Training Our Senses

Bible study

In Hebrews 5, the writer began a discussion in which he compared Jesus Christ with the high priest Melchizedek. He broke from this discussion in verse 11 before picking it up again in chapter 7. The reason for this interlude was because there was “much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing.” So the writer had to pause to reinforce some more basic truths before finishing this discussion. By this point, these Christians should have been mature and able to consider such a discussion about Melchizedek; yet they were not. The mature are those who have trained their senses (Hebrews 5:14).

What is meant by the term senses? This is the part of us that can perceive or judge right and wrong. We might call this our conscience. The writer said that our senses – or our conscience – should be trained in such a way that it can “discern good and evil” (Hebrews 5:14). We are striving to develop an inherent – almost subconscious – sense of right and wrong. This passage shows how we can train our senses in this way.

Overcome Being “Dull of Hearing”

Pausing from the discussion about Melchizedek, the Hebrew writer said, “Concerning him we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing” (Hebrews 5:11). The thing toward which the people had become “dull of hearing” was teaching from the word of God. The inspired writer was delivering a message from God (cf. 1 Corinthians 2:10-13; 2 Timothy 3:16). Yet they would not hear it because there was “much to say” and it was “hard to explain.

While it may be easy to ignore a long message on a difficult topic, Christians must overcome that when it comes to spiritual matters. There are some teachings in the word of God that are “hard to explain.” Peter spoke of the writings of the apostle Paul and said, “In which are some things hard to understand” (2 Peter 3:16). Notice he did not say the things he wrote cannot be understood, just that they were more difficult. So what qualities do we need to possess and develop in order to come to a proper understanding of the Bible? We need to be attentive, open-minded, and able to follow a reasoned argument. To be “dull of hearing” is to lack these qualities, which leads us to disregard the things which take some effort to understand.

Develop the Ability to Teach

After rebuking the Hebrew brethren for being “dull of hearing,” the writer was critical of their lack of growth. He said that “by this time [they] ought to be teachers,” but instead they were in “need again for someone to teach [them] the elementary principles of the oracles of God” (Hebrews 5:12). It takes a certain amount of time to develop the ability to teach. And while not everyone can, or should, take a public role in teaching (James 3:1), all Christians need to teach others (1 Peter 3:15).

To be a teacher, we must first be grounded in the “elementary principles.” But a teacher continues to learn. In fact, we often learn more by teaching than by being taught. Developing the ability to teach helps us to train our senses.

Become “Accustomed to the Word”

We need to be “accustomed to the word” (Hebrews 5:13) in order to be able to teach. After rebuking these brethren for needing to be taught at a time when they should have been teachers themselves, the writer said, “You have come to need milk and not solid food. For everyone who partakes only of milk is not accustomed to the word of righteousness, for he is an infant” (Hebrews 5:12-13).

All Christians, at some point, need to be taught the “elementary principles of the oracles of God” (Hebrews 5:12). Those who are at this stage in their spiritual growth are “not accustomed to the word of righteousness” (Hebrews 5:13). Those who need to be taught these things (the milk of the word) are not “accustomed to the word.” When we are at this stage, we must learn how to accurately handle the word (2 Timothy 2:15). This requires us to study and not be “dull of hearing.

Put the Word into Practice

Often, the best way to learn something is to do it. We may be told how to do something, but will not fully grasp what we are being instructed until we put it into practice. Our study and learning of the Bible is not (or it should not be) merely an academic exercise. God expects us to apply what we learn and obey Him. Knowing what God has said is not enough to please Him. James wrote, “One who knows the right thing to do and does not do it, to him it is sin” (James 4:17). The Hebrew writer said that doing what we have been taught helps us in our discernment of right and wrong. Those who are mature are those “who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil” (Hebrews 5:14).

Press on to Maturity

After stressing the need to do the things we have been taught, the Hebrew writer encouraged the brethren to continue in their process of growth. “Therefore leaving the elementary teaching about the Christ, let us press on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God” (Hebrews 6:1). We must be willing to leave the “elementary principles” – the milk of the word (Hebrews 5:13) – and progress to the “solid food” which is “for the mature” (Hebrews 5:14).

This is not to say that we should abandon the foundations of our faith. Rather, we should build upon them. The foundation of our faith is based on fundamental doctrines such as repentance and the resurrection (Hebrews 6:1-2); facts like the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ (1 Corinthians 15:3-4); and concepts such as one body, one faith, and one baptism (Ephesians 4:4-6). We must begin with these matters. But some never progress to more mature subjects like marriage, divorce and remarriage or the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. This is the same fault as the Hebrew brethren. We should never abandon these fundamental truths. Neither should we be content to never build upon them.

Show Diligence

The Hebrew writer told these brethren, “We desire that each one of you show the same diligence so as to realize the full assurance of hope until the end” (Hebrews 6:11). These brethren had demonstrated the ability and willingness to work in their “ministering to the saints” (Hebrews 6:10). Now they needed to show the same diligence in learning and applying the word of God. This requires diligence in study to learn how to accurately handle the word of God (2 Timothy 2:15). It also requires diligence in living as a Christian (1 Timothy 6:11).

Imitate the Faithful

The Hebrew brethren were told to be “imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises” (Hebrews 6:12). We can follow the example of those who are following the teachings of Scripture. When we look to imitate the faithful, we need to be sure we understand who that is. Those who are faithful are the ones who are guided by the word of God. Paul wrote, “Faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ” (Romans 10:17).

This same idea is found later in the book of Hebrews. Following the examples of the faithful in chapter 11, the writer encouraged the brethren: “Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us” (Hebrews 12:1). Considering the example of the faithful should help motivate us to continue working, striving, growing, and progressing.


All of these points have to do with the knowledge and application of the word of God. God’s word helps us train our senses to discern good and evil. Our practice of the things we have learned reinforces those things in our minds. Some question whether or not one’s conscience can be a safe guide. It can, but only when it is directed by the teachings of God’s word (even then, our conscience is still not our standard). We must constantly evaluate ourselves in this regard, just as the Corinthians were told: “Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith” (2 Corinthians 13:5).

Some believe in the direct guidance of the Holy Spirit and that God may speak to them to help them make decisions. This concept is wrong, but not completely wrong. What is the feeling they experience or the touching of their heart? It is their conscience. Our conscience can direct us either in truth or error. It all depends on how it has been trained. The Holy Spirit does guide us. God does speak to us. But it is all done through the word of God. It is important then that we train our senses by that standard so we may live pleasing to Him.

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