Tag Archives: human attempts

Holiness for the many

Continuing looking at the Letter to the Hebrews, in chapter 10, verses 1 to 3, the writer drives home again that the Jewish law is a mere shadow with great limitations. Those same sacrifices were continuing—they did not stop because they were ineffectual, he said. They did not bring holiness.

In religious circles today, what offerings or worship do people make that needs continual repetition? Do these make them holy? Do these remove the feelings of guilt? We are often reminded that feelings are untrustworthy. Sure, only God is trustworthy! Yet, if we feel guilty, it may be because we have not entered into the true life in the Spirit, promised for us for us in the New Covenant to give us great hope for what is to come.

Much of today’s public expressions of Christianity carry continual reminders of sins to the hearer. In many places the order of service (not a New Testament idea) obliges people to confess sins in a vague, non-specific sense and they are expected to feel contrition. Then there are often sermons preached ‘six feet above reproach’ which are designed to induce guilt feelings but not real guilt. (Actually amongst the primitive believers in Jesus, there were no sermons, no preaching, no clergy, just encouragement and exhortation by one another.)

Real sense of guilt comes from God, from the Holy Spirit, a result of the reality that we have offended God and friendship with him has been severed as a result. It is a precondition for true holiness.

Hebrews 10 goes on to show that Jesus understood these famous words from Ps 40:6-8 to apply to him,

“Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but a body you prepared for me;  with burnt offerings and sin offerings you were not pleased. Then I said, ‘Here I am—it is written about me in the scroll —I have come to do your will, my God.’”

Jesus accepted the central mission on which God had sent him—to offer himself in a human body, in his own human body, to do the will of God. Remember the scene in the garden, Gethsemane? And this perfect offering has replaced all other! This once for all obedience makes us holy, an emphatic statement much repeated. We do not understand this cosmic event, but we are amazed at its wonderful depth and sure of its benefits.

Jesus was no puppet, no mechanical man dictated to by God. No. Jesus had a will of his own. He chose to make his will conform to the Father’s will. It was the will of the LORD to bruise him, we read in that amazing servant song of Isaiah 53. At Heb 10:10,  our author maintains

by that will, we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all

Holiness is a gift from another to be received by turning to Him and believing—can’t be achieved any other way.

Do you get it?

Let’s all have a rest : Hebrews 3-4

In Hebrews 3 and 4,  our author has another warning to give us!

DO NOT FAIL TO ENTER GOD’S REST THROUGH UNBELIEF! (it happens)

Here is another Hebrew-Jewish concept—the ‘rest’. It’s a motif from the great story of God’s mighty rescue in the Exodus event. In that story, there is an ever repeated promise to the Israelites, of a safe, secure, and fertile land they could call home instead of being eternal wanderers.

Yet surprisingly (or perhaps, not so surprisingly) though they had witnessed God’s wonderful rescue from Egypt and enslavement, they failed to trust God and were not permitted to enter the promised land (the ‘rest’). They wandered and perished in their wanderings.

Our author sees this rest as a ‘type’ for Jesus’ followers to be at rest in Him and with Him and to have ended all our religious labours and strivings to be okay with our Lord God. It’s another way of explaining the glorious New Covenant of Jesus

He warns :

See to it, brothers and sisters, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called “Today,” so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness (Heb 3:12-13).

Turning away from the living God—it can happen to any of us. So the Lord in His ever-wondrous design provision, has planned for us to be a member of his body, that is, we must be joined to a living body.

Did you know that the word member in times past always meant just that—part of a  living human body? In fact this old meaning still survives in the word dismembered when we refer to someone having lost a limb.

Nowadays, the word member has changed so much that its use in biblical texts has become totally misunderstood and interpreted as having a name on a data base. That’s a deplorable loss. Membership in Christ’s Body is so much more than that.

For starters, it is the essential anti-fall-away remedy! Why it’s so important to be often in the company of cheerful brothers and sisters who look after one another—that’s true worship!  It’s God’s design to grow us. Encouragement!

This community, like all the apostolic groups we find in the NT scriptures, did not have a pastor or priest, no professional Christians over them, a practice out of whack with Jesus’ new wine, the New Covenant. No, they were ALL responsible for the watching-over, for encouraging one another and the growth of one another.

They were reminded by the writer, as brothers and sisters—this is a family, like a household—to have continual and consistent contact with one another.

This had to be done in such a way that each could be encouraged daily not to fall away, that they would not fail to enter God’s rest, that freedom of the Spirit, that transforming grace that ends all futile attempts to be holy and instead brings God’s ways supernaturally rolling into their/our hearts and minds.

In so many ways, the wondrous work of the Holy Spirit in Jesus’ people can be blocked by clergy presence. The clergy/laity divide is an utterly foreign idea to these people of the apostolic period. It was a later addition and as a consequence, a subtraction, a declension, from God’s great design for our edification and growth into maturity.

