As many of you have come to realize, I deal often with the topics of sin and of ministry on this blog. How are we as imperfect people expected to relate to our perfect God, the world and to the church? One thing I love about scripture is that when it comes alive, it provides answers for these and other questions life throws at us.Today, I’ll be looking at a passage that’s encouraged me this past week.
Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.
This passage follows a section discussing the completeness of Jesus’ sacrifice for our purification. Here we are introduced to the perfection of our conscience, an element of purification through Jesus that the rituals of the Old Testament law could not provide. We see Jesus functioning as both priest and sacrifice in our mediation before God. His sacrifice need not be repeated because it does the job perfectly and completely the first time. Jesus’ sacrifice brings forgiveness for sins.
It’s in this context that our portion of scripture begins. Here the author gives three commands that come as a direct response to the preceding section. Since we have the confident access by the blood and sure mediation through our great high priest, we have the ability to live out the instructions given by the author. We are not the determining factor in our ability to keep these; Christ is. This is beautiful, and becomes more so when we explore these commands.
The first is this: Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith. When I first read it, I took it as two commands: one to draw near with a true heart and the other to draw near in full assurance of faith. The challenge of this is it raises the question, “what is a true heart?” True is an adjective that has a broad range of meaning depending on the noun that it is modifying. A person can have a true aim, make a true statement, be a true bastard, etc. True means something a little different in each context and we derive its meaning from its noun. The problem is the noun ‘heart’ is also similarly vague. Do I follow my heart, take care of my heart, speak from the heart, or have a change of heart
If we see it one command though, we get more clarity on the author’s intention. The true heart is given a definition in relation to the full assurance of faith. We can understand that we are command to draw near to God with our hearts fully convinced of the assurance that faith brings. I’ll give you an example of what I mean.
I sin more than I should (so basically, I sin). Sometimes my sin feels particularly grievous to me, especially if I should have known better. People get hurt, trust is broken and I feel as though I’ve let God down. In repentance, I believe I am forgiven, but instinct tells me to lay low for a bit and give God some time to cool down. That’s our paradigm of relationship, given our experience with other humans.
Isn’t it amazing then, that even in that moment, He invites us to draw near to Him with a true heart in full assurance of faith? Drawing near is a relational concept, and the relationship is of a son to a father. We are invited to know, enjoy and bring our requests to God as a son would his father. This is, in part, a command to pray boldly. We are well aware of all the reasons He has to ignore our prayers, and so it’s a challenge to obey. But Jesus is our confidence. We draw near to God through Him and we pray in His name. Pray in faith, because the bible commands us to.
In addition to drawing near, we are commanded to hold fast to our confession of hope because He who promised is faithful. The idea of holding to our confession recurs often in Hebrews (3:6,14; 4:14). The book also makes reference to falling away (2:1, 3:12, 6:4), becoming hardened (3:13), and shrinking back to our destruction (10:39). The author of this book does not take it for granted that everybody who professes to be a believer will continue in faith. Some will, for some reason, willingly forfeit their confession.
We are not given the reasons why a person might make such a decision. Other passages in Hebrews bring up the role of persistent sin (3:12, 10:26), immature meditation on the Word (2:1, 5:11-6:4, lack of perspective (10:34, 12:2-4) among other possible reasons. But those things that we might choose instead of God are not the concern of the author in this passage; the character of God is. Over the reality of temptation, persecution, and unanswered questions, we are called to trust in God’s character. His faithfulness is the anchor for our faith.
Why does this matter? Because there are a lot of rewards the world has to offer, and a lot of difficulty to be found in a life of faith. We will all question whether being a committed believer is worth the sacrifices. The more we engage with the world, the more we will see its joys. But instead of retreating from the world, we are called to cling tighter to the promises of God as aliens in the world.
Here’s what scripture promises to all believers: We will know God (Jon 17:3) and in that we will find true life. We will grow in character and become more good (Philippians 1:6). We will do the good works we were created to do (Ephesians 2:10). We will receive guidance to walk through life (Psalm 23). We will never be alone (Joshua 1:5,9). We will have meaningful impact in the cosmic war between good and evil in our prayer and evangelism. We will spend eternity with our creator, worshipping Him and enjoying Him forever.
The challenge is that living out our faith doesn’t always feel glorious. About 30 minutes after landing in Uganda, I was convinced I was in the wrong place. I was quickly reminded how much I don’t fit in here. I don’t think I know another African that feels as out of place on his native continent. What ministry could I do here that I wouldn’t be able to do more effectively in Canada?
What began to calm my doubts was not a change in the situation. Going out into the city with my team only made me feel more like an outsider. I can still only pick out every other word in the local accent. I’m struggling a little with being dependent on friends to get around, though appreciative of the good people God is surrounding us with. What’s changed for me is remembering that it is God who called me here. He provided the opportunity, confirmed His will and provided the funds. He began preparing me for this even when I was trying to run from Him. He’s even using the quirks and personalities of my teammates to prove to me that He knows what He’s doing. Every moment I doubt, His faithfulness is what will bring me peace, no matter how long it takes for me to remember it. Once again, it’s all about Him and not about me.
Finally, we are instructed to consider how to stir each other up to love and good works. The message here is that we are responsible to our brothers and sisters in Christ because of the cross and the priesthood of Jesus. I often think to the role of community in the Christian life in terms of receiving grace and support from the body of Christ. Here, we see our responsibility to the body. We are not to forsake gathering together, but to actively participate in encouraging the church.
The sixth chapter of Paul’s letter to the Galatians is a great picture of this. In the first five verses, we are introduced to the concept of individual accountability and mutual responsibility. We are responsible for our conduct, so that when we fall, we cannot blame the church. Yet even in bearing our burdens, we are instructed to bear the burdens of our fellow believers. In doing so, we fulfill the law of Christ. We have that responsibility to each other.
What does this look like? It’s a bit easier to visualize this responsibility when you are given a position of leadership. The job description is clearly laid out: serve people by fulfilling this assignment. But what are we to do in not in any spiritual leadership roles? Or if we see our brother struggling outside our assigned jurisdiction?
Scripture, as it often does, gives some great suggestions for this. We can encourage (Hebrews 10:25). Encouragement goes a long way in building people up in the mission God called them to. Look at the role of Barnabas (the son of encouragement) in empowering John Mark in the book of Acts (Acts 12:12-25, 15:37-41, 2 Timothy 4:11).
We can teach each other (Colossians 3:16). This gives an incentive to spend time in God’s Word. The authority from which we teach is scripture. It is God’s truth and can correct our wrong views on reality and inspire life change. We are responsible to the community of believers for the time we spend in the Word.
Finally we can love our brothers and sisters. The second great commandment is to love our neighbor as we love ourselves (Matthew 23:39). Love covers a multitude of sins. We are responsible to love the body of Christ is word and deed. It is by this love that the world will know we are disciples of Jesus.
All these things we do because of all that God has done for us. We cannot boldly approach God’s throne or hold fast to our confession of hope or stir anyone to love and good works unless we truly believe we have access to God and that Christ Himself functions as our high priest interceding for us. His death on the cross was complete for the purifying of our souls. In this we rejoice and through this we obey.
All things for Him, from Him and through Him.