Understanding the Text

“When this priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, He sat down at the right hand of God” (Heb. 10:13).

Christ’s work is completed in heaven. But it continues in you and me.

Repeated Old Testament sacrifices could not perfect worshipers (10:1–7), but we are made holy by the completed sacrifice of Jesus (vv. 8–18). We must hold firmly to our hope in Christ (vv. 19–25), resist deliberate sin (vv. 26–31), and persevere in doing good till Jesus comes (vv. 32–39).

Understanding the Text
“Make perfect those who draw near to worship” Heb. 10:1–7. A critical question for any religion is not what it asks you to do, but what it does in you.

Even Old Testament faith, with all its required sacrifices, only covered the sins of worshipers. The repeated sacrifices of the Old Testament could not make anyone perfect. This was the one, devastating flaw in that system. And so Christ came, to do God’s will, and offer up Himself as a perfecting sacrifice.

My youngest son was remarking yesterday that the Sunday School teacher of his singles’ class has the notion that if a person is a true Christian, he’ll stop sinning, and never even slip. To him any deviation from the ideal is evidence the person was never saved. That is an oversimplification. Any living, growing thing requires time to mature. The spiritually immature, like the physically immature, have a tendency to do things that a mature adult never would. And even the mature make choices at times that are not just unwise, but wrong.

Even so, Christ came to make a specific difference within worshipers. His was a perfecting sacrifice, for He came to perfect us: to make us suitable within and without to worship the holy God.

There is nothing we can do to repay God for the gift of His Son. But the least we can do is open our hearts to His Spirit, and live that changed life which is appropriate for worshipers of Jesus Christ.

“We have been made holy through the sacrifice . . . of Jesus Christ once for all” Heb. 10:8–10. Holiness is a somewhat frightening concept. Until we remember that “holy” has the basic meaning of being set apart to God, and that holiness has two primary aspects. The ceremonial aspect, so important in Old Testament worship, has now been dismissed as irrelevant. What is left is the personal dimension of holiness: a dynamic moral quality of active goodness that characterizes God Himself.

What the writer of Hebrews tells us is that God in Christ has acted to set us apart as His own. But if we are to be God’s, we must be holy too. And so God has infused something of Himself within us. Jesus died that we, like God, might be energetically good.

Not passively good, in the sense of just refraining from evil. But actively good, in the sense of expressing in this world the compassion and love that marked Jesus in His incarnation.

The most important thing that you or I can do in life, recognizing that we are holy, is to be holy.

“He sat down at the right hand of God” Heb. 10:11–14. The Old Testament priest always stood as he ministered. The fact that Jesus sat down after He offered Himself as a sacrifice indicates that His work was done. There were no more sacrifices to offer. Jesus “made perfect forever those who are being made holy.”

Through Christ’s death you and I have been perfected. And we are being made holy. We are in the process of becoming what we are.

This is an exciting truth. You can pick up an acorn, hold it in your hand, and know for sure that if it is planted a mighty oak will grow. That acorn won’t become a reed, or a stalk of corn, or a geranium. It will become an oak, for though it looks very different from a mature tree, it is an oak, and in time will become one.

You and I may look very different from Jesus today. Yet God has placed Christ’s own nature in us. We are Christian now, and in time we will be Christian. We are holy now, and in time we will be holy.

Some fat folks post pictures of themselves on the refrigerator, to remind themselves of how they look. It usually just makes them feel bad, and doesn’t help at all. How much better God’s way is. He posts His portrait of the ideal “you” in your heart, and tells you to act like the person you are. As we act in harmony with the vision of our ideal self, that is what you and I become.

Never let yourself be discouraged about the slowness of your spiritual growth. God sees you perfected, standing in His presence with a character like that of His own Son. This is who you are—and it is who you most certainly will become.

No wonder the passage says that those “He has made perfect forever” are even now “being made holy.”

“This is the covenant” Heb. 10:15–16. Use any word you want. Use pledge, promise, bond, compact, contract, agreement, deal, pact, pledge, treaty, or oath. Use any of these words, or any other, to convince yourself that you truly have been forgiven, and that God no longer remembers your sins or lawless acts. Convince yourself that your past no longer stands between you and God.

Once you are convinced, you’ll be able to stop worrying about your past, and dedicate your future to serving God as the holy person you are.

“He who promised is faithful” Heb. 10:19–23. When I was a young teen I plowed with a handheld plow pulled by a team of horses. At first I made ragged, twisting furrows as I struggled to hold the plow steady. Then my dad showed me that to plow a straight furrow, I needed to stop looking at the ground ahead of me, to fix my eyes on a pair of landmarks, and keep them lined up as I moved across the field.

We have landmarks to guide us as we approach God. We see Jesus, our cleansing sacrifice. And we see Jesus standing before God’s throne, our High Priest. When we hold unswervingly to the hope this provides, we will “have confidence to enter the most holy place” at any time.

“Spur one another on to love and good deeds” Heb. 10:24–25. The classic American is John Wayne as Rooster Cogburn, riding alone toward his foes, guns blazing. The rugged individualist attracts us, and serves as a cultural ideal.

It may be American, but it’s not Christian. We don’t achieve holiness alone, rushing in rugged defiance toward our enemies of sin, Satan, and temptation. We achieve holiness as we share our lives with others, give and receive encouragement, spurring one another on to love and to good deeds.

Don’t try it alone. God has given us Christ’s church for support and assistance. And He intends us to keep on meeting with others throughout our whole life.

“If we deliberately keep on sinning” Heb. 10:26–31. This part of the third major warning found in Hebrews (vv. 19–39) is based on the writer’s presentation of Jesus as the perfect sacrifice. It is a warning addressed to those considering a return to Judaism. Under the old system, individual sacrifices could be made for unintentional sins, but the only sacrifice for deliberate sins was that offered on the Day of Atonement by the high priest. But the writer has shown that even those sacrifices were ineffective, while the one sacrifice by Jesus of His own blood perfected His worshippers, and thus never needs repeating.

If those who rejected Moses’ Law were stoned, the writer asked, what do you think a person who treats the blood of God’s own Son with contempt (v. 29) deserves?
There’s a thought in this for us. Whenever we feel uncertain, or inclined to doubt our ability to live a holy life, let’s remember that Christ died to make just this possible. Surely He did not shed His blood in vain. Surely you and I will find the strength to live as God desires.

Larry Richards

Published by Intentional Faith

Devoted to a Faith that Thinks

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