in these verses concern the basic teaching of the Old Testament, but notice that “repentance from dead works and of faith toward God” were most certainly a large part of the prophets’ messages. “Baptisms” refers to ceremonial washings under the law, as also does “laying on of hands,” and “resurrection of the dead and of eternal judgment.” His fear was that they were so firmly attached to such ritualistic activities that they would fail to develop, and fail to fully express all that Christ offered them, and eventually would “fall away,” or revert to the old religious system that had been superseded.