Perfection is the Aim.

“It was finished upon that cross” – as we are singing this tune – a huge new and deeper understanding and awakening strikes me. I suddenly see the whole event of the cross and what was happening in a new and deeper light. At that moment when Christ called “It is finished” (teleo – it has been completely accomplished), there was a total momentum shift in all creation. Locally there were dramatic signs – darkness, an earthquake, people rising from their graves, the temple curtain torn, but I can almost imagine a huge thud that shuddered throughout the whole of God’s creation – the whole universe. Everything started anew from that moment and our calendar is just a small reminder of that. Jesus had accomplished a task which had been planned from the beginning of all creation centuries before. Everything we see and are aware of and much we haven’t seen was different from then on. From that moment on it was and still is possible to be free – really free, not the freedom of slogans called out but true freedom – freedom from slavery to sin to the devil and ourselves – free to worship and follow Jesus completely, unhindered by any force that would drag us down. It seems more important than ever to embrace that freedom and live in it – this is the only way.

So as I completed a careful study of Hebrews 11 this morning, something struck me which is relevant to understanding the “melody line”. We have said the main purpose of the whole letter has been about salvation. In 10:39 we have a sort of summary verse bringing up two important points, in contrast. On the one hand those who shrink back and are destroyed and on the other those who believe and are saved. The question in chapter 11 is what characterizes those who are saved? Well it is the fact that they believe. So the chapter then focusses on that fact, that characteristic of the ones who are being saved -faith, and explores it deeper.

We’ve seen last time some of the characteristics which accompany “saving faith”. 11:39 and 40 summarize what was said – the reality that faith brings hope for a city without end, which one must have patience and perseverance to wait for it, since we only receive the fruit of that belief once we leave this world. And then come the key words – God has a plan for us all , but note that it is a community plan – “together with us” then the word “perfect” which I have explained earlier is another way of describing salvation. So while God is interested in each one of us as an individual, we are taken back again to several places in the letter where he mentions the importance of the church community working together for the common good of salvation. eg 10:24,25. There is no place in the kingdom for ‘loners.’

The one thing that really struck me also, as I studied the various characters in ch 11, is that while there is a common thread, the temporariness of this life and the permanence of the life to come, each person is an individual and their particular experience and role they had in this great plan of God, varied with each one of them according to many factors. There is no common plan, which fits all.

So as I listened to what Jesus was saying to me, I was again reminded of the fact of His plan for me, which is completely unique yet intimately tied up with the community of believers which I mix with.

Blessed Assurance – Saving Faith.

I see a huge tree – silhouetted against a brilliant, beautiful, golden light – the tree stands planted next to the water.

“You are like that tree – planted in the substance of your faith in the Lord Jesus – feeding on the water of life as you meditate on Me night and day, meditating on My word and being fed by My Eternal Spirit and the Living Water of Jesus. Look at the foliage of the tree – it was once lush and green and opulent – that was your younger life – now look how the Autumn season is causing the colours of the leaves to change – a brilliant variety – so, as you get older your life has the potential to glorify Me even more, giving more variety and colour – but only as long as you remain planted firmly with your roots reaching into the life-giving water that I am.”

Now on to Hebrews 11. Last time I asked how the definition of faith in vs 1 fell short of a full description of “saving faith”. I wonder if you all saw the answer when you meditated on that question. The definition in vs 1 introduces the subject which the writer has been emphasizing, the subject of perseverance, from the aspect of faith. Faith, he says is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. This reminds us that there is something concrete which we believe in and that the reception or revelation of that lies somewhere in the future. It does not, however tell us 1. What that hope is, 2. How we can know what it is 3. What the means is through which this goal of our hope will be received.

But the passage does slowly reveal the answers to those questions as it goes on. 1. It is a city which God has been preparing for them/us v 16 b. Because of the value of the citizenship of that city, these people were prepared to live this life as aliens and strangers in the world, because the destination was so much more wonderful than what they had here. 2. They know what this is about because of God’s promises, especially those which arise from Gen 12:1-3. So their faith is based on a definite revelation from God. Furthermore as the writer describes how Abraham and his family experienced and appropriated those promises we have an example of how they understood what this faith is and ordered their lives accordingly .

That is still not the whole picture though, because the ultimate means to receive these promises is only really revealed in ch 12. Jesus is the author and perfecter of our faith. 12:2, So saving faith which is driven by hope can only be fulfilled through Jesus, as He and His work are revealed in the Bible. This is all unseen but, nevertheless is not some dream, it is based on concrete promises of God with all these examples of how people understood and lived by them. The purpose being to encourage the readers to also accept and believe them in a way that would affect their lives.