We either continue in ignorance with traditions ignoring the word of God, or else we think we know better than God, we think our ways are more practical and efficient.

Shame!

When I was a practising architect, to arrive at a building site and discover that the builder had “improved” on my design to change room sizes or window positions, was insulting and discouraging. How much more insulting and contemptible it is to God to ignore His great design for our growth into maturity.

And we must stick with His design plan while there is still a time that can be called “today.” If we don’t, sin may fool us. When we first became his people, we were sure about Christ, so let’s hold tightly to our faith and God’s plans until the end and encourage one another (13-14).

Our author reminds his readers that it is by faith that God’s people enter this wonderful rest—a state of assurance and joy with total cessation of striving to please God by what we do.  Ceasing concern over whether we are good enough or that bad stuff, whatever that is, can keep us from the break.

Time to truly love God as he surely loves us. Here is another warning for them and for us too: Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience.

This ‘striving’ is a striving of faith, not of our efforts or our good works. To fail to believe, to trust him, is to disobey. It is to hold his wonderful design, grace and love in contempt. We will not able to enter His rest because of unbelief.

The promise to enter the place of rest is still good (chapter 4:1-11), and we must constantly take care of one another that none miss out.  We have heard the message, just as those early Israeli pioneers under Moses in the desert did. But the many failed to believe what they heard, and the message did not do them any good.  Only people who have faith will enter the place of rest.

We should do our best to enter that place of rest, so that none of us will disobey and miss going there, as they did (11).

What God says is certainly alive and active! His word is actually sharper than any kind of top quality sword. In fact, it can cut separately through our spirits and our souls and separate our joints and marrow, until it exposes the desires and thoughts of our hearts, to use the author’s surgical metaphor (12-13).

So you see, we can’t hide anything from God! He sees through everything, and we will have to tell him the truth, own up completely, one day.

So, it’s today, not tomorrow, dear friends, ‘cos tomorrow will never come, eh?

The Letter to Hebrews : Amazing design

A few of us are meeting weekly, a group of God-botherers, to flesh out and discuss together the astounding and surprising Biblical record,  and we have leapt from the Kingdom period of 900bc into the New Testament’s Letter to the Hebrews.

This is a passionate letter from an unnamed real person or persons (we have noted all the “we”s in the text) to a real community of Jewish believers in Jesus probably written before 70ad.

Here we find much ‘high Christology’ in our author’s attempt to warn his readers against abandoning Christ and turning back to their previous practices.

There is an amazing thing in this letter: there is no suggestion of any ritual, ceremonial or cultic which might have replaced the Judaism they had left behind, which you will remember, was God’s design for his people and up to that time.

Rather they are called simply to consider Jesus. He is enough, superior, perfect. And called to care for each other.

Though the language and content is different to the apostle Paul’s correspondence to non-Jews, the practices that are encouraged are very similar.

So for example, Like the Pauline letters, this one is addressed not to some church leader but to the whole community. There is no hint here (or anywhere in the whole New Testament) of any clergy class and laity class.

It was critical for these Hebrews to leave behind their familiar, God-given, Old Covenant traditions and hierarchical practices which were now obsolete in Messiah Jesus. The author takes much effort to show convincingly that Jesus and his way, is far superior to Moses and the whole sacrificial and priestly system, now obselete.

Then HOW MUCH MORE critical is it, that we today leave behind all human ideas in our churches. God, in his infallible wisdom has revealed to us in the New Testament that He has a much better, a far superior design to human attempts to worship Him.

Humans have made pagan additions: professional Christians and their trappings, religious CEOs and middle managers, boring, ordered, liturgised, ritualistic ‘worship services’, entertainments, and all those traditions and habits inherited from our forebears, all those cultural substitutions for God’s wisdom that abound everywhere.

We all called to be counter-cultural because of what Jesus has accomplished and deposited for us in his chosen apostles and their writings. We must obey and trust and determine to make him Lord, not only in our personal walk with God, but when we come together, as a body. Otherwise we end up arrogantly determined to continue with human ideas.

Do you think we can improve on the Lord’s great design for corporate life as his people? How appalling. Is that true worship? true acknowledgment of God’s worth?

No. Obedience is better than sacrifice. Obedience is true worship.

Perhaps the greatest shame is the frequent way the Lord Jesus is kind of shut out of the meetings of his people and humans running the show, instead of Christ being the Head of his amazing design, his body, calling the shots, and the Holy Spirit prompting and inspiring the participants to share, edify, bring God’s word, heal, and care.

This wonderful design, which we see in this Letter to the Hebrews, the apostle Paul in his letters likens to the human body, with many members, each participating freely in the care and edification of one another and in the interests of God and the Body of Christ. Dare we continue to tempt the living God and His amazing grace by not honouring him in humble obedience?

Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts, as they did long ago in the desert wanderings.