“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…repentance from dead works…” (Hebrews 5:12, 6:1).
Just as every language has an alphabet and every sport has its fundamentals, God’s revelation—both Old and New Testaments—has first principles which are foundational to a correct understanding of God and His will. Hebrews 6:1-2 identifies six. Each will be given its own consideration.
Repentance is a change of mind and will about sin which has been spawned by godly sorrow for sin and brings forth the vital fruits of severance from sin, the abhorrence of evil, and a pursuit of righteousness. Like faith, it is impossible to be well-pleasing to God without repentance. It is a universal command; God “now commands all men everywhere to repent” (Acts 17:30).
“Dead works” can include several different categories of works. Because of the new covenant, “dead works” would include things God commanded the Jews to do in the Law of Moses which have not been bound in the law of Christ. Circumcision, Sabbath keeping, animal sacrifices, and worshiping at the temple in Jerusalem are not acts of obedience proscribed in the new covenant. Doing these things today have no positive bearing upon your standing before God.
Sinful acts and dispositions which separate you from God can also be categorized as “dead works”. The wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23). Everyone pursuing the pleasures of sin is dead even while they are alive physically (1 Timothy 5:6). To be in Christ is to reckon yourself dead to sin but alive to God (Romans 6:11). The penitent cannot continue in sin that grace may abound because they died to sin and buried the dead man in baptism so they could walk in newness of life (Romans 6:1-4).
This elementary understanding of the differences between the old and new testaments and of the purpose of God’s grace (Titus 2:11-12) is an integral component of this elementary principle of Christ.