The main point that the writer is drawing out with this is that those promises were so real, despite being unseen, to all these ancients that they were prepared to wait for them, continually believing in them over the years, despite opposition and challenges to the fulfilment of them. This is aimed at reminding the Jewish Christian recipients (and us) that saving faith, although received instantly will only be completed when we reach that city that God is preparing for us and that the proof of the veracity of that first step of belief will only be seen at the end of the road of the alien and stranger in this world if they are still holding on to their belief, which of course is a challenge to each one of us. The unifying factor is the length of time many had to wait and the many obstacles they had to face before getting there.

It is worth meditating on these various characters which are described in his chapter, for what they can teach us and how they encourage us in our walk through the tribulation. of the gospel life here on earth.

Pleasing God.

I am sitting at the feet of Jesus and listening, the attitude of Mary – being close to Him and open to hear what He wants to say to me.

“Yes Ian, that is indeed the ‘better way’, the “way” that recognizes that I am the source of all life, wisdom, power and love. Even as you sit with Me know my blessings which I have poured out on you – “lavished”, by My grace (Ephes 1) – receive Me and and My power and love through My Spirit. But then, having spent time passively receiving – it is time to rise up and follow Me – taking up your cross – put to death your wrong desires and motives and simply follow Me – then you will be able to walk in the Spirit and My Spirit will fill you so that those you meet will be touched by Me and My presence”.

Back to Hebrews 10. there is so much meat in this section that I have been munching on that the proverbial gravy is running down my chin. Ch 10 brings to a conclusion the ‘doctrinal discussion of the last 4 chapters where he warned previously of the severe consequences of turning back from God in ch 6 and now repeats that again in ch 10. This theme of turning back is continually set against the backdrop of the main thought of the letter, salvation through the death of Jesus our High priest on our behalf.

He concludes the discussion with a warning that because Jesus will be coming soon (10:37) with a quote from Habbakuk 2:3,4, that the matter is urgent and then proceeds to repeat clearly the two options which are available to everyone. On the one hand those who shrink back and are destroyed and on the other those who “please God, who believe and are saved”. (v 39).

So now in ch 11 he sets out to demonstrate, by using the witnesses of the ancients, what he means by this statement of v 39. Starting in vs 1 he gives a definition of faith and then in vs 6 he reiterates the connection between faith and pleasing God. Just look at v 1 with me. Maybe a more helpful translation of this vs is ” faith is the foundation, (the base) upon which we build our hope on”.

In 11:6 he expands on that by saying that that the first step and foundation of faith is believing that God exists, and that He responds to our earnestly seeking Him by rewarding us.

Everywhere we read in the bible, especially in the New Testament, that faith is the key, as it were which connects us to God’s love and His work on our behalf. So this section is helpful in aiding us to understand some aspects of faith. The subject is wider than this simple definition though, although it is always useful to help us gather our thoughts on the subject. The writer here however is especially emphasizing the fact that faith, in the light of the transient nature of our, often difficult lives here on earth, is only demonstrated as being real by persevering to the end.

The definition falls short of defining “saving faith”. Maybe the reader may like to ponder what needs to be added to make that definition complete.

I would like to look at ch 11 in greater detail on Friday, but in the mean time what did Jesus say to me? It was a timely reminder of the transient nature of our lives here on earth. I do believe at the age most of us find ourselves, we are indeed experiencing many aspects of the reminder by God of that, nevertheless it is in everyone of our natures to want to cling to that which is familiar in this world.

We’re All in This Together.

JOY, a very small word with a huge meaning – it is so much more than just a feeling of well-being, which is part of it – it goes beyond feelings – it is more than peace because it is an active word whereas peace is a sort of passive experience. The enigma is that if it is studied or sought-after it seems to sort of keep slipping out of our grasp – yet it is to be found in the form of a person – Jesus Christ. It is in the fact and experience of having a relationship with the Person Jesus, that real joy arises – a sense and experience of wellbeing which is unable to describe exactly and when it is there spontaneously as an outflowing of our relationship with Him, we can sing and remind ourselves of its benefit. It is not the same as happiness because we can experience it even in the darkest moments, because all the time it is part of being ‘in Jesus’. But, as I said, if we try and seek it it keeps slipping out of our grasp.

Back to Hebrews 10. When I studied ‘Doctrine’ as part of the Moore College course, I was somewhat taken aback to find that there are sins described in the Old Testament, which were not taken care of by the sacrificial system, which God had introduced as a symbol of the real forgiveness, later to be available through Jesus’ death on the cross. This is described in Numbers 15:29,30 and reflects directly in the statement in Heb. 10:26 ff. They are sins of continual, willful disobedience as compared to all other sins which are committed inadvertently.

So we have now come a full circle after the warning in Heb. 2:1 of the danger of slipping back. The wonderful work of Jesus as high Priest has been clearly laid out and the word “confidence” has been repeated several times. 3;6; 4;16; 10:19, indicating the assurance we can have that that work is lasting and complete. However the letter is addressed to all the Jewish congregation of whom some appear never truly have come to faith.

It is interesting to note that some of those who were slipping back had actually been part of severe persecution vv 32-33. So friends, where the writer speaks several times of the ‘House of God’ cf 3;4ff and 10:21, there are clearly then and still today, those who are sharing in everything that we as Christians do, yet who have not truly believed. These are the ones who are in danger of turning away completely and willfully denying Christ, for whom there is no forgiveness. This is the same as the ‘unforgiveable sin’ (Matt 12:32) and ‘the antichrist’ in 1 John 2:22. Those who are guilty of this are totally unaware of it and spurn any conversation about it, so anyone who is concerned for themselves should understand it is not referring to them.

However the warning of slipping back remains equally important throughout and the only real sign of true salvation (10:36) is the perseverance in the faith. The first and most important factor to resist the possibility of slipping back is understanding and trusting in Jesus work, as high priest and sacrifice on our behalf, continually drawing near to God through Him cf,10:22. That is the true basis of our faith and the one which we must continually take our stand.

In this passage of today comes a second and equally important counter to our tendency to slip away and that is contained in the encouragement in vv 22-25 to interact with each other to ‘spur one another on to love and good deeds’ (10;24). We all need encouragement and love. We are all subject to different moods and experiences which may cause us to doubt God’s love. Ours is a wonderful path but one full of so many difficulties and God wants us to tackle this path together as a community. So that together we can say with the writer in 10:39 ” We are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who believe and are saved”.

So what do I hear God saying to me? This is a clarion call to continue encouraging you all in this difficult time of Covid which is, in a way, wrenching us apart. Each one of you should also seize every opportunity to ‘spur one another on to love and good deeds’, whether by meeting together or whatever other means God places at your disposal.

God’s Will through Christ in Me

“Yet not I but Christ in me”.

This phrase is still going around in my mind. I am trying somehow to come completely to grips with this great statement from Galatians. What does it really mean – practically?

“In ‘the Lord’s prayer’ there is a plea “(let) Your will be done” – so allowing Christ to live through you, boils down to submitting your will to mine on a moment by moment basis – this will mostly be subconscious – moved by your ongoing relationship with Me, desiring to walk with Me you will also be moved by the Spirit in you – so this will lead you to a life of joyful obedience. Putting it differently – keeping in step with the Spirit. When you have been diverted to following your own will and become aware of it, it is a small step of realization, repentance and confession to get back on track”.

Now moving on to Hebrews 10:1-18. So the main themes remain prominent: Being made perfect vv 1,14. The word for ‘perfect’ actually describes being made ‘complete’ .It is the healing and bringing together all aspects of your life in line with God’s ultimate purpose. It is actually another way of speaking about being saved. The other theme is the ‘once for all’, describing the completeness of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross and the picture of Him sitting down at the right hand of His Father shows the finality of the whole exercise. (vv 13,14). This is brought out clearly by the picture of the repetitive nature of the works of the high priest.

Now, although our instant standing, once we are ‘in Jesus’, is perfection or holiness, the practical expression of this in that our lives fall far short of these words. So we have a new thought being brought out. That is the idea of giving a practical expression to our standing of holiness or perfection. So in this passage it is emphasized three times (vv7,9,10) that Jesus came “to do the will of God”. The will of God for Him was to be a sacrifice in His body on the cross v 10.

From this flows two consequences: If we are to become perfect and holy we need to follow Jesus’ pattern of following God’s will. Our status is perfection but our lives fall short of that. This passage tells us that Jesus has made provision for that in two ways. Firstly through His death on our behalf all our sins are forgiven, therefore although our lives do not reflect our perfection, we are already forgiven (v17). As a second part of the New Covenant we have been given the Holy Spirit who dwells within us moving our hearts continually to obedience v 16. this idea will be developed in the next vv I believe.

Now this passage once again linked back so completely to the word that the Lord gave me earlier. Yet not i but Christ in Me. So His word to me is clear, a continual reminder that I have been crucified with Christ and I live, but not I, Christ lives in me, has very practical consequences. He does not want fancy rituals, just ongoing, loving obedience to His will through he power of the Spirit